Tout Bleu: accident in a pop formal shape
di Giovanni Panetta
Interview with Simone Aubert and POL; a monographic path in the Tout Bleu sonic production, with a track-by-track on their last album Otium.

Cover of the Tout Bleu record Otium (2021).

Tout Bleu is a musical project, active in Geneva from 2019, and it districates between electronic and lyrical effort, and a baroque noise sound. The most recent line-up is: Simone Aubert (vox, guitar, pad, synths and effects), POL (synths and electronics), Luciano Turella (alto viola and effects), Naomi Mabanda (cello, synth and effects). In 2021, December 10, their last and second album, Otium, was released for Les Disques Bongo Joe, where an obscure and plastically ethereal energy is more dominant than the previous, self-titled album (2018); minimal string lines by Mabanda and Turella and a fervid synthetical creativity, on behalf of POL and Aubert, encounter themselves, where these well-ordered structures are diversified through different progressive ideas, adding weird elements and a noise attitude. Swiss and worldwide sounds in the name of an interesting craftsmanship between no wave and post punk, both in a broad sense.

Following an interview with Simone Aubert and POL about the Tout Bleu sonic path from the beginning to now, with a track-by-track of the last album.

Tout Bleu

Tout Bleu, from left to right: Luciano Turella, Simone Aubert, POL and Naomi Mabanda. Credits Diego Sanchez.

Let’s start from the beginning; how was the idea behind Tout Bleu born, and did it develop at its first moments? Why this lysergic sound with elastically baroque elements, with string timbres and arty synthetic signals?

Simone Aubert: “Tout Bleu started with a proposition of the Venue Cave12, in Geneva, known for experimental music worldwide, to Simone Aubert to build a new project (Carte Blanche). She always had contributed in post punky bands mostly (Massicot, Hyperculte, Jmenfous), but she decided to explore her own universe and built a solo live set. What came first in the building of the project was the slowness. She only was playing in quite speedy aggressive musical propositions before, needing some kind of anger to be released, but to start the projects with drones, most of the songs without any rhythmical form was completely new to her and allowed her to merge and focus on the material of sound more than the performing part of it.

“After 2 shows on her own, Simone asked POL to join her for the production of a record. The idea was to have a production, coming out of other musical spheres, Pol being one of the main electronic music composers in Geneva. Their influences actually easily were mixed to create new soundscapes and explore new directions in both their works. The sound of it all, finally really was calling for strings presence in the music and a real balance between electronics, strings, so acoustic and electronic was then found. The compositions started to evolve in more complex dialog between the instruments, with poly rhythmic patterns and the joy of mixing sounds using the instrumentation in a weird way.”

First track which was released, Souviens-Toi, is the first fervid experiment in your poetry. This one appears in a compilation, A Guide to Swiss Underground Experimental Music, for Buh Records. The sound is lyrical and wavering at same time, in a synthetic way and in a krautrock form with pop shades, and with a soloist approach (at the beginning Tout Bleu was born as a solo project). How was this piece and your collaboration with the Peruvian label Buh Records born?

Simone Aubert: “Simone met Luis Alvaro, founder of the label Buh Records, in Peru, on tour in south America with Hyperculte in 2018. Luis was very interested in the experimental scene in Switzerland, that is, actually quite super creative and rich. He collaborated with many swiss sound artists to do this compilation. We were really glad to be part of it. Souviens-Toi brings references from This Heat, a guitar part from Massicot and it’s yes, one of the first song built with the contribution of many musicians, as Nicholas Stuecklin, another Geneva sound artist, also took part on it. It is somehow the song that brought new directions in the music after the drone low first phase of the eponym record (the song was actually composed after the eponym first record).”

Talking about your first, self-titled record, released on October 26 2018 for Bongo Joe, lysergic sound is in the sign of a new heterodox shape. Sorcière has a digital, tribal rhythm framed by a lysergic atmosphere. Peur le Vivre is permeated by weird, abstractism sounds in a meditative way, giving something new to your poetry and music in general. Instead other tracks, like Stolen Secrets, have a more traditional form, but with baroque, innovative dissonances. This record is an example of a new experimentalism, which has its roots in post-punk and no wave cultures, with cold and warm climates at the same time in its musical language. These ideas were brought by you on the production of your next work in a further baroque structure, less futuristic, and playing with classical rules. Can you talk about the creative process of this work and how did its lysergic and futuristic form happen?

