Neither/Nor Records

Frantz Loriot interviewed by Kenny Warren in August 2021 for the release of Paris (n/n 018)

Kenny Warren: Frantz, it's good to reconnect with you. I don't think we've seen each other since you and Sandra lived in New York a few years ago. I've been really enjoying listening to Paris here on my stereo and then on headphones in my apartment in Brooklyn. I'm interested in the environment of the music, both the environment that the music itself creates, and the physical environment in which the music was performed. If you listen closely in headphones you can make out some sounds of the city, maybe a club next door or some people chatting on the street. Can you paint the scene?

Frantz Loriot: We played and recorded in a venue called Le Café de Paris, in Ménilmontant in Paris. The venue has different functions: it has a café run by Kabyle/Algerian people, a room with a stage on the ground floor and a small room in the basement, next to the toilets - that’s where we ended up playing with Diaphane.

During the concert three separate things were going on at the same time. Some people were there just to hang out and have a drink in the cafe area, in the main room/theatre there was a drag queen show, and in the basement room, us, playing improvised music. These kinds of places have an important social role in the neighborhood, and this is a reason why I like playing in such places. People who go there are very diverse and come for different reasons. I also like the idea of a venue having different spaces within one larger space.

KW: Were you inspired by or perhaps distracted by any of these live elements that were out of your control?

FL: When we did the sound check, we were a bit concerned by the noise/music coming from the bar. For some reason the owners believe that if the music at the bar is loud, it will attract people from the street… So there was no way they would turn down the volume, we had to deal with it. While performing, I personally didn’t pay too much attention to the noises from the environment. I was very focused on the group's sound and our interaction. It was only in silent moments or very quiet moments that I realized the noise was still there. I remember some people talking very loudly in the bathroom at some point and trying to not get distracted by it… I guess that it was pretty similar for my comrades.
Afterwards, while mixing, the question of how to deal with the ambient noise came up. Would we try to integrate it as part of the music or would we try to get rid of it as much as we could? I suggested starting the record with some ambient noise from the room. But we didn’t have enough idle time recorded before the music started, nor enough room mics set up to capture the ambient sounds properly and finally the way we entered/started the set did not really give the idea of interacting with the sounds from the environment. So we abandoned that idea. Thinking of it reminded me of a Bill Evans trio at Village Vanguard record where you can hear people talking and eating.

KW: Do you find Paris to vibrate similarly or differently to New York?

FL: I think it is different. Being big cities, they for sure have a lot in common, but the spirit is definitely different. The culture, history, population and traditions are different and definitely affect the way the city vibrates.

KW: Does it make any difference where you improvise? In a studio vs a cafe vs the woods? Or does the sort of transcendental nature of your music make the physical environment more or less irrelevant?

FL: Sure! The mental state isn’t the same when you play in front of people or if you play in an enclosed studio or an open space like the woods. The place and the situation affect the music and the listening. The situatedness of the playing has, I believe, a big influence on the musical result. With Diaphane, I guess, we would somewhat maintain a certain esthetic wherever we would play since we have agreed to a certain approach to sound and to listening, and have a general understanding of the scope of our music. What I am curious about now is how we might evolve and perhaps consider actually playing with the environment instead of just playing within it.

KW: I love the way the four of you relate to each other sonically. There are moments where I'm unsure who is making a certain sound; moments where two of you are inhabiting a similar space while the other two are in a contrasting space; but, as a whole, things feel very connected and balanced. Musically/sonically speaking, do you find yourself relating differently to Carlo than to Raphael or to Carl Ludwig? Are you aware of those different relationships while you improvise?

FL: I am not sure I am relating differently to each of them, musically speaking. They, of course, have different sounds according to their instruments but the way I can relate and respond to each of them is in my own way, with my own sounds. What I mean is that I only have my own elements to react with and relate to them.

I think there is no hierarchy between us and we all are on the same level, have the same root (rhizomic) and we all act for the same purpose: an ensemble’s music and not a music made by a group of soloists who want to make their personal voices heard. We act as a group, a collective to build a collective voice. I play the physically smallest and lowest-volume instrument of the ensemble but I never feel uncomfortable nor overwhelmed, even in the loudest parts. I know the others are listening and are conscious of my instrument’s physical limits and will try to play within them. I also accept and understand that their instruments’ volume ranges are wider than mine and that they could go over my limits. But I know if this happens it would be for a musical purpose and that they would do this in consciousness of my situation.

