Oiseaux-Tempête: First it was a big improvisation session and the magic was there instantly. Really.

May 28, 2014

Oiseaux-Tempête is an instrumental free rock trio from Paris, consisting of Frédéric D. Oberland, Stéphane Pigneul and Ben McConnell. Their self-titled debut album recently has been released on the Brussels-based Sub Rosa label, accompanied by a highly intriguing glitch-minimal-ambient remix version of the original tracks. Frédéric and Stéphane spoke to us about what brings ambient and rock music together, and how art should wake us up and enable us to create ourselves a better place to live in.

Oiseaux-Tempête (Photo: Matias Corral)

Oiseaux-Tempête (Photo: Matias Corral)

Oiseaux-Tempête’ is literally translated as ‘Storm-Bird’. Where is this name coming from?

Stéphane: It’s our totem/indian name.

Frédéric: You’re right about the literal translation, but it doesn’t give justice at all to this expression. Think more about the Thunderbird mythology – in French, the translation of ‘Thunderbird’ would be ‘Oiseau-Tonnerre’. In ornithology, the ‘oiseaux-tempête’ also called ‘océanites-tempête’ do actually exist, they are pelagic sea birds from the family of the ‘storm petrels’ – a reference to their habit of preceding storms, hiding in the lee of ships. But you can also build your own story if you wish!

When did you first get in touch with music? What was that decisive moment when you knew that you wanted to be a musician?

Stéphane: My first concert was a Pink Floyd one in ‘74, I was still in my mother’s belly. My parents were really crazy about them, I guess my musical roots lie somewhere in this. Since then, I have listened to their albums millions of times. So it would sound very strange if I said that that was THE moment when I decided to be a musician, 40 years ago… But somehow, it’s probably true!

Frédéric: My mom put me on the piano when I was 6. I studied classical music for almost 10 years. Then I quit, with no regrets. I bought my first electric guitar two years after, at 17. I wanted to make some noise for myself, without taking any lessons. At this time I had just discovered Einstürzende Neubauten and that kind of noise was my goal. I sold almost all my CDs to only listen to this. Some years later, I began to play in various bands and perform again. I composed my first soundtracks for movies around that time too. Maybe that was the moment where the childish dream of wanting to be a musician became reality, meeting people and sharing things.

Stéphane Pigneul and Frédéric D. Oberland

Stéphane Pigneul and Frédéric D. Oberland

How did the place where you grew up influence your musical tastes?

Stéphane: My father was a record collector, from psychedelic stuff to jazz, but most of it was pop, like the Rolling Stones, Dylan, Donovan, Nick Drake, The Cure… I used to listen to all of it as a child, even if I started to prefer minimal rock music as I became a teenager. I really hate progressive music and all that sounds mathematic, any soulless demonstration of technique.

Frédéric: I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Paris. There was nothing culturally interesting to do there, there was only boredom and daydreaming. I have great memories from the holidays spent in the countryside with my grandparents. The sounds of nature are powerful there – wind, storms, cicadas, birds – and I did my first field recordings travelling in that area as a teenager. Music wasn’t a big deal at home: some classical records, a few French and Italian singers. So I mostly created a musical landscape by myself, following friends’ advice, making mixtapes and going to musical libraries. Albert Ayler, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, John Zorn, Robert Wyatt, Philip Glass, Can, Arvo Pärt are still some musician/bands I keep close to my heart.

You both played in numerous other groups before teaming up with Ben McConnell to give birth to Oiseaux-Tempête. How did you meet him and how did you get the idea to create a new band? 

