The new album by Swiss producer Francisco Meirino, titled “Surrender, Render, End” (released on 24th June by The Helen Scarsdale Agency), has been described as “an electro-acoustic dialectic, unremittingly engaged in a pugilist conflict between art and accident”, whose numerous, fleetingly abstract allusions are matched to “fragments of a nightmare that linger days after”. Let’s go deeper into it and its brilliant author.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Francisco! How are you?
Francisco Meirino: I’m fine, thanks. I’ve been pretty busy these last months; my new solo cd just got released, and it took me two years to complete it. I also composed my first piece for “real” instruments, for the Ensemble Phoenix in Basel; it’s a six channel piece for 10 instruments and electronics, and it was a fantastic experience. The whole process was very intense; the project was commissioned by Daniel Buess, a friend and founding member of the Ensemble Phoenix, who sadly passed away this year.
Chain D.L.K.: You get some credit in the (mainly European) electronic underground as Phroq, if I remember correctly. How did you reach your very first release?
Francisco Meirino: I did a dozen self-released tapes and cdr’s between 1994 and 1999, most of which were only ten-copy editions. In 1999, I can’t remember how, but Jon Borges (Pedestrian Deposit) put out my first non self-made release “The Bushido Way”, a cassette released on his label “The Last Station On A Railway Tapes”. A few months after that, I got an offer to put out my first LP “Neko” on a Swiss label called Hyhat. Then I had the chance to be asked to put out a lot of stuff, mostly on DIY labels, such as Solipsism, Authorised Version, Neus318, Tanczprocess etc.. but also on more established labels such as Groundfault and Entr’acte.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there a record or a moment in your life when you had more or less clear ideas about the direction to follow in your musical research?
Francisco Meirino: Yes, after “Half-asleep music”, my cd on Entr’acte, my work became more focused on conceptual approaches, on composition and sound design. I realized that my work was becoming less harsh, less noisy, but more intense sonically. I was reaching for the extremities of the audio spectrum, experimenting with phase effects and various psycho-acoustics. Suddenly my interest in broken gear, in mistakes and accidents, in some sort of sonic nihilism, in playing with abrupt changes, in experimenting with timing and duration, all those new fields became more and more the main engine of my work, more than trying to be the harshest noise possible. That’s also why I decided to end my moniker Phroq and to start working under my name; my vision and work have gradually evolved into a new form.
My final Phroq release, “Connections, opportunities for mistakes”, is more a Francisco Meirino work than a “Phroq” one.
Chain D.L.K.: I labeled it as musical, but someone could disagree, as noise has the priority in your sound, doesn’t it?
Francisco Meirino: I don’t think “noise” has any priority in my work. Actually, no sound, in particular, has an importance superior to the others sounds. I feel really close to the musique concrète and its acousmatic way of listening, and I think it is very important to listen radically to any sound I want to use or to create/craft, out of its context. What matters more for me is tension and intensity than noise.
Chain D.L.K.: Do you have any personal (other than standard ones) methods to distinguish noise and music?
Francisco Meirino: No, I don’t try to distinguish them, I mean what defines music, its parameters? If that’s it, well, it’s a mistake to define “music” by its own limitations such as pitch, timbre or melody, because those parameters also apply and define all the noises, any sound.
Any sound is music, so then the fact of organizing them in a specific fashion is more a matter of private taste or a specific goal/work/message I want to deliver.
I really enjoy listening to any sound/noise for what it is. That’s what my cd’s “Undetected” and “Freezing the mic” are about: listening to sounds out of context, and accepting them for what they are; often, nothing special (like pasta in tomato sauce) but they are always interesting sonic artifacts of our everyday life. I listen to them in a different way; I hear them as what they are: an amplification of our sound environment.
Chain D.L.K.: I have listened to many great records of yours, but I particularly enjoyed some of them…first of all, two collaborative ones (the one together with Ilios and the one where you matched Dave Phillips’s sound art)…first of all, how do you remember those collaborations?
Francisco Meirino: Very well. The oldest one, with Dave Phillips, was a very intense and long process; we met over a period of several years at my or his place, worked long hours, and listened to an insane amount of sounds we had. Dave has an amazing natural sounds library that he recorded on his various travels, and I have a lot of weird electronics and everyday sounds, so we shared all these sounds and did additional recordings when needed.
Sometimes we had to expose strongly/oppose our ideas; often, we had tiny arguments about the pieces, but it was a wonderful experience.
I prefer to work directly with the person if it’s possible, and since we both live in Switzerland, a 2-hour train ride from each other, it was pretty easy to do. Dave is a close friend, one of the very few people I enjoy playing live with.
The cd with ILIOS was a bit different; it is more a split than a collaboration. Dimitris and I have been friends for some years now, and he put out a tape of mine on his label Antifrost.
In 2012 we did a little tour together, and during that tour, he stayed home for a couple of days. At home, there was some construction in the building we were living in. We talked about it, and decided that I would record as much as possible of this construction. I did 8 hours of recordings per day for about 3 months, mostly by leaving my binaural microphone taped outside of my window, and at night, using a contact microphone glued to a magnet with a 5 meters cable that I threw on the scaffoldings to record its vibrations on windy nights. Later on, we shared the recordings, and each of us used that material to make a solo piece.
With both Dave and ILIOS, I know we don’t agree on everything, but we do share a lot of the same ideas, and we share the same sense of humor.
