Lightwave interviewed by Gianluigi Gasparetti
1 - Let's start with a bit of history about your beginnings, the main influences, the first ideas...
Christian Jacob -- At the very beginnings (1985), Lightwave grew up from the meeting of three guys very concerned with electronic music, as listeners, critics, collectors and, one could say, activists. Serge Leroy was the founder of Crystal Lake, a French organization devoted to the promotion of electronic and new music, and I joined him. Both of us, we were in search for new musics, small underground labels to discover, new musicians to admire, and we had a journalistic activity as well (writing reviews, interviewing musicians etc). Serge Leroy was himself a musician: he had in his flat an impressive Roland Modular System 700. I was dreaming to have such a machine myself, and thanks to the chance, a friend of Serge sold me an ARP 2600 synthi. It was a revelation: I shifted from the listening pole to the creating pole, and I made my own path through electronics and music. The ARP 2600 was probably the best teacher to learn music and sound design. At a certain step, Serge and me, we decided to put in common our researches and experimentations, and at the same time, we had the opportunity to play a first live performance in the Crystal Lake festival. We had to find a name for the band, and I remember we found the name Lightwave in a Chinese restaurant, at the end of a dinner, after many drinks... A third guy, Laurent Bozec, joined us for this first concert: he had a VCS 3 synthy. The concert itself was a weird sonic experience: a trash-noisy-industrial apocalyptic trip: all the modular systems went crazy, and it was impossible to play what we planned so we... improvised.... Then, Laurent left, and we looked for another crazy guy. We played the tape of the concert to some friends and they all said "No, thanks"! A guy called Christoph Harbonnier said: "I like that"!, and we played a four or five hours improvised concert with him, and this was the beginning of a long collaboration. So Lightwave is born from chance, and our musical identity was the result of years of personal experiences, of listening to electronic, rock, contemporary music, of dreaming about making music ourselves. The three of us (Serge Leroy, Christoph and me) shared obviously a common point: we spent a lot of time playing, experimentating with our equipment, in an non-conventional way. We were in the late eighties probably among the few musicians to play live concert with an analogic set-up of big modular systems, ARP 2600 etc. Such an in-depth approach to our instruments lead us towards sound design, sound research, and playing in a band was like blending together these sonic colours...
2- How has your music been received in France by the fans of electronic music? Is there a real progressive electronic music scene there?
Christoph Harbonnier -- It is difficult to answer such a question. The feedback from listeners is difficult to imagine. What we can appreciate is the critical feedback from reviewers, journalists, and it was often pretty good. "Mundus Subterraneus" was even in the charts in the "techno/ambient" programmation of an important FM Radio. I don't know if there is a real progressive electronic music scene. Fans of electronic music are a small minority. This is a paradox, since electronic music, in the techno scene, is everywhere. On the other hand, our performances and sound installation, in the Choranche caves, allowed us to be in touch with a wide, non specialized audience, who discovered our music, and sometimes electronic music, through a very scenic artistic concept, in a Festival. We had hundred of listeners, families and even whole classes from the schools in this area of the Vercors mountains -- many of them were enthusiastic. So the reception of Lightwave music imply various levels -- the fans who buy the records (when they can find them in the shops), people who heard our music on national FM radios, such as France Culture or France Musique, in classical programs, people who discovered us in our sound installations (the Oberhausen installation had more than 100.000 visitors, and they all spent time listening at Lightwave music...).
3 - Since my first reviews of your records in Deep Listenings Lightwave has become a legend and now whenever one of your records comes out it is eagerly awaited by italian fans, who call me to ask for news about it. Is it the same in France? How do you explain this following?
CJ -- This is indeed amazing for us. In a general way, we have the feeling that our audience, although not very large, is very focused and sharp-minded. We get letters, feedback, reviews from various parts of the world, and our "fans" appear as imaginative and sensitive people, who bring their own creativity into listening to music. Such a response gives us a lot of energy to go on into our own path, despite all the difficulties we meet. It is also striking to discover that some reviewers understand and explain our music in a very deep and relevant way and sometimes better than we could do it ourselves. When we read such reviews, we get the feeling that at least someone understood what we are trying to achieve!
4 - Your releases from the last few years indicate a move into a more complex environment, close to the works of the french pioneers of the electronic music. What's your point of view? Is this the evolution you were looking for?
