We’ve talked with Variéras, an ambient music maestro who let Canblaster, Apollo Noir and Hoosky give their own interpretation for his track “Bakélite”
Variéras : a masterful composer who excels in the art of ambient music and whose mentors are none other than the great classical music composers. Being followed by lots of electronic music amateurs for his immersive sound experiences that he calls “electronic baths”, Variéras also knows how to impress in more formatted music media like that of the album… and even that of remixes ; being a fan of reworks himself and being inspired by the greatest classical works, he recently let Canblaster, Apollo Noir and Hoosky give their interpretation of “Bakélite”, one of the main tracks of his album “Variables” which was released in 2020 – and which, by the way, was one of the very first ambient music albums we reviewed on the magazine ! In order to find out more about Variéras’s artistic drive, we’ve taken the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
1. Hey Variéras, and thank you very much for answering our questions today ! Before we start, could you briefly introduce yourself for those who don’t know you yet ?
Hey, and thank you very much for having me ! My name is Variéras, I am a composer, synthesist and a music producer. I come from a rather classical background : I’ve studied both composition and orchestration in Paris, then I’ve left to live in Japan where I ended up meeting Sam Tiba (a music producer, ex-member of Club Cheval, and co-founder of the record label Land Arts) who was filming there, and who introduced me to electronic music production. I am also very influenced by ambient music works, since it was my father who listened to this music genre a lot at home when I was younger; I try with my music to bridge what I’ve learnt from the “classical” world of music & electronic techniques as well as my love for ambient music.
2. Before talking about your latest – aka a remix EP and, last but not least, a very cinematographic music video – I wanted to go back to your previous release, which was an album called “Variables”, and which was released at the end of 2020. What inspired the name of the album ?
“Variables” offered the listener to ponder about the notion of cycle and variations. It was composed at a peculiar time, which was the first lockdown ; it was important for me to have the feeling that we can always redo, reinterpret things, that cycling does not mean going back to the start eventually, but an opportunity to reinvent, several times, an idea. In addition to that, the album’s title is a nod to my own name, since if in French you write it without the accent, it makes for the future tense of the verb “to vary”. This play around the word variation, which gave the different versions of “Direct Sunlight” and “Radiant”, was pursued in the remix EP, which revolves around the only track that had not been declined in “Variables”: “Bakélite”.
3. The album itself gave way to some classical and neoclassical pre-existing pieces – and it was especially the case of “Bakélite”, the track which you allowed renowned & trending artists of the new French electronic music scene artists to remix. It is inspired by Beethoven’s fourth symphony : what does the work of this great composer mean to you ?
Yes, indeed, the piece is built around 4 bars of the first movement of Beethoven’s fourth symphony, an excerpt of barely 3 or 4 seconds, basically a few chords that follow one another. And in this little excerpt there is already a whole world that unfolds. This is what I admire in the work of this composer, it’s his ability to fit an entire cosmos in very simple motifs; this is what I hope to have learned, and am still learning from him: doing a lot with very little.
4. And where did this idea of paying tribute to great classical composers come from ?
The idea came spontaneously to me, it wasn’t much of a conscious decision. Classical music and the ambient music of the 1990s/2000s makes most of my musical culture, the one in which I draw inspiration from ; in fact, I can’t help but make references to it, since it’s shaped the way I write music, as I can imagine a producer whose musical culture revolves around Chicago’s house music will find it difficult to divert their ear from certain signature sounds or breaks from the genre.
5. A few weeks ago, you’ve worked with three artists on a remix EP, entitled “Bakélite Reworks”. I believe that to appreciate a remix you have to appreciate the original track behind it ; the original track that is “Bakélite” is made of several melodies which, in my opinion, overlay one another. It starts with a soft, supple synth melody which goes up in octaves, a melody which is then followed by a chopped, muffled one but played on the violin this time. And before the latter one fades away, piano chords make their great entrance. Overall, the instruments answer each other as if they were having a conversation. How was it composed ?
I love questions that really talk about the music itself. They are very rare, in fact. So it all started with the chord sequence from the short excerpt from Beethoven. I wanted to compose a sequel, in order to make the atmosphere I sensed in it last a little longer, but without giving the impression that I was rewriting Beethoven. It was therefore necessary to radically change the musical context in which the excerpt was going to take place, and that’s how I settled on the choice of an arpeggio played on the synthesizer, which is what makes for the harmonic and melodic material of the first third of the track. But I still didn’t want to completely change & erase the orchestral nature of the original classical piece. Hence the chopped chords that are played