THIERRY VAUDOR - The Sweet Potato Third Eye
Boom Films founder and producer Joseph Cahill interviews mysterious, Paris-based musical maestro Thierry Vaudor a.k.a. TOTAL NORMAL about the deeper meaning of music and his upcoming work on the score of the sci-fi feature film META, produced by Cahill and directed by an extraterrestrial from a suburb of Saturn, simply known as J.O.E.
Thierry and I met at a party in Paris the night after I had a dream that someone I’m not sure I actually know in real life made me some sweet-potato pies somewhere in Canada. Thierry recognized the name of this forgotten dream-town as being possibly Inuit in origin, which sent us looking for the party’s i-pad. We couldn’t find it in the end (the name not the goddamn i-pad) though we came close, and so instead we started talking about music and movies. Thierry has been making music for quite some time under the moniker TOTAL NORMAL. His latest, exquisite album, Tales of the Expected can be purchased and downloaded here . Even though we’re both located in Paris, like two asocial internet spores, we conducted this interview via Facebook messenger so that we could more easily cut and paste it together. You can help support Thierry’s Lyme disease treatments here via generosity.com
JC: Hey. So, what do you think music really is?
TV: Hmmm. One of the first means of expressions by humans, as long as 20,000 years ago if not longer. And also vibrations. Vibrations is the fabric of reality, and music is a way to play directly with that fabric
JC: Yes. Do you pay attention to the music in films when you watch films? Or are you more interested in the car chases?
TV: I do pay attention to music, but I don’t like it when it overpowers other elements of the filmic language. I am a proponent of the invisible technique philosophy. I like when the music is either a commentary on what is happening, or a “deictic”, when it warns us something is about to happen, or when it makes us understand something about the scene we wouldn’t have understood otherwise.
JC: Ok. And what about sampling? What does it mean to make music out of fragments out of other people’s music? As this is something you do often in your work, talk about how you came to it and how you see it as a technique generally. Feel free to talk about the Beastie Boys’ album Paul’s Boutique if it will jog your memory…
TV: Actually my fondness for sampling comes from my studies in electroacoustic music. What we would do is go out with a microphone to record sound as an “objet sonore”, meaning sound as an object in itself without any anecdotal reference. So what I do now is rather “micro-sampling”, I won’t use a full bar or any recognizable element, but rather 1 or 2 notes, a chord, a noise, that I transform afterwards. Ideally, you won’t be able to pinpoint any sample as there are around 200 samples per track. When I started getting back to music a few years ago, it was also a way of getting exactly the sound that I wanted as I did not have a full orchestra to play my stuff. Then the sampling became part of the composition process, sometimes it will make me go to places I wouldn’t have thought of going to, even when I start with a fixed idea on what I want to do. It’s a bit like having an unlimited orchestra to jam with. With the years I have built up quite a large library, I now have around 40 000 samples to play with.
JC : It’s good to have an orchestra on-call, waiting to jam. So no Paul’s Boutique huh? I always heard Paul’s Boutique was the record that introduced the legal concept of sampling and started all this trouble. What do you think about the concept of ownership in music?
TV : Not a reference for me, but the same guy did an album under the alias “The Irresistible Force”, that was pretty good. Neotropic was also a reference. It’s a complicated subject. Of course when a sample is recognizable, a part of the sales should go to the original composer. In my case, does a composer own one chord ? Or two notes? I am more interested in the sound I am sampling than the melodic construction or chord progression, so actually it’s the sound engineer that should be concerned. But then again, even when I contact a musician to tell him I’ve sampled something from him, he usually can’t pinpoint what it was. I actually have more of a problem with musicians borrowing full chord progressions and melodies, like Radiohead does with Schuman for example. I don’t have a problem with reusing bits of sound to make an original composition, and actually it is much more work than the normal way of composing. Making 200 samples go together is actually a lot more work than writing the notes and having your software play them.
JC : So Radiohead owes Schuman some credit eh? Those dirty Englishmen. Always pulling a Brexit when the bill comes… Can you talk about some other groups or musicians that have influenced you and why.
TV: In the nineties I was listening to only classical and modern orchestral music. Then a friend brought me a Stereolab album and that got me back to listening to pop music. Then there was the Ninja Tune glory days that really got me excited. The end nineties was a time when the frontier between electroacoustic and pop got blurred, with people such as Oval, Microstoria or Naukazu Takemura. I liked the idea that music was just music, with no classifications needed.
JC : What about for your own projects? Tell us about the process of making the exquisite Tales of the Expected.
TV: For Tales of the Expected, that was an album I decided to release that was a showcase of all I had done for a few years, culminating with two artist residencies in Portugal where I got to master the tracks. I was finally happy with the sound I got and released the album, which was not necessarily the goal when I started – I was happy just doing it and making it available for free online. But the idea of a CD that will be a final object was a good thing, as I realized I could never change it again it got me to work on the final mastering. And in the end I was happy to have done it as it got played on radios, got reviews, etc.
JC : Why are the tales “expected”? They don’t seem so to me. But listening to your music, sometimes I think your brain is operating at a faster speed than mine. Or a different frequency.
TV: Expected is ironic of course, it’s not supposed to be expected, and it’s not totally normal. It has to do with the concept of “unsettling familiarity” as explained by Freud in his book about a Hoffman story. The music is using so much samples that you must have heard some of those sounds before, but they are taken of out context into a new one, It will at the same time sound like something you have heard before and something you have never heard before. Unsettling familiarity.
JC: And the new album?
TV: The next album has been in the works for a while, it’s almost finished but I got my whole life delayed because of having undiagnosed Lyme disease for 3 years. This album’s different. There are more field recordings, and there are less electro elements. I still have to do the final mastering. It’s a bit early maybe to tell how the disease affected the music, maybe it got me back to basics in a way. I listened to a lot of early antiquity music – music before there was a tonal system – and got interested in the relations between sound vibrations and emotions.
JC: Fascinating. Perhaps a last word about music and film and some early hopes you might have in producing a score for a film like META?
TV: Well actually I have been interested in sound’s role in filmic language, I even did my master thesis on that. I have taught it too, with examples from Bergman to the Simpsons. I like the idea of not being constrained to “song” structure, and how the music can complement or counterpoint images to obtain a new meaning that is not reducible to only the addition of image and sound. I look forward to it with great excitement.
JC: So do I. Thank you Thierry.