Name: Noémi Büchi
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current release: Noémi Büchi's Hyle is out via -OUS.
Recommendations related to sound: Books: Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts by Douglas Kahn; Sound by Artists by Dan Lander & Micah Lexier; SPECTRES Volume 1: Composer l’écoute / Composing listening
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Noémi Büchi and would like to find out more about her work, visit her personal website. You can also find her on Soundcloud, Instagram and bandcamp.
For an even deeper look, check out our previous Noémi Büchi interview.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it?
Actually, I've been making music since I can remember living. I started improvising very early, on an old out-of-tune piano in my parent’s house. Later I learned piano and studied musicology and composition.
What has always fascinated me about sound is the state in which one is able to sink into; music has this power to send people into a parallel world. This power has helped me personally both as a child and now as an adult to somehow come to terms with the world we are living in and create my own parallel one, in which I can and may express myself.
I have always felt a euphoria and a certain simplicity in musical expression, whether through rhythms or harmonic constructs. The ideas just flow out of me - anytime and anywhere - which is not the case in other areas of life. That's why I knew very early on that music would always accompany me.
I don't want to use the term 'escape', but maybe it is a form of expedition, a journey from which I come back a little smarter each time.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances using sound in an unusal or remarkable way captured your imagination in the beginning?
As a child I listened to a lot of classical music, especially from the Romantic and Impressionist periods. I was fascinated by how full and dense this music was, like a big wave that pulls you in and pushes you in all directions. I sometimes listened to a single piece for two months (or even more), on loop. I was always very obsessive with certain pieces and works. I think that was my way of understanding and analyzing music completely.
And besides that, I also incredibly enjoyed listening to film soundtracks, anime music and folk music from Africa and Asia. I had a slight touch for kitsch, and my dream was to reproduce a music, that evokes these kinds of feelings I had while listening to this very emotional music, but without including the kitsch. I think that became then the mission of my life (haha).
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
I was very influenced by Western classical music. But I was very curious in knowing music from other cultures. For me, music is something universal that goes far beyond cultures. Music — sound waves are like the origin of all things.
Working predominantly with field recordings and sound can be an incisive step / transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
The integration of recorded, so to speak "own" sounds, adds another dimension to the music in my opinion. The musical work becomes much more personal and diverse.
Creativity can develop much more with extra-musical means. That's why the term "sound art" is often used, although for me everything can still be considered as music.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
I think that the development never stops. The music you make today is already at another point tomorrow. It is interesting to observe, both as an artist and as a listener, how music and musical tastes evolve together with his own person and change everyday.
Every day is like a new birth, and so every day you are a different person. Nothing is static.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
I like to categorize my music as neo-classical, although I'm not a fan of categorization. But nevertheless, this is the term that corresponds most closely to me and my idea of art.
All ideas, all inspirations are just a continuation of what you already know. We are involved in a cultural and social never-ending chain, and drive it, even if only unconsciously, always further.
Of course, each work is unique in its concrete form. But there is nothing really new. Everything is just variation of something that already exists.
What are the sounds that you find yourself most drawn to? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
Following on from my thoughts expressed above, I have no concrete or specific preferences as nothing is final or definitive. The tastes and ideas are in a continuous evolution.
But I can say, though, that I have a great love for subtlety and cleanliness / purity in the sound. If there's anything I don't really like, it's excessive distortion or extremely high frequencies. I have an obsession for deep and full sounds.
I like excessive and subtle at the same time.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you personally starting from your first studio/first instruments and equipment? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
When I started to take a deep interest in electronic music and to deal with it, thousands of questions came up, especially questions of a technical nature. The range of possibilities is enormous, and the danger of getting lost in it is very close. That's why I stayed true to my basic approach and let myself be guided by the sounds. I always think first about what and how I want to sound like, what sound experience I want to determine. Based on this, I decide on specific instruments and software.
And I really like to explore new forms again and again. My first 'electronic years' were very focused on computer music and I was mainly concerned with software, plug-ins and programming languages such as C-Sound, Max Msp or Supercollider. Over the last few years, I have built up a very hybrid little ‘orchestra’.
I don't want to limit myself in terms of sounds. For me, all of my sonic phantasies must be possible. That's the reason why I have such a hybrid way of working. I work a lot with my modular synthesizer, which I use as a source of transformation and synthesis, digital synthesizers, objects, computer programs, acoustic instruments, my own sound recordings, my voice, etc. I like to make my own sound mixes, about which I think already during the production, this mixture and exactly this sound I will never create again.
It's unique every time, which also makes each piece special and non-reproducible.
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
Personally, I consider doing everything myself; either I record sounds outside, in apartments or other places — wherever. Then I process them. Or I create sounds with software or through analog synthesis. It would rarely occur to me to take a sound that was not made by me.
Finally I work in a very hybrid was where I organize my sounds according to the sound character, such as for example "pulses" — "deep, long pulses" — „hard pulses“ — "short micro-pulses" etc. etc. Then I make categories, subcategories, etc. With folders and a very specific nomenclature I find my way around my sound library.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
I have a lot of sonic phantasies, that I haven't realized yet, for sure. But it’s hard to explain with words.
Perhaps best metaphorically: metallic wind shocks that end in absorbent cotton and then fall through a water jug into another sphere where they are blinded by warm light and pile up and become huge — but I think it would be easier to describe it orally, imitating the sounds I’m looking for.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
The music I make, or electronic / electroacoustic music in general, is very dependent on space, and even has to be composed with space in mind. There is a very close connection between sound and space. For example, when I compose in 4-channel or 8-channel, the whole approach and way of thinking in the compositional process is different than for a stereo piece, etc.
Then, of course, I really like to give an artificial, psychoacoustic space to the piece. To produce different depths, closeness and distance.
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
To be honest, I have not looked into it deeply enough to be able to make a statement about it. But it does interest me and I have great admiration for artists who work in this direction. I think it is a very important aspect of music and sound art.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
Music can be anything - it is up to the listener what hits, inspires or moves him. Perception is different and individual for everyone, shaped by knowledge, experience and aesthetics.