Members: Thomas and Julien de Bie
Current release: Parallells' debut LP, A Day At is out via Klassified.
If you enjoyed this interview with Parallells and would like to stay up to date on new releases and tour dates, visit their official homepage. They are also on Facebook, and Instagram.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it and what keeps sound interesting for you?
Growing up in a musical family surrounded by jazz music and concerts contributes towards sparking interest for sounds and music. We used to bring back instruments, either rhythmical or melodic, from our travels at a young age (and we still do). Instruments always worked as memories.
The more we grew, the more our mind opened up not only to instruments but to sounds in general. Adding to this the advances in technology and DAWs such as Ableton, we realised the incredible possibility to tell stories from any captured sound. It is then that we decided to express ourselves using our own samples.
Then in 2017, when we were helping our uncle in his leather factory, manufacturing belts. The variety of melodic sounds during the process, from small tools to big machinery, quickly became the soundtrack to our day and led to the track “The Factory”.
Little did we know, it would lead us on a sonic expedition to explore places where unexpected sounds became the centre of our musical pieces: an airport, a ski station, a supermarket, a carpentry or a kitchen were our creative playground.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
Past-experiences shape a man’s life. We were swimming in jazz from the South of France thanks to our dad and it has influenced our way of understanding and making music.
The expedition around the globe has definitely enlarged our musical openness. Different countries, different periods of time with several influences are mostly illustrated with a specific sound. It is like a melodic history book. This is for us the most interesting and inspirational aspect of music and it has brought us to work together with musicians from different background, culture, such as Maalem Omar Hayat in Gnawa music (Morocco), El Venado Azul in Huichol music (Mexico), Páll Guðmundsson who crafted instruments out of native rock in Iceland, to name a few.
We don't just inspire each other, but it is also a way to shed light on their long-rooted insights, creating bridges between tradition and modernity, working towards a symbiosis that shows the essence of culture. We believe it is important to accept diversity and to perpetuate musical knowledge.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
We are not the first and won’t be the last one that utilize recorded sounds as raw material. The entire audio-visual world is based on sound recording and many artists such as Pink Floyd used a lot of field recording in their albums. It even has a name, it's called “musique concrète”.
What is interesting now and wasn’t available previously, is the technology to alter, energize, and improve sounds in order to give them a new environment, a new life. We have no doubt this way of working with sound, and the musical mouvement of ‘musique concrète’ has already made it to the historical lineage of music.
What types of sound do you personally prefer to work with? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
To make a musical composition you need to (sort of) equally fill in the spectrum of sound. Humans can hear approximately from 20Hz to 20.000 Hz (from low to high frequency). This is exactly what we are looking for, a different range of pitch in sounds.
Of course there is always the question of aesthetics. We are usually attracted by appealing sound, but also looking for the grungy feeling. We do have a preference for rounded sound, because it creates a warmer feeling. And there are of course sounds we do reject.
Let’s take our track “The Dentist” for example. In general the overall feeling of sound in a dental surgery is very high pitched, almost ultrasound, having sort of a sawtooth wave sound which makes it very harsh, strident, very hard to make it appealing in a musical perspective. But then again, it becomes a challenge we are willing to take, making the dentist musically pleasant. (Moreover Thomas broke his teeth when he was younger, it became almost like a healing process!)
Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?
Depending on the project, the sounds are not random, they represent a specific work routine, a specific cultural ritual, and they tell a story on their own. We want to express musically a process, a culture, a place, we choose sound that fully represents its meaning.
Concerning organisation, we always announce the action/element we record on the microphone in order to recognize them later on. When we arrive in the studio, we clean, cut and organise them as sample packs to make it easier for us to work with them.
Speaking of which, a new sample pack “A Day At” is on its way. (laughs)
Some artists use sounds as a means for emotional self-expression, others take a more conceptual approach or want to present intriguing sound matter. How would you characterise your own goals and motivations in this regard?
We asked ourselves, do we ever listen to the sound around us? What can we hear? What sounds define our day? The concept of our album A Day At is a way to answer these questions, and to take the audience on a sonic journey to explore places they probably visited many times, to illustrate melodically the skills, the tools, the processes and the energy of a specific place.
The concept of A Day In brings the listener into a more profound place as it becomes cultural. We noticed how important sound can be in communicating moods, meaning and context. It became our way to communicate with the locals, to reveal their deepest passions, concerns where each sound is the building blocks of their story.