CJ-- You are certainly right, and we probably followed the path of French electroacoustic or concrete music. This was not a conscious imitation, but a way to play in an intuitive fashion with an abstract musical language: sound, sonic objects and shapes. One of the main differences, however, is that we do not want to give a theoretical frame to our music. We do not calculate, we do not make experimentation for its own sake. "Mundus" is actually closer to a movie soundtrack than to a laboratory experiment... Abstraction can be a figurative language as well, I mean, you can suggest a story, shapes, a landscape, feelings etc. So this use of an electro-acoustic and concrete language gave us a fantastic creative freedom: creating music beyond the patterns of rythm and harmony, within the realm of sound itself... I don't think Lightwave has a conscious view of the evolution we want to follow. Our current music is quite different from Mundus, although there are the same sonic ingredients. Let say we are looking for some more minimalistic climates, more ambient in a way.
6 - Are you interested in the effects the electronic sounds have on the human psyche or do you just want to explore the electronic universe and the possibilities of your instruments?
CJ--Actually, your question is about the nature and the power of music. What is going on, when the music you are creating in your home studio is recorded on a CD, is played on radio, is transmitted through various commercial channels to other people? Why these people should buy or listen to your music and sometimes like it and listen to it again an again? Sometimes the answer is: because this is the fashion, because radios, clubs, magazines etc make necessary to listen to such music. Sometimes the answer is: because this music "talks" to the listeners, brings to them something deep and special, a kind of psychological extension our "plug-in". Yes, music has a power, music is a kind of language which tunes up the psyche and helps to reach some creative, meditative or dreaming state. When you are creating or playing such a music, you are experimenting this power, and most of the Lightwave pieces result from a special moment, in a special place, with a special mood. "Nachtmusik" was recorded live, during a late evening, without any plan or concept. "Tycho" and "Mundus" basic tracks were recorded in such a way too, sometimes during live improvisations with Jacques. When Paul Haslinger, in Los Angeles, played the additiona l parts, edited and mixed "Mundus", he just plugged in his own sensitivity and creativity on our music, and his artistic decisions were very fast and intuitive, and always relevant. This means that there is an inner logic and necessity within the music, and that when three or four musicians are involved into such a creation, they all work in the same direction, towards the same goal, sharing the same basic feelings and visions and giving them strength and persuasive power. The recorded music is like an archive of these emotions and feelings and the listeners who love and understand our music are people able to plug in their own sensitivity, to bring in their own creativity, their vision, their experience. One could say that listening to this kind of music is a creative process as well, and we sometimes feel that the listener is like a Lightwave member, in charge with the ultimate production step of the music.... It is up to the listeners to express what they feel with their own words and sensitivity -- pictorial impressions, movies-soundtracks, floating sensation, sometimes depression etc...
7 - Please list your equipment. What kind of instruments and machines are you working with now and how did they affect your music? Do you think that technology helps creativity?
CH -- Equipment is not the main thing. You need technology to help your creativity. But if you are not creative, you could have the best studio and the best equipment in the world, the result will be disappointing. For us, the equipment is just tools, toys and interfaces. We are using technology in a non technological way. We want industrial synthesizers to sound as hand-made, personal and very individual instruments. The most important thing is the way you are creating your sound libraries, the way you are playing and blending sounds together. We are spending a lot of time introducing random events, impossible parameters, various accidents within the RAM of our machines. Giving the list of our equipment does not make sense, since we can use our older modular systems, sample them on digital machines, and then process these digital samples through analog effects in order to go further into the sound transformation. Recording, mixing, treating are other steps in this process. Sometimes, the physical element behind a layer is the noise of a stone falling down on the water, processed through many steps of treatment. Sometimes, this is a clean factory sound of a digital keyboard that we transformed into a dirty shadowy noise. I am more involved into sampling, Christian is more involved into electronic sounds as such. But quite often the border between these different ways to produce sounds is hard to recognize, even for us!
8 - Please tell me something about the creative process behind your music: I'm in love with all your records, which are wonderful examples of the real progressive electronic music, especially with "Mundus subterraneus" and "Uranography"; which secret source feed your artistic fire? Which is the source of inspiration, the idea and the researches behind the revolutionary sounds of Lightwave?
CJ -- Hard question. During most of the Lightwave studio sessions, we are recording music. We have hours and hours of unreleased music. In a certain span of time - sometimes a week-end, sometimes several weeks - we can see that music organizes itself around a certain feeling or a certain mood. There is a colour, a sound, a cohesiveness. At this step, we elaborate a concept - Tycho Brahe, Athanasius Kircher - and from then, we have a guideline, a conceptual and esthetic frame that help us during the multitrack overdub recordings, during the mixing sessions. I am gathering documentation, pictures, texts, quotations, and we study together all the historical and conceptual background. The starting point is always free, spontaneous and intuitive. A more reflexive approach helps us choosing the best materials and putting them in the right sequence. "Uranography" was a live performance and, as such, a good balance between prepared structures and unplanned events. Playing together in studio during hours help us to play in concert. Christoph and me, we know each other quite well, and we are playing and thinking in a complementary way. When you play in concert or in studio improvisation, you have to anticipate the developments of music, to think about two or three possible follow-up to what you are currently playing, and then to choose only one among them, because it is the only relevant choice, the only cohesive way to play with what the other musician is currently doing. Another method we are using is to fix one or two rules, for example we use a precise harmonic scale, or we only one sound each, we follow such or such progression, we limit the length of the piece (two or three minutes for example). Recording hours and hours according to these rules allow us to have a "Lightwave musical library" and then to choose between these samples and reorganize them. For example "Uraniborg", in the Tycho album, is such a "montage" of several various studio recordings.