Chain D.L.K.: Does your way of working on sounds and noise change within collaborations? Would you describe a collaboration as an adaptive process or a sort of integration?
Francisco Meirino: Yes, it’s very different.
For a solo piece, of course, I’m alone and do whatever I want to do; no one is gonna make me change anything, and it’s my vision with is bests and worst ideas.
For a collaboration, it’s more a matter of integration, to absorb and integrate what the other artist brings with him. For me, a good collaboration will bring the best of both artists, with no compromises, but sometimes it doesn’t work. If that happens, I think it’s smarter to do something different, like a split, in which case we usually improvise together and then later, we separately use the same source material to make solo pieces. Collaboration could be as simple as sharing ideas, goals, sounds.
Chain D.L.K.: …your upcoming release has been described as “an electro-acoustic dialectic, unremittingly engaged in a pugilist conflict between art and accident”. Who’s the winner between art and accident?
Francisco Meirino: It’s a tie, I think.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the most hard-to-catch reference you inserted in “Surrender, Render, End”?
Francisco Meirino: Well, there is an obvious one to Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing”, but a hard-to-catch one might be on track nb 2 “In need of anything, no, perhaps nothing”; the modular synth patch & pattern in the frequencies filtering and panning is a reference to “Wildfire” by Gil Mellé.
Chain D.L.K.: In some records, you inserted EVP recordings, didn’t you? Any messages from the afterlife?
Francisco Meirino: No, I only used EVP recordings in the two releases I did with Michael Esposito, but sometimes I insert EVP’s in my live performances.
The last time I worked with EVP, it was at that workshop Michael and me did, and we found a very clear one: a French female voice said, in French, “A bientôt”, which means, “See you soon.” The people attending the workshop didn’t laugh at that one…
Chain D.L.K.: Surrender, Render, End…what a title, by the way! Why did you title it this way?
Francisco Meirino: As with most of my titles, it comes from my automatic writing notebooks. I like how it sounds, how the tongue vibrates when you say it out loud.
I like what it means, literally the acceptance of failure, like a knee on the ground; I see the fragility of the whole piece that might collapse over itself.
Chain D.L.K.: Could you match it to any previous releases of yours?
Francisco Meirino: Yes, to my 2014 cd “Notebook, techniques of self-destruction”, to the cassette “An unnecessary nothingness” and my cd “An extended meaning to something meaningless”. All these works share a title extracted from my notebooks, and they also share a similarity in the composition process: abrupt changes, sharp sounds, and tones, an overall menacing tone.
Chain D.L.K.: Just a curiosity…some people say you’re Spanish, but you’re Swiss, aren’t you?
Francisco Meirino: Does it matter? A few weeks ago I had a similar discussion with ILIOS about what defines us, and why do people wonder where we’re from? Is it the birth place, the place where you lived the longest, is it the place you call home? Is it the environment you’ve been raised into?
For me, it’s simple and complicated at the same time. I was born in Switzerland, but both my mother and father are Spanish (they live in Spain); they were seasonal immigrants in Switzerland when I was born. Switzerland doesn’t allow you to be Swiss just because you are born there, your parents or at least one of them must be Swiss, so officially I am Spanish, and I only have a Spanish passport. I’ve been living in Switzerland most of my life, and I like it here. I have a Swiss girlfriend, a Swiss daughter.
I could apply to become Swiss, but the truth is that I was raised in a Spanish culture. We spoke Spanish at home, went to Spanish school, at the same time as a Swiss school, but even that doesn’t make me feel more Spanish than Swiss. I don’t really feel Swiss, either. Actually, I don’t understand what people mean by that: I feel French, or German, or Swiss; what, you like cheese, so you feel Swiss ? Hey, I like falafel, but that doesn’t make me feel Lebanese! The truth is, I don’t care at all.
I am what I am. What defines me is my personality, my work, my family, my friends, and they all are multicultural.
Chain D.L.K.: Your words make sense. Another curiosity…did you take any punches while recording “Riots”?
Francisco Meirino: No, nothing like that. I was in Nantes to perform at the Cable Festival, and there was a huge protest about building a new airport. After the soundcheck, I was outside the venue, and I could hear the tear gas explosions and the police helicopters flying around, I decided to get my recording gear and to follow the helicopters; the protest was not so far, maybe a 5 min. walk. I went there and recorded this intense riot; the recording is pretty short, maybe 3-4 min. The editing and mastering did the trick to make it feel longer and more intense.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring Surrender, Render, End on the live stage?
Francisco Meirino: I already did. I played maybe three shows with the full set-up, modular synthesizer and computer, and maybe another four shows with the computer only (and sound files from the modular synth). I don’t take the synth with me if I have to go on an airplane; too heavy.
The live set for “Surrender, Render, End” is a quadriphonic set, four speakers, and two subs; the synth goes through the computer for an even more extreme panning design.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other work in progress?
Francisco Meirino: Oh yes …
I have a new piece, “Dissension” that will be released very soon as a cassette by Thalamos records. Then another solo cd should be released by the Russian label “obs” by the end of the year.
I will also soon start working on all the sounds I have recorded during my residency at EMS in Stockholm this year, around 50 GB of Serge and Buchla synths sounds to make a new piece.
Some collaborations are finished, but we don’t have a label yet: one with Eryck Abecassis, a 100% modular synth piece that we recorded at the GRM studio in Paris. One with Miguel A. Garcia too, and a weird one with Yan Jun.
Visit Francisco Meirino on the web at www.franciscomeirino.com