From a listener’ perspective, a melodic story has more impact to touch and inspire. It increases their contemplation and acceptance of diversity by opening the mind to an unfamiliar yet inspiring world. I guess our goal is to give harmony to humanity.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?
The beauty of “musique concrète” is that each recorded sound comes with a memory. For instance Thomas adjusting his snowboard binding on top of the mountain in “The Ski Station”, Julien shaking a bag of quinoa in “The Supermarket”, the sous-chef chopping carrots in the kitchen, our dad cleaning the plants in “The Greenhouse”.
These specific moments have a sound identity and take a spot in your memory. And when you sit down in the studio the creative process becomes multisensorial, the sound actually brings back visual, olfactory, tactile and even gustatory memories. It becomes a pure delight to hear recordings again. It triggers an extremely flowing and natural creative process.
Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to working with and editing sounds?
Well first things first, a good microphone and a good recorder! We now use Schoeps mics (directional and stereo) and Sound-Devices Mixpre recorders, which allow us to capture a sound in its full spectrum. But to tell you the truth, we started with a basic Tascam DR-40 which works well but deserves more post-editing work.
The second super important tool is a good knowledge in sound mixing. We use Ableton and plugins such as Fabfilter, Waves or Soundtoys to allow proper editing, compressing, equalizing and coloring. And finally, creativity! This comes from sonic memories, travels, encounters, etc ...
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?
Sound is infinite and technology is creating even more endless possibilities. Many tools exist to create the sound of the future, from synthesizers to modular and organic sound.
There are still so many soundscapes to be created. I guess the sound of silence would be the challenging one!
Many artists have related that certain sounds trigger compositional ideas in them or are even a compositional element in their own right. Provided this is the case for you – what, exactly, is about certain sounds that triggers such ideas in you?
The most creative part of sound sampling is that it comes with a sensory memory (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting) on top of listening. And some recordings tell a story of their own. We are always surprised by the symphony of nature, of machinery, of life in general.
Let us give some examples: the gnocchi machine in “The Kitchen” gave us the metronome of the track, it was the foundation of the rhythms. The MRI machine and heart beat in “The Research Center” gave us the tonality. It basically goes as follows: the acoustic environment triggers you in a new rhythm or a new melody. And sometimes an accidental sound becomes the primordial element of your track! We just let nature speak.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
A sound is the information of a moment in space and in time. A composition is a superposition of different sounds that perhaps will bring you back to a lost memory, transport you to another time, another place.
Humans are often characterised as "visual beings". In your opinion, what role does our sense of hearing play in our understanding of the world? How do sounds affect you, compared to other senses like sight or smell?
The sense of hearing is so underrated in our opinion.
Two years ago, we found ourselves sleeping in the bush of Kruger (South Africa) and when the darkness swallows you and you close your eyes, you realise that your ears are your only friends. Just as with the other animals that rely on their ears for survival instincts during the night.
But we believe that if you fully focus on the auditory sense it gives you more precise information than sight in some situations. Indigenous tribes still use their sense of hearing much more than the civilized world. Not only does it provide them with primordial information of their environment, it improves their life conditions much more than most senses.
Let us put you to the test to close your eyes now, try to differentiate and count as many sounds as you can hear around you. You’d be surprised how much you understand what is happening around you.
All senses are of course primordial, but we perceive the sense of earring as the ultimate teacher with a very wise voice.
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?
We are definitely affected by the sound around us. Most of humanity is living in such chaotic noise-polluted cities. Careful listening is not an option anymore. But the reality is that we need to listen to our environment before it is too late.
We dedicated our life to hearing the acoustic environment that surrounds us and consider it as a musical composition. Now we all need to take one step further by understanding that we own responsibility for its composition. (Birds won’t sing anymore if we keep on cutting trees or building skyscrapers)
That is the reason why we are putting all our efforts towards expanding acoustic ecology through music, education and engagement to warm the cooling heart of humanity, and to take action in reversing climate change.
That is also the reason why we decided to do A Day In: in order to engage and inspire locals as well as global communities about the importance of listening to the environment.
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?
They are definitely connected but different in a way that sound is a single variable / information that has a life of its own. Whereas music deals with harmony, which is the superposition of different sounds that gives a feeling of beauty or coherence. Therefore music couldn’t live without the existence of sound.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Nikola Tesla was saying that if you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration. This is how we see it: Everything around us (space) is made of frequency and vibration (sound), that gives everything the energetic tool to create even more energy (existence/composition).