eRikmFrom field to flow

Interviews 06.10.2021

From the Drôme, where he settled this summer after living for a long time in Marseille, eRikm looks back at his approach to field recording, which sheds light on his work on "concrete post-music".

Coming from a rock background, eRikm is an instinctive musician, whose musical culture is nourished by physical impact, electricity and DIY. But he has also kept from his training in visual arts an approach to sound work that is both plastic and conceptual. eRikm is above all an artist who is perpetually in search of new knowledge, new encounters, new lands to explore. " I feel like I've been in transition all my life", he writes in Repères, the beautiful text he signed for the score ofArchives sauvées des eaux by Luc Ferrari, luxuriously published in 2018 by the ONA House. If he first became famous as a "turntablist" (nothing to do with the mythical number 10 of the French football team: these are musicians - turntablists in English - who, like Otomo Yoshihide or Martin Tétreault, make the vinyl turntable and the record object the raw materials of their work) in the mid-1990s, his practice has since spread in many directions, between concrete music and free improvisation.

In this practice, field recording has always held an important and singular place. Present in his sound palette from the outset, field recordings have given rise to a wide variety of uses: radio plays and electroacoustic narrations(Draugalimur, 2014, inspired by a tale from Iceland and recorded there; L'Aire de la Moure, 2013, after Eluard; or his Atelier de Création Radiophonique on the Innu), for France Culture, 2017, mixed pieces(Potsdamer Platz, incorporating a phonography of the reconstruction of the Berlin square, in 2000; Fata Morgana, created by the Dédalus ensemble in 2021). Sometimes these pieces are totally impromptu, like the one that makes up the moving LP Visitation, a totally spontaneous post-mortem tribute to the friend Luc Ferrari, a sound capture, a phonography of a moment: "In the place where I lived at the time, Çap15, an artistic wasteland in the northern districts of Marseilles, there lived an owl. It's the 'beep' you hear in Luc Ferrari's Presque rien n° 2. One evening, I was at home, in my studio, and this owl started to sing. I took my recorder and put Luc's record on in the studio, loud enough to make them sing at the same time...". Pieces, most often, totally unclassifiable, like this Doubse Hysteria (2013), a dilated memory of a train journey through the Jura Arc, punctuated by a reflection on male hysteria. What all these compositions have in common is their totally anti-naturalistic use of field recording: what interests eRikm in the sounds he can capture, such as those of belugas for example, is their analogy with the parasitic noises and digital accidents he generates elsewhere...

The question of field recording takes on a special significance if we relate it to this search for a "concrete post-music" that has occupied him since 2005, as he explained in 2019 in a text for the journal LINKS. A search which, applied to lutherie, has led him to invent new tools "sometimes going as far as the concept of entropy, to use the medium by pushing it to its limits". Using his 3Kpad ∞, linking three Kaoss Pads(1) in a closed circuit, he developed, with the GMEM, the Idiosyncrasy process, which uses real-world sound sources from the Internet, mainly from the Soundmap software. Capturing flows and processing them in real time, sounds that are elusive and no longer fixed, a kind of ephemeral, untraceable field recording, but of a constantly shifting terrain, is also a way of taking a poetic and political stand in today's world.

You have long worked with existing materials and found objects. What was your attitude towards the use of environmental sounds in your early days? Did you sometimes capture sounds yourself?
Actually, I've always used field recording, because it's part of an electroacoustic practice in itself. Even if, at the beginning, it was mostly my work on vinyl that people remembered, Zygosis, my first solo album, for example, is full of it. I've always done that, actually - well, from the moment I started asking myself questions, getting out of rock, basically. In fact, there are field recordings on my first rock album, This is Daddy Long Legs, 1992, which was recently reissued. I didn't remember it, but there are lots of sounds of bees, wasps, playing guitars instead of guitars (laughs)... If I have a rather old practice of this, it has developed more in the last fifteen years. Here, a large part of the basic sound sources come from outside...

In your early days, was sound recording important to you, or was it still quite rudimentary?
It was rudimentary, because I couldn't afford anything professional at all. And then, I've always done DIY. I come from the plastic arts, the basis of my work was recycling, and I always worked with ordinary equipment: a Walkman at the beginning, and then the MiniDisc, which simplified things a lot from the mid-1990s onwards. I remember meeting Andrew (Sharpley) from Stock, Hausen & Walkman for the first time in Canada, in the toilets of the Victoriaville festival, because we were interested in the same ventilation sound (laughs) ....

So the field recordings were sound elements among others - nature sounds as well as industrial sounds - that enriched the corpus of sound you used?
You know, I have a very rock culture. The first things that interested me in rock music were my parents' Pink Floyd records. With Joy Division, there were sounds from outside: Martin Hannett was someone who recorded silence to add mass to the music... There's even field recording at the end of Dure limite by Téléphone!... All that fascinated me. All of a sudden, it puts you in another context, it takes the music elsewhere. I used field recordings as things that aroused listening and curiosity.
And then, at a given moment, at the beginning of the 2000s, I realised that the digital sounds I was accelerating or slowing down - by reducing hour-long recordings to sequences of two or three minutes, for example, for installations: the school of sampling, in other words - that these sounds existed under water, in what was still called "nature". The revelation was my discovery of the sounds made by the beluga whale, which I then went to record in Canada. There were disturbing equivalences... After that, it becomes an open book, and it's something I've really developed over the last few years...

