Name: Philippe Petit
Occupation: Musical travel agent, sound artist, curator at Modulisme
Current release: Philippe Petit's second collaboration with experimental / ambient musician Michael Schaffer is out via Opa Loka. Also available: the unreal that shivers in each..., a 4-track EP on Buried Treasure.
If you enjoyed this interview with Philippe Petit and would like to stay up to date on his work, visit his official website. He is also on Facebook, and Soundcloud. We also recommend our previous Philippe Petit interview, where he talks about an even wider range of topics.
Right now, the best place to follow his work is Modulisme, a website exploring the borderline between journalism, label and online community – all centred around a passion for modular synthesis. The ongoing sessions series has so far included releases by Yoshio Machida, Ian Boddy, Gino Robair, Jos Smolders and Bana Haffar.
[Read our Gino Robair interview]
[Read our Jos Smolders interview]
[Read our Bana Haffar interview]
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?
Generally I do follow an idea, serving as a starting point to my story …
Chance is always of importance, and this applies to everyday life where what is commonly called luck is within our reach and the art of survival consists in knowing how to seize it and use it in the best way. Actually the very best is to be able to plan our chance ...
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Obviously gear is important as I have to build my modular system, to complete an instrument being able to gratify my wishes.
For instance I am often unscrewing / repositioning modules so as to keep my principal instrument in constant evolution and change my gestures and the way I approach / practice. If I decide to bring in some strings for instance I may have to walk to the conservatory and open their grand piano. I’d have to plan ahead which objects I’d like to put on & between the strings + how to alter / benefit from its resonant structure ...
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?
This happens all the time as I like to be surprised and play with it. What matters to me is to be able to come back to my original story. Transitions are of importance, I like to use the image of an architect who beats up a house whose furniture can vary without distorting the essence of the work.
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?
Every morning we wake up in a different mood, our opinions, our feelings change compared to the day before and our desires will continue to vary throughout the day ... It's endless! So it's crucial to know when it's time to make your work public.
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 am always in doubt and refine a lot while being a father who knows how to cut the umbilical cord. My hope is to still be able to listen to my works later on when they are published and I receive the finished record, hopefully they may age well …
Actually, very few pieces turned out to be disappointing and anyway they are the testimony of a moment of my life.
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 you know I attach great importance to sculpting sound thus I believe that it is part of composing to control every step of the production process.
I do it all by myself except for a few rare occasions where I felt an external ear be needed.
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?
Oh no - I am constantly working on 5-6 projects at the same time and it may take more than a year before an album gets published. Thus when it appears I am already far ahead … My life isn't empty enough.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I wouldn’t write that writing a piece of music is different than making coffee, or cooking, because composing is totally like mixing ingredients, aroma, in hope of creating new flavors, develop tastes. To me the main difference would be that if I were to cook for someone I’d try to please that individual, respect proportions as indicated in the recipe, whereas I am not making music to please anyone in particular and do not intend to follow any recipe.
When it comes to being mundane I have been educated and thus I am polite, besides I try to make sure that my endeavors may not disturb those around me whereas musically I can be the opposite … Not mundane at all!
Some told me that I am real daring, that I have no fear. For sure, within my musical world, I accept no limits.