Name: Philippe Petit
Occupation: Musical travel agent, sound artist, curator at Modulisme
Current release: Philippe Petit's anniversary release Modulisme Session 051 2nd Year BD is out via Modulisme
If you enjoyed this interview with Philippe Petit and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud. You can also read another interview we did with Philippe about his creative process.
Right now, the best place to follow his work is Modulisme, a website exploring the borderline between journalism, label and online community – all centred around a passion for modular synthesis. The ongoing sessions series has so far included releases by Yoshio Machida, Ian Boddy, Gino Robair, Jos Smolders and Bana Haffar.
[Read our Gino Robair interview]
[Read our Jos Smolders interview]
[Read our Bana Haffar interview]
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
Actually I started “writing” my own music late but I have been “producing” music for decades.
Born in Marseille, South of France, where I started Djing, animating radio shows and editing zines in the 80s. In the 90s I contributed articles (under the pseudonym Candy Apple Grey and Filth Simpson) for such magazines as Ruta 66 (Spain), Merlin’s Music Box (Greece), Maximum R&R (USA), What Wave, Cryptic Tymes (Canada), and French-written Taktik, Rage, Rocksound, Best, 491, Abus Dangereux, and many many more that no one will remember …
In 1991, I started Kinetic Vibes Music, a Garage Punk zine and label releasing music by: Willie Loco Alexander, Pleasure Fuckers, Dead Moon, Bevis Frond, Lust-o-Rama, Ultra 5, Overcoat, Cryptones, Devil Dogs, La Secta, Dirteez, Tommyknockers and some other … The mythical compilation “Electric Carnival” gathering 23 bands from 10 countries is still available. In 1993 I started Pandemonium Rdz. Working with such bands as Guapo, Melt Banana, Condense, Drive Blind, Cows, Headcleaner, Ground Zero, Zeni Geva, Double Nelson, Cerberus Shoal, Flying Luttenbachers, Unsane, Bästard, Kepone, Ron Anderson, Ruins, Hint, Spaceheads …
41 records later, I needed to rejuvenate and started a new label: BiP_HOp was physically born in 2000. A webzine, a radio show, organizing live events, and above all a label documenting the state of electronic art and sound design, unconventional sound adventures, modern ambient, contemporary alliances between acoustica vs. digitalia ... Releasing music by the likes of Scanner, Teho Teardo, FM3, Murcof, Tennis/Sci-cut.db, Janek Schaefer, Mira Calix, Twine, David Toop, MaxEastley, Spaceheads, & many more … Musics challenging the ears and the mind.
[Read our David Toop interview]
[Read our Scanner interview]
[Read our Mira Calix interview]
«Early passions» are varied and I remember listening to The Beatles or V.U. in the early 70s, the first concert I attended was Kraftwerk in 1978 ; the year after I went to see X-Ray-Spex + The Damned when I was in London and from then on I saw hundreds of concerts and had more or less 40 000 records. so I can tell you that the influences were numerous …
What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
As a teenager, back in the 70s, I wanted to be part of the punk movement and hang out with those older ones. With hindsight it is obvious to me that it was because my father had passed away and I was looking for a sense of guidance. But in any case whatever the reason I had to make a lot of effort to be accepted. Consequently in the following years my involvement in the scene became natural.
The more the years go by, the more I feel the need to share my knowledge, my favorites which is why I never stopped producing radio programs and decided to start/develop Modulisme: a media outlet supporting leftfield modular synthesis.
Providing ressources/interviews, a radio program aired via 7 antennas, and above all label-like streaming music for you to listen to …
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?
To be honest I am glad that I started late, being almost 40, as I was already so familiar with the music that had been published since the 1950s that I had acquired a certain maturity and had a fairly clear idea of my desires and my limits. In order to transcend them from the beginning I called upon the talent of my friends and these exchanges, these collaborations allowed me to progress, to find my way.
In 2005, I was very privileged to start Strings Of Consciousness with Hervé Vincenti and work on it every day, while collaborating with Lydia Lunch, Murcof, Eugene Robinson (Oxbow), Andy Diagram, Edward Ka-Spel (Legendary Pink Dots), Simon Fisher Turner, Kumo, Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle), Sybarite, Foetus, Pantaleimon, Graham Lewis (Wire), Barry Adamson, Machinefabriek, Mira Calix, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Justin K. Broadrick, James Johnston, ASVA, Martin Dupont and many more whose talent made me bounce back and forth.
[Read our Cosey Fanni Tutti Interview]
[Read our JG Thirlwell of Foetus interview]
[Read our Machinefabriek interview]
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m trying my best to feel alive everyday and being creative is essential to it.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
From the beginning I wanted my records to follow each other but not to sound the same because even if I have a lot of respect for those who find their own identity, forge their own sound and stick to it all their career, I can get tired of it.
I never wanted to caress the public, to answer to their expectations and this has not changed.
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?
Playing may bring in some fresh ideas though developing a compositional point of view from trying new instruments doesn’t work for me. I may record for hours and in the end trash all of it. Luckily it is very pleasant to learn / approach new instruments when I like to improvise and constantly treat the instrument in a new way, like a child who discovers a new toy …You see I am not practicing / learning in the traditional way, repeating the same move / note in hope to be able to reproduce it as I do not want to reproduce it. I want to be surprised even if I can reproduce it sometimes …
From the beginning I wanted to create an alliance between the electronic and the acoustic so I started to use a DAW. and some plug ins effects like the tools developed by GRM so as to process my cymbalom, guitars, as well as my voice, glass, pieces of wood, stones, or percussive objects, as well as taking advantage of vinyl material to fondle released sounds engraved on unique vinyl LPs in order to manipulate them manually on stage.
