by Toby Frith
Last year the fantastic label Old Spelling Bee released a compilation of tracks called “Trilogy Select” from Stellar OM Source aka Christelle Gualdi. They were beautiful compositions - short freeform synthesizer pieces that had a sparkling life of their own, almost transcendent in their beauty. These hallucinogenic clusters of songs became the soundtrack to my commute to work for a long period of time, sucking me into a kaleidoscopic world of colour as I travelled through the countryside by train.
Although the fashion for this music has been accelerated by the surging popularity of Oneohtrix Point Never, in comparison Gualdi’s music doesn’t seem so self-absorbed or prone to miming masters such as Tangerine Dream. There’s a definite nod to Cluster in the playful quality of the compositions, but deep down there’s a unique richness to them that is addictive; both in their texture and in the unusual and evocative worlds that she summons.
I conversed with Christelle via email to find out a bit more about her music.
TF :There’s a very strong sense of escapism in your music - what would you say are the prime influences in making this such an important part?
CG: I think of my view of escapism as a positive one. Instead of disengagement, it has more to do with engagement. More utopian ideas and places for a better life, hope and faith actually. I guess I want my music to uplift and reveal less traveled places and feelings, some trance and ecstatic journeys. They do exist for everyone and I’m just trying to touch them with sounds. I did once this collage with a picture of George Duke and it says : “Be your higher self”.
I’m actually an architect and my creativity and visions are highly influenced by this fact. My personal trilogy is architecture/music/spirituality.
Do the three of them merge together or influence each other? What sort of influence does the study of architecture have?
They are spinning in my head like a casino roulette depending on the situation, stopping sometimes on one area, sometimes on another. And indeed as the roulette when it spins fast, they merge and that’s when it’s very interesting and promising. I love to think how things blend looking for non obvious ways and discovering new possibilities. Architecture for me is about projections, projects and processes, defining a total way of thinking. Any production deals with this brainscape. The way I express my ideas has to have some kind of inscription either in space, time or life.
You also talk about utopian ideals, which is something I guess that we rarely see in a lot of popular culture, perhaps more in music where the futurism of Detroit Techno and the nostalgia of Kraftwerk remain powerful . Is that something you want to resurrect, or do you think that it hasn’t really gone away?
We clearly prefer to share real catastrophes and dystopian movies. The uplifting visions remain, but are hidden. There is some sci-fi literature, art, some visionary commercials, TV shows and architecture that promote utopia. In regard to music, I don’t see myself as resurrecting anything, That dream hasn’t gone away, more that it wasn’t exposed enough. A lot of musicians are just following and extending the paths established in the 70’s and 80’s. I truly believe in those ideas and visions of the future (our parallel present), and I’ve got total fascination for the spirit and music of Drexciya for instance which expands probably much further than our lifetime. There’s such ‘beauty’ in showing your art as being part of a greater vision.
As an architect, I would imagine that planning and a sense of form is very important to how you work. However my interpretation of your music is that it’s very freeform and sounds as if it’s been recorded live, with some edits afterwards. Please correct me if I’m wrong on that front, but is there a conscious decision to make music in this way? Or is it perhaps unconscious?
There was a logical evolution in recording when I became more and more acquainted with the sounds I’m interested in. My first LP was recorded live in a big studio but after choosing amongst 23 sessions of 25 minutes! Your interpretation of the trilogy LP is right in that it was a lot of free form recordings in the studio and editing afterwards. That was a conscious choice though; I always want to feel that the sounds dictates when they need extra work or not. The ‘Heartland Suite’ LP which was just re-released was much more composed, with one fragment of sound as a starting point for a slow crafting of every track. Today I’m not recording anything live anymore, instead I’m enjoying composing a lot, and moving around a drum track, bass or synth loop.
I read an interview where you mentioned “using both hands” whilst recording and playing music - something that I can hear in your compositions - a real sense of a range of directions, which is something that you don’t hear in the more confined format of electronic dance music. Do you think you will continue that with your new form of composing?
It’s inevitable that the more progress there is, the more mastery arises. In terms of composition, you can hear more, between the sounds, and use more complex composition techniques. Recording those ideas live is definitely what I enjoy the most, reworking them with subtlety. I’ll always be fascinated by the fact that adding one sound to another and when in time, can have the biggest difference. It’s a form of art that has no equivalent.
What have been your favourite live performances? Is there a particular crowd or environment that you respond to?
