Edith Progue: due to the fact that Paris is noisy and very crowded, I have been forced to create some kind of a cocoon
There are so many artists who release one brilliant album and then you never hear from them anymore. Bernard Swell aka Edith Progue is definitely one of them. ‘Timeline’ was released eight years ago on the highly acclaimed Mille Plateaux – which has even ceased to exist in the meantime. Listeners who have been actively following the modern classical and glitch scene are still revisiting ‘Timeline’ quite frequently, elevating it to immortality. After all these years, we were wondering what Edith Progue is up to nowadays, and he was kind enough to share with us the reason why the second album is delayed so much.
It has been almost 8 years since you released your first and last album as Edith Progue, ‘Timeline‘ on the legendary Mille Plateaux. ‘Timeline’ gained extreme popularity and it has also received the Award for Best Album at Qwartz Electronic Music Awards in 2008. What is the reason of the deep silence ever since?
After ‘Timeline’, I started working on new tracks in order to produce a sequel to that first album. Incidentally, a friend of mine, film director Dominic Allan came to visit and listened to these. He was then working on his long feature documentary about contemporary painter Jean-Marc Calvet. We both felt that some of these new tracks would fit very well with the film. So I went on working on more tracks for the film and once ‘Calvet‘ got released in the theaters, other directors came to me and asked if I could write scores for their films. This is what has kept me busy these last years.
Let’s go back in time almost 40 years. You have started your career in the suave world of chansons with your debut album ‘Swell’ in 1977. Later you have produced albums and written songs for Veronique Sanson French singer-songwriter, achieving three platinum albums for Warner, afterwards you turned into deep house with your Izdatso project. How does one’s way lead from chanson to glitch and ambient?
It’s all music, in different forms, but it is music, an outer expression of the inner world. It has been a natural process of evolution for me. I have always been fascinated by technology and sound, be it electric guitars feedback or home made glitches and infra bass binaural beats like I currently use in Edith Progue. And going through all these different styles and experiments through the years has allowed me to be able to write very original scores for films.
Producing for, performing and collaborating with other artists requires a team player, whereas taking a more minimalistic approach and composing your own glitch album rather drifts you into solitude. Which form of creation do you prefer and why?
I have always liked to work alone, like a painter. My kind of music is very intimate and personal. I have a direct communication with the listener. No need to have anyone else in between. However, I have been co-writing and co-producing my son’s band’s latest album (Moonengineer) and this has been a wonderful break from my beloved solitude. It was also a strange come back in time, as his music is very close to what I was into when living in LA in the early 80’s. Great experience, but I am back into the future now!
Time seems to be an essential concept in your oeuvre. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Still making music or happily munching on exquisite cheese on the French countryside? Or perhaps both?
Nobody knows what can happen, and that is the beauty of life. But I am pretty sure I’ll be totally immersed in the latest technology as much as in the deepest spirituality.
Painters like Rauschenberg, Rothko and Kuroda, the Japanese architect Tadao Ando and musicians like Steve Reich, Erik Satie and Alva Noto made an enormous impression on you earlier. Could you name any artists from the last years who have inspired you in any way?
The strongest impression coming from artists would be in films. Directors like Lars von Trier have such a powerful way of telling the truth that it leaves me speechless. ‘Melancholia’, although I know it’s far from being his own favourite film, is a total masterpiece.
You’ve been living, loving and working in Paris this whole time. How does one find their own voice and sound in such a vast and overpowering city as the French capital? How does the density and vitality of urban life influence your work?
The funny thing is that due to the fact that this city is noisy and very crowded, I have been forced to create some kind of a cocoon in which I could be protected from the outside and have enough space to be able to meditate in peace. That is how I started ‘Timeline’, building some kind of a “soundship”, made of sub basses, drones, ultra high frequency glitches and piano, something that would allow me to escape the gravity and weight of the daily city life and let me breathe at my own pace while still being able to contemplate the beauty of the city through my window.
Nowadays you have been working on film soundtracks. Your music was a vital part of ‘Rose c’est Paris‘ (Bettina Rheims & Serge Bramly, 2011), the forementioned ‘Calvet‘ (Dominic Allan, 2012), ‘Jump‘ (Kieron J. Walsh, 2013), and ‘The Long Walk‘ (Brendan J. Byrne, 2013). What were the challenges of implementing your own music into other’s moving images?
I have been very lucky that these people were very much into my music before approaching me to write their scores. This has given me a lot of freedom in my composing, with very little adjustments needed.
Could you name a director for whose film you would love to contribute with a soundtrack?
There are many. The best I can dream of would be Wong Kar Waï, Jim Jarmusch, Terrence Malick, for their contemplative way of seeing and showing the world.
Talking about films, how do you like contemporary French cinema? ‘La vie d’Adèle‘ seems to be the most hyped film of the decade. The director, Abdellatif Kechiche explained that: “I almost wish I was born now, because young people seem to be much more beautiful and brighter than my generation. I want to pay them tribute.” Do you agree with him? Do you think he succeeded?
I am not too familiar with contemporary French cinema. Most of the films are showing me what I can see here in everyday life. What I like in movies is when they are able to take me far away from that reality. It’s like stepping out of the world for 90 minutes, and I am very thankful for that. I haven’t seen “La vie d’Adèle” but I surely agree with Abdellatif on what he says about young people. They have a beauty and a maturity that was not very that common in the past. I have two daughters in their twenties and that makes me also think that we must have been much smarter and honest as parents than ours.
Who would you like to read an interview with on Sounds Of A Tired City?
James Holden would be a great pick.