Did your encounter with Luc Ferrari contribute to the evolution of your practice of "electroacoustic narration", to use The Wire' s words about The Mistpouffers CD? Or was it because you had started working in this vein that you wanted to meet him?
It wasn't me who wanted to meet Luc - I would never have dared! It came from him, through the intermediary of the composer Lucien Bertolina, in 2002, in Marseille. Luc was very keen on it, there was a history of tools that my generation was using and that his generation would have liked to have had at the time... He needed this relationship with live music, he wanted to be on stage. When I discovered them in the 1990s, his pieces Presque rien n° 1 and n° 2 touched me a lot, because they open up an imaginary world linked to childhood, which is an imaginary world that I have, too: I grew up in that environment, and it's not for nothing that I live in the mountains today... Luc's influence, in a way, came through porosity, over time, without me realising it straight away. More than in the link with the outside, the exterior, it is found, I think, in an erotic relationship with sound. Luc was first and foremost an urban dweller, he used the outside in the manner of a painter. He was a painter of sound, someone who, instead of using space itself, placed his art in spaces... "Naturalist" field recording does not interest me at all.

Short extract from Visitation, eRikm and Luc Ferrari 2011

So what made you go to Canada to record beluga whales?I worked a lot with these sounds on the album Stème, released in 2008 by Room40. At the time, I was trying to work with space, in a physical way and not digitally. I used a lot of materials, for example I made a string of sounds lasting one minute that I manipulated, accelerated and slowed down, and that I distributed over 5 or 6 MiniDiscs equipped with a loudspeaker that I placed in a space - in this case, caves in the Lot, where there was total silence, apart from the rustling of my suit - in which I then moved around with a microphone: I would turn on all the MiniDiscs one after the other, and I would physically move around in this rather large space with a stereo microphone and then record that recording. It's a bit like persistence of vision, but with sound. I also did the opposite: all these tape recorders that sent sound and that I recorded with my body in space, I also used them as recorders, by equipping the MiniDiscs with microphones and by moving around with an electronic source in space... I then synthesised all these recordings.
In short, for this, I made a lot of use of the sharp sounds of the beluga whales, which I went to record in the St. Lawrence River with hydrophones, by slowing them down and filtering them. The beluga whale is the species with the widest acoustic spectrum. It uses extremely low frequencies to be able to hunt in the silt. It is even thought to be the origin of the mermaid legends, because it is the only mammal that can modulate sound externally, a bit like the dolphin. And when you listen to it, you realise that it's data, information, a bit like the sound that 16k or 32k modems used to emit... It's funny, because I was talking about it recently with Nicolas Becker, the sound engineer who just received an Oscar for his work on the film Sound of Metal, who told me that he often used these sounds himself... On the other hand, I didn't make a subject about beluga whales and their way of communicating, it's absolutely not my purpose. I use beluga sounds as a kind of modular synthesizer!

You also worked with Hervé Glotin, who heads the bioacoustics laboratory at the CNRS in Toulon ...
Yes, I wanted to have access to hydrophone recordings. They do a lot of work on bats, as well as on all the animals that live in the Toulon submarine canyon, which goes down to 2000 metres. This is where the Pelagos sanctuary is located, a huge sanctuary for marine mammals that stretches from Sicily to the Côte d'Azur... The sounds that Hervé Glotin gave me, I transposed to the orchestra, in a piece that was created this year by theDedalus ensemble, Fata Morgana. This piece, at its source, is purely field recording. In addition to the sounds of Hervé Glotin, there are also a lot of frog sounds that I recorded in Tasmania (where there are certain endemic varieties that produce a kind of minimal music, with beats and phase shifts in the style of Steve Reich), but also in the Ardèche... I transposed this to an orchestra of 6 musicians, to which I add a little modular, field recording, and some MIDI instruments: Each specific animal corresponds to a musician who plays a very simple score (one or two notes, no more). Some people were mistaken! It's a mixed piece, incorporating some modular, field recording, and some MIDI instruments. The score mixes graphics and table writing, like the one I did with the Percussions de Strasbourg. 

To what extent do environmental sounds play a role in your Echoplasmes project with the HANATSUmiroir ensemble ,which integrates sounds captured on the Internet?
This project concerns yet another system: the Soundmap, developed by the Locus Sonus department of the Aix-en-Provence School of Art with other universities and research centres, which I have been playing with a lot for the last three or four years. The Soundmap transposes into the sound domain what existed with webcams at a time when platforms allowed access to cameras filming underground exits in New York, for example. The community is growing, there are more and more microphones, especially as it is accessible to everyone. Before a concert, I send a letter to everyone, everyone opens his or her microphone and I go into improvisation with these streams. There's one that I use a lot, which is in a garden at the end of the runway at Heathrow airport, where the microphone is positioned behind a hutch: from time to time, the rabbit cuts the sound source with its hair, and from time to time you can hear planes landing and taking off, behind the rabbit's breath: when it really works in a concert, speeding up and slowing down the sound live, it's great (laughs )! We're really into field recording: 1/ I don't know the sources that come in; 2/ I don't organise them because I take them at random - like I used to do with vinyl records at the time... I've kept all these principles, with the idea - there's no longer any "fixed sound", everything is in real time, completely random, it's really Cage's Variations VII (2) - to get out of the dogma of electroacoustic music.

Interview by David Sanson

See eRikm in concert this fall:
* From 6 to 16/10, series of concerts in Canada: 6 in Matane, 7 in Rimouski, 8 in Rivière-au-Loup, 15 in Quebec City (Musique Parallèle), 16 in Montreal (Akusma festival) in Montreal. solo on the 10th in Rimouski (with the trio LÀ-Dehors, with Eric Brochard and Loïc Guénin),
* On the 13/11 with Franz Hautzinger, Eric Normand and T. Malmendier in Prague (Alternativa Festival).
* On 4 and 5/12 with Hanatsu Miroir(Echoplasme) in Nœux-les-Mines.

Photo © Natacha Muslera
Photo © Karel Sust
Photo © Olivier Garros


buy twitter accounts