I definitely like that you can lose a sense of place when playing live. That with the music you completely forget where you are to achieve a more total experience. The best performances are where the sound is of the highest quality. Then the audience and I can go further as well. I find night clubs are some of the best places to perform, because they are meant to make you forget where you were before you entered the place. The last performance I enjoyed the most was at the Bim Huis in Amsterdam. The bass was amazing and I could feel it rumbling under my feet while playing, trains were passing in the night behind me, and people ended on stage with me to dance. That night was magical!
Do you think that playing live in clubs or to audiences of that nature is the way forward for electronic music that isn’t considered “dance”? I always feel that the sort of atmosphere you might “expect” in a club is more conducive to that sort of response from the audience, which is usually much more positive.
Definitely. Clubs are really immersive places and the ‘devotion’ of people going there is real. Because of the nature of dance music (total involvement with the sound), it finds the right place for its expression. Honestly, all of electronic music should share those locations. Organizers shouldn’t be afraid to loose money, if they would know how to promote those events the right way. The limitation is only in our mind.
We’re so much in the ‘been there done that’ society and need to renew/remix things often. I think the best events lately are the ones mixing different levels/genres and breaking expectations. I remember talking with Crispin Dior who mentioned organising parties in clubs, where along with DJs there is spoken poetry and experimental music. Or the Grown nights in L.A. in a japanese dinner house. The most important is to get the best sound possible and to communicate your vision.
Going back a bit, can you remember what the records and songs were that most influenced your interest in electronic music?
I had a key moment when I was a small child with Rubycon (Tangerine Dream) that my father used to play a lot in the car. I felt that music was as powerful and as huge as the landscapes we were crossing. We listened a lot to Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and prog rock too. I also remember being really affected by some Italo Disco tracks, getting the 7” from my cousins or parents and dubbing them on tapes for my walkman, listening to them on repeat.
I can see today that those two sides of electronic music are deeply imprinted in me. In some ways I’m trying to relive again those early moments and aim for a similar resonance when I create my own music.
I had the chance to live in Paris when I was a teenager when there was no internet yet, so I was listening a lot to stations Radio Nova and Radio FG. Both opened my eyes (ears!) to 80’s and 90’s electronic music: Techno, Detroit and Chicago House, as well as soundtracks. I remember hearing ‘Strings of Life’ one of those nights… and it was magic!
I hear a lot of “geography” in your music, not only from the song titles but also in the sounds - always a journey of some sort. Is that the primal influence of Rubycon? The fact that you were travelling as well?
It might yes. I love the ideas of travels, inner and outer, the journey that life. A lot of 70’s and 80’s electronic music brings into those states of expansion and movement. For me music has to do with experiencing. Music can bring you to a place where your mind and body get somewhere different that you were before or can enhance it.
Were there any milestones you can think of that influenced your decision to make music? Was there a particular musical vision that you wanted to achieve or has it evolved over time?
Because I’m after a very particular feeling, of something uplifting in music, there were occasions like this. When I was a teenager going to music school, I won a prize that included an LP of Ravel’s string quartet. I remember being sure that such feelings had to be what I wanted to express with music. A year later I had the same with the discovery of the music of Magma. Today through using and referring to other music styles I know that the path is right for me and I can reconnect to those early experiences.
Can you tell us a bit more about the “Way of the Cross” project you were involved with in 2007? I”m a big fan of Robert Graves and was intrigued to see that it was influenced by his poem “The White Goddess”.
The Way of the Cross was a one time project of 9 musicians from the US/Finland/Germany/France. We knew each other but we weren’t not a band, and we went one week on tour together. We released one LP from some of the live recordings. The original idea of referring to the White Goddess and the name Way of the Cross came from Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band. The band was dealing with the ideas of pagan attraction of the Goddess, worshipping of love and the Earth, the Muse. This book is poetry and not exact history and we were into this freedom from the facts. We had our own edge to it as the two other books we traveled and referred to were: ‘Mind of the Dolphin’ and ‘The Dirt (Motley Crue)’.
You said earlier that you’re now composing tracks - can you give us an idea of the sort of music you will be releasing in the future?
I usually compose new tracks for live sets, testing ideas out. I’m working on an EP of 5 tracks that I played the past six months live. I recently exchanged some of my gear to try new sounds and a more compact and challenging setup. The themes evolve and develop, so there is continuity but I’m not bound to a specific genre. I realised that my earliest works are not played live anymore. Those jams I kind of keep for myself now. The visions and emotions I want to express in my music are becoming more refined. One thing for sure aiming at something higher and good (in time and space) will be always there.
Many thanks to Christelle for taking the time to talk to Bleep43. You can check her Soundcloud page too.