April 12, 2024

Click Interview with Pascal Savy: ‘London Has Been A Never-Ending Source Of Inspiration’


Pascal Savy, Lavardin, 29/08/2021.

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Pascal Savy is a French artist living and working in London (UK). He this year released his newest album “Simulacra” by Cyclic Law. Pascal has already released several full length albums but being signed on Cyclic Law will probably give him the opportunity to reach a wider audience of Dark-Ambient and Drone lovers. “Simulacra” is an overwhelming, dark and ominous, production. I got in touch with the artist which has a lot to tell about his work and the world we’re actually living in.

(Picture credits by Guillaume Murat / Interview courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: You’re already active for years but I guess most of our readers aren’t familiar with your work. Can you briefly tell us how it all started? How did you get in touch with the kind of music you’re dealing with and do you’ve specific influences and/or references?

Pascal: I guess it started very organically, I was listening to a lot of Electronic music in the early to mid-nineties, mostly Techno and Trance at the time, and I was very interested in how this music was created and the culture behind it. I bought my first machines in the late nineties and started to learn things on my own, just by experimenting and trying things out. I have no classical training, so early on I had to develop a musical vocabulary rooted in my own experience of Electronic music, and I had to trust my instinct as much as possible.

It’s also at this time that I discovered bands such as Autechre or Oval, and I think these discoveries opened a new world of possibilities for me. I wasn’t attempting to emulate their sounds, but their unconventional approach to sound and composition suddenly showed me that it was possible to explore different dimensions of music. This seminal period took a very long time to bear any fruits, and very little remains from what I created during this time; only a few cassettes and minidiscs of very clunky Electronic experimentations influenced by both Techno and more obscure music.

After moving to London I stopped making music for a few years, but spent a lot of time just experiencing it, either in clubs, warehouses or concert spaces. I think that planted the seeds for the next phase of my own journey as I returned to sound creation and experimentation with a new approach, more rooted in the physicality of sound.

Then, around 2007 a strange thing happened. At the time I was still using rhythms and very simple melodies inspired by Techno, but I remember working on a track where I had built quite a few sound layers underneath the more prominent elements, just as a way to fill the spectrum. For some reason however, I was losing interest in the track and slowly grew to stop liking it, until I spontaneously decided to remove the rhythmic and melodic tracks and raise the overall volume to bring out the supporting layers. This led to a complete epiphany, where the background became the foreground in a very strange way. I didn’t fully realize it at the time but this moment led me to discover Ambient- and Drone music, and from that day onwards (probably 15 years or so ago) this became my main musical interest.

Throughout this phase I have discovered a multitude of artists and labels that were previously unknown to me, and it would be difficult to mention specific influences or references as there were so many. I guess in the late 2000 and early 2010 I was really into labels such as Raster Noton, Touch and 12k. They’re probably the 3 labels that have influenced me the most after I started to explore Ambient- and Drone music and they planted the seeds for my own work over the last 10 years or so.

Q: You mentioned you’re now living and working in London (UK). What has been the impact of moving to England and living in London to your music? Do you think specific places/cities can influence an artist in his creation?

Pascal: I think it’s fair to say that moving from Paris to London had a huge impact on my relationship to music, not only the music making part of it, but also the type of music I got exposed to after that transition and the context in which I experienced it. In a way there was just so much going on that I got overwhelmed, and in order to make sense of everything I was discovering I had to stop creating music myself to just be able to absorb what was around me. 

Now, to answer the second part of your question, I do think that specific places have a strong influence on creating art, and so for many different reasons. I believe it’s a combination of the social make-up of a place, its architecture, its cultural vibrancy (or lack thereof), its history and its politics. With that said however there are many nuances to this topic as so much of a place’s effect depends on who you are as an individual, as well as how, when and where you experience the place, and what happens to you in that place and how you respond to it. So I think I can only really talk from a very personal standpoint, regarding my own relationship with London over the last 20 years. 

For me London has been a never-ending source of inspiration, not only for the music it’s led me to discover over the years (going to concerts and gigs, meeting various artists, etc) but I’ve also been very mindful of the subtle energy of the city, in tangible places such streets and specific areas, or in more transient ones, like on a very late bus night filled with people coming back from parties or going to work in the middle of night, and crossing each-others’ paths. I like times and places where very different worlds intersect and collide, I find those moments incredibly inspiring, and I feel that London is a very special place for this kind of atmosphere, probably one of the best to my knowledge. In a way, I’ve experienced hundreds of these kinds of experiences in and around the city over the years and this has somehow fed into my music, and defined what I ultimately want to express with sound, either consciously or unconsciously.