Frédéric: Before having the idea of ‘creating a new band’ there was this film-essay project with Stéphane C. We decided to go to Greece together to work on an undefined project, which could be at the same time a film, some music, art installation etc. We travelled there, meeting and interviewing people, sometimes performing, trying to understand what happened there in the aftermath of the economic and social crisis, wanting to draw some lines between the specific Greek situation and something more global that we were experiencing in the rest of Europe. Stéphane C. stayed 6 months in Greece and I joined him for a few weeks at regular intervals. Back in Paris between trips, I asked Stef to join me in creating this work-in-progress soundtrack; it was so obvious for me to play with him on this project too that I never thought he would say no. As for Ben, he was a recent acquaintance at the time, I met him after a show he was playing with Marissa Nadler. I got on well with him and Carter Tanton, Marissa’s guitarist. Carter sent me an email a few weeks later saying that Ben was in Paris and that he wanted us to play together. And so we did!

Stéphane: Then we did a rehearsal the three of us, about 2 hours or something. It was a big improvisation session (which became the trademark of the band) and the magic was there instantly. Really. It was deep and strong and most of all, so natural and easy: Fred with his guitar, field recordings, saxophone, synths, Ben on drums, and myself on bass VI.

Frédéric: The idea of creating a new band started with this rehearsal, really, in 2012. After a first concert under no name in an art gallery we decided to book some recording time at Mikrokosm Studios in Lyon, the awesome studio ran by our friend Benoît Bel. And ‘Oiseaux-Tempête’ was born.

Your first album, the self-titled ‘Oiseaux-Tempête’ was released on the Belgian label Sub Rosa, where previously artists such as Bill Laswell, Stars Of The Lid, David Toop, Morton Feldman, Luc Ferrari, Zbigniew Karkowski etc. released their music. How does one become involved with Sub Rosa with a debut album? It’s kind of a big deal, isn’t it?

Stéphane: That idea to go to the studio super fast was really natural for us. So we did it. After the editing of the tapes and the mixing with Benoît, we sent the album to several labels but not so many, in fact. Sub Rosa answered just few hours later; they liked it and wanted to release it. We met Guy-Marc and Fred from the label few weeks after in Brussels, and we seemed to all be on the same page – and that was it! The release, like everything else, was natural, quick, involving like-minded people with a similar work ethic.

Frédéric: The recording process was exciting, as it is often with Oiseaux-Tempête. Stéphane C. joined us in the studio and while we were playing, he sometimes projected B&W photographs and some hi8 video rushes he shot in Greece. These images inspired the music we were trying to build with Stef and Ben. The sound of Benoît’s room was amazing, giving us this kind of ‘cocoon of sound’ feeling. Back in Paris, Stef and I edited the 17 hours of recording, adding some field recordings and extracts of interviews Stéphane C. and I took during our respective trips. We tried to build this album as a kind of sonic odyssey and to relate the music the trio composed/improvised in the studio with the feelings/thoughts we kept from our travels. Before sending demos or unfinished tracks, we wanted to be proud of the whole result ourselves, without thinking of any ‘commercial’ issue. The meeting with Sub Rosa was nice; I knew them before after participating in Bérangère Maximin’s album ‘No One is an Island’ which they released in 2012, and I was personally a big fan of their catalogue since my 20s. But to be honest, I didn’t think at all about this when we started discussing the possibility of releasing ‘Oiseaux-Tempête’ on Sub Rosa. It felt so natural and right to have found this nice home for our debut album.

Oiseaux-Tempête Exclusive Black Silkscreen Print by Brian Cougar

Oiseaux-Tempête Exclusive Black Silkscreen Print by Brian Cougar

It is rather unusual that a post-rock album gets a remix album featuring electronic, ambient drone versions of the originals. How did you get the idea of getting such a rework release as well?

Frédéric: Well, first I don’t like so much this ‘post-rock’ appellation. Maybe some parts of our music could be defined as ‘post-rock’ by some Slint, Mogwai or GY!BE lovers/haters, but for me we’re simply an instrumental free-rock band. We never have some specific ‘genres’ in mind when we are playing, that’s definitely not how we work and how we listen to music. Regarding this remix project, I secretly kept the goal of doing something like this one day since my teenage years. Think about the 90’s, remix albums were a constant alternative. After speaking with both Stéphane and Ben, it made sense for us to give this format a try, with the challenge of bringing something new and interesting to the project.

