Kreng: The record is not dedicated to the people who are dead, it’s a record for the living

February 23, 2015

Pepijn Caudron’s Kreng project started as a strictly sample-based project, working with sounds from various sources: free-jazz, first generation electronics, improvisation, classical modernism, vintage ethno musical, field recordings etc. The project mutated into a cinematic, theatrical device that has been used by various film and theater directors. He scored more that 30 theatre- & dance productions, most of them produced by the Belgian theatre company Abattoir Fermé. Kreng’s peculiar world of sound also drew attention in other media. The Norwegian record label Miasmah (currently operating out of Berlin) approached him to release music from his soundtracks for theatre. This resulted in the critically acclaimed album ‘L’Autopsie Phénoménale de Dieu‘ (2009), followed by ‘Grimoire‘ (2011), which earned him a reputation as one of the leading figures in the world of modern-classical-electronic composition. It was about time for a new batch of haunting sounds, although the circumstances around the genesis of ‘The Summoner‘ could not have been more harrowing: it is based around the five stages of mourning, been made after a year of losing several close friends. Sounds Of A Tired City was curious to hear more about Kreng’s latest album, which was released on Miasmah (6 February 2015). We asked Pepijn about his most personal work up to this date, his perception of death, and you can also read a bit about his recent film-related works. 

Pepijn Caudron / Kreng (Photo: Nathalie Tabury)

Pepijn Caudron / Kreng (Photo: Nathalie Tabury)

Four years have passed since your last album, ‘Grimoire’… What have you been up to in between?

It has been a very busy period for me. It seems like I am very lazy, because the records are so far and in between, but the truth is that I have so much work that it is hard for me to find the time to finish a record. Theatre is still a great passion of mine, so with the company Abattoir Fermé I still make at least two plays every year. The last couple of years I have also been focusing on a career in film music. This forced me to change my whole working method. Sample-based music has no chance of survival in a system that big, no matter how obscure the sources are. So I started studying music theory, MIDI-software, etc.; really forcing myself to forget everything I knew, starting again from point zero. This was refreshing but also kind of scary. It was hard trying to keep my own voice in this new field, but after doing a lot of work and research, I hope I have succeeded in accomplishing that.

You composed the music for the horror comedy ‘Cooties’, starring Elijah Wood last year. How was the reception of the film and how do you feel about it after having it behind you now?

The film had its first screening at Sundance Festival 2014 where it was picked up by Lionsgate and Universal. This was the best thing that could happen to this movie and it gave us a big boost to make it even better. They gave us a budget to reshoot the ending and make it exactly the way we wanted it to be. Of course, this also implied that the original release was pushed back. The film still has not come out yet. I can not confirm an official release date, but the rumor goes around that it will be summer 2015. I really can’t wait for it to be released because I have really prepared myself to do a lot more in this line of work.

You even starred in a Belgian adventure film (Labyrinthus, 2014). How did that happen?

Actually acting was my first career. I started working as an actor when I was VERY young. I acted in several theatre shows and have also done a lot of work for television. I never stopped doing it, so when a director comes to me with a good script and he can convince me that I would be the right guy for the part, I am still totally up for it. It’s also very pleasant to be among people. Composing is a very lonely job you know…

What are your next plans regarding film music? If a director would give you a ring tomorrow about a possible collaboration, who should it be?

I believe in long-term relationships between composers and directors. Film history has these longform collaborations written all over it: Alfred Hitchcock & Bernard Herrmann, David Lynch & Angelo Badalamenti, Tim Burton & Danny Elfman, David Cronenberg & Howard Shore, Steven Soderbergh & Cliff Martinez, Paul Thomas Anderson & Jonny Greenwood. While I go over this list again I suddenly realise that all my favourite directors are already taken… I think it would be great to be asked by a director who has a great future instead of a great past. On the other hand I have been working with Stef Lernous (director for Abattoir Fermé) for almost 15 years and we have made more than 30 performances together. So I guess I’ve already met my match.

‘The Summoner’ is considered to be your most personal work up to this date. What is the story behind it?

Unfortunately the story is as bleak as you think it is. Last year I have lost three friends. Suicide, all three of them. I am not the kind of person that judges these actions. Actually I was quite relieved. These people were dealing with severe depression. To them, their deaths were a salvation, a resolution, a way out of an unbearable state of being.

But while I was happy for them, and even applauded the guts to make such a decision, I was left with a sadness that I could not comprehend. Losing one friend is understandable, losing two friends is very unsettling, but losing three friends is really traumatizing. This kind of loss was beyond language. I became filled with an abstract, numb and heavy feeling that stayed with me for months. On the one hand, ‘The Summoner’ is a way of trying to make these feelings visible for myself, a way of monitoring them. On the other hand, I hope it can also serve as a zone of comfort for people who are going through the same thing. The record is not dedicated to the people who are dead, it’s a record for the living. I made it for those who have lost, those who stay behind. So yes, it is a very personal record, but I hope that there is also a universal feeling in there, something everyone can relate to.

One way or another, the atmosphere of your music has always been associated with the notions of passing, ending, death… How do you feel about this?

I have no idea… This is a very subjective remark, but of course I do understand it. It probably has to do with the work of Abattoir Fermé. A lot of that material is influenced by subcultures, the occult, mysticism, etc. This dark side of things has always attracted me, but not because of the ominous vibe that hangs around it. I have always looked for beauty in this realm and when I find it, it gives me great comfort. Melancholy, not sadness… Like I have said before: There is consolation to be found in the dark, which has a lot more foundation than the consolation you will find in, say, a 25 minute episode of ‘Friends’. That being said, I also want to point out that some of my work is actually tongue in cheek. People tell me that they can’t listen to ‘L’Autopsie Phenomenale De Dieu’ without grinning two or three times and that was clearly my intention. The 10” ‘Monster’ was just a big prank… It’s really a comedy.