Simone Aubert: “Oh! we would never think of us as being futuristic in the way of inventing new forms that were never found… this could be said for Brian Eno, or Kraftwerk, Terry Riley and so many other pioneers… but maybe, it is true, we feel free to experiment without having to sound like something we know, like to feel part of one scene, so we feel free to welcome the accident… As most of the songs appear to us through long phases of improvisations, we kind of let things happen, close to our feelings and by just enjoying sounds and melodies how they appear to us. As most of the musicians in the band have an experimental music background, the challenge is more to accept when the form is getting closer to pop formal shapes. It is actually quite hard to accept the melancholy melodic beautifulness of some songs sometimes. But it is also what makes our music maybe special, to be able to bring more formal harmonics with strange, sharp and noisy sounds, being completely ok to welcome weirdness. I mean the instrumentation is special and the way we treat them, or play them is also quite strange. The band is mixed with autodidact and academic musicians. So what comes out is special enough as we have to invent how to dialogue. The lives are interesting too, as we use nearly nothing that is prerecorded, or sampled, and you can really see how we build the songs, with sounds produced a way you couldn’t really imagine the instrument would create.”

How did this previous and recent collaboration with the Bongo Joe label, from Genève, happen? Its work is internationally operating, mixing reissues of obscure and extra-Western masterpieces and brand new experimental music. Can you talk about how this music relationship was born?

Simone Aubert: “Bongo Joe got really famous these last few years, indeed, and their work in digging for old and new music is crazy. Geneva being a very small city, the musicians here get to know each other naturally. Hyperculte, Simone’s third band, released their first record on the label, when the label started. It was their fourth release. We always kept a family relationship from that time (2016). We were really surprised that they were up for releasing Tout Bleu, as the music is a lot more experimental and dark than most of the bands on the label, but we are really glad they follow our work and to have their help for spreading the word of our existence.”

Creatures EP, released on July 1 2021 for Urgence Disk Records (based in Genève), is in the sign of a more orthodox post-punk sound. New version of Souviens-Toi in this EP is more affected, interesting and magmatic in its enrichment of music. Moreover La Cure is an unusual example of traditional new wave music in your production. How was born this orthodoxy in your post-punk feeling, but with different elements or craftsmanship?

Simone Aubert: “Creature is a compilation of songs that we had composed in very different moments and for very different situations, just before or during the first year of Covid: Creature, the song, didn’t have its place on Otium, so we decided to release it there, La Cure was a song composed for a covid cancelled festival doing a compilation, Souviens-toi was just renewed in a new form to also have it pressed on one of our record (not only on the Buh Rec compilation) and Her Head is Breaking Into Four was a request from Bongo Joe to cover a song from reissued music released on the label, from the label actual bands. To release the 4 tracks record in a material 10 inch vinyl, we were lucky during the pandemic to have a collective in Bern building the Ghost Festival. It was said from the start that the festival will not take place, but that is was a way to support the local swiss bands that from a day to the next, couldn’t perform anymore. They were able to sell tickets for more than a million swiss franc and they just distributed the money to the 300 bands that were lined up. That is how we’ve managed to press and release the 4 tracks EP “Creature”. We will never thank them enough for their work and what it meant for us, musicians, to have felt that much support from the swiss people.”

Let’s talk about your last record, Otium, released on December 10, 2021, for Bongo Joe. How was its concept in the sign of an angular and glittered creativity born, and did it develop until its result?

Simone Aubert: “Otium is the result of two years of work. The first songs were born having to compose a live score for the movie “The Great White Silence”, which we had to play on a cine-concert tour in South America in 2019 for IOIC (Institute Of Incoherent Cinematography). Then we have been asked if the second was on the way. We said yes, and started the composition of the other songs with skeletons that had been found through periods of improvisations.

