Bernard Swell (Edith Progue)

Bernard Swell (Edith Progue)- Please tell us what's the meaning of the project's name Edith Progue'? What is the project's main idea, conception, or philosophy?

Edith Progue is the machine, I am the assistant. I named her after a function that can be seen on some sound machines' front display (edit program). This function allows the musician to edit a preset program. Most of the time, you end up with sounds that are very unusual and unpredicted. That's what Edith Progue is all about: unpredictability. I never know what is going to come out when I start a new track. The concept "behind" the project came only after it was completed: I was looking for song titles when the computer showed me at what time each piece had been created.

- We think Timeline' is a very strong and influential piece of work. How did you come up with such a masterpiece, tell us about the concept of this album and how it's connected to the concept of time. What is timeline?

I just think I have been lucky: I live in an apartment over a noisy street, so I had to build myself some kind of a sound cocoon in which I could feel safe and in touch with my inner self. This project was born from my resistance to the aggressiveness of the outside world. This is why I am so touched when people like you can come into it and share this experience with me. Timeline is one's succession of different states of mind over a period of 24 hours time.

- Speaking of music making, which kind of tools and technologies do you work with? Who did the mastering of the album, if it's not a secret? (It's wonderful how the music seems to be three-dimensional and interconnect with the inner space of a room where it's being played, that's a rare listening experience).

The only constraint I imposed myself was the number of tools I would use: 1 piano & 1 computer, period; no pre-existing samples, no synths, strictly home-made stuff. As far as software, Digital Performer has been my (and Edith's) best and only friend for years. The computer is a really great musical instrument. When forced to make mistakes, it produces the most astounding sounds! I did the mastering myself, because I knew precisely how I wanted the record to sound like. The three dimensional perception comes from the use of a very wide frequency range (from sub bass to extreme treble), stereo phase manipulations and basically from the fact that there are not so many sound elements in the mix: this leaves a lot of air, and it allows each sound to find its own space naturally (you may also add a fair amount of luck). I have noticed that the rooms where this music is played tend to give the impression of a change in size.

- If it is possible, could you go back to the past and tell us where it has all began. What was you first step into the world of music?

I can remember, I've always wanted to be a music conductor. I have been in bands, but I soon discovered that the only band I could ever conduct whithout having to explain myself about my musical choices was...the computer. I love my computer.

- Listening to Timeline', we got a feeling that nowadays, Edith Progue is a project that follows the creative path and musical ideas of musician Erik Satie. Is it close to the truth? What do you think about the music of Erik Satie?

I deeply respect the wonderful originality and modernity of Erik Satie's music. I also like its poetry and remarkable sense of humor. That's a sad fact, but I don't think Edith Progue's music comes any close to this kind of genius. It is true that the track "4 P.M." is reminiscent of Satie, but this was not done consciously. It seems to me that my work takes more inspiration from painters like Kuroda, Rothko or Mino (my wife) than from musicians.

- What kind of music do you listen to, which books do you read? Which movies or other types of art are of your interest?

Among the tons of people I listen to there is Alva Noto, Frank Bretschneider, Ryoji Ikeda, Gustav Mahler, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Georges Delerue, John Barry and Steve Reich ("Violin Phase" is my favorite piece of music) . Lately I have been re-reading a few 20th centuries french writers like Albert Camus, FranГoise Sagan, Jean Cocteau. My favourite philosopher of all times is... Andy Warhol. As for movies I just watched Godard's "Pierrot Le Fou" the other night and couldn't believe how good it still is. Also Kitano, Wong Kar WaО, Lynch, Antonioni, Visconti, Risi. I love photography (Peter Lindbergh, Jorgen Tellers, Jeff Cowen, Cindy Sherman) and architecture is definitely a strong inspiration (Tadao Ando, Oscar Niemeyer, Richard Neutra). Some videos by Bill Viola are just unbelievable. Above all, the most inspiring form of art is certainly the Art of Living. The closer you get to it, the stronger your art is.

- What is your inspiration to create music? Is it everyday life? You live in a big city or in suburbs/countryside?

I live in Paris which can be a very inspiring city, but also a very depressing place form time to time. Above all, making music is my way to create my own micro-world, because I am not very happy with the big one we all are supposed to live in. Music comes whenever it feels like coming without warning (sometimes much too early in the morning!): I play piano a little and I keep the best melodies for later. Then I come back to them with virtual editing scissors, cutting them to pieces and feeding them to the machine until it eventually feels like the room I am in, it is changing size.

- Tell us about the art project Izdatso'. What kind of community it purposes? Why such a strange 'word izdatso', does it have something to do with Russian or Japanese?

Izdatso was a first attempt to mix music, along with videos and paintings. It was a family project, with my wife Dominique (Mino) who is a painter and my son Cali who is a singer. Dominique's work is influenced by both the music and its graphic representations as they appear on the computer's display while I am working on sound waveforms. It looks like a code, it's great. And It's absolutely complementary of the music. Izdatso was about complementarity, we did the music, the videos and Mino did the paintings: a whole little universe, a first step towards artistic autarky.
Izdatso is a made up word that stands for "is that so?" which is the smartest answer to anything good or bad that can happen to you in life, and that sums up our philosophy pretty much (the second album was named "I know nothing..")

- Is it possible to see Edith Progue live, or is it srictly a studio project?

For now it has only been a studio project, set aside a few live laptop mix sessions. I have been concentrating on the making of the second Edith Progue album, but I will seriously consider performing live once we have enough video footage to show along with the music. It's interesting because video artists have been asking me to work with this music. I am sure cool things are going to come out of all this.

- Timeline' was nominated at Qwartz' - Electronic Music Awards 4, and that is no surprise to us, because the album is truly brilliant. What do you think about it, was it a great surprise to you or did you just take it quite easy? Could you tell something interesting about Qwartz' and how your album got there?

It was a nice surprise as it came out of the blue. I had sent the album to Qwartz and had forgotten about it. I know it is a very interesting event, with a lot of great artists and labels participating. The ceremony will take place on the 4th of April, so I will then be able to answer this question fully.

- What is your main occupation or job that pays the bills'? If it's not music and recording, what is it?

I have always been a musician, so I know well about the ups and downs of this kind of living. I am starting to do sound design for different places, web sites and advertisements. This doesn't take me away from Edith Progue as I use this very musical style for these kinds of work. I wouldn't want to do anything else for a living.

- What is happening to Mille Plateaux now, is it still a working label? (We're interested in your opinion as a musician.)

Mille Plateaux has been through ups and downs as well. I was very fortunate that Achim Szepanski signed me on this legendary label. But soon after, he parted with his associate. He has just now bought back the name Mille Plateaux, and I think we will do some more work together. He definitely has brought great artists to the music scene: Alva Noto, Frank Bretschneider, Ralph Steinbruchel, Ran Slavin etc...

- Besides Edith Progue, what is your creative and musical output? What kind of music can we expect in the future? Will it still be Edith Progue or you're looking towards something new? Please tell us about your plans.

As I said earlier, I am currently finishing the second Edith Progue album tentatively named "spaceline". For now, it is my main musical output as I feel I have a lot more to explore in this particular field. This could lead to sound exhibitions, music for film etc...

- Edith Progue
- Mille Plateaux

april '08

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