Name: Passepartout Duo
Members: Nicoletta Favari, Christopher Salvito
Occupation: Pianist (Nicoletta Favari), Percussionist (Christopher Salvito)
Current release: Passepartout Duo's Daylighting is out on June 25th, on AnyOne.
Recommendations: Any work of Josef and Anni Albers, and the work of Maryanne Amacher
If you enjoyed this interview with Passepartout Duo, visit their excellent official website for a deeper look into their thoughts, more music and current updates.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We started playing together about six years ago. Each of us has our own background in music and composition. Nicoletta is trained as a pianist and Chris as a percussionist, and for both of us music is a thread that can be traced through our whole life since we were kids. When we started performing together, we came from this world of contemporary classical music with a tremendous passion for playing works of composers near to us, but over the years this slowly evolved toward writing music for ourselves.
Compositionally our influences have grown with what we know and have been introduced to, starting from proper minimalism through to more jazz influence, forward to Japanese environmental music. What it has all kept in common is the idea that “simple is best”. Music is just the way we interface with the world - everyone has their own way of navigating life, and ours is through music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
We’ve always had a particular shifting fixation on various compositional ideas that we pick up along the way - when we hear something we love, we also ask ourselves, “Why does this sound the way it sounds?” This could be a particular harmony or a particular rhythmic technique (hocketing, isorhythm, the tintinnabulation of Pärt, and Messiaen’s scales of limited transposition all come to mind) but it’s completely moved into the realm of electronic music and instrument construction too, like this filter sounds amazing, let’s find the schematic and see how / why it sounds like this.
I think our voice is just a combination of all of these tiny fixations and how they’ve evolved over time, and our transition toward finding our own voice has everything to do with the good people who have given our music room to exist and to grow.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
We’re often thinking that success in music/art is really about being the purest and most distilled form of yourself - call it authenticity, being eccentric, or whatever you want. What we think makes Passepartout Duo itself at this moment is our optimism, celebration of creativity, and our wish to learn new things. It’s our own joy of collaborating and learning, while traveling to new places that has driven all of our actions together, and for sure this has a big influence on our own creativity.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The first challenge was the challenge of distance - we were starting this group living a long way apart, and so traveling to artist residencies was the main way that we could start working together. But because we needed to travel so often, the practicality of wanting to use big percussion and piano setups quickly caught up.
These challenges of having the portability to play anywhere and travel to places that are new to us is the main factor that’s driven our transformation as an ensemble.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
When we first started playing our performance instruments were a piano and drum-set alongside marimba and vibraphone, and for different pieces we’d use different combinations of those things. A lot of the music we played was also purely acoustic, and so also technically less complicated. As things progress we became more and more interested in making use of electronics, and of having more flexibility. When we put together our first EP, we focused on drums and piano with electronics, and this showed us how fulfilling it was to work in a recorded and electronic sense. Since then, we’ve focused on downsizing our setup and honing in on the electronic part.
Most of the time, we’ll be traveling around with just a few small bags, trying to put together something that can be a serious concert and give us room to grow - so everything we decide to use and bring with us is very important. We’ve always managed with a couple small keyboards for Nicoletta, and a shifting set up of small percussion instruments for Chris alongside DIY synthesizers.
For each of our new projects we like to enter a completely different world, and most of the time that means changing a lot of the things we currently have on hand - of course this means sometimes leaving behind beloved handmade instruments, some of which are currently in Beijing for example.
We’re always trying to think about what is next for us sonically, and trying to fit that into the smallest footprint possible. Sometimes instruments just find their way to us too though, like a guqin in Chongqing, an old pump organ in southern Germany, or a Buchla 100 Series in Austria.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
There have been many technological and instrumentation discoveries that have shifted our view on music making. When we started out, we felt like recording was a documentation process, now we see it as an artistic process in itself, and discovering recording techniques has absolutely changed even our view of how we perform live.
When we began building instruments for ourselves, it really changed our entire approach again - and then when we started building electronic instruments too. Especially with the latter, it puts you in a mindset where you’re thinking about the physical nature of sound and why things work the way they do. In every case these once mysterious worlds became much clearer, and with them came so many ideas.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Our work can really be divided into two categories, the first is our album projects which are a chance for us to take on as much creative agency as possible in the music making process. This means we love to do everything ourselves, and so on the projects we’re still very hesitant to collaborate - for each release though we have one very important collaborator which cannot be understated: Yumo & Yannis who have founded the AnyOne label out of China and release our music. They’re also an artist couple who practice architecture and photography (alongside many other visual disciplines), and they were the first people to initiate so many of our own projects, always pushing us to try new things and stay very prolific. Whenever we’re in China, we try to put on exhibition events together that feature all our work as a whole.
Outside of these monolithic album projects, collaboration is a really big part of what we do, and we especially love working with artists from other disciplines. Since our work always starts from and sticks to a main central concept, a lot of communication is always an important part of the process. Our favorite way of working with artists outside of music is to see how a process from a visual artists’ practice can translate into sound and vice versa. Many of our works start from a concept that is neither visual nor auditory, and then venture off to find the connection between those two different ways of making art.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
It really depends on where we are and what we’re currently working on. At the moment of writing, we’re in Italy, preparing for an upcoming month with an almost unmanageable amount of work on the horizon.
We wake up at about 8:30 - coffee is essential, and we get to work. We’ll need to do plenty of things everyday, Nicoletta starts by going through her press contacts and sending dozens of emails - Chris is working on some instruments that we’ll need to take with us and making sure they’re reliable enough to perform with. We also need to take a good two to three hour chunk out of the day to rehearse, both music from our upcoming album, and also some older works that need refreshing. These days there’s a lot of zoom happening between remote collaborators too.
There’s really not much that goes on that isn’t related to Passepartout Duo - music and other aspects of our life definitely blend seamlessly, and something we cherish about the duo is its ability to transform so many of our experiences into musical and artistic ones too.