Name: Pierre Lefeuvre
Current release: Saycet has just composed the score to the movie ‘Bastard Lion’ in conjunction with Laurent Garnier. He is also about to release his new full-length album Malaparte.
Recommendations: Music: Music for 18 musicians - Steve Reich
Cinema: Mirror - Andrei Tarkovsky
If you enjoyed this interview with Saycet and would like to find out more about him, check out his Facebook account and Soundcloud profile.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing music at the age of 5, when my father bought himself a Yamaha Expander for his own pleasure. Soon, as it turned out, I was the one who played with it more often than him.
When I was a teenager, I started mixing house, techno and trance. The electronic sounds that were then new for me allowed me to travel through the sound (it was the sounds which made the track and not the notes or the harmony).
Then I discovered Boards of Canada at the same time as the MAO. I studied sound engineering and the rest is quite logical.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I had 3 quite diverse periods of inspiration.
I started by producing (copying) trance (rather European trance from the late 90s). Then I was strongly influenced by the early 2000s; Warp Records and by electronica from Northern Europe and Iceland where I spent a lot of time trying to understand and reproduce these moods. Soon after came an album from Mogwai called "Happy Songs For Happy People", which struck me for the fact that the music could be very progressive and (very) melodic at the same time. I think I found my own path after assimilating these 4 influences and making them into one.
Finally, what I appreciate about trance and Mogwai is that they fulfill my desire to escape which I am obsessed with (close to prog music). In the electronica of the 2000s, meanwhile, I am intrigued by the sound research close to sound-design.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
It starts in a very technical way by trying to make a rhythmic sound well. It evolves to how to compose for several instruments at the same time. Understand subtractive synthesis, Fm, Granular etc ... And the more you evolve the more you always find new territories to explore, but it's ultimately very geeky.
My main challenge from the beginning and still today is to find how to succeed in making people travel through my music without repeating myself. How to experience sensations that are emotionally similar, but with different sounds or formats.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was a table in my room with a laptop, headphones and a midi keyboard. I made my first album in the box. Eventually, I acquired synths and monitoring and I moved to my living room to have more space. After a few years (and even more material), I was finally able to have a "real" studio and a room dedicated to that.
The central elements of the studio are my Focales Twin 6, My Klein Junior Piano which is sort of my notepad) and some of my Juno 106, JX3P Prophet08 and Mini D synths which are at the heart of my creation every day.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I have a love hate relationship with technology. Sometimes innovations are really inspiring, such as DAWs, synths, or sequencers. Sometimes, on the other hand, these are bottomless wells where we experiment with all these technologies without really remembering anything.
The machines are good at saving time, and costs. We can therefore try more things today than if we were in a studio in the 70s. Paradoxically, humans are much more creative when they have the least access to the technology around them, when they are limited. In any case it is a fact for me. So, I try to limit my taste and my attractions for technology as much as possible, (even if I remain a geek) when I am in the period of creation.
I therefore separate my time between the discovery of machines, the experiments that go with it but which often do not lead to much, and the creation where I return to simpler processes by trying to integrate some ideas that I could have had during these experimentation phases.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I often start on the piano, even for 100% electronic productions. My first impressions always come from this instrument. Once I find the idea and the harmony, I look for the sound I want and therefore my machines guide me. In most cases the sounds I work with - synths or FX - give me other ideas and I move away more and more from the starting piano.
I like to start with an acoustic vibration and immediacy before working and reflecting on the material with electronic tools (whether analog or digital).
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?
I collaborated with an electronic composer this year and I liked the principle a lot. We didn't theorize about it or talk about it, I sent my work and we bounced it back and forth, kind of like a ping pong game, taking time to share and absorb each other's work.
For music, the oral exchange doesn't matter much to me, collaborations are more instructive and exciting when they are trans-media; with a graphic designer or on a film, because above you can talk and discuss from a very precise point of view to arrive at a global work.
For works that integrate music into something else, discussion is essential, I can spend hours discussing and exchanging.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
I am lucky to have a place to live that also coincides with my work. I live in a Parisian boutique with a basement that serves as a music studio. My daily life is therefore very linked to my activity, but I try to have some sort of organization.
My "routine" day is that I take care of everything that is auxiliary to creation in the morning. I devote my afternoons to music, whether for my personal projects or for external commissions. I stop most of the time around 7pm because I love to cook so I devote myself to cooking from around 7pm to 8.30pm.
Depending on the work, there may be inspiration or the desire sometimes to also make music in the evening. But it is quite rare.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
It's a very long process for me. The idea often comes to me by chance while playing on my piano but the form that the final piece can take can come 3 or 4 years later. It starts 90% of the time from a riff or a harmonic suite. After that, I turn it over in all directions and I start to project myself on sounds that would go with this harmonic suite ... Sometimes it's immediate and other times it takes a year or more. All I know is that when I like the harmonic sequence, I know that the piece will eventually exist. Just because it's fast doesn't mean it will be any better or good in my eyes.
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?
There are no rule to this. When I was younger, I told myself that I had to be emotionally stimulated to be creative and I realized that it did not work like that for me. I try not to ask myself these kinds of questions too much. In the end it'll happen when it happens. I just realize one thing (with age), when I'm in a period where I have confidence in myself, I'm a lot more creative.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I always start with improvisation, on my piano, so for me it's the basis of composition. After that I leave this improvisation to make a composition which in the end will be played on stage and will be (depending on the mood) re-improvised. For me it's a pretty logical loop.
I happens on tour that I arrive at the conclusion that I should have played the track live before releasing it as an album ... I would have surely changed a lot of things. But if we start to think like this it would be a never-ending cycle.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
For me, sound research is an integral part of the composition of a track. I don't know how I go about finding a sound to my melodies. I do it quite instinctively. I record sequences in Midi that I run in a loop in various devices. At one point something pleases me, and I deepen it. It's pretty empirical.
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
For me, the sense most correlated with sound is sight. You see warm or cold colours depending on the sounds you play, or vice versa, as I make a lot of music in the image. I often start from what I look for to put out an atmosphere, a sound material or a feeling, so these two senses are very linked in my mind.
I don't have that same connection with smell or taste. Touch is quite correlated with the sound but from an instrumentalist or listener point of view; the fact of feeling the music physically materializes it therefore makes it in a certain way visible.
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?
My way of being an artist where my music just responds to the skip. I make music to escape the world we all live in which I find quite ugly. People who listen to my work often tell me the same thing, they listen to escape or escape from a grey daily life. I think I have this role here. I like art that makes me think or ask me questions about the world, but mine is not for that. It's more like a bandage or an anti-scuff cream.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Honestly no :). I find it beautiful that it ultimately remains this impalpable thing, even if fashions change and styles evolve.