In what way do you think this kind of ‘trans-genre’ experiment helps you shape the concept of Oiseaux-Tempête?

Frédéric: We liked the idea of asking the remixers to feel free to reconstruct our songs, to make it part of their own work, more than to mix the separate tracks in a ‘new’ way. We were not looking for the ‘dance version’ of a specific tune. It felt natural to invite people coming from different musical backgrounds to experiment with this. The process was simple: we gave the opportunity to the ‘re-workers’ to listen to the whole original album, to pick two songs, and then we gave them the green light on one with a complete freedom. We had no idea what to expect from this, we just knew that we loved the music of every guy involved in the project.

Among the remixers’ names we find Scanner, Jasper TX, Machinefabriek, Saåad, Justin Small from Do Make Say Think… How did you approach them with the idea of remaking your tracks?

Stéphane: These people are open-minded and accessible. It’s easy to meet people, when they’re not ‘crackers’! We just sent them emails with the idea, the tracks, they answered. Or not. I’m very happy about all contributions and remixes we did received. These guys just rock!

Frédéric: Some of the remixers are friends, like Witxes, Leopard of Honour, Colin, the duo Saåad, Richard and Cyril. Some others I/we met during tours, like Jasper TX, Machinefabriek, May Roosevelt. We also wanted to invite people we didn’t know personally but whose work we admired, so we sent few emails into the stratosphere. Each time we received a new re-work it was so exciting to listen to it, to try to understand how each remixer took over the tune: there were so many different approaches, but with something strong in common. And we were proud that at the end the challenge was successful: it made sense to release these re-works as a proper album, as a kind of re-interpretation of our first album.

You are also working together with the French photographer and filmmaker Stéphane C, who gained insightful knowledge on the political and economical crisis in Greece. In what way are you able to implement his work into your oeuvre?

Stéphane: That was the purpose of that first album, from the beginning. We have the same outlook on what’s going on in Greece, and Europe in general. The rise of an awful and once latent fascism. All means are good to achieve and keep power in the hands for the politicians and businessmen, it’s terrible. It’s sounds silly and easy, because it’s too obvious to say that today. But sadly its true. We’re not pretending we can change the world, even with photos or music. Somehow I still believe that keeping that in mind, it will affect your every day choices, help you try to make good decisions, on a smaller level for yourself, your family, friends, your vote, your investment in the civil society. It’s our way to fight, on our own tiny scale. The process is unconscious, stills and music, put together, and it works well. It makes you travel through ideas, landscapes, desires, fears. Again, we just gave it a try, and it worked out this way. I’m happy if some people can feel the same.

Frédéric: As Stef just said, the political background was not something we superimposed on the music. Art definitely needs to be related to life, to go further than simple entertainment, to shake you up, especially nowadays in this close-to-collapse society where the global economy is run by few but swallows up the entire planet. It’s really just completely insane. Why should we only have the choice between a disordered market economy destroying the social state, separating people in selfish consumption or in poverty, and national/religious fascism? ‘Easy to talk about this having a beer in a bar, so let’s try something’: that’s what we thought, but in a humble way, we’re not activists but artists. The beautiful B&W photographs that Stéphane C shot in Greece are strong and poetic testimonies of what he experienced there and they naturally fleshed out the sonic narrative of the album.

You’ve done quite a lot of touring this year, mostly in France so far, but you’ve also brought your work to Athens, Greece quite recently. ‘The Divided Line’ is a video installation. Could you tell us more about this project?