Q: I read your new album “Simulacra” is directly inspired from the different kinds of turmoil in the UK and elsewhere. Can you tell us a bit more about it and how did you transpose this ‘theme’ into music and the “Simulacra”-album?

Pascal: To answer your question I think I need to start with my album “Dislocations”, released back in 2018. That album was very different from my previous Ambient projects, which had been more poetic in scope, and was in a way a departure from what my music had been up until then, as well as a personal reaction to the political context of the time, where the UK was starting to feel like a very different country to the one I had moved to many years before. I think I started writing it in around 2015 or 2016, right when the UK was starting its journey outside of Europe. “Dislocations” was in a way a reflection on what was happening to this country, politically but also socially and culturally at the time. A ‘dislocation’ from what I had previously known. In time however, it began to evolve into a more intimate project that provided a lens through which I could begin to deconstruct and integrate my own feelings of personal dislocation.

So in a sense, “Simulacra” is a follow-up to “Dislocations” as it continues to deal with the current political context, but does it without being tainted by my own personal feelings or more precisely without dealing with how this context affects me personally. So I would say it’s a much less intimate and introspective album than “Dislocations”, while dealing with similar themes. I started working on it in 2020 and was, at the time, reading “Simulacra And Simulation” by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. I found that some of the ideas Baudrillard discussed in that book were extremely prescient and resonated very strongly with me.

The central idea behind the album is that the whole political ecosystem of the UK has become a complete simulacrum, where only appearances, representations and symbols count; where political power has become a pure simulation of real power, and no longer serves any purpose beyond its own survival; and where political power has become more violent in order to protect itself from the real power that could oppose it. In parallel, constant overstimulation and sensory overload slowly create a sense of alienation leading to what seems to be a perpetual present.

I wanted the music to resonate with feelings of alienation and powerlessness as well as convey ideas of anger and violence. Overall I worked with heavily textured drones as well as sharp edged sounds and sustained rhythms to echo and articulate those feelings. Some of the tracks were re-worked until their final forms had lost all resemblance to their initial skeleton, something that was partly influenced by the idea of simulacra not representing the real anymore. I also wanted to work more with rhythms, something that I don’t normally do, as I thought it was a good way of exploring the idea of power by saturating the sonic landscape with repetition and pulsation. On certain tracks rhythms were more implied, slowly disappearing or simply absent to reflect this idea of the real not being there anymore. Overall the process I used to make this album was heavily influenced by both the idea of simulacra (sound as a representation of the real but often devoid of true relationship with it) and the idea of connecting to something tangible (drone textures and harmonic movement as a representation of the fragility of the real).

Ultimately, this record sought to process a turbulent period echoed by ideas of political, social and cultural disintegration. Feelings of alienation and loss, as well as a desire for reconnection are at the core of this music, and the album tries to navigate this complex emotional and personal map while avoiding the traps of an escape into the world of pure simulation. 

Q: Do you see yourself as an ‘engaged’ artist whereby music can vehicle some ideas or is music a kind of ‘cure’ to exorcize experiences in life? What does the music of Pascal Savy stand for?

Pascal: I’m not sure I see myself as an ‘engaged’ artist, at least not in a traditional sense. Instead, I try to make sense of what happens around me through the lens of music, and then send a signal to the world in the form of an artefact, in this case a record, that reflects in a way how I see things at this point in time. It’s not so much of a ‘cure’ either, but instead simply a transcription into sound of what I often fail to articulate with words. Beyond sending a message or making a statement, I believe that what I do transcends the politically charged context I’ve been describing. I think that things are always multidimensional and so much cannot really be rationally explained, especially with regards to what art or music means.

There is a strong political side to this music that’s true, and that’s partly intentional, but there’s also my own unconscious at play in all this and that of course taints the way I choose sounds or harmonies when I make those tracks. In the end I can also hear in this music a much more human expression, which I hope will resonate with the listener on a very human level. For me, making music and releasing or performing music is a way to have a conversation with the listener, something very visceral and direct. On this occasion, the conversation is in part political but on other occasions it can be much more personal.

Q: Listening to “Simulacra” I got the sensation you’re more like a sound alchemist who’s collecting, composing and decomposing sounds, instead of a true musician. Tell us a bit more about your perception of sound and your way of working?

