di Giovanni Panetta
Interview to Qonicho Ah!. Anti-symmetrical and free-jazzish sounds with a feeling around Europe, Africa and Asia.
Qonicho Ah!

Qonicho Ah!: Morgane Carnet (left) and Blanche Lafuente (right). (Ph. Clara Lafuente).

Qonicho Ah! is a French duo formed by the saxophonist Morgane Carnet and the drummer Blanche Lafuente. They met each other in 2013 at Conservatory of Montreuil (Conservatoire de Montreuil) during their musical formation. The main ingredient of that couple is an abstract naïf sound between expressionist patterns and terrean elements, developed by ecstatic experiences like impro session and live concert. The music is suspended by an art brut and stochastic math sound which was impressed by surprised human subconscious, where two elements are dominant: a baroque and free drum and casually cadenced, spurting sax, which have colors of an exotic or Balkanish dance. Moreover their sound is sometimes enriched by a third element through different version as trio with Qonicho B (with a guitarist), Qonicho C (with a bassist) and Qonicho D (with another guitarist); but we will talk about later.

Next year, Italian label Kaczynski Editions will release the first Qonicho Ah! record, after several time from their sonic live beginning, during of that Qonicho B published their first release (an impro live session titled C’est parti, for compatriot label 2035 RECORDS), which navigates through sharp noisy waves with a jazz attitude. The future record (that is a live impro too) is a flow into consciousness through surrealist-Africanist circular sonorities and experimental warm atonality between Eastern and Western Europe. A symbolistic, warm dance that breaks into a nocturnal silentium, perceivable from that associated soundscape.

We interviewed Blanche and Morgane about their poetry, their past, present and future. To follow that conversation.

Let’s start talking about your beginning; how was your music born, and what feelings overwhelm your playing in an angular and anti-symmetric manner?

Morgane Carnet: “Our music was born from a friendly meeting and a desire to exchange, naturally with our instruments, being both musicians. We started improvising as a duo once a week in October 2013 and it lasted for a while, maybe two years. We developed our language together. Our music with its angular and anti-symmetrical character as you say (I like these terms and find them quite accurate) come I think from a desire for freedom and adventure with our instruments. We necessarily base ourselves on a common language which comes from all our listening and our classical and jazz studies but we have to push back the frames and to let ourselves go in sensations by trying to leave also all predefined aesthetics. To come back also finally to a rather raw love of the sound, without fuss. 🙂 ”

Blanche Lafuente: “We met at the conservatoire doing our jazz studies. Morgane proposed fastly to do a duo sax-drums. At the time I wasn’t converted to free improvised music but when we did the session I immediately felt at home. We did a lot of sessions and tried free impro and around riffs too. There was a strong energy, very joyful too.”

We can listen in your sounds some antithetic attitudes between you; if Blanche disentangles in free, energetic movements, describing more complex rhythmic pattern, Morgane’s sax riffs are vivid, more linear but oblique, in a grumbling and stylised way, and all the music clearly goes up and down through a danceable, zigzagged, zebra crossed, polychromatic, non-euclidean and noisy trajectory. And we can say your parts are inverted; if the saxophone often keeps the time with a brass groove, the drums paints abstractlist pattern on the canvas. Can you tell me how this correspondence happened, and what is the role of the musical feeling in your duo? 

Blanche Lafuente: “I think it depends what saxophone Morgane plays (she plays tenor, alto and baritone) and if we are just the two of us or with a third guest. Morgane has a very rhythmic playing, and she loves playing drums so maybe in a way she plays drums trough the sax. However when she plays alto, her phrasing can be very virtuose, melodic.
“When Morgane plays something, I feel I need to play in contrast in order to enrich the landscape. So if she plays linear, I will play more deconstructed drums and if she plays free (which she does very well too) I will play more rhythmic.”

Moreover, a sporadic theatrical use of any percussions, with a spontaneous synchronicity in live sessions with a half serious manner. But is there a meditated component in your music, or is it all (in a certain sense) improvised?

Blanche Lafuente: “We play like we want things to be: FUN, powerful, alive. It’s not a conscious, meditated choice. We play like we feel we have to play. When we try to force an intention we don’t manage to keep it.”

Morgane Carnet: “I’ll just add that in my opinion, the improvisations we do together would come from musical research accompanied by meditations! At least on my side. What is great about improvisation is that the whole body is involved in the music, through the ears which form the bridge of entry; the eyes are at rest since there is no score to read, as well as the memory since nothing written is played. We only have to concentrate on the sounds produced by the other and to react in the way we feel it, and there are no false steps, we are very free. But what is beautiful is when we manage to really dialogue with fluidity and that the listener also captures the exchange.”

In the beginning of 2022, your Kaczynski Editions album, which is extracted by any live sessions, will be published in the name of that anti-symmetry I cited before. Could you anticipate something? For example, can you talk about that/those concert/s: What does it impress you about these exhibitions? – or even – what will it induce to make a release as Qonicho Ah! after several time from the start of your activity?

Blanche Lafuente: “When Kaczynski (what a diffucult spelling, like our band’s name hihi) contacted us after the concert we did at METEO festival (it was in trio with Farida Amadou) to propose releasing an album of Qonicho, we immediately said YES. We never recorded something for a CD and
I think it was the perfect timing for that: Qonicho Ah was ready. We were going to play at the Banlieues Bleues festival and we asked someone to record us. It was in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic so the other band of the evening had cancelled, and we were the main band of the evening! I remember it was a very powerful moment. 2 days later the first lockdown was announced.”

