Interview: Figure Section [aufnahme + wiedergabe]
Figure Section arose from the meeting of Austrian-French musician and actress Olivia Carrère - aka Olive - and Belgian artist and producer Yannick Franck (RAUM, Orphan Swords, Mt Gemini), who first crossed paths on a theatre stage in Brussels.
Although founded on an acknowledgement of these styles, their execution is experimental, idiosyncratic and entirely modern in spirit, guided by an intent to revise their influences and an approach shaped by romanticism and a surreal, Dadaistic sense of humour. The recurrent themes of the project address friendship, love, loss, existential angst, survival, irony, degeneration, queer culture, non-conformity and ‘the expiation of tensions through modern day rituals’.
The duo’s first single ‘Teutonic Knights’ was hailed by The Brvtalist as an illustration of ”infectious wave [music] with an eerie atmosphere and frigid vocals”, a track that subsequently generated widespread acclaim. In October their debut EP was released on the cult Berlin based label run by Phillip Strobel, aufnahme + wiedergabe.
TF: What motivates you to create Figure Section?
O: My collaboration with Yannick is an intersection between a strong friendship and similar interests and tastes in music. What’s more, the collaboration between us is really complementary in the creative process and allows us to explore new musical playgrounds which neither of us would probably reach if we were working separately.
Y: There are certain musical realms I wanted to explore for a long time whilst doing very different projects (Orphan Swords, RAUM, Y.E.R.M.O.), and since we met and started to experiment together, we dreamed of having a proper duo. It took time but here we are, I am very glad the project exists and I couldn’t dream of a better companion to do it with.
TF: Tell us something about you. What’s your background? Where did you studied and who influenced you to explore musical processes?
O: My background is rather diverse, and it took me a long time to discover how intimate I was with music as a listener, but also as a composer. I come from a theatrical background. I trained as an actress, though I started my studies with a degree in communication – specifically in socio-cultural animation - knowing that I would change path after obtaining it. It’s quite funny to see how tortuous life can be before finding your way through and beyond all these experiences. When I started as an actress ten years ago, something was missing in my professional contribution. I was desperately looking for some creative language that I could develop on my own. I was already familiar with singing since my childhood, so I started learning the basics of music theory online, and quickly I realized that I wanted to compose songs, and to find the easiest way of recording them without any external help. I got my hands on a keyboard and software and started composing, singing and producing at home. It was more a secret process for a few years, until I created a solo piece in the National Theatre of Belgium, which involved performing some of my compositions. This was a fundamental step where I learned that, with the music, I could be really free in the writing and performing process.
Y: I studied painting, but it quickly became clear that music was a territory worth exploring and one that I had to invest my time and energy into. Since I was pretty disgusted by the blatant materialism and the general mindset of the art world; the galleries, and a lot of the attitudes adopted by other artists (competitiveness, individualism, tendency to follow an art world, scale version of the Star System), I found there would be more freedom making music. People attend a concert to have an experience. Anyhow I love art, all sorts of art and my friends are usually creative people. Also, there have never been any boundaries for me, you can build sonic sculptures or paint rhythms, you can conceive a concert as a performance, you can do whatever you want. I recently moderated a panel at BOZAR about the underground art scene in New York in the 80’s, in East Village in particular. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dany Johnson (she was a resident DJ at Club 57 and later at Paradise Garage), Leonard Abrams (he ran the fabulous magazine The East Village Eye) and Gil Vasquez (DJ and president of the Keith Haring Foundation) and what struck me was the fact that at that particular moment in that scene you had zero boundaries between visual art, music, dance, performance… Klaus Nomi shared the bill with Ann Magnuson and John Sex and Haring curated shows and painted almost 24/7 while listening to music. It was all about energy. It’s academicism and speculation (art as a luxury product) that kills such energies (and eventually did in that case) Two different problems, both normative and alien to any creative essence. I stumbled upon a Serge Daney quote lately: ‘Academicism is the aesthetics of nihilism.’ And I agree with that, once you “do things because that’s the way they’re done”, reproduce them in blind fidelity and separate, classify, and annihilate boundary breaking forces, you start producing numb, meaningless objects. In this case a painting has to go from a gallery to a living room or a collection where it belongs. Is it a nice base material for speculation or a good way to seem educated and exhibit your taste as a buyer, to impress others? Hell no…a painting is rather an expression of life itself, a celebration, an exhibition of the worlds revolting features, its horrors, its injustice, its sadness, qualities and themes such as these…in every case it is an essential, vital gesture. Otherwise why even take a look at it? Music should be just the same.
TF: Do you spend all your time for your musical activity or do you have another job?