KW: I love the idea of playing from the same root, as if the whole ensemble is one organism. Do you ever have the urge to play something melodic or otherwise potent enough that it risks disturbing the balance?

FL: So far, with this specific ensemble, I personally do not have that desire of playing a melody or a “disturbing” gesture, although it could happen. In almost each concert during our 2019 tour we had a moment of silence which was very strong. It was never expected and always had an unclear role - was it an ending, a breath, a sound and a musical part in itself? We often talked and exchanged thoughts about it after playing. I believe that this strong and powerful moment disturbed us, but we liked it! Strangely, perhaps due to the noise situation, in Paris that moment of silence didn’t happen.

I think this group of people, even without stating it openly, has the desire of creating an ensemble sound made of collective gestures. There is a togetherness which still respects and leaves space for each individual’s language, where each singular musical space intertwines and blurs with the others and where limits or borders are obscured. In a way I feel that this statement, this attempt to abandon our individual egos to build a common language, could be disturbing.

KW: Do you mostly find yourself listening peripherally to the whole ensemble, or does your focus/consciousness sometimes become more pointed towards a specific element/detail/player?

FL: As much as I can, I try to keep a wide listening and to be conscious of the whole. But sometimes you hear and you feel a specific connection to someone in the ensemble and that something is building up, that gestures are closely related to one another. The others might play something completely different and I'd be mindful of that as well. I am always trying to be very aware of everybody in an ensemble. In difficult situations I often shift my attention to the player that I hear the least, to try to understand her/his intention or placement in the music. However I don’t really have that problem with Diaphane. 

KW: Is your approach to extended technique more methodical or mystical? Do you still surprise yourself with new sounds during performances?

FL: I believe it’s both. Sometimes, I have the desire to sound like something very specific and I will look for ways and means to produce that sound, but I also like to surprise myself in live situations (sessions or performances) and discover something new on the spot.
Sometimes, the sound refers to something concrete but what I prefer is mainly when the sound has no clear relation to a concrete object and has something somehow closer to a feeling.

KW: Everyone in this ensemble has a way of leaning towards the idiomatic elements of the other instruments in the group. For example, Carlo is able to inhabit the long tone world of the tuba with his bowls and rubbing of drum heads, while you and Raphael are able to create amazing percussive elements at times by preparing your instruments. All of these expanded techniques really help glue the ensemble together. Can you talk a little more about your own sound language? How has it developed over time?

FL: I come from a classical music background with all of its institutionalization, education and conditioning. I really had to go beyond those limits and take transversal directions. For some time I thought it was about unlearning, and this helped me take the first steps, but today I think it is more about exceeding and leaving aside. My practice, for now, is centered on timbral aspects but also on rhythm, formal development and harmony in a sense. For many years I looked for ways to produce sounds and noises other than the ones you'd expect from a string instrument, to exceed (modestly) the limits designed by the history of the instrument. I started to include these sounds in my practice during sessions or concerts to acquire a familiarity with them. Little by little I got more comfortable with these sounds and their placement, and gradually they started taking a more prominent place in my practice. Basically I gathered a series of new gestures and sounds and left out other ones, more or less in a radical way.

The work I did with Natura Morta (a trio with Carlo and Sean Ali) was definitely an important step in the development of this practice. We consciously decided to avoid some stereotypes and abandon certain elements while keeping and further focusing on others. I would say that our collective work permitted and contributed to the development of my own language, If I can really call it “my own”. These days, I often refer to Edouard Glissant’s concepts of Creolity, Whole-World, Relation and Rhizome, in the sense that “my” language is a mix of things and a fruit of various and diverse influences and affects. What I might call “mine” actually belongs also to a multitude.
According to Glissant, “Creolisation is the bringing together of several cultures, or at least several elements of distinct cultures, in one part of the world, with the result that something new is created that is totally unpredictable compared to the sum or simple synthesis of these elements.”

“The phenomena of creolisation are important because they allow for a new spiritual dimension of the humanities. An approach that involves a recomposition of the mental landscape of these humanities today. For creolisation implies that the cultural elements brought together must be 'equivalent in value' for this creolisation to take place. That is, if some of the cultural elements brought together are inferior to others, creolisation does not really take place.”
I believe that our practice with Diaphane has something close to do with the concepts of Creolization, Whole-World and Rhizome.

Photo credits and information:

The album cover is a photo taken by Cesare Baccheschi and Frantz Loriot.

The portriat of Frantz at his home studio was taken by Sandra Weiss, the photograph of Frantz and Raphael Loher hiking in the Swiss Alps was taken by Theresa Wong.