Name: Sacha Khalifé
Current Release: No Moon At All, What a Night on Apollo Records
Recommendations: The last book I read was “L’Esprit des Vents” by François Simon. It is very synaesthetic, poetic and violent in a candid way. Sentences are short, very rhythmic and often times throw grapes of images and sensations at you rather than taking you by the hand. This book takes place in post-WWII Japan (and during the Japanese occupation in China).
I am actually going through a Japanese phase …
I have been watching Yasujiro Ozu’s movies all summer. They are beautiful and so deep psychologically at a time when Hollywood was still mostly in “Casablanca” mode …
If you enjoyed this interview with Shcaa, find out more about him and his work on Facebook, Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
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 first started music production in my last high school year, while revising my Baccalauréat. I was living in Tunisia at that time and had been playing guitar for a couple of years and was listening to music 24/7, a mixture of 60s rock and British IDM mostly.
I think that one of the turning points was the discovery of online dubstep radios and with them Burial ... I would be listening to Burial's first album in loop while passing my IELTS in order to move to London and thinking that I would soon be able to approach this scene. I did not touch any production software during the first year in London though, just listening, discovering. The summer of my 18th birthday, I decided to really get into it and Shcaa was born. I never stopped. My 2nd, 3rd and 4th productions were released on my classmates’ (known as L:E:R) label Chich Marionette a few months later.
I had a rather precise idea of the sound I wanted, I always wanted it to be organic, something living, I hated sounds that felt synthetic.
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?
I still consider being in the learning phase, but I do think that my music always failed to fall into a precise category ... I never managed to do what others were doing even though I sometimes tried! All types of art and creations inspire me, they feed me and when I produce I have a compass in my head that is the sum of all my experiences. This sum is unique so I do not think about being original or lacking originality. I just follow my intuition.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main challenge in the first years was getting the sound I wanted ... I knew where I wanted to go but had no clue on how to get there. So, I would spend months on a single track, I could not let it go, I could not resolve myself to start another piece until I had found some sort of satisfaction.
It is very different now; I find the sounds of my imagination and it has become like a game. I also know better what spectral trigger to pull to achieve certain results, what is lacking or what is redundant. I have also learned to manage my expectations and when I cannot do something, I am not frustrated and just go discover new landscapes for a little while. Eventually, I always reach my destination.
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 laptop, a guitar, an Apple speaker (the big heavy ones) and various pairs of headphones. It lasted 4 years ... I recorded many guitar takes straight into the computer, lots of iphone vocal tracking as well. DSP was my way to transform these average sounding sources into what I wanted.
After moving to Paris, I started buying some gear, quality gear but never in quantity. My signal chain is short but top notch. The same goes for my instruments. I am very picky when it comes to instruments, they need to look good, feel good and mostly feel close to me. If it is not perfectly right, it does not stay long. There are very few synths I have come to truly embrace …
Synths rarely feel like home and I could eventually end up one day with a synth-free studio, except the modular that has become this one of a kind instruments that I use in my own way. I also love guitar pedals, I buy and sell a lot, use them with guitar, bass and modular but most my effect chains happen in the digital domain, this is where I can fully manipulate my fictional world of sounds.
The most important pieces are for sure my mac, the customized Gibson (I spent 3 years to get the tone I was looking for) and my lava lamp.
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 do not delegate much to technology ... even my automations are most often handmade. When I do have an important random element in a track, I tend to record several takes of the channel just to get the right one. The computer is an extension of my brain not an independent brain when it comes to music.
A feedback mechanism occurs though with improvisation. Many facets of my track are left to spontaneous expression. Jazz dynamics fascinate me and in that regard performance is crucial. I believe in delegating consequent portions of my tracks to “the chance of the first take” because despite being imperfect, this is filled with subconscious decisions that are very rich emotionally.
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?
Following the development of my previous answer, my compositional process is very rooted into the moment, in spontaneous improvisation. For this to happen, guitar or bass are the tools I am the most comfortable with, sometimes the piano, too, but this is rarer. I will sometime use the modular to set a landscape or a pulse for me to improvise on, but my harmonies come from the guitar. Most of my synth melodies or pads are also composed on guitar first then played back on the synth.
The second phase is denser and more conscious and happens virtually through DSP and arrangements ... But even though this happens fully in the box, I am in control. There is no co-authorship with the laptop that is why I like it so much ... I am starting to code now and even in that context I leave very little space to pure chance.
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?
Nothing can match the feeling of playing an instrument or singing along with someone. This is the most beautiful, conversational dynamic you can experience in music in my opinion and I try to play guitar regularly with my friends.
In the electronic realm I have been jamming for a while with my friend Traian Chereches. While he was living close to me, we he had a natural division of labour in the studio. He was hands on recording things on his synths and drum machines in a bulimic/gargantuesque way and I was behind the desk intercepting this enormous amount of data live, curate it, DSP it, mix it and open him new channels to record more. We recorded hours of sounds like this but never finished anything in the perfect sense. Now he moved back to Bucharest and our collaboration has taken on a new form. We use wetransfer a lot and we're rediscovering past recordings. I love the direction this is going; it is like we channel the energy of our jams into a more reflective and artistic expression.