When you’re looking for a new sound, how do you shut off the bits of your brain that judge and analyze, and power up the parts that hear and imagine? That seemed a good fundamental question to raise with Chevel whose new record stuns with its spectacular sonic fantasies.
At a time when the retro craze threatens to make everyone sound similar, Chevel uses tools like KOMPLETE to help transform the beautiful vintage classics you see in his studio into something unexpected and new. Back to the question at hand, and Chevel’s answer is drawn from architecture and space. That makes some sense, as you listen: the whole record’s gamut virtual sounds is placed in imagined, but plausible realms. And he’s also got a tip for us on how to keep track of files. (OK, a lot of us, erm, should really start to do that, so point taken.) Here’s Chevel with some insights into a record we think deserves a lot of attention this year.
Listening to the range of sounds you have – Is collecting sound ideas part of the process for you? Do you separate sound design from composition?
They usually come together and go hand in hand. I mean, I might start writing a track and then feel the need of a twist, so I’d dive into sound design or start taking field recordings — being it outside or from a video I’m watching, for example. Sometimes, it’s the other way round, where I start messing around with gear ‘till it triggers the idea to write a track. I tend not to separate things, but rather create links. One thing informs the other.
As my music is really technical, the final result really depends on the gear involved, as I am more of a recording / sound artist, rather than a songwriter, you know? I think Pierre Schaeffer and the whole musique concrete school explored that idea a lot, with the timbre being central to the composition but also strictly depending on the tools you are using.
Do you have an emotional connection to your sounds? Do you think of them as sculptures, as shapes or do you associate them with colors?
Not with colors, no. But with spaces. I always see a space like a club or a house or a landscape when I record music. I think it’s because my father is an architect, and I’ve been indirectly inspired by buildings and spaces. I tend to create or imagine the perfect environment for my music to be played to. I am emotionally connected to sounds and music within a context, being it a memory of a club night or an imaginative one, let’s say.
With all this rich texture, are we hearing sounds that are recorded all at once, live? Or to what extent are you putting a sound through several iterations of process?
With this and the last record (Blurse, 2015), I would say a lot. I love old boxes, like the Roland stuff, but dislike at the same level the “retro” mania sound going on in the last years. Processing the timbres is my attempt at not sounding predictable — presenting my own aesthetic. I might create these chains of effects in the Eurorack system or within the Reaktor environment. I really love these little bulit-in modules, because they are super simple on a design level and that keeps me focused on the actual sonic result rather than being distracted by a fancy interface.
Regarding the sounds recorded all at once — no, I don’t do it anymore. I always feel the need for a later tweak and extra work.
I know sometimes it’s hard to set constraints or to know when something is where you want it to be. Is there a point when you stop and say, okay, now I’ve got to stop messing with these sounds and commit to this as my instrumentation? Do you find that comes easily, or is it ever a challenge?
Well, when I record music, I tend to stop thinking and I get into this half-conscious moment where I don’t ask myself if that’s finished or not, or if that’s any good or not. That might come later, at the mixing stage, i.e., I might remove or overdub some sounds. But yeah, when being creative, it’s about giving up being “finished” or overthinking things. I might go through periods of using just one instrument, with all the others being off, and explore it inside-out. That keeps things moving and dynamic for me; it keeps me stimulated.
That’s why the album sounds so diverse, I think, but hopefully still recognizable as me.
It really feels like there’s a nice progression of different moods on the two sides of this record, as well, how did that come together? Were these all produced around the same time, or are they drawn from a larger body of productions you’d been working on over a longer period of time?
To be honest, it’s a big body of work put together in a nice way. Concept came later. I must say Logos and Mumdance have been highly professional and picky about the track list, because I think I sent them around 50 tracks in various moments. But yeah, it’s a three year period condensed into nine pieces, and it feels cohesive overall to me, even if the moods are diverse.
What’s in your arsenal as far as software goes? I understand you’ve been using KOMPLETE since KOMPLETE 5. That’s a big range of tools, of course – what’s getting the most use on this record?
It’s Logic, Komplete stuff, and Soundtoys. A bit of UAD and Slate Digital in there too.
What do you do to keep all of that organized?