“The development between the first eponym record and this one was maybe mainly brought by the drum pad being add in the set up. Pol designed a lot of sound in it (also with field recordings from old factories, bells, etc) and the drum patterns then created influenced a lot the compositions in bringing them into more poly rhythmical repetitive grooves, around which the strings and the guitar moves. The time spent in editing the tracks in the studio, also have worked quite a lot on how the songs are played now and structured. So the arrangements mostly come from phases of edition in a studio to find how to structure them with more lyrical sentences, poly rythmics and more noisy parts.”

“Otium” means free time in latin, and you dedicated a part of these extemporaneous moments for this album absolutely not produced in a commercial sense, but with an intelligent and fervid creativity. Indeed during free time we are ourselves, more sincere, and create something perfect from a platonic point of view, not a one of business. Moreover, “Otium” is the main element of these pandemic, unfortunate years, where some people take the further opportunity to get into art, science and music as authors, researchers, or curious ones too, deeply immersed in their interests with good, healthy pleasure. Anyway, what role was played with purity in your intentions, or the first mouths of lockdown and missing occasions to make great tours in your most recent creativity and in your last record, indeed Otium?

Simone Aubert: “In French Otium is only translated from latin with a pejorative connotation. It is about not doing anything, being lazy. With giving this record that name, the idea was to talk about how we spend our time, otium being the roots of NegOtium (negation of the otium). This one word has its good translation in French! we live in a capitalist society, Geneva is the center of all the international raw material trade. It sounded important to talk about how we have built our way to live together on the negation of this free time, and to think of what this original word should talk about, or represent to us as a society. What do we share when we are not at work for something that can be sold? It is a question to our mankind in a globalized society that mainly offers material things to buy and consume, as much as our planet is now suffering mass extinction and irreversible damage. Aren’t we sick of it all? We are. And yes, we really hope the pandemic has encouraged this reflection in people’s manners and minds.

“We also never thought music would bring us fame, success or money. We just don’t consider art as a business. We of course try to make a living out of what we do, but it has never been a goal for us to have more than just what we need to survive. Our music is then detached from any form of commercial product, as to access radio channels for example; it can develop where it wants artistically.”

The following part of this questionnaire will be a track-by-track of the Otium record. In Ere de Rien a drum machine and metallic percussion gives a rhythmic structure to string and synth lines, through a melodic which maybe taps into harmonically Traditional European cultures in a wavering way, looking to and forward lysergism of post-punk. What are the creative process and the inspiration of this track?

Simone Aubert & POL: “Let’s behave as if nothing is happening. A tongue-in-cheek denial lyrics on top of old factory sounds drumbeat. The song literally crashes towards the end with the tempo falling down as our world itself and the voice getting low and creepy.  The process started with the guitar hook and the drums then the words came and the strings put their magic on top.”

Baleine is much lyrical too but is very interesting in its synth automatism, where baroquism of strings encounters digital and futuristic percussions, between library and soundtrack music. The regularity of lines gives a more conceptual form but in a naturalistic way, districating between analog and synthetic sound. How was the idea behind this track born and did it develop?

Simone Aubert & POL: “This song was composed for a live soundtrack performance on the movie The Great White Silence from 1925. This was commissioned by the IOIC (Institute Of Incoherent Cinematography) and performed during an extensive Latin America tour. The scene where it appears shows the main characters of the movie encountering whales for the first time in their journey. The lyrics are a call for them to get out of the water for us to enjoy their magnificence. The repetitive guitar motif, later joined by the strings, is a tribute to the love of early minimalist music that every member of the band shares.”

Theatricalism in music is the main element in the Constellation track. Indeed the game of percussion is charming, associated with sweet and sour melodic lines, far from being too catchy or invasive. It is similar to an idea of cinema (or theatre) where the director plays with abstract concepts and at same time with realistic meanings. What is the creative course of Constellation and how was its theatricalism born?

Simone Aubert & POL: “The beat was at the origin of this song and the other parts found their place around it. The organ-like bass line and the crazy theremin-sounding synth solo by Naomi definitely gives a very cinematographic touch to it. And the hypnotic guitar finally joins to bring this tribal trance to an even higher altitude.”

An oblique light invades Rucksucre with a crazy-syncopated rhythm and a suspended melodic pattern, with a new wave harmony. There is an acid consonance with attractive feeling in music. How were this track and its idea between two opposed polarities born?