Pascal: During the creation of this album, I would record these long improvised sessions in my studio every day, in order to assemble a large archive of sounds, ranging from Ambient and Drone to Noise and rhythms. For these experimentations I only used a very small number of synths, drum machines and effect pedals which made for a varied sound palette nonetheless. Each session was edited down to create a vast library of ideas made of small improvisation excerpts and more refined early demos. After this process was complete, I auditioned each idea and started to create “Simulacra” based on the conceptual ideas I had in mind for this project. All the tracks were more or less formed in the computer by layering and mixing together entire or shortened fragments of that sound library. Further refinements led to the final version of the album which was mixed down a few months later, after a time of maturation and reflection.

So in a sense I would agree with your image of a sound alchemist, as sounds were formed, transformed and muted to slowly give shape to what I wanted to create. With that said however, I would also like to take a moment to reflect on the idea of what being a ‘true musician’ means, as your question seems to oppose it to a more architectural approach to music making. One could say that a true musician has the ability to physically play an instrument, where gesture leads to sound, and articulation in time and space of such gestures leads to a meaningful melodic and harmonic expression. For me that’s only one aspect of it, and that’s probably how most people understand what it means to be a true musician. On the other hand to your point, I believe that using an ensemble of machines, either real (mechanic, magnetic or electronic) or virtual (dsp devices, algorithm or AI-based), to create sound, and then meaningfully arranging it to create a musical object able to powerfully express a certain set of emotions and transfer these emotions to an entirely other person through the medium of a recording or a live performance, is also for me true musicianship, although in a much more abstract way.

I think this is a very important question, and it’s quite difficult to really express those ideas in a few words but this tension is very interesting to explore both from a creation perspective and from the standpoint of critique.

Q: We talked about turmoil which I think is also part of the contemporary music scene –think about the labels stopping their activities, streaming platforms instead of physical releases etc.. What’s your perception about it all and how important is it to you to get signed by a leading label like Cyclic Law?

Pascal: I think a lot has been said about this evolution, either in publications, blogs, or talks, so I won’t try to re-state what has already been discussed by very good writers and thinkers. I can only see it as evident that music is now mostly consumed through streaming platforms that don’t really allow emerging and niche artists to live off of their music. In addition, it seems music is very often consumed as content and not as an experience. So that’s not so great as far as I’m concerned, but that’s the situation at the moment, and I need to acknowledge it.

On the other hand, with the democratization of tools to make and release music there has been an explosion of new artists, new genres and new scenes across the world, which is fantastic. It’s fair to say that it’s impossible to keep track of everything that is happening as there is so much really.

With that said I think there are a few very positive points that somehow counterbalance all this. The first being that the barrier to entry is actually very low, so anyone interested in making sound can actually express themselves quite easily, which I think is very positive on a broad social and cultural level. This also leads to the emergence of new local scenes and artistic ecosystems which is very conducive to creativity and the invention of new music. Further, through streaming and digital releases one can reach audiences that older modes of production wouldn’t necessarily allow, so music can work its way to very unexpected places. Sure, it’s very difficult to get your name out there, and it requires a lot of work and effort, but I believe that with time and patience things can move in the right direction, although on a noticeably smaller scale than before. 

At my level, I still feel that well curated record labels are very important as they act as both a container and transmission vessel for music, and medium that people can relate to and actually go to, to find good music in whichever genre they’re interested in. Especially now that the landscape is so wide and deep, finding great labels has never been more important. I’m very happy to be working with Cyclic Law, and feel very honored that they wanted to release this album. I realize that my music doesn’t really fall within the Dark-Ambient umbrella which is traditionally associated with this label, at least not aesthetically, but I’m very happy that in this way my sound can reach an audience that perhaps wouldn’t have explored this type of sound otherwise.

Q: What’s next for Pascal Savy?

Pascal: I’m working on three albums at the moment and they’re all at very different stages of production. They all have strong concepts behind them and I have hours of material recorded for each one; sounds that I’ve recorded and accumulated over the last 2 or 3 years. I’m now working through these sounds to develop them to a stage where I can see and understand their shape and contour a bit better. As for “Simulacra” I’m creating sonic worlds that are heavily concept-based and I’ll be refining them until they feel complete. I’ve always worked very slowly when I’m creating an album, as I like how time affects perception, and what feels exciting and new to me today could feel very much uninteresting in a couple of months. For me the sounds I create must take their time to solidify in accordance with their own logics, and that’s something that I’m very mindful to always let flourish and thrive.  

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Inferno Sound Diaries
I have been working for over 30 years with Side-line as the main reviewer. My taste is eclectic, uncoventional and I prefer to look for the pearls, even if the bands are completely unknown, thus staying loyal to the Side-Line philosophy of nurturing new talents.

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