Morgane Carnet: “It is a live we did just before the first confinment (by COVID pandemic, Ed.) and I remember it was our first “big” concert because the Banlieues Bleues Festival is well known for the improvised jazz music. We were like a DIY live band, so no CDs, no goodies (just music videos on YouTube). Kaczynski gave us the opportunity to release the album and It’s just great. I don’t think we have any special expectations, except maybe going to play in Italy; it would be so nice.”

Qonicho D

Qonicho D: Morgane Carnet (left), Fanny Lasfargues (middle) and Blanche Lafuente (right). Photo by Clara Lafuente.

In Qonicho Ah! sound we can hear Balkan or Gypsy harmonies and something of tribal rhythm. A frequent ethnic attitude of DIY context with jazz elements. Is there an influence on your backgrounds about that kind of knowledge? Is there an effective link with worldwide

Morgane Carnet: “Yes indeed, we are curious and listen to a lot of things, including traditional music from Balkan or African or Hispanic countries but also from Asia and what comes out! For my part I had a big period of Balkan music, I went on a trip for a month with friends in Serbia and Macedonia with the aim of doing the Festival of Gucca, a big festival of Balkan music, Blanche was very passionate about flamenco at one point, we are both also very interested in African dance (Congo and Guinea) and the music that goes with it (Mandingue, Sabar, Ndombolo). the gamelan, the pygmy music, the Arabic music etc… There are so many beautiful things!”

Blanche Lafuente: “I listen to a lot of traditional music from all over the world. I love this music because it has deep roots and identity. It’s something prevalent and all-encompassing in some societies. I don’t know how to explain it but I feel connected when I listen to Iraqi ud, or flamenco, or dhrupad singing or bikutsi, tsapiky…”

There are different versions of your ensemble where aleatory sounds are the main characters once again. With the joint of different musician we have: Qonicho B (with guitarist Nina Garcia, wich gives a sharp sonority on your group, together a heterodox playing og the instrument), Qonicho C (where bassist Farida Amadou, which offers a groovy and electric with a free-funk touch on your music), and Qonicho D, your updated version (with bassist Fanny Lasfargues) with a granitic, physic consistency. Can you speak about the need of a third component and the excursus of each of these? These bands, for example Qonicho B and Qonicho C, will return to life?

Morgane Carnet: “The third person simply allows a third dimension to our music, it enriches the game, offers other possible vibrations while remaining very connected and the sound is made by dialoguing at three. With Blanche we wanted to put our sound on something more written, more rock, a little less free and it’s with Fanny (formula D!) that we definitely find this musical way. With Nina and Farida, the sound of Qonicho was much more free, it was also great but the desires evolve, maybe we will reform the B and C yes one day, we’ll see, it will depend on the desires of each!”

Blanche Lafuente: “In France we have a proverb: “never 2 without 3”. We love our duo but we love to invite other musicians in order to explore other landscapes and break our habits. I don’t think the past qonicho’s will be back, for the moment we play with Fanny and we love her.”

Let’s talk about other project, in the sign of noise music; Volt, a duo where Morgane plays especially the drums, where Olivia Scemama plays bass, has a math/noise/jazzcore attitude; Instead Nout, a band where Blanche plays the drums, with Delphine Joussein (flute and effects) and Rafaëlle Rinaudo (harp), moves in classical, prog and psychedelic territory; both the bands are characterized of the elasticity which is typical of Qonicho projects. But what Is the course of those bands? Can you speak about if any of the next albums of these bands will be published?

Blanche Lafuente: “With NOUT, we’ll have an EP coming for september, we are super happy of how it sounds. I have another band Mamiedaragon (with Nina Garcia also) a punk/no afro beat/experimental band and we have recorded an album, waiting to be released! I can’t wait, Mamiedaragon is a great band.I also have a trio with Violaine Lochu and Méryll Ampe, two great artists, an experimental perfomative cabaret named Be My Ghost.

Morgane Carnet: “I will talk about Volt 🙂 So Volt is not an elastic band at all since it is based on the 5 riffs I can play on the drums and the bass and guitar parts (we expanded the duo to a trio recently) are completely written so it is far from the free and improvised sound of Qonicho Ah! 🙂 The big link I would say is that I think Blanche inspired me a lot on how I play drums 🙂 We’ll probably release an album at some point but before that we’re going to take some time to play some gigs to fine tune the sound.”

At the end of this interview, what are your next news of Qonicho projects? What are the exhibitions in the program, and will some of them be out of your country?

Morgane Carnet: “Well I would say that we are currently in a little bit of a slump because we have quite a few other bands on the side, which are more or less in the works, but it’s just a matter of time, we will find the time of course to keep playing, to keep pushing the sound even further. 🙂 We’ll meet in mid-October to rehearse for a few days, a teaser video of Qonicho D! will be released maybe at the end of 2021 and we’ll play at La Fraternelle in the Jura in January 2022. We would love to play outside of France, it’s not easy, especially in these viral times but we’ll work on it, go looking for a tour manager too maybe, it would help us a lot now…”

Thanks a lot for the disponibility, and bye for now!

Blanche Lafuente: “Thanks to you, for your questions and attention! Cheers.”

Morgane Carnet: “Thank you very much, this interview was very pleasant to answer and thank you for your listening, your interest and your attention!”

The analysed, self-titled album by Qonicho Ah! will be released in 2022 May 25 by Kaczynski Editions – Pulsioni Oblique. Susana Santos Silva plays the trumpet on HU!, Sean Drewry collaborates on the artwork, and KE on the production.

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