Frédéric: During our first trip to Greece together, before Oiseaux-Tempête was born, Stéphane C. and I organized some free events in Athens and Thessaloniki, mixing live music performance with film/slideshow screenings from Michael Ackerman, Jayne Amara Ross & FareWell Poetry, Lorenzo Castore and Stéphane C. himself. I was improvising in front of some of the visuals, and invited some Greek musicians to join me like May Roosevelt and Michalis Vrettas. These events were the roots of the ‘Temps Zero’ concept, a multidisciplinary show uniting the work of photographers, filmmakers and musicians from all over, who travelled from Berlin to Paris, Toulouse and Athens. Oiseaux-Tempête played live during three editions of Temps Zero: Berlin, Paris and Toulouse‘The Divided Line’ is originally a video installation for three screens and a stereo system using some hi8 footage Stéphane C. shot in Greece and an original soundtrack by Oiseaux-Tempête created from unreleased material we didn’t use for the first album. This installation was first screened in a loop during the three months exhibition ‘Les Rencontres Photographiques de Vendôme’ in 2013 and now gets its own life as a single-channel video; in the past we have also screened it before our live shows. Regarding touring with Oiseaux-Tempête, that’s something we definitely want to do more in the rest of Europe and further. The concerts performed with this project have mostly been in France this year and we would be delighted to cross borders and oceans to perform more abroad in the upcoming months!

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years? Oiseaux-Tempête on a world tour perhaps?

Stéphane: That would be cool, wouldn’t it?! We’d love to have our own place to record and experiment things, without time limitations. This is a necessary luxury from my point of view. It would be so fucking great.

Frédéric: A world tour and a proper studio would be definitely amazing! More pragmatically and for now, we are editing the recorded material for a future album, with us three and featuring Gareth Davis on bass clarinet, and that’s really exciting!

What are your favourite album covers?

Stéphane: ‘Ummagumma’ Pink Floyd / ‘Volume 1&2’ Bauhaus.

Frédéric: I often change my mind on this question and its often linked to what I am listening to at the time, but not necessarily following it… Today I could say The Velvet Underground ‘White Light White Heat’, Peter Broderick ‘How They Are’, Charlie Haden ‘Liberation Music Orchestra’.

Pink Floyd: Ummagumma, Peter Broderick: How They Are

Pink Floyd: Ummagumma, Peter Broderick: How They Are

What kind of music do you listen to at home? What were your favourite albums from last year?

Stéphane: Right now I am I’m listening to ‘Everyday Robots’ by Damon Albarn, a fucking masterpiece. I love the Swans, and I often come back to my first loves: Pan American, The Cure, Bowie. Last year was a good year for music: Tindersticks, Scott Walker, Jessica 93, Nick Cave, Master Musicians of Bukkake, Disappears, David Lynch and others…

Frédéric: I listen to music every day, so my regular playlist is constantly shifting. Right now my turntable is surrounded by Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘I’m New Here’, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ OST, Gareth Davis & Frances-Marrie Uitti ‘Gramercy’, Arve Henriksen Boxset, The Swans ‘To Be Kind’ and Akosh S. ‘Orleans’. There were so many good albums released in 2013, that it’s really hard for me to choose: I narrowed it down to 32 albums in my last year top list! If I really have to pick up one or two I will say: Wrekmeister Harmonies ‘You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me’ cause I remember listening to that 38 minutes single track quite frenetically in the plane during my winter trip to Iceland. And Chantal Acda ‘Let Your Hand Be My Guide’ for the stunning and delicate vocals of our friend Chantal, who invited Nils Frahm to beautifully arrange and record her songs on this album. It’s really pure.

Who you would like to read an interview with on SOATC?

Stéphane: Swans!!!!

Frédéric: Peter Broderick / Kjartan Sveinsson / Agathe Max / Jóhann Jóhannsson.

You prepared a special mix for us, can you say something about the selection?

Stéphane: These are some of our favorite songs at the moment, with a minimal, electronic or quiet approach. We selected the songs together with Fred, then he did the mix, crossfades and additional sound archives, this is his thing. It gives a kind of coherence to the whole, creates a kind of pattern. I hope you will all like it!

Frédéric: Nothing more to say. Play this loud on your speakers. Serve yourself a nice drink, smoke a joint, or whatever. Make love. Enjoy.

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