CLOTMix: Tonal Union presents AKUSMI
The next mixtape comes from Akusmi, the new project moniker of French-born, London-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Pascal Bideau. It’s a dive into a dive into Indonesian sounds territories, following his recently published album Fleeting Future (Tonal Union, 2022), which was partly inspired by the artist’s journey to the east-Asian country.
In Indonesia, Bideau immersed himself in traditional Gamelan and gong music, and many of the themes, motifs and melodies on Fleeting Future stem from the ‘Slendro’ scale, one of the essential tuning systems used in Gamelan. However, it is not musical scales but scales as in the size or extent of things that most fascinates Bideau. Specifically, he explains the compelling way things dramatically change when you shift from any given scale to another.” From the atomic to the celestial, the micro and macro universes of dizzying complexity co-exist within each other.
Bideau, who also teaches music production and sound/visual installation at the Roundhouse and the University of East London, feels there is a direct connection between the music he makes to this: You take a simple repetitive pattern, seemingly consistent in its shape, but the more you listen to it, the more it changes and becomes something else. Of course, this is the premise of minimal music, and if you listen to Steve Reich’s “six pianos” or Terry Riley’s “In C”, it does precisely that. But I try to condense it to a much more compact/short time frame to convey the dizziness and epics of the shifting.
On the visual arts side, Bideau makes connections between the work of David Goodsell, a structural biologist who paints watercolours of cell interiors obtained by electron microscopy, or many of the traditional aboriginal art that convey the same sense of systems and organisms, going through the batik techniques of the Javanese/Balinese art (an older expression form of pointillism one may say) to even the abstractions of Jackon Pollock.
In that sense, Fleeting Future connects directly to nature and the wider world in its evocation of perceptive shifts and transitions from microscopic to macro scale. Its hallucinatory, genre-defying blend of minimalism, cosmic jazz and Fourth World influences, and its quest for optimism in the face of unknown and limitless possibility.
The mix he has prepared for CLOT is a mix of various pieces of Indonesian music that he finds particularly striking in the way they sound: some good examples of different gamelan ensembles from Java and Bali, both bamboo and gong based; some chants from the Kecak music and dance with its highly percussive quality; some pieces of Genggong which is the Balinese mouth harp: I also threw in a few samples of Indonesian radio stations and field recordings done while in Bali for good measure, and some gongs experimentations recorded at my studio in 2018-2019. We are sure it will make the perfect summer treat for our audiences’ ears.
Text by CLOT Magazine
Your new album, fleeting future, was inspired by a journey to Indonesia, where you are immersed in traditional Gamelan and gong music. Could you tell us more about the creative process for the album production? What were the challenges? And What were you technically and/or conceptually exploring with it in relation to the learnings with the Indonesian instruments?
The album was indeed “triggered” by a journey to Bali, where I discovered the gamelan and its social importance more deeply. The richness of its sound, the intricacy of the structures, and the complexity of the polyrhythms all greatly impacted the way I approached music then. When I got back to London, I purchased a small set of gongs (a small six-piece bonang) and started experimenting and recording.
The real starting point of the album was when I coupled the gongs and the saxophone: the way the sax and gongs interplay and resonate with each other was the sound I had been searching for a long time. Suddenly, I could make music that could encompass all my influences (jazz, world music, minimalism, electronic…) and put them in the same space, bridging the gaps.
You were also fascinated by the different scales that the instrument use compared to western music and “the compelling way things dramatically change when you shift from any given scale to another”. Could you expand on this? How your personal experience was when exploring the different scales? What are these dramatic changes, and have these changes had any effect on the way music is experienced?
When I talk about shifting scales, I am not talking about the musical scales, but about the scale as in the size or the extent of things. I have always been fascinated by the propensity of any given thing or concept to change once you approach it from a different perspective, once you change scale.
To give an example, let’s imagine an orange on a table. If you observe it for 5 minutes, it looks like what it is: an orange. It doesn’t move; it is constant in colour. It is completely still. That’s the human scale. But film it in a time-lapse for 24h. Its colour changes depending on how and where the photons bounce from it. Film it for a week, and it not only changes colour, but it shrinks. Film it for a year; it has disappeared completely and changed its shape to a patch of dusty mould. That is time.
Now, take the same orange and look at it through a microscope. It still looks inanimate, but it is already a very different view. More like a Martian landscape shot from above. Zoom in again with an electron microscope and you land in a very different place again, so much that you can’t even guess what you are looking at. You could be anywhere. Go to the atomic level: it isn’t still anymore… It’s a swarming sight of electrons wriggling in any direction. Similarly, if you zoom out increasingly, the orange becomes a spot and ends up disappearing completely again, a microscopic and unsuspected part of a bigger whole. That is size.
You can repeat this scale-shifting process with absolutely anything and everything. It is all around us, and we are an integral part of it. Micro and macro universes of dizzying complexity all co-exist out and within each other.
I feel there is a direct connection between my music and this. You take a simple repetitive pattern, seemingly consistent in its shape, but the more you listen to it, the more it changes and becomes something else. Of course, this is the premise of minimal music, and if you listen to Steve Reich’s “six pianos” or Terry Riley’s “In C”, it does exactly that. But I try to condense it to a much more compact/short time frame to convey the dizziness and epicism of the shifting.
The gamelan and gong are closely related to spirituality and a sort of mysticism. Your album connects directly to nature and the wider world but also hints toward the future and technology challenges. What are your thoughts as well on new forms of spirituality and mysticism informed by novel technological advancements that have been appearing in the last few years?
I don’t see the gamelan as being necessarily spiritual or mystic. It is, it’s true, linked to Hinduism and Buddhism, but it pre-existed the apparition of these religions in the area and came into being used as accompaniment in ceremonies because of its prominence in everyday life.
The most fascinating aspect of the gamelan is its social and cultural context. For some Indonesians, the gamelan has high philosophical values strongly connected to the sound, the role and the feelings of each player. Playing gamelan is not just the ability to play various musical instruments together, thus giving birth to the harmony of tones and rhythms. But also, by playing the gamelan, there is a meaning that describes the system of deliberation and consensus in the midst of society through each gamelan musical instrument. Gamelan symbolizes the spirit of cohesiveness and mutual cooperation, together and in line. So that it gives birth to a harmonious tone in social life
Your album is also a look into the future…where do you like to see taking the work with Akusmi forward?
There are so many things I’d like to explore within this Akusmi project… It is tricky to know where it will bring me, as it is all about exploration. One thing is certain, though, it will definitely feature sounds and instruments from far away as a means to disorientate myself and the listener and to be fully available to the music.
What is your relationship with technology and the analogue for your productions nowadays? And how do you cope with technology (screen/digital) overload?
I record everything digitally on my computer. But most of my sources are analogue (with the exception of a couple of digital synths). I record a lot of very long takes of me playing a single part (it might be percussions, sax, bass, pedals work, whatever) and layer other takes on top until I end up with a little world in itself. The digital is actually used to archive, organise and edit. I don’t necessarily feel any technological overload as long as I am in the zone working on something.