‘Click Interview’ with Novocibirsk: ‘The Approach That Was Mine, Was Not To Compose Music’

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Electro-pop lovers know the French label BOREDOMproduct. This label is the host of bands such as Celluloide, Dekad, Foretaste… but do you remember the first ever released album on the label? It brings us back to 1997 and the album “Excerpts And Experiments” by Novocibirsk. It was a minimal-electro production inspired by the sound and especially the machines from Kraftwerk. It also remained the single CD-album ever released by Novocibirsk. More than 20 years later the French label launched a subdivision called productionB. The label seems to focalize on more minimal electronic works and decided to reactivate Novocibirsk, releasing ‘old’ songs for the very first time on CD. I’d a chat with Hervé Isar.

(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: The album “Télévision 1945 Volume 1” takes us back from the early 80s till the early 90s. Can you remind us what incited you to set up Novocibirsk and what were the main sources of inspiration?

Hervé: My first source of inspiration is Kraftwerk and in particular “Radio-Activity”, since I bought the LP when it came out: In 1976 “Radio-Activity” (the single) was played on many radios. It was an unexpected success and a small report was broadcasted on TV. This is where I saw for the first time a synthesizer (Minimoog type if my memory is good and actually only a few seconds) and especially a kind of electronic drum (apparently handmade by the band), but of which came out percussive and metallic sounds that immediately captivated me. In addition, this repetitive music brought me a feeling of certainty and security that hypnotized me.

So I immediately went by bus down the Canebière where was, at the time, the ‘big’ record store from Marseille. I entered the store for the first time, and asked for the ‘Germans that are played on the radio’. They had it, I paid, and I rushed back home to listen to the record on my father’s record player once, twice… a hundred times! I still have this record that I keep as a kind of relic. Then it was Tangerine Dream, especially “Rubycon” and “Stratosfear” and finally a concert of Klaus Schulze related to the album “Mirage”. I do not remember the date, but, I think I was 13 years old or so. So, very young, and almost by accident I met this type of music, that I had no idea how it was made, as long as I did not see with my eyes this concert of Klaus Schulze, which took place in a cathedral. It was a complete hallucination. I had a cousin older than me, very into music, who offered me to go and see a concert of Klaus Schulze in Marseille. I had never been to a concert, I did not know what it was, and no idea who was Klaus Schulze then. The concert was held in the cathedral of Les Reformés at the top of the Canebière.

My parents dropped me there and went to the cinema, while we went to see the concert. And I went into a universe that I really did not know; I did not know what a modular looked like, for example… let alone a concert of junkies, because you had to see the wildlife that populated a concert of Klaus Schulze at that time, there was about a meter of smoke of canabis that covered the whole church, there are even people doing injections… it was still rather ‘particular’.

It was during this concert that I discovered, finally, what a synthesizer looked like -what I did not know, and that I decided to assign my first salary to it: I thought ‘the day you work, your first salary will be spent on the purchase of one of these machines’. I did not know how much it costs, or anything else, of course. Then I continued to listen a lot to this type of music, and then one day I had a first salary. I was 20 years old and I went for a synth… but it did not exist anymore. We were already entered a period the digital was making its appearance, we were at the beginning of digital, almost at the time of the appearance of the DX7 which would become the fashionable machine.

But I was not interested at all by a DX7, I wanted a Moog or a modular, which I had seen at Klaus Schulze’s concert. This is where I realized that it was not available anymore. So I did all the music stores in Marseille and the surrounding area, visiting their cellars and that’s how I started to build my collection, my ‘studio’, piece by piece, with synthesizers of collections that people no longer used, which nobody wanted. As a result, this machines often did not have a user manual, and for someone who did not know anything about it, without instructions for use, without knowing what a VCO or ADSR is… believe me, it took me quite some time to worked it out! That’s how it began.

Q: And so you set up Novocibirsk, but have you been involved with other projects and were you still in touch with the electronic underground scene?

Hervé: Absolutely not. I was never involved in one way or another in a group or linked to a scene… I spent my time experimenting in my apartment, without any other ambition.

Q: A lot of things have changed/evolved throughout the years; from the equipment (analogue towards digital) to the format (cassette and vinyl towards CD towards streaming) to recording techniques to the rise of social media etc. What do you think about all these evolutions? Pros and contras?

Hervé: I think that the technological evolution, both of the synthesizers and music diffusion, has increased tenfold -at least, the possibilities, but I do not have the feeling that the imagination in term of musical creation, the innovation in term of composition or experimentation has changed a lot.
The potentialities seem to me today much better than those I have known, but the imagination that could have accompanied these advances, I do not see it in the same proportions.

Q: How did the re-release of “Télévision 1945 Volume 1” happened and what’s your feeling about the final result –the songs having been re-arranged and re-mastered?

Hervé: These songs were absolutely not intended to be diffused and were only recorded for reasons of technical constraint to simply hear what I did.

But I met someone insane enough to be released in this kind of things, to whom I gave these cassettes, unsorted, in a plastic bag. He digitized them, sorted them, which gave names to the tracks and next followed a first confidential edition in CDr and cassette, very amateuristic way.

Then with this same person, and the creation of this new label (productionB) these pieces have been given an official release, CD, LP and streaming.

Q: I get the impression you were more focalized on the creation of sounds instead of writing a ‘classical’ song format (chorus – verse). What was it really all about and what can you say about the equipment you used?

Hervé: You’re absolutely right, the approach that was mine, was not to compose music, but to use electronic machinery to try to master it technically, to create sounds and sequences that I liked. And besides, the structure of the songs is systematically the same, it is a form of “Bolero”, with tracks (even if it is not really about tracks since at the time everything was live) which are layered on each other one by one. In fact, it’s simply because I increased the volumes of each synthesizer manually, and then when these volumes were almost where I wanted, I pressed keys to change the notes, mainly to keep the oscillators syntonized.

The objective was mainly associated with the production of sounds, the mixing of sounds, but not necessarily with the elaboration of a piece of music with a melodic structure, an organization in the time… I didn’t really think of it. In fact, these pieces are just technical tests.

Since these machines were relatively rare (and less expensive than today), I bought them when I found them. And I made new tracks, especially when I had a new synth, to test its abilities and make it communicate with the others. I did not feel any limitation, since I was always testing a new machine and networking with others, which was the second goal of my approach. I would say, it was both ‘tension’ and ‘trigger’. Things have been built over the constitution of the collection.

Q:  Are there some plans to re-release other ‘old’ Novocibirsk productions and do you’ve plans to release new material or getting back ‘into business’ again?

Hervé: Back to ‘business’, well, I’ve never really been into it, and it’s been a long time since I have unfortunately no time to control VCOs anymore… so I do not think so, no… even if I think that I would always have a great pleasure in playing with these machines.

I think I still kept a bag with several cassettes… it would have to be found somewhere in the cellar of my parents, but the most interesting things have certainly been digitized already. Of course, it’s the label that decides, and I think there’re plans for “Volume 2” and maybe another album. I’m already satisfied like that, but I will not oppose other releases, of course.  

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Inferno Sound Diaries

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