Pulsing with electronic punctuation, fuzzy layers and distorted pianos across expansive introspective surfaces, Emmanuel De La Paix on Terre brûlée charts richly imaginative narrative ambient. We caught up with the Zurich-based artist to premiere the cinematic “Heathen” video, reflect on life and December breaks, and get an eclectic end-of-year playlist refresh.
Actually, excited as I am to premiere the video, maybe watch and listen to “Heathen” last. The most Radiohead-esque cut on the album might fool you, because the rest tends more in another direction (even as that cut feels at home). The leather, steel, and paper of the cover – the work of Swiss artist Matthew Gottardi. – fits perfectly. These are warm, patina-coated excursions into texture, always rolling forward. And while I’m glad to cue up Godspeed You! Black Emporer again (see below), I think you don’t particularly need any musical reference.
The full-length comes as a sequel to last year’s Rescue pack (album and EP, both). Prolific Icelandic engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson – the Icelandic engineer who’s all over productions from that country, including of course Sigur Rós – mixes and masters. Both releases are out on boutique German label Broque. And Emmanuel is a lovely artist with some reflections on what it means to slow down – just as we should be doing, even as last bursts of promos flood the airwaves.
Emmanuel wrote us from Zurich.
CDM: Can you tell us a bit about the music video – obviously there’s this strong narrative thread. How did that evolve with the collaboration with (director) Morgan Film?
Emmanuel: The music video was developed by my great label. When I saw the video the first time, I thought it was genial. My personal meaning of the video is that people are living a life that is absurd. We created a framework, a Matrix that is not reality. It fulfills our lives. But the only certain thing is that we will close our eyes forever. We, our sons, our parents, everyone we know, they did and everyone will do. There is not much sense in this life experience overall and some people on this journey are laughing about this crazy life. It is a way to approach it: laughing and getting funny and living funny.
But when people meet music, then people feel the drama of life’s existence and passion and desperation. Art is giving this dimension to our life experience — it is life’s emotional research and expression . How beautiful is this message!
What are some of the electronic elements; what are you working with? Thinking these sort of granular patterns on Snowfall… various synth punctuation. You have a phase of the process where you go to the studio and lay this stuff down, right? Where do you work?
I use a Roland GP607 Digital Grand and then go to Ableton Live to elaborate the sounds with Ableton’s filters. It’s a lot of working with the filters, reverb, and delays.
For guitars, I use a Gibson Les Paul Standard with a very old VOX ToneLab ST. The day it dies, a part of me will die, too. I also integrate with BOSS pedals Digital Delay, Acoustic Simulator, Reverb, Loop Station, Compressor and Overdrive. Not a very sophisticated setup. For the drums, I use Ableton Push.
How do you sketch your ideas for songs? For some folks, I know it’s even whipping out Voice Memos on the iPhone… some people still need pencils.
For the first idea, I use the iPhone too. Just video with voice and guitar. For the elaboration a simple Moleskine. For music drawing, Ableton Live.
There’s so much beautiful work done with texture, especially this blend of instruments and electronics. I wondered what that process was like – how much is this stuff that you’re tracking live, or where are you layering? Are there certain elements that come first, as a kind of skeleton?
To be honest, each song is different but there is a pattern. I start from an emotion, and then I usually take a pen or a tablet and I draw my schema — how many tracks, how long the patterns will be, which kind of instruments, the dynamics. The drawing is a sort of heiroglyphics — or emoticons. I alone would understand it.
I need to organize the concept beforehand and imagine the song — like architecture, like thinking about an orchestra. Otherwise, I would record and record and record without reaching out what I originally was looking for.
Then I start to create something with guitar and voice. Then I go to my home studio and I combine my notes and my guitar and voice. Then I add instruments and then the song starts to be clear to me. Then I can remove or add instruments but I am on track. This process fits my life – so I can continuously create music because I do not need to play and sing all the time in the studio, but I can progress on music creation without being in the music studio permanently. Sometimes I progress on the train, having breakfast, or walking down the street.
The music studio is just the execution. Creation time is always ON.
It’s nice hearing (mixing and mastering engineer) Birgir Jon Birgirsson’s sonic fingerprints on this, as well. Where was that in the production process, particularly in terms of how you started work on mixes?
Usually I explain to him the meaning of the song, my references, and what I would like to express.
Then it depends on the song. On this album, some songs were an easy go for both. He listened to it. He got it where I wanted to go — he just made it real, balanced, and deeper. Super Birgir.
For some songs, he provided directions like…”are you looking to say this, or are you looking to say that?” Or “are you sure you want the song to start like that? Would it be better to make it in this other sequence?” You listen to his suggested version and you think how much value this person adds to the mix is stunning. He can make the most digital take feel analog. And on this, we are definitely on the same page. Not everyone is capable to do that as a sound engineer.
What was the connection to Broque, your label, here in Germany? I know your first outing was with them, as well.
I think it is destiny. I was looking and spamming a bunch of publishers around the network and I was reaching out to different labels in the UK and Germany because those countries are leading the electronic music scene in Europe. I had different touch points and some options were coming at the end about music publishing. I found Broque.de was really taking the time to listen to me and looking for a real and regular conversation. Not only about having a deal but having a journey together. The discussion was not about what is the target of sales in terms of Spotify or number of vinyl copies sold or “how many followers do you have?”
The discussion was more about: where do you see your music in the next three years? What do you want to achieve with us? What is your musical purpose? Then we can translate it into business metrics. Additionally, for a human perspective, other labels were replying to a conversation in 2 -3 weeks. Broque had concrete and transparent feedback in one or two days. Truly transparent and direct (even sometimes too much). And for me, this was what I was looking for. So I think it is a question of people and with Broque I found the support I was looking for.
Anything you’re listening to right now? Is there an album you’re listening end-to-end these days?
A Japanese band doing a US tour: Otoboke Beaver. It is punk but it is a phenomenon in Japan. Listening I understand some elements are stunning and with a deeper meaning if you listen to it properly: 2022.
A Swiss German artist: Nemo. It is hip-hop in Swiss German and it is amazing because of the language skills and the accent / rhythm in the song design: 2020.
Fossora: Bjork – last release 2022. Because I am curious about her last release.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 1997. Because I’ve never really listened to them.
We’re in another winter after a few containing some real uncertainties. What excites you now? What would you be most worried about?
Winter is the perfect time for creativity. It is a very introspective time of the year — especially December, when people have more time for self reflection. I really love Christmas time. For three weeks I am actually out, reaching out to my family roots, taking the time to elaborate new ideas and more music. I am starting to think about my new album.
The first step is to resume what is exciting for me now — right now, that’s doing a full ambient project. Getting more in songs like “earth pulse,” taking time in the compositions and elaborating a story behind a concept. Traveling – in space and in time, through personal memories that are part of a common experience. As does every poet, looking for the sense of life and God. Living the small things. I am most worried about not being able to express myself in an adequate way — with the impact I would like to have — as every musician.