Despite the fact that Paris-based visual and sound artist Emmanuel Allard has been contributing to a number of compilation albums and live performances since the late 90es and could proudly boast about years of sonic research, there are not many albums out there in his own name: his very first release, “Imite Moi” came in 2003 under the guise of Fabriquedecouleurs, which was followed ten years later by “Upanishads du yoga” (in his own name) and came out on the French independent label Baskaru. Let’s check into what made Baskaru consider Allard’s singular work by speaking with the own author of the music himself.
Chain D.L.K.: Howdy Emmanuel. How are you doing?
Emmanuel Allard: I’m doing great, thank you.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you introduce yourself and your sonic arts background to our readers in your own words?
Emmanuel Allard: I studied industrial design in Paris, coming from a small town in the south-west. Many local pirate radio stations appeared when I was a kid and I discovered electronic and collage bands like the Depeche Mode, especially their alternate mixes, Yello, Art of Noise, and some club music, editing tapes off the radio for frequent road trips with my dad, who luckily didn’t mind the invasion. After moving here I went to a couple of rave parties although I wasn’t into most of the music. I borrowed a Mika Vainio record from a friend who published a xeroxed zine and was impressed by how contemporary it sounded, how light on musical baggage it was. At about the same time there were intense performances by Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, Tony Conrad. I had been fascinated by simple audio manipulations using an Amiga as a teenager and I realized I could use the computer I worked with.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re trying to say more by using less sounds. Before focusing on that choice, let’s play a game: is there any rambling piece of (any kind of) art you would have modified in accordance with this subtractive approach?
Emmanuel Allard: I don’t really have advice for other artists. I wanted to make simple forms, primordial electronic music. These sounds seem to demand a lot of room, in the end it comes from the nature of the material, of each sound, and the way I feel it should be presented rather than a pre-existing moral position. I decided I would try to leave out spatialization, stereo, multi-tracking. There’s rarely more than one “sound” or unique process going on at any given time on the record.
Chain D.L.K.: While listening to your last album on Baskaru, I sometimes had the impression that many sonic inputs had been randomly generated or am I wrong?
Emmanuel Allard: Some events are automated using pseudo-random or chaotic processes, they are given a frame and the probabilities of different outcomes can be shaped. I can go on and keep building the patch or let it develop and play by itself for a couple of days. I have been inspired by a loose family of techniques that originated in the seventies. Iannis Xenakis, Goettfried Michael Koenig and Herbert Brün have researched modernist composition models that avoided imitative synthesis approaches and looked for new beginnings as computers opened the possibility of working at waveform level.
Chain D.L.K.: What are the principles of this “art of subtraction”?
Emmanuel Allard: None of that is engraved in marble. I know what I don’t want to do. I’m attempting to suspend mental habits, reorganize perception for a short while. Synthetic sound is a negotiation at the intersection of art and science. Science may not be the most important part. It is thanks to artists and techniques of reproduction that medicine could grow as precise drawings were the only means of recording anatomy observations. We cannot understand how many common phenomenons work. Our habit is to give more value to what we understand and formalize. What we don’t know, what is not visible is just as important.
Chain D.L.K.: You only used the Buchla 200e for your album… what are the values and defects of this machine?
Emmanuel Allard: It’s a network of small computers that controls analog signal processing modules, a rather open and flexible architecture. It’s genealogy is that of laboratory equipment, instruments of measure. There are few directions as to where you are allowed to go, no right or wrong sounds, it lets you explore timbre and can touch areas that computers are not comfortable with. In any case what matters is what you do with it. I’m often trying to lure the machine into giving me things it shouldn’t, and sometimes I’m lucky.
Chain D.L.K.: A striking aspect that anyone who approaches your sound would detect is the semantic relation between any piece and their titles… first of all, what does the album title mean?
Emmanuel Allard: Yoga is a method to control psychic life and mental processes, an autonomous sectarian doctrine that has strangely been absorbed in the main corpus of Vedic texts to which it is opposed in several ways. Practice can only start when all bonds have been cut and the aspirant yogi is considered dead to society, wife becomes a widow, children orphans. The Yoga Upanishads are beautiful texts that teach the practical means and codification of this radical transformation of body and mind.
Chain D.L.K.: “Élan” (which is one of the funniest track of your recent album) feature those hiccups on a pure plain frequency. Does this stand for the phenomenon that occurs during EEG?
Emmanuel Allard: “Élan” feels to me like hitting a wall or ceiling hard, never succeeding to overcome the obstacle, but never letting go either. I don’t think this is abstract music at all, it is physical. And audition is never totally isolated from other functions because of the way our brain and body are wired together. Our mind is structured by bodily experiences.
Chain D.L.K.: Do the sinister rasps which sound like choked screams on “Antimoine” refer to its historically known role of “killer of priests”? How did you create this track?
Emmanuel Allard: “Antimoine” is made of three different feedback processes. The first title for the record was “Forgerie” and I liked the idea of semi-metals titled tracks, wondering what it can mean to be half metal.
Chain D.L.K.: On the following “Refuge” it seems that sonic rivulets leaked out of plastic tubes… how did you create this effect?
Emmanuel Allard: “Refuge” is one of the earliest tracks, there were a lot of patch cords.
Chain D.L.K.: Did any poltergeist appear during the recording of “Séance”?
Emmanuel Allard: A tall door opened from tomorrow letting in the protoplasmic entity of a long-lost time. It’s at your door now.
Chain D.L.K.: Another hamletic doubt… what’s the semantic kinship between Pythian Games and those funny gusts of strangled electrons?
Emmanuel Allard: I was thinking about the synthesis and indeterminacy methods I mentioned earlier. I used the same technique for most of “Nouvelles Upanishads”. I called it Adelphi Wave.
Chain D.L.K.: Some moments of the record could vaguely surmise some experiments by GRM… do you have any connections with that notorious group?
Emmanuel Allard: I was invited to perform during Présence Électronique, the GRM festival at Radio France. Salle Olivier Messiaen is a large hall of about seven hundred seats where GRM composers have been performing for decades and where their Acousmonium resides. I didn’t want to use spatialization and filled the whole room with one sound, air pressure and time. I thought it worked quite well, but some part of the audience went mad immediately and it became a sort of general riot. I was told François Bayle had left the building furious.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you tried to bring your sonic arts on stage?
Emmanuel Allard: I did, Batofar used to have a fantastic system and Japan and Mexico were great places to play.
Chain D.L.K.: Any forthcoming projects?
Emmanuel Allard: I am working on new tracks and a series of computer paintings, “immobile cinema” in the spirit of Leopold Survage and Moholy-Nagy.