Simone Aubert & POL: “Rucksucre is a polyphonic delight : guitar are playing in 4/4, drums in 7/4 The viola in 5/4 and the cello in 6/4. The new wave harmony comes naturally as we’ve been infused with this sounds in our teenage years. “You have made the happy world into your hell” could be understood as a collective call to conscience or an individual statement of failure.”

Tout Bleu

Tout Bleu, from left to right: Naomi Mabanda, Luciano Turella, Simone Aubert and POL. Credits Diego Sanchez.

Entre les Mots is more obscure in synth and string lines through mathematical, periodic percussions. Post-punk culture is dominant between ethereal sounds (with ever-present baroque elements) and a neat, dark groove. These sonorities seem a sonic rough sea in a crepuscular weather, with opposed colours and tonalities. How did the creative course of this track happen?

Simone Aubert & POL: “This song came late in the creative process and was completed much faster than the others. The arrangement was decided after jamming the track two times with the band. The guitar reversed loop was the core from which every element grew. The sounds of the old swiss factory and some synthetic choirs join in the end to add to the eerie atmosphere.”

Ce Sera is permeated by a noise atmosphere, more caustic in a lysergic sense, through analogic and synthetic sounds. A poetic lyricism which expresses itself with the sign of a powerful and dynamic chaos. How was this track born and did its noisy creative process happen?

Simone Aubert & POL: “For this song, Simone asked Marina Skalova a punchy swiss writer to create lyrics. Her words demanded a more brutalist kind of sound. Hitting open strings guitar with a drumstick and pushing compression to outer limits brought us to first call it “Swans Like” in reference to the famous wall of noise pioneers. The chaos orchestrated by the guitar offers an opportunity to hide some tributes dear to our hearts like the Dido’s Lament interpreted here by Simone Felber or the ear-shattering screams evocative of Diamanda Galas.”

Next track, U22, is softer and more ordered. Melodies are neutral, pure in its essence, with some dissonant chords. Nextly, and in a periodic way, a rhythmic pattern flows more fast with a synthetic, grown-up-like attitude, and with an elastic approach in that sense. How was this track born and its lysergicity?

Simone Aubert & POL: “At first this guitar leak was considered as too cheesy and the sketch was recorded with a depreciative file name to be forgotten. And then it grows on the band and help some of his members to make peace with their soft pop inclination. Still it would be too syrupy to handle like this till the end so, again, the song crashes half-way and turns to a post-apocalyptic tribal call for hope among ruins.”

The title track, indeed Otium, and like the previous song, is permeated by a digital softness, with the ordinary string sound in the record. Ambient sororities have something earthy, with sweet and acid harmonies tapping into a naturalistic language. What was the creative process of this track? How did its artificial naturalism happen?

Simone Aubert & POL: “This songs brings us to calmer shores with a slower tempo and appeased feelings. The process started with the drumbeat and his trappy groove and Miami cheesy clap upon which the bassline found a perfect nest. The trance feeling is to the extend where the track could go on forever as could a lullaby. As a more instrumental track, this song was the perfect track to fulfill the expectations of the album’s name.”

Listening on the last track, She’s lost, recalls an entrance to an ancient/modern temple. A synth riff repeats itself periodically, with remote and reverberated voices, and cello and violin give a more urban/human touch in the end. What was the creative process of this track?

Simone Aubert & POL: “The all song is built around a voice loop tweaked through an harmonizer that instill the slow pulse underlined by the synth. This could have been the hidden song.”

At the end, what will be the next news in your production or live activity (in limits of our possibilities)? What will we expect from your next release, and what will your next and ever-fervid ideas in music be?

Simone Aubert: “The next obvious activity for the band, is to tour and play the album live on stage! We have many tours planned in 2022. France, Belgium and Netherland in March and April, Italy in May (hopefully to Sicily and back) and then England in autumn. We work at the moment with two new-media artists to build some VR performance that should be presented in some contemporary theaters and think of a new movie live soundtrack performance for the institute (IOIC). Don’t know yet for the next record, but we already play new songs on our concerts and will definitely work on a third one for which we’ll take the time needed to think of it as a real third step in the band evolution.”

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