This article is part of The Avant-Guardian no. 8.
La Tène is a French-Swiss band taking both the heir of minimalist music and traditional mountain music to induce an ascetic trance. Tony Conrad comes in the picture, but also long walks in mountains during which you become part of the nature, and your self-consciousness is getting lower and lower until it switches off.
alexis degrenier (hurdy-gurdy): We are very happy to play at a KRAAK show, we follow the festival since long time, and I saw you also put on Pelt on the first the edition of the Eastern Daze festival. I’m a superbig fan.
NL Yeah, they work on the same ideas as La Tène, I think.
AD Yes, although it’s a lot more complicated in the States. They work on the same idea of combining folk music and minimalism. But in the States they have this complex history of folk music, and it suffers from the same clichés as in Europe.
NL Where are you actually living, your music suggests that you are living on the country side? How did La Tène started?
AD I live in Nantes, but I’ve grown up in the Auverne. The other two live in Geneve, in Switzerland. I know D’incise and Cyril since a long time, cause I released solo albums by them on my own label (dronesweetdrone records). We wanted to do for long time something together.
La Tène is the name of small village in the mountains in Switzerland. A lot of our pieces are actually inspired by the mountains.
NL How did you become interested in traditional french or swiss/ mountain folk music?
AD I became interested in traditional music by Old Music. My mother was a professional classical musician who performed a lot of the Baroque and Polyphonic music from the 13th century. At home there were a lot of records, with Classical music, traditional music. A lot of traditional music I discovered through the collection of Catherine Perrier and through my mother, who knew also a lot of the French traditional music. So, it was always around. The world music records lying around at the house interested me the most, especially the Inuit and Arabic music. They were the reason that I studied Indian music. I decided to study percussion because of the powerful rhythms in non-Western music, or in traditional music — the foot rhythms and the sound of it in French music are very strong I think.
Also D’incise and Cyril got into traditional music by their parents. Later they were influenced by roots dub music and by the specific strong sound, rhythm and the repetition in it. We found each other in repetition, which is the foundation of La Tène.
NL Is it a shared concern for you and Yann Gourdon how to blend tradition and minimalism together?
AD I met Yann in Conservatory and we discussed this a lot back then. Minimalists have an inversed approach, if you compare it to ours. They start form the score and compose pieces to create microtonality and overtones by juxtaposing all those sounds. We work from a traditional approach, i.e. repetition and drone, the so-called bourdon. The percussion creates the drone. I assimilated also the ideas of the dance form called tarentel.
Trance is maybe the final goal we try to attain, although I think this word is a bit difficult. If you look into non-Western music, the trance is created by a lot of participants. In Arabic music you have the ensembles, and this trance-like music has also aspect of spirituality. I like the idea of Trance, but it’s not a word I want to use. I prefer immersion, or repetition.
I always looked for a way to bring together this influences, from traditional French music to Indian music, and contemporary music. Also I’d in terms of the instruments, by which I’m very intrigued. A couple of years ago I was in a heavy accident that caused that I couldn’t play drums anymore. The Hurdy-Gurdy was the instrument that made it possible to work around that.
NL It seems that your music is part of the new wave of traditional French music, which I feel like a culture or tradition that has been isolated from contemporary experimental music since long, but brought back by the guys like Yann Gourdon and his likes?
AD I play together with the guys from La Novia, Toad and France since a long time. I think that La Novia is very important, because they enforced a different approach towards traditional music and brought back the modernity into it. We are actually working together on a bringing Terry Riley’s in C to stage. So I’m pretty excited by this.
NL Are you only interested in the minimalist aesthetics and the trance-like state it induces, or is the tradition from where it comes equally important? If so, are you looking for a way to escape a neo-liberal consumer driven society?
AD A lot of the music I like is music from villages, not from cities. It’s not music that is the soundtrack of speed. The music doesn’t fit in the regular timeframes of cities, as they are way longer than the 3 minute popformat. Although I don’t like the time-frame, the obligatory 30 minutes, of experimental music neither. I feel that if someone puts everything in 30 minutes, it’s an escape of what actually happens within music. It brings me to your next question—“How do you feel about the idea that absence is an important aspect of minimalist music? Concrete: the abscence of melody, change, rhythm? Or the fact that overtones are actually an illusion created by a malfunctioning of decoding sounds by our brains?”—I really like the idea that something exists because it’s absent. If you have a certain sets of elements, how it works when you take away one. Like in Polyphonic harmonies, or, something we didn’t talked about yet, how the movement of sound in a space can trigger and chance it. The notion of sounds in a space, and that they become something else by the space, although you create them in a same way. Recently we played a concert, and by accident I forgot to put on one of the drone strings on my hurdy gurdy. In the recording of that show, even though it’s not there, you can hear the drone anyhow! It’s very interesting I think.
I told that I’m now in a wheelchair, but also physically absence is a big thing. For instance: during a collaboration with Will Guthrie my paralyzed legs start moving again, they got triggered by the music. Peter Szendy writes also a lot about this in a book called “Membres fantômes. Des corps musiciens” (by Peter Szendy).
— Niels Latomme