Name: Pascal Bideau aka Akusmi
Occupation: Producer, composer
Recent release: Akusmi's Fleeting Future is out via Tonal Union.
Recommendations: I would recommend The Incal, by Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky, a comic book I’ve always loved for its craziness and beautiful arc.
I also recently had another opportunity to visit Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Rooms. That is an unforgettable experience I strongly recommend to anybody.
If you enjoyed this interview with Akusmi and would like to find out more about his work, visit the official Pascal Bideau website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up in a house full of musical instruments. My father has always been very musical and was playing guitar and singing in different bands. On top of that, my parents were keen travellers and were always exploring different parts of the globe, bringing back records and various instruments (flutes, percussions…).
I started playing classical guitar when I was 7 but I couldn’t relate to it fully because the pieces I was learning were all very far from what I was listening to at the moment. I really started to create by writing songs on folk guitar when I was about 11 or 12. I would play them to my friends and have a laugh. We would also write songs together, about people we knew or angsty teenage stuff.
But I really started to foresee the broad possibilities of music creation when my dad bought a mini-disc player with a microphone. I quickly realised that I could record one performance on the mini-disc, then record that part on the living room stereo cassette, then play it on the stereo system while recording a second part on the mini-disc. And so on. I could sometimes layer tens of tracks, keeping on adding ideas. The sound was awful, but the realisation that I could do it all by myself and write all the different parts was an epiphany.
From then on, I never stopped making music and exploring genres. I worked for a year with a Tascam 4 tracks cassette system I borrowed from a friend, and then went onto an 8 tracks digital recorder.
When I was 18, we took a trip with my two best friends to Morocco. I brought the mini-disc and a mic and did an awful lot of field recording. When we came back, I wrote a 25 minutes piece on Essaouira, trying to convey the atmosphere we had discovered there. It was full of samples of gnawa music, street ambiences, and instruments I had brought back from there. This really was the beginning of my musical journey.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
I don’t have synesthesia. When I first learnt about it, I wished I had it: it sounded so intense and magical. I now understand it can also be a bit of a curse.
Otherwise, I don’t think I have a unique way of experiencing music. Like everything else, it depends on the mood you’re in when listening. Sometimes I am highly available and receptive, and some other times, I just go with the flow or even shut it down.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I make music almost every day, and it all depends on what is it for. When I write music for films for example, the challenges are always to serve the film, the story and the characters in the best way possible. It’s not about what I like but about what works.
When I make music for myself however, it is almost the opposite: then it is only about what I like and the way I want it to develop.
One thing is true, though, no matter what I ‘m working on: I don’t like repeating myself. If I find something that works, I usually consider it done and I’m eager to move onto the next thing to explore what else might surprise me.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I don’t really think about this. I’m not sure I have a strong sense of identity, and when I’m making music, I usually don’t think at all. I just go on intuition and wander around to see what there is to be discovered.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The main thing, and it echoes the fact I don’t like repetition, is the element of surprise. When I discover a piece of art, whatever it might be, I long for that feeling of surprise and stepping into another world, another perspective.
We have a word in French that I always find very tricky to translate properly in english: dépaysement. Literally, it means to feel “uncountrified”. To feel like none of what you’ve experienced or learned so far is relevant, that this is something else with its own codes and rules and that you feel brand new to every situation.
That is something I am consistently looking and trying to convey for when I create.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
First of all, perfection doesn’t exist. It can’t be reached. Given that, every single day, you are a different person to the one you were the day before (if not the hour before), your idea of perfection is constantly shifting. When you’re working on a piece of music, you need to stay true to the work, otherwise, you’ll try to twist it in a slightly different direction each time you come back to it, just to address your definition of perfection at that very moment. All you can do is bringing it as far as you think it can go, and just let it be.
On the topic of originality versus timelessness, I want both, thanks. I am all about innovation and discovering brand new sounds and landscapes. But I am also compelled to create something that can still sound relevant in 10-20 years time. There is a line somewhere in between where these two notions can cohabitate and feed each other.
It was one important elements of what I wanted to explore with my album Fleeting Future.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I would say the computer and the advent of the digital era have made everything much simpler to create, edit and mess with. In terms of exploration and discovery, this is still a huge breakthrough, and the ability to record hours of music, layer them, change their properties and arrange them in an instant has rendered the whole process of creating much more intuitive and closer to sculpting or painting that it was before.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I wake up, have breakfast and bring my son to school. Do one hour of exercise. Start working (either admin stuff that needs to be taken care of or editing and arranging). Break for lunch. Run some more errands.
Get back to it around 5pm until dinner. Work until late in the night.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I often jam with myself and layer ideas. I sometimes record a 20 minutes long performance of one instrument, and then do another take with another instrument, reacting to what I played first.
It can go on and on until I feel there’s enough material to start arranging.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I really enjoy both processes. When working on my own, I usually end up working in a way not too dissimilar to collaborating. I come up with a part and then let myself work around that part and find a way to shine a different light on it, take it elsewhere.
It is never as efficient or thrilling as collaborating with somebody else, but it is the feeling I’m looking for. The great thing about working with somebody else is that you never know what the end result is going to sound like. The other person brings their own musical baggage and influences, and you always end up with something you would never have been capable of doing on your own.
And it is the same for you collaborator: they wouldn’t have been able to go that specific direction. It’s all about „ping ponging“ ideas and feedback loops.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I literally never think about this. I create some music, it goes out into the world and it lives its own life. That’s about it.
Of course if you study music history and anthropology, you’ll find some answers about the specific roles of music in any given rites and ceremonies. But more generally, I just think music is part of what humans do and have always done.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I don’t think any piece of music has ever allowed me to understand anything. It plays at a different level than reasoning, it’s more a feeling than an idea.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Music is science. Actually, everything is. You can take a scientific approach to almost everything and try and find a way to understand how it works.
I am not sure I know enough about the recent developpements in the field to give an interesting answer, though. I know that once you start gathering data and look for patterns in taste and behaviour, you’ll find incredible paths that you wouldn’t have been able to without the crushing power of computers and AI.
Would these findings have an influence on the way I make music? Maybe, I’m not entirely sure.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Yes, there is a difference. I have the feeling that when I’m trying to make a great cup of coffee, I am in fact trying to recreate that one time I made an incredible cup of coffee. There is a finite aim and a result to achieve.
But when I am making music, I don’t really have any previous result I am trying to compete with or achieve. There is just the yearning of making something special and new.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I don’t think music in itself has a very clear message. It deals more with moods and feelings rather than specific ideas.
While some harmonies are known for conveying certain feelings (like major being brighter and positive etc), I don’t think it is quite enough to transmit fully fledged ideas.