Name: Pierre-Marie Maulini
Occupation: Producer, songwriter
Current release: Kasztan's Celeste EP is out now.
Equipment recommendations: I love using an NLS Buss stereo and an SSL comp from Waves Audio on my drum buss to glue and give a more analog feeling. I have a certain love for Valhalla plug ins too, the supermassive reverb is amazing.
If you enjoyed this interview with Pierre-Marie Maulini and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit the facebook pofiles of Stal and Kasztan.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I’m a bit of a workaholic, all Virgos are apparently. (laughs) I consider myself very lucky that I can call making music «work». So, it’s just natural for me to sit behind my synths and computer and start working on something new.
I'm passionate about geopolitics, modern art and photography too but I don’t feel it really influences my music. I’d say music is my main inspiration for music, be it classical, post-rock or techno.
Actually the way music is used and composed for, or in association with other art forms like cinema or contemporary dance can be quite inspiring, too.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I like pure emotions, if I get shivers when creating, that’s a good sign. But it’s something I look for while composing, not a state I need to be in to start composing.
I like big emotional build ups. This is where my love for post-rock and techno really meet, like on my track ‘Number Thirteen’.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Sometimes, it starts with an idea, not necessarily in terms of composition but it can be a production trick I want to try or an atypical structure. In my head, it’s like I can see the finished product but in the end, it always turns out differently than expected. This is what I find magical about it, because making music can take you beyond your initial expectations, or just elsewhere.
What was your first studio like?
I had a Mac Book Pro, my Telecaster plugged straight in to the computer, an m-audio midi key. It was a very basic set up but it was a long time ago!
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 set up had to evolve, because I used it to record / compose quick demos for my previous bands and now I have to handle every step of the production and mixing process. So of course I need a wider set of tools and I bought a lot of plug-ins for production, and even more for mixing.
In terms of hardware, the two main pieces that I’d never go without are my Telecaster and my Novation bass station 2, which I like to run through some guitar pedals.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
As an electronic artist it’s very important to control every step of the creative process. Coming from the rock scene I’m still learning how to improve my producing and mixing skills, and I guess I’ll learn all my life because it’s always evolving and that’s exciting.
I don’t master my own tracks though, I’ve always thought that for this last step, it’s always good to have a fresh ear to refine your music.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I’ll be honest, I don’t have any specific ritual to get started except loads of coffee.
The setting might influence the result though. I find being in an unusual environment can make me more productive. This is what I like about traveling.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I prefer small set ups. The idea is to have a good knowledge and understanding of the tools you’re using. But yes, I’m a «less is more» kind of guy. It’s also more convenient because, as I just mentioned, I like to travel a lot.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
It depends, I usually start with a beat or a vocal, piano, guitar hook and then I add melodies, layers of synth, arps etc.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
All the time, it’s the essence of my work.
I can tell you every time I start with an idea, it ends up becoming something completely different. That’s why I start my tracks by piling up a lot of layers, and step by step I remove some elements that I feel are not necessary to the track.
There are a LOT of tracks that I wrote but that will remain unreleased because they don’t fit with the rest of my discography. But that’s part of my creative process.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
When I started Kasztan it was meant to be purely instrumental but I find myself digging into the old hard drives for vocals I’d recorded earlier. This is also the case on my new ‘Celeste EP’ with the track ‘Through The Skies’. It’s like me, featuring old me. Pretty schizophrenic!
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
I became really good friends with Ouai Stéphane; a crazy creative genius who builds his own synths and knows more than anyone I know about plug-ins too.
[Read our Ouai Stéphane interview]
He’s taught me a lot of tricks that are giving me ideas for new tracks. We met in Poland at an artistic residency organized by french Centre National de la Musique and Goyki Art inkubator in Sopot and ended up producing an ambient track together, along with Vapa and Amaurie.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Well it may sound silly but being a self taught guitarist that played in post-rock bands, any kind of technology that was new to me felt like a revolution!
When I used to be on tour with M83, playing guitars and keyboards, our sound engineer Patrick Walsh introduced me to the world of analog synths. It opened a lot of doors for me creatively, although I must confess I use mostly plug-ins now. Patrick if you ever read this, I’m sorry!
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
That’s tough! Obviously, you can ask many musicians about it and they would definitely agree that, especially for mixing, it could never end.
I stop when I feel there are no parts in the track where the listener can get bored and when my mixing feels right.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I used to write everyday and I was like ok it sounds good, next! Now, I’ve changed my process a bit, I actually let each track sit for a bit, it’s the best way to evaluate how good your hooks, melodies, edits and obviously your mix are.
That phase is when I go further into the details, like working on fx, making better fills, giving more space to vocals when needed, getting rid of some synths to focus on the essentials and so on …
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
True. When your music is out you don’t control/own it anymore. It’s in the hands of the audience and it’s a bit terrifying.
I can relate to that feeling of emptiness you are talking about and I guess it’s something I try to avoid / counter by composing more and more. I also try to avoid paying too much attention to feedback.