In terms of projects, I save them by date. Let’s say 2018_3_12.A, if that’s the first project of the day. It’s been like that since 2010, so I have hundreds of projects now and it’s all well-organized. The sound designs are mostly audio takes, whether that comes from the modular synth or an internally recorded jam in Reaktor.
I’m curious about the process on some of my favorite tracks – there’s the combination of these pads with more organic, biological sounds on “One Evening in July” . This mysterious sped-up loop and the abstract metallic percussion on “The Call”. All the distortion on “Bullet” or the delicate rhythm of these splashes of sound in the background on “Warming Bath”. All this glitchy business on “Data Recovery” and “Dem Drums” (goes very IDM there). I was curious if the noise on “Underwater” was an artifact of a process or added directly, as it sits in there nicely. so much going on in “Always Yours” that harmonizes so spatially and finishes off the record.
“One Evening in July” has been made with a cleared sample of a Renick Bell track – thanks, Renick!
“The Call” is all modular synth, chopped and played back with Kontakt.
“Bullet” is 808 and some VST.
“Warming Bath” is Prophet 5 on the pads, simple sinewave from the modular, and some background recording I’ve done at the #StudioVenezia during Venice Biennale 2017.
“Data Recovery” — can’t remember, it’s so old, mate.
“Dem Drums” is a sample off a random vinyl, replayed and modulated with Omnisphere 2 plus modular synth on the harsh bass I think.
“Always Yours” is modular synth chopped and loaded into Kontakt again plus a sampled voice.
I wanted to ask about the relation to dance music. It strikes me this is, start to finish, adventurously unique at a time when it’s easy to be constrained by genre. But does dance floor form inform your approach to loops, to the structure of the music?
I love dancing and go/went clubbing a lot, so the dancefloor and dance music def informs my music, in terms of structure and musical formulas.
And you’ve got a lot going as far as your inputs or influences. What was your musical upbringing; how connected are you to that here?
I have many influences, like anyone else (laughs). I have always been a massive Plastikman fan, as well as AFX and Autechre, for example. Might be a Frank Ocean track or a Clams Casino beat. It’s whatever. But when I write music, I am not sure I am channeling those influences at all. It’s more about letting go and being the best and realest version of yourself.
What are you working on next? Have you got any new tools or toys you’re excited to get working with?
I have a second album ready and mastered. Will see if I find the right place for it in 2018. In terms of gear, I just got the new MASCHINE and I’m excited to add it in the loop.
Your studio has a mix of hardware and software – obviously Elektron on the digital side, Roland on the analog – combined with the computer and Native Instruments software rig. How do you determine what to do in the box versus out of it? What’s the workflow like?
Yeah, I love to mix things but also not to get lost in the possibilities, you know. Both digital and analog technologies are great for certain things, as we all know. So, in case I need some extra depth or punchiness, I’d definitely go with the Roland stuff, but again, I tend not to reveal them in terms of sounds and timbres, cause they are so old and trivial now. The Octatrack, instead, is a great sampler. I bought it to perform live at the beginning and after a few shows I was like “maybe it’s a studio beats too; let’s try it” and it worked out. So in terms of workflow, it all starts on analog machine recordings, usually to then resample or process them digitally, being it on the Octatrack or some plug-ins.
You talked a bit about working with the Roland tools and new effects chains. Can you give an example? Do you ever reuse those effects chains?
Yeah, I tend to use very simple chains over again, cause it’s easy to get lost. Some of my friends and colleagues are thinking I do crazy patches and are like “this is Rothko in sound-design” or stuff like that, but in reality, I’m not. So it might be some Mutable Instruments Clouds [Eurorack module] or some Reaktor patches. Depends. I use what everyone else is using, just my own way.
I do see some REAKTOR action in there – what are you using in REAKTOR? How much do you patch yourself versus turn to the bundled ensembles or what you’ve found from the Reaktor User Library? Any favorite ensembles you want to name drop (perhaps including your own)?
I guess Reaktor is really good when it comes to granular synthesis. I was lucky enough to win an online course and the Elektron Analog Rytm. So I decided to go with the “Sound design with NI” course and I learned a bit more about Reaktor. I now patch my own things, but always starting with these little built-in modules, nothing too deep at the core or primary level. You gotta decide whether you’re a programmer or a producer, I’d say, so for I focus more on the actual music making.
photo credits: Antonio Campanella