9 - Which is the direction are you going now? I know that you'll be working on a chamber music project and on a music close to the silence...
CH-- We have several works in progress. The music of the Choranche caves installation was a very difficult challenge, both artistic and technical, and we have to shift from the 12 channels mix to the stereo mix. It is a crazy soundtrack, involving acoustic instruments (turkish clarinet, saxophone, flute, violin) and voices (French, German, English, Italian) spoken by French theater actors and by John Greaves, a British actor and singer. The Choranche music is something between "Mundus' and "Tycho", a subterranean space opera, quite scenic and evocative. The music and the sound is very sophisticated, at least from our point of view. Another project is "Malibu": chamber music for electronic instruments, string quartet and wind instruments. Jacques Derégnaucourt and Renaud Pion are deeply involved, as performers and arrangers. This is different from the previous Lightwave albums: more intimate and meditative, a music where one feels good. Sometimes, it is almost as if Lightwave played with Gimmy Giuffre or Stan Getz.... An acoustic feeling, at the borders of jazz music....
We are also working on the concept of an opera, devoted to Percival Lowell, this American astronomer who discovered the channels on Mars. We recorded several tracks with an opera singer, Susan Belling: the result, very interesting, is not yet what we want to reach, so we are still working in this direction. At this step, we do not know yet if it will be a stage production or a concept for a sophisticated installation. Christoph created an impressive stage design, on computer, and we have to find a producer to build it in reality...
10 - In the past, you have worked with many musicians: Serge Leroy, Bruno Heuzé, Hector Zazou, to name but a few. Now is the turn of Paul Haslinger and Jacques Derégnacourt. Lightwave seems like an "open" group for serious researches in the field of electronic music. Which other musicians would you like to work with?
CJ-- Lightwave is a creative structure, and our basic idea is that the resulting music - let say the "Mundus Subterraneus" album - is something that no one of us could have achieved on its own. This is a collective creation, and Paul Haslinger, Jacques Derégnaucourt, Christoph and me, we all brought some important pieces to the whole picture. Such a creative input is expected from all the Lightwave collaborators, and Renaud Pion, for example, perfectly understood that he was not a mere "session musician"', but a creative partner, and in the Malibu project, he wrote some saxophone or clarinet parts who give the music its whole meaning. In the past, we had also an experiment with Steve Roach and Robert Rich - there is a 20 minutes unreleased piece, where Steve and Robert improvised on a Lightwave electronic background, and the result is beautiful.... In the Lightwave "circle", one should also mention Michel Geiss, famous as Jean-Michel Jarre main collaborator (on stage, in studio....) but also a valuable musician, composer, sound-engineer who is now working for himself, as a free-lance studio engineer and specialist of mastering. Michel is supporting Lightwave since the very beginning, and he helps us in many ways. He was deeply involved in all the technical set-up of our Oberhausen and Choranche sound installations, and he is a great friend and adviser for us...
The musicians we would like to work with in the future ? Well, let's dream... David Darling (we already had some studio sessions planned in Paris together, but we had some organization problems and had to give up), Paul Bley, Bill Frisell, Harold Budd and Brian Eno...
12 - In my article about you I've written that you are broadening with every new record the field of electronic music but also that you are very close to the legendary sound of Tangerine Dream's "Zeit" era. Do you agree? As electronic musicians, what do you think about the german cosmic scene of the 70's? Is it still important? Or do you think that those sounds are now outdated?
CH -- This is true that our musical personality was shaped by the Berlin school. We were fans of TD and KS, and we learned from them a certain way to handle electronic instruments, to play with them. TD, especially, was an obvious reference for a collective electronic creation. Actually, most of the electronic artists are solo artists. Lightwave is one of the very few bands who play and work like a band and not as juxtaposition of solo artists. The German cosmic scene of the 70's belongs to the history of music and we acknowledge our debt, even if we do not want to imitate them as such. The true challenge is to keep the same experimentating spirit, the same innovation with today's electronic equipment, with our computers and softwares. For my personal taste, albums like "Phaedra", "Rubycon", "Ricochet" or "Mirage", "Timewind", "X" and "Moondawn" remain today as strange and innovative as they were. I am not so interested in their current music, but they reach probably a new audience and have also some "hard-core fans".