Besides the 5 stages of mourning, you’ve added an additional 6th named ‘The Summoning’, which comes right before ‘Acceptance’ the closing piece of the album. Why did you decide to add one more to the already existing stages?

In psychological analysis, the five stages of mourning are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I felt the need to insert an extra stage called ‘The Summoning’. Naturally, the whole thing is wishful thinking, because unfortunately there is no such thing. ‘The Summoning’ is where I have an imaginary last talk with my loved lost ones. A chance to speak your mind for the last time, to share a moment while knowing it is the last time you see each other. A chance to say goodbye.

‘The Summoning’ can also be seen on another level. When you are nearing the end of the mourning process, a way to escape Depression is to summon all your emotions and really dive deep into them. It is about finding a mental place where you can experience catharsis. Once this catharsis has happened, you’re ready to go into Acceptance. The empty void will always be there, but at least there is a feeling of closure and one can finally go on with his life.

How do you perceive the concept of death after having made ‘The Summoner’? Does it serve as some kind of a relief?

Making this record has definitely helped me on a personal level. But after making a record such as this one, you are, as an artist, in a very vulnerable state because it is impossible to look at it objectively. I was seriously wondering whether I had made an unlistenable pile of hermetic shit or something where people could actually relate to.

These last weeks I have received various e-mails from people saying that it gave them comfort in their sadness. There was one guy who lost both his parents in a car crash six months ago. He had not been able to cry yet, probably because he was still stuck in Denial. After listening to the record he crawled in his bed and cried until the early morning. When I read that story I was the happiest man on earth. Not because I made this young man cry, but because the record was able to communicate its message and push people who are gridlocked in their emotions forward.

Do you think if you would not have been surrounded by any tragic circumstances in your life, this album would have never been born in its current form and mood?

Absolutely. This is not something that you WANT to create. This was an album that I HAD to make. I had no choice.

When it comes to the album’s dark atmosphere, I am hesitating if it’s more woeful than ‘Grimoire’, however it feels more like one long journey, a balanced process. How would you compare your state of mind during the creative process of ‘The Summoner’ and ‘Grimoire’?

‘Grimoire’ was very different because it was all about the music itself. On ‘Grimoire’ I was wondering if I could make an album that was born out of nowhere: The Blank Page. After writing soundtracks for so many years, that was a big challenge for me. It allowed me to give the music the form it needed, without being tied to given timings, narratives, plot-points, etc., so writing that album was a very conscious affair.

‘The Summoner’ was written in a mental haze, a thick fog clouded all my choices; the album seemed to write itself. It was only after completion that I could sit back and hear what it actually was. To tell you the truth: I am having a hard time listening to it these days, it really is something that I want to leave behind me. I need to move forward now. The next album will surely be something with more rays of sunlight in it. I consider ‘Acceptance’ to be the new starting point.

The first half of the album is made entirely of 12 string players being directed to play around, make noisy clusters and crescendoes, moving around the themes of the album. How should we imagine the recording process? How much space did you leave for improvisation and how much of it was planned beforehand?

I am used to working with samples. This gives me the opportunity to move the sound around and do really heavy processing on it. I assembled the string players and basically just made a big sample bank with them. This was before the composition was made. We just had an afternoon of fun making these big blocks of crazy sound. The recording session was not really related to the content of the record, it was more of an investigation into the possibilities of extreme sounds. Some of it was planned beforehand, but we had lots of room for improvisation as well.

For the track ‘The Summoning’ you’ve teamed up with the Belgian doom metal band Amenra, which serves as one of the most intense parts of the album. How did you get the idea to give birth to this collaboration?

I saw a live performance by them and was shaken to my very core. I didn’t know their music before this concert and it just hypnotized me. The sheer force of this band, combined with the incredible amount of control they have. The pacing of their energy, the push and pull of brutal power and intimate introspection, the overwhelming stage-show. It left me wondering if I could ever collaborate with them. I just contacted them and asked if they wanted to work together. I am very glad they agreed to do this and it illustrates their open-mindedness to all kinds of music. It was also important for me to collaborate with a lot of different people on this album. It’s all about making the message of ‘The Summoning’ less about me and more about all of us.

Ligeti and Penderecki sure would be among the biggest fans of ‘The Summoner’. When it comes to your inspirations or you just think about dealing with death, whose music do you think could serve as an immense source of impulse and why?

There is so much music out there that deals with this subject and the results are wildly varying in style, intensity and effect. I could mention so much work, so I’ll narrow it down to one… Diamanda Galas. She has made an entire body of work about mourning and dealing with death. Some of her work is so powerful that I can only listen to it once or twice a year. The sheer power of it just overwhelms me. Lately I have also been drawn to the poems of Dylan Thomas. They provide this melancholic beauty I need so badly. Another thing that really floored me last year were two films I saw by Terrence Malick: ‘The Tree Of Life’ was absolutely beautiful, but nothing could prepare me for his masterpiece ‘To The Wonder’. The movie is a deeply poetic love letter to life, so without question, it’s also about death.

If you could choose one piece to be played at your funeral, what would it be?

Silence…

Maybe just some Bach while people leave the church. Hmm… make it THIS ONE.

 

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