Name: Sebastien Brun
Occupation: Artist, drummer, composer, performer
Current Release: Ar Ker on Carton Records.
A book: "La Longue Route" by Bernard Moitessier. First sailing solo race around the globe at the end of the 60’s. Moitessier was the leader but decided to take a different route. He wrote this book during the race.
If you enjoyed this interview with Seb Brun, we recommend his website as a point of departure into his work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
At 8, I saw Milos Forman’s Amadeus. Ouch. I loved what I saw: this craziness and this obstinacy. I asked my mother to send me to conservatory to study classical piano. But It wasn’t as fun as in the movie and I wasn’t Mozart. I saw myself as a "digger". Everything takes time and several paths or lives.
At high-school we were 2 pianists in our band and we had no drummer. The other guy was really better than me on the keys, so I took the sticks. That was the second beginning.
We started to record our band on a 4 track cassette recorder. What a beautiful thing! Of course, it wasn’t easy to listen to my early age playing. Later, in parallel to my studies of mathematics & statistics, I really worked a lot on my instrument & Steve Coleman's music. Learning all the rhythmic & melodic strategies. Diving into Ableton to write midi loops to learn claves, I began slowly to use it to write tracks for my avant-jazz bands.
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 the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It was the time when the guys from the NY improv scene blew our mind (Jim Black, Tom Rainey, Tim Berne). Mixing complex composition, sound consciousness and free improv. Living in Paris, we were really influenced by this scene quite a lot. We grew up in collectives (Sophie Aime, Collectif Coax, Surnatural Orchestra …) and having a lot of different bands. It was really exciting. Learning from everyone. Trying anything. Slowly integrating a lot of influences, and, without seeing it, building a personal language.
During this period, a few encounters (incredible band mates, mentors … ) turned on my light.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I am most of all a performer rather than a composer. I started with the maths side of music. Golden ratio, harmonics, etc ... Then improv music. My laptop and electronics always plugged in. But trying to mix both, I worked a lot on that meta-instrument, to fit my artistic needs. Not to be constrained by having the hand on the computer instead of on the drums. That is still a big thing. Building this instrument. Like everything else, it’s always moving.
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?
A drum kit and a lot of guitar pedals / cables / metal things / pans / machines (TR 505, Formanta Russian clones, Elektron, Nord Drum, OP1, Keith McMillen BopPad, OTO Biscuit …), midi controller … A real mess. As I started touring, I realised that all that stuff couldn’t fit in a backpack / suitcase to be carried by one guy. Now, I’m trying to keep my computer. A few piezzos, a soundcard and a little modular rig since last year … And sticks.
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?
Like a lot of people we use technology everyday. I've been living in the countryside for a year. We started a garden with our little hands to cultivate some real vegetables. Around the house, farmers are using tractors and huge machines for their industry. But we are both talking about the weather, when and where to plant.
Technology is a tool. It can be really really inspiring. I spent a lot of time on Max/MSP or M4L. My neighbour on his tractors.
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?
While writing a piece, or thinking about a set-up or an installation, after the “what”, I work a lot on the “how”. I've spent a lot of time and coffee in front of screens, manuals and patches. During a performance, I don’t want to think about technical things, but mainly about the narration. All means are good to keep this focus on the story & the present moment.
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?
It can take many forms. But discussions are good starting points. It could take time to create a space where everyone is in his right place. We have to arrange it together.
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’m trying to have a fixed schedule. But life is always stronger. I’ve got that big whiteboard with everything I have / like to do. Write this piece, write for this guy, learn this, finish this live setup for this gig, get this application.
At home: coffee at 7.00 (got a son now) / drum pad routine / emails and daily administrative / experimenting / lunch / experimenting / experimenting / family life / drumming on my knees / family life / music theory on Internet to sleep. But before the lockdown, I was on tour half of the year.
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?
Little things, very little things. Sound, rhythm, texture, melody … After that, I focus on the narration and the physical appearance of the music. I also try to anticipate the audience's state of mind during the performance to create a sense of development over the course of the timeline.
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?
When I was younger, I was working for hours/days on end. I would get a little crazy, take a break for a few days, then start again. It has become more difficult now. So everyday, everywhere, it always takes a bit of thinking to create a bit of music. For me it takes time.
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?
The paths are the same in my work. Everything is permeable. Compositions can come from improvisations and vice-versa.
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?
People like Eliane Radigue really influenced me, as did minimal music, concrete music, Terry Riley. More recently Alva Noto or Emptyset. The sound aspect of music is an entire part of the compositional path. In my solo work or with my rough techno project Parquet, we work on slowly opening a filter, or whatever to colour a sound, for 8 minutes precisely. The music is also here: the filter and the 8 minutes, while the band is playing a loop.
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?
Synaesthesia. I don’t have that thing. Maybe I’d like to, don’t really know. As I was saying above, I work on the notion of “states”. Finding the right state to play the music. I spent time in India to study classical music, tablas. Just like I wasn’t Mozart, I wasn’t Zakir Hussain either. But I met incredible people staying in a kind of meditating state while working/playing. I was also really impressed by the notion of ragas, and the specific time during the day to play each one. Sunrise, Sunset …
Our body is central in our perception and also in the way we execute tasks. I like the work of Gisèle Vienne in Crowd or Stephen O’Malley and Sunn O))). I also loved super silent music or electronic composition with really low frequencies. In synthesis, some oscillator frequencies are within the human hearing register, some are higher, some are lower. But they all do something somewhere to our body.
With Horns, a piece for speakers and 4 improvisers, I work on persistence & stackings of sounds. Like in field recording, to be aware of the different depths of field and to play with them.
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?
Spending time, and working with traditional Maloya musicians in La Réunion, I realise how their life is involved in their art. I think how it was the same thing. It really questioned my own implication. What is the weight of our history? How do we convey our tradition? As a middle-class educated white European guy, I ask myself what I was carrying in my bag. I’m finding things. Implicate myself in transmission, local adventures.
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?
Of course, music will still be here, its basic concept, its visceral concept. We experience music through our bodies. Music has a physical and social power. Music could be a drug, a medicine. The basic concept of sound is vibration of air. Music is physics.