13 - Which other musicians (in France and abroad) do you appreciate? And please list your 10 "desert island discs" of all times.
CJ -- These last months, I shifted from the electronic music to the acoustic music. I love jazz music, and I have a lot of fun exchanging emails with Klaus Müller in Berlin, who is a great expert in this music, a real erudite in the field and very generous too: he sent me discographies, and even an exhaustive catalogue of all the Jazz records available in Germany ! I am a naive newbie in the field of "old" jazz music, but quite enthusiastic... Perhaps in the future Lightwave will perform standards on acoustic pianos (laughs...). Listing the "10 desert island discs" is not easy. Actually, I am listening to music from the morning to the late evening and have a wide collection of CDs but I like to choose the music according to my inner mood, to the outside weather, to what I am doing, etc. I choose music in the same way one chooses wine to go along with a meal. Among my favorite musicians there are Paul Bley, Gavin Bryars, Terje Rypdal, Bill Evans, Hellen Merrill, Chet Bakers, Brian Eno, Monteverdi, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster, Jimmy Giuffre, to name but a few. But I enjoy also very much Indian classical music, Mozart's operas, jazz from the 50's and 60's. I am also an ECM addict...
CH -- My Top-Ten favorites are:
Rubycon - Tangerine Dream
Take Five - Dave Brubek Quartet
Daphnis et Chloé - Maurice Ravel
Ummagumma - Pink Floyd
Albums II & IV - Led Zeppelin
Gymnopédies - Erik Satie
Computer Experiment - Larry Fast
On Land - Brian Eno
Oeuvre complète - François de Roubais
14 - It is obvious that you love to play live in beautiful and suggestive places. How do you organize a concert? Is it hard for an electronic group to find an ideal performing place and the right audience? What are the difficulties that accompany an independent group of non-commercial music?
CJ -- We played conventional concerts in the past - on stage in theaters or auditoriums, but we feel that such a format is no more satisfying. Our way to play and perform our music is not spectacular and visual per se - I mean, you cannot be visual when you have to control your keyboards and computers, the mixing, the sound, the music itself. So we tried to play in concert with a dance company or with a guest visual artist. These last years, we performed in strange places -- an astronomical Observatory, an Industrial tanker, a subterranean cave - and such a surrounding changes the whole picture. This is no more a concert, but an unique event, in an unique place. In the Oberhausen Gazometer and in the Choranche Caves, we were lucky enough to be able to create some crazy sound installations. This costs a lot of money, indeed, and this involves many collaborators, technicians, engineers. The Oberhausen installation costs were very high, and we were supported by German industrial sponsors (creation of an artificial pool of water with a 40 meters diameter on the ground of the tanker, creation of the archipelago "Mundus Subterraneus" with hundreds of miniature buildings, trees, soldiers, tanks, planes, and even an electric train with rails, purchase of 24 telescopes, custom manufacturing of their support, of a mechanical and electronical triggering of the Lightwave music on 12 CD-R, buying all the PA system, the CD-players, the wires etc. We spent weeks recording and editing something like 600 different tracks of music, apt to be combined and mixed in a random way, according to the moves of the telescopes. In the Choranche caves, it was the same basic work, but we had to deal with an extreme place: water everywhere, subterranean lakes and rivers, noise of the rivers. You should imagine our technicians setting up the loudspeakers and the audio wires along the subterranean galleries, crossing the rivers, climbing on the rocks etc.... During the three days when we built up the whole set up and the stage for the live concerts, we had electricity failures, all the keyboards, mixing desks and computers were covered under water... We played four concerts a day during 4 days, and the third day, there was a flood inside the cave. All the audience had to be evacuated before the end of the concert and we had to unbuild all the stage set up, the synthesizers, the PA system, the lights, since the two rivers and the lake were growing up.... Outside, it was raining since two days and the water went through the Vercors mountain to fill up the cave ! The day after, fortunately enough, the waters level was low again, and we could build up again the whole set up for the show of the afternoon . This was a crazy project... but the Festival organisators and all the staff of the Choranche cave backed us during all the process. And I keep in my memory the vision of the listeners entering the huge main part of the cave with a low blue crepuscular light ambience reflecting on the lake. People had small speleological head-lamps, and walked behind the guides who were like the "psychopomps" of this subterranean journey, and our music was slowly rising up from everywhere, surrounding the people and leading them along the galleries, with sounds shifting from a loudspeaker to anotherone....
15 - Anything further to add?
CJ and CH -- Well, thank you very much for your support and for your interest in Lightwave. And through Deep Listenings, we want also to express our friendly regards to all our Italian listeners! We hope to meet you soon....