The Emmanuel Holterbach’s naturalistic composing
di Giovanni Panetta
Interview with the French composer Emmanuel Holterbach about Le Rêve, L’Ombre et La Vision (Canti Magnetici, 2022) and other works.
Emmanuel Holterbach

Emmanuel Holterbach.

Emmanuel Holterbach is a French electronic artist from Lyon. Most recently it was announced the releasing of L’Occhio Del Vedere (in April 10, 2023, for the New Jerseyan label elsewhere) with two Italian worldwide artists who are the pianist Giovanni Di Domenico (who lives in Japan) and the violinist Silvia Tarozzi. Here Holterbach gives his contribution with a frame of a large drum which permeates in almost all the release, while the Di Domenico piano offers atonal patterns, which draw organic figures in the acoustic canvas, and Tarozzi creates distended chords or rarefied lines with her strings and arrow. Everything is in the sign of imaginative and complex geometries with unexpected symmetries and a consistency that is cold and living in one instance.

Holterbach gave other contributions, like Le Rêve, L’Ombre et La Vision (for the South-Italian label Canti Magnetici, released in 2022), whereas the album is the main reason I contacted him for an interview, although we analyzed other topics too. The album has an interesting concept which involves the naturalistic poetry of the Finnish writer Eeva-Liisa Manner and the technical manipulation of field recording.

So the following part is the interview.

Emmanuel, let’s begin with Le Rêve, L’Ombre et La Vision, how did this dualistic concept happen, with opposite elements about its sonic structure? How and how much did your free will manipulate the natural being in the record? Who or what is the real or essential author, or prime mover, in this musical landscape?

“To be honest, I’m not sure there’s anything dualistic, or opposite elements in the structure of the pieces… I am really unable to see dualism in nature. I just see different facets of a waste phenomenon. I guess my mind is more kaleidoscopic than binary.

“But may be I don’t understand your question, was it more about the combination of field recordings and instruments?

“One thing is sure, there were no and at no point of the work any concept. I’m totally not a conceptual artist!

“Now the question of free will is interesting, because yes, many field recordings in the compositions are just as they got caught, no alteration or manipulations (or in a very careful manner with the original material). So one could think, these works are like ready-mades. But in reality they are not. The moment, the event, the phenomenon recorded is framed in the way I show it, in a very personal manner. And inside this frame, I’m adding a little something more, which starts to sing with the field recording. And all this float around the construction I did with Miriam Karell’s voice.

“Also the combination and order of apparition of the seven parts was a lot of decision work.

“At the end these composition in seven tableaux are more of a pictorial work, rather than strictly a Musique concrete composition, for example.

“But, in fine, I’m the essential author. Me, with my legs, my ears, my mind, my sensitivity and my heart. And the way I experience the world around me , and inside of me.”

Can you talk about the digital work on the album? Can you reveal that there is an analogic part that is altered with synths or samplers, or does everything come from a natural translation, forming a spontaneous puzzle?

“The only «digital work» is that I use the freeware Reaper, a virtual studio, on my computer to compose Musique concrete. That been said, the sources of this composition are essentially of acoustic nature (except some VLF recording of aurora borealis and one or two contact mics recordings). No synths alteration, no samplers were used.

“A puzzle is a beautiful image, and it’s a lot like how I work. I have this piece, and it fit so well with this one, and also this one… until a relevant work take shape, made out of different, heterogenous sound sources. Still, I would say it’s more like an intuitive puzzle, because you don’t spend 5 years on a spontaneous creation…

The Le Rêve, L’Ombre et La Vision concept is inspired by the Finnish writer and poet Eeva-Liisa Manner’s production, whereas the reading part is formed by her poems from the anthology Ophrée/La Différence (1994), translated from Finnish to French by Jean-Jaques Lamiche. The meaning of Manner’s work (poems, novels, essays, plays) has sometimes an esoteric meaning but especially a naturalistic inspiration too, tapping into the geographic origins’ author. Can you talk about your link with the Finnish writer and the contemplation of nature in your art?

“I was lucky to discover the writing of Eeva-Liisa Manner with this collection of poems translated in French. I found the book by chance, in a book store. I have simple relationship with poetry in general. I read a few words of the book, and sometime I feel nothing and I close the book, and sometime these words speak to me, directly and I buy the book.

“Her world and her words are those of the great northern. And I’m obsessed by these areas of the world, around the boreal circle. Something important is happening there. I’ve been in these areas at some lucky occasion, and a part of me seems like it always have lived there.

“I grew up in eastern France, in Alsace. Les Vosges are the magic mountains in this area. Something in their shape and landscape comes from the old Inlandiss which was covering Europe some eons ago. The boreal feeling is strong in these mountains. May be my connection comes from this, simply as it is.

“I love to walk outside in wild isolated places. And the words of Eeva-Liisa Manner are bringing me to the same places, in the soul. I feel home there.”

Emmanuel Holterbach

Emmanuel Holterbach.