O: Yes, I do now. The musical activity has taken the vast majority of my time even though I’m still performing as a theatre actress, but that part of my professional activity is becoming more and more scarce. I’ve been recently offered to create music for theatre. So, my work today is divided between Figure Section, and other emerging projects for which I compose and produce for other artists, and my work as a music composer for the theatre. Maybe one day I will come back to the stage with a performance in which I’ll be the actress as well as the musician. I do keep an eye on that prospect even though it’s not the priority for the moment.
Y: I teach sound in cinema. We analyze movies and their soundtracks most of the time. It is a very interesting way to make a living next to music making.
TF: How is your live set up going to be? Any particular equipment? What’s your favourite track to play live and why?
O: We are working on the simplest and most efficient way of touring. So, our set is based on live keyboard playing, voice mixing, and equalizing the tracks live. So, there’s no particular equipment at the moment.
Spectral Dance, is one of my favourites to play live. It’s a more nostalgic synthpop song that offers a vast sense of space for the vocals and the keyboard parts. I just love its simplicity, almost naïveté, contrasted by lyrics about pernicious ghosts from the past that try to keep us from moving forward.
Y: There is a lot of different processes and ideas colliding and merging in Figure Section. It is always quite challenging for us to write a new song and perform it on stage. I think my favourite live song is currently Disfigured Section. We both sing on that one and I love that. Lyrics and vibe wise it’s sort of a Neo Dada track, maybe a tad surrealistic too, from apparent nonsense a lot of sense can emerge from the lyrics. Also, it is nervous, rough, noisy, kind of pissed off. At the same time desperate and full of energy. A union of opposites.
TF: What new hardwares did you apply to make 'Spectre' LP? Do you have a particular method while working in the studio?
O: There’s no new hardware utilized, but we have a more precise choice of instruments these days as well as a particular approach in the production process. Yannick and I work just as well separately as together in the studio. It just helps us to be more efficient because of our very different schedules. We both share online a musical file filled with musical ideas, loops, drums and lyrics. We are both the composers and mixers of the songs, but Yannick is more the writer and the producer and I’m more the arranger and singer. I think that we have now reached the perfect balance in the creative process, which is almost symbiotic.
Y: Yes, it is super interesting because I never know where Olive is going to take a song to when she starts working on it with her great skills and sensibility. What I know is that great stuff will eventually happen, leading to things that will stimulate us and give us even more ideas.
TF: How do you compose this tracks? Do you treat them like musical narratives or more like sound sculptures or images?
O: It really depends on the material. Sometimes Yannick comes with a very complete composition and I add the keyboard and voice arrangements, sometimes I come with a proposition and he completes it. Our strongest asset as a duo is that we started music completely differently, Yannick as an electronic experimentalist and performer, and I as a pop songwriter and singer. So, what we do is bring these assets together in our songs. I think the first track of the Spectre release is the perfect example of that symbiosis. This is what we aim for.
Y: Yes, it is a creative adventure, we have no such thing as a clearly established routine, it’s more laboratory like. It is not “experimental music” but the way it is done is not conventional either.
TF: Any movie, documentary, album (not electronic music) that you would like to share with our readers?
O: We are big fans of horror, thrillers and sci-fi. The last movie that left me fascinated as well as horrified is Midsommar by Ari Aster. I loved that movie because its director knows how to subtly inject weird elements of comedy that make you feel uncomfortable, as well as conveying an ice-cold intrigue about ancient pagan practices and rituals. Loved it.
Y: +1 for Midsommar. I loved that the movie never seems to bring any judgment about the neo-pagan community it depicts, it is just utterly different from what we know but it seems to make sense no matter how shocking it can be. It gives us a break from the ethnocentric attitude of many North Americans and from the extreme arrogance of modern western civilizations, which seem to be absolutely convinced of their superiority to any previous or different civilizations. Also, the visual effects are amazing. Der Goldener Handschuh (The Golden Glove) was quite a great movie too. Being utterly disgusted by this ugly, messy, desperate serial killer’s gruesome murders without being able to restrain myself from laughing was for sure a wild experience. And it really triggers thoughts afterwards. Moral thoughts especially. I found it pretty strong. A non-electronic album: Lux perpetua by Ensemble Organum, which is a very particular version of the Requiem by Anthonius de Divitis. It is such a beautiful requiem and such an incredible interpretation; it even features throat singing which is very unusual in the context of European polyphonic reinterpretations. 15th century art tends to focus a lot on death and mortality. And as Regis Debray said in his 1992 book The Life and Death of Images: “Where there is death there’s hope, aesthetically speaking.”
TF: What are the forthcoming projects?
O: Wrapping up our debut LP.
Y: We are also planning tours, confirmed dates are in Israel and the US so far but more will be announced later on. It would be fabulous to come play in Mexico too!