I recently enjoyed listening to “Fiction / Non-Fiction” (another gem in the excellent catalogue of FatCat’s sister-label, 130701 ), a recently released compilation of film work compositions by Montreal-based French composer Olivier Alary. It can also be considered a debut, as it’s the first release under his own name, after gaining a reputation in the guise of Ensemble. Let’s get to know him better…
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Olivier! Before talking about your forthcoming collection of music (excellent output!), as usual, let’s have you metaphorically shake hands with our readers… Could you tell us something about your background and your very first steps into music?
Olivier Alary: I come from Toulouse, a mid-size city in the south of France. My first steps into music were very intuitive, as I had no guidance whatsoever from my family. I remember playing vinyl records from my mother; I also had a little “mange-disque,” a toy record player that could only play 7”. I loved to scratch them and listen to the result. Later on, I did a lot of compilations on cassette using FM and AM radio as a source.
I have always been fascinated with the idea of sculpting sound. I discovered punk when I was 15 and started playing in terrible punk bands as a lead vocalist. Then I got my first four-track in 1993, and that was an absolute revelation to me.
Chain D.L.K.: According to your biography, you previously studied architecture before getting deeper into music. Why such a decision?
Olivier Alary: As my family was not involved in music at all, it was very hard for them to imagine a possible career in this field. I struggled quite a bit with them. So I thought that architecture might be a good compromise between my scientific and creative sides.
Chain D.L.K.: The impressive Sketch Proposals could be considered your debut as Ensemble (following the also nice moniker, Hearing is Our Concern)… Why did you choose a nom de plume that generally refers to a group of people for a solo project?
Olivier Alary: Well, Ensemble in French also means “together.” The project was a French-English duo comprising my girlfriend and myself at the time, so we liked the idea of a name that worked in both languages. During the recording of the first album, we actually split up, so it became a strange solo project. In retrospect, ‘ensemble’ was a terrible choice for a band name because it is so vague and overused. Also, we chose that name before the internet became so wide-spread, so I did not realize how un-Googleable the name would be.
Chain D.L.K.: One of the most famous fans of that album was Bjork… How did you learn about her enthused feedback?
Olivier Alary: Dave Cawley from FatCat Records told me back in 2000 that he saw my album on her coffee table. I decided to write to her to suggest a collaboration between us.
Chain D.L.K.: Then collaborations with Bjork followed…can you tell us some cute anecdotes related to that period of your career?
Olivier Alary: It was incredible. She was so humble and genuinely excited about my work. I was just a kid that released a record on a small label. To be contacted by her was such a surprise! We had the chance to work a bit in the studio and perform live together, and it was so ordinary but eerie at the same time.
Here’s a snapshot of it: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4o4gy_bjork-live-canal-album-de-la-semain_music
Chain D.L.K.: You signed your recent releases under your real name and surname… Are you going to put Ensemble aside, or are you going to reprise it?
Olivier Alary: I won’t release any more records under Ensemble. I’ve explored what I wanted to explore with this project.
I find that Excerpts is a good ending for it.
Also, it makes far more sense to release albums under my name. I can’t believe that it took me so long!
Chain D.L.K.: The title of your last album seems to suggest you tried to play in an Interzone or a ridgeline between fiction and reality… Did you mean something different by that title?
Olivier Alary: Yes, indeed. In film terminology, a documentary is also called ‘non-fiction.’ As this album is a compilation of fiction and documentary film music, I thought that the title was clear but evocative at the same time.
I liked that ambiguity.
Chain D.L.K.: Do non-fiction and reality mean the same?
Olivier Alary: Well, somewhat. Non-fiction is based on facts, real events, and real people, but there’s always a slight distortion happening somewhere. Reality is always a bit porous.
Chain D.L.K.: You already composed a lot of music for fiction…do you think that composition for a plot or a movie is a limit for a composer or not?
Olivier Alary: You always work with limits in music. Duration, instrumentation, budget, format… But I find that working with an image can also be liberating because the structure and direction are already there. You also work with the director, so it has to be a collaboration. On the other hand, when I work on a personal project, I find it harder as the music is not helped by any moving image. But it’s also more fulfilling because I am the sole creator and director of the piece.
Chain D.L.K.: You also included new material for this release…can you introduce it?
Olivier Alary: The two new pieces are Pulses (for winds) and Pulses (for percussion). The idea was to use a polyrhythmic palindrome transformed throughout the piece. In the wind version, I tried to emphasize the fragility of the patterns and their mutation from formless washes of tonal white noise to clear pulses. In Pulses (for percussion), the first motives are played on gongs in order to create a harmonic blur that gets more precise and resolved by the addition of Marimba and Vibraphone, until the lyrical crescendo. Dave really wanted to add these pieces to the album to give some shape to the overall selection, and I thought that it was a great idea.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve read many beautiful stories about location and circumstances behind some of the tracks of this selection…can you tell some of them?
Olivier Alary: It’s always great to work in beautiful orchestra halls. I had the chance to record at the Babelsberg film studio near Berlin, the Philharmonic Hall in Wroclaw and many churches in Montreal. But the relationship with the musicians is what I find fascinating. The most magical moment is to hear your score being played for the first time. I use orchestral samples to compose, but to hear the real thing being played in real time by real musicians is always incredible and humbling.
Chain D.L.K.: I recently listened to the sweet remix of Nollywood by Ian William Craig… Did you like it? Did you enjoy remixing his “A Single Hope”?
Olivier Alary: For sure! I like Ian William’s work. I find that his music is a lovely symbiosis between several genres. I love his directness, his intelligence and his wall of noise aesthetic. I really enjoyed working on “A Single Hope.” It was Dave Howell’s idea to exchange remixes, and it actually turned out great.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Olivier Alary: Yes, I am now working on orchestral pieces incorporating electronics. The idea is to explore the intersection of “concrete instrumental music,” as defined by German composer Helmut Lachenmann, and post-tonal language used by American composers gravitating around the Bang on a Can group.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring your music on live stage extensively? If so, some anticipation?
Olivier Alary: I’d love to. But I’d need a lot of musicians to present it accurately. Maybe we should do an all star 130701 tour so that everyone can play on each other’s music. Maybe Dave Howell will set it up?
visit Olivier Alary on the web at: www.olivieralary.com