Sometimes in this record, there appears the hieratic power of nature, like the strong blowing of wind in Souffle (Breath), and other times we enter in contact with friendly elements, like the water on a beach or a pond, with Rivage (Shore). Most specifically Glaces (Ices) and Ombre (Shadow) appear contrasted, because of their wild power and opposite climates. Ice and fire are dominant, whereas a dualistic opposition on different levels is a key interpretation of the two songs in their complexity; if in Glaces cold climate is caustic and uncomfortable, the element of fire in Ombre shows a more friendly interaction with human living in a forest (It’s like a sonic reproducing of a campfire in the countryside, immersed of an anxious and obscure night). Can you talk about the more evident contrast and consequentiality of these specific two tracks? Can you explain this general dichotomy in Le Rêve, L’Ombre et La Vision?

“As is said before, the experience of our living environment offers no dualism in the way in perceive nature. You hear the water of Rivage as friendly, probably for personal reasons. But for me this water area, by a glacier residue lake is a place of intensity and forces. Most forces of nature are dormant and not impressive if we don’t pay attention. But things are here, the world is a combination of energies and tensions, of matters and movement, of different cycles of temporality. Some temporality are obvious for us, some are not but are still real. We can feel the passages of seasons, or natural disasters. We are rather unconscious of the permanent energies going on around us. Of course we are all busy ! But if you sit and contemplate things as they are, with their layers of significations, the density of being is incredibly deep and appealing .

“Also about Glace, I feel rather at ease with these thunderstorm kind of energy. Now the crazy thing is that these contact mics recordings of a frozen canal were a strange moment for me. The area was -10°C, everything was so quiet and frozen silenced in this countryside. It’s just to have an idea of what was happening inside the ice that I tried the contact mics by then. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this chaos in my headphones ! You could not expect with just your ears that the ice was producing so much energy.

“This is what I talk about when I say that most events of nature are very discrete. And this is a fascinating thing to «hunt» this kind of moment of revelation.

“About Ombre, I don’t really know what to say, except that I always loved the combination of voice and fire sound, for some reasons… But at the end I feel like this part has an obscure sense of threat that I like.

“Also, believe it or not, but Souffle, is not strong wind… and not from the air element ! But well this is a wonderful breath yes.”

Talking about a part of the rest of your production, the previous record, Ricercar Nell’Ombra (Another Timbre, 2020), with the ensemble Blutwurst’s collaboration. The entire track is a continuous and constant sonic vibration, which appears monotonal with little variation around an equilibrium condition. Sometimes the sound is more atonal, and other times the melodic and harmonic parts flow more openly. Everything on the album reproduces a walking on a path under a penumbral light, where dichotomic elements dance describing continuous movements, drawn by the Blutwurst’s string instruments, during that time. At this point can you talk about how the idea of this work was born and it will develop? And what is the meaning behind these sonorities?

“The collaboration work with Blutwurst ensemble was a permanent source of satisfaction and surprises. These people are fantastic and sensitive musicians, it was a joy to work with them on all steps of this collaboration.

“I’m very impressed that you feel like walking «on a path under an penumbral light» when listening to this composition, because I would use these words to describe most of my work ! I love dusks, the moment between light and dark, when it’s no longer day, but not completely night. In France we call this moment « entre chien et loup » (between dog and wolf). This silent hour where everything seems to be possible, were you see a beast in a rock or a jogger… I try to have this hard-to-define kind of mood in all of my musical work, between dog and wolf.

“We talked a lot about walking in the process of composition. About how perceptions change in a walk, emotions too. About how things can be sometimes monotonous and suddenly changing because your environment subtly changed around you without you noticing. We also talked about ancient Chinese and Japanese rolls of paintings, kakémono or others. I remember one in Paris Musée Guimet, 3 meters long, horizontal. There was a path and you could follow it with you eyes, and travel through the landscape. It blew my mind. I wanted to work on such feeling with Blutwurst.

“Technically I came with the 7 notes of a baroque melody of a viola da gamba opening in a Fransesco Guami de Lucca composition. And I suggested to Blutwurst musicians to do something I often do in studio works : to use these 7 pitches, to stretch them, to play them in a random way and with various intensities. This was the beginning of the work, then some magic happened…”

In the end, tell us about the news that concern tour, live sets, or the next release if you want.

“Well… I’m no so much of a tour musician and I must assume my concerts are rare. Also, I have a full time job, because in this world, you would have hard time living of you art. I used to for some long years, not making me rich to say the least, and I stopped at some point. I enjoy, getting older, a little comfort and routine… I’m happy when I do 4 or 5 concerts in a year to be honest.

“Still some work is going on. Last summer I was invited by Giovanni Di Domenico for a 3 days residency in Albi GMEA. A Wonderful and inspiring city and place to work ! We worked on a trio with Silvia Tarozzi on violin, Giovanni Di Domenico on piano (and composition) and me on a large drum (I just got the skin of the drum vibrating with some device). Our trio worked like a natural event, and there was enough material for Giovanni to create an almost one hour piece. The composition will be published by Elsewhere next springtime, and I’m so happy to be part of this project.

“We want to work again together with Blutwurst for some new compositions, we just need to find another residency.

“And I have a couple of unpublished Musique Concrete compositions that just wait to meet a friendly record label to be published.”

My thanks to the labels elsewhere, Another Timbre and Canti Magnetici. This article would not exist without their help.

Obviously, a special thank to the artist for his precoius contribution.

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