In a Musique Concrète style, I am interested in the importance of the compositional gesture, to favor the live touch without repetitions, by impulse, in a very corporeal way.
But I also need to be sculpting sound like a craftsman and this takes hours / days. To achieve this task I had been relying on a DAW and after a decade or so I felt bored with creating music that way. It’s such a tedious process with very little interaction except for tons of mouse and keyboard clicking, and so it was with relief that I threw myself into the use of modular synthesis.
Nowadays I only use my computer to edit or master. It is still an essential compositional tool. It just isn't an instrument anymore.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The invention of electricity obviously, since the control of the electric flow allows the creation of my sound-objects …
Children are often forbidden to play with fire while the child in me experiences the pleasure of playing with electricity.
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?
Exchanging with other human beings is part of human evolution. It is necessary and as I previously said I feel privileged to have worked with what people call a dream-team of collaborators. Obviously working on a song and realizing that I’d love an instrument or a voice which I am not capable of creating myself + the pleasure of collaborating: I’d send the music and trust them …
We discuss and I welcome their ideas, often when I receive their parts and work on integrating them, I may remove some of mine to make room. I do not want to be directive, in my opinion two heads are better than one.
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?
When I am at home, where I work, they tend to blend seamlessly. Music is my passion and has always been the center part of my existence. To break the routine I make sure to go out and take a walk or to visit my girlfriend …
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Since I'm not musically trained / educated, I lie outside the classical genre but my scores incorporate traditional classical components in a predominantly unconventional manner. This, in 2012, got me an invitation by Jean-Paul Dessy to become in charge of electronics / turntables in the ambitious E. C. O. (European Chamber Orchestra) formation comprising of 33 soloists from Orkest De Ereprijs + Musiques Nouvelles + Télémaque ensembles.
For me, as someone who regularly went to see contemporary music ensembles and was in love with all these magnificent instruments, finding myself for the first time in the middle of such an ensemble remains an outstanding memory. We played for 3 years and 36 established composers wrote for us so this can be considered as a breakthrough work.
In the same register I want to greet the clairvoyance of Iancu Dumitrescu & Ana Maria Avram (whom I deeply mourn) who invited me to join forces as a soloist turntablist in their Hyperion Ensemble, remembering that night we played the legendary Berghain venue in Berlin and the second soloist was Stephen O’Malley and Iancu was conducting us to the limit, always asking for more, and I think I have never gone so far in my art of turntablism.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
First of all it is a discipline. I do practice almost everyday and stay open-curious to what is happening around me, listening to sounds, silences and my thoughts …
My inspiration is within me and I hope to be able to let it out freely rather than looking for it outside. In fact, distractions come from the outside except if I have chosen to allow some external elements …
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Honestly I am not sensitive to all these theories of care through music which in itself just encourage you to take time for yourself ...
With or without music, what I think is necessary, is to find yourself, to listen to yourself, to others, to the elements. So if music can help some people to do that, so much the better. But as far as I'm concerned, my reaction would be rather the opposite, because I listen to music, I analyze it and in fact it would distract me.
On the other hand I can say that music saved me. As a teenage punk my friends were taking drugs while I preferred to keep my mind clear in order to fully appreciate my records. Throughout the years this passion has become the center of my existence.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I tend to favor the idea of recycling, bearing in mind that I should stay true to my school. To me limits come when using cultural signs and symbols. Trying to fit into boxes in hope to be liked kills individuality.
Furthermore I do not attach importance to any cultural / social / gender specificity of art, what for? I like it or not. Art should move me, provoke a reaction, whether it be created by a woman, a colored or poor / rich mind. I really don't care and I would even say that all these politically correct fashions annoy me since most of the time they are put forward by decision-makers who want to give themselves a good conscience, or to make themselves look good, to appear socially committed, etc …
For example, I used to wear long skirts and felt like a feminist a long time ago, and even though I'm glad that today we're fighting to give more voice to women, the gender to which a person belongs should not be a criterion for choosing his / her job, just like the color of a person should not be an excuse for rejection.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Indeed, the senses are interconnected. For instance Pauline Oliveros kept theorizing about Deep-listening which to me is simply the correct way of listening …
[Read our Pauline Oliveros interview]
Sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell collaborate closely to enable the mind to better understand its surroundings. While I am playing or instant-composing I try to be contemplative, attentive to sounds themselves but hopefully to those images which may appear …
To me when listening, it is better to close your eyes, since visual information may clash with the information from sound, sensory crosstalk can cause what I see to change - what I may hear if I look at waveforms instead of just listening to the music. Seeing myself as a « Musical Travel-Agent » I truly hope to conjure up your senses, take you into a trip … Though please don’t get me wrong I am not helping with your echolocation ...
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Again this is my way of living, and politically I am well-aware that my actions can’t change anything, unfortunately.
You see, in my early 20s I decided to go against anything chauvinistic or nationalistic and considered myself as a « Citizen of the World » rather than a Frenchman… Feeling close to the US term ‘drifter’ referring to a vagrant who refuses the solid bourgeois values of work, family and nation.
Apart from the kapital, the law of value, choosing to marginalize and stay Independent which became possible thanx to my passion and involvement in music, so at least I am living proof that an alternative is possible, that one can exercise one's passion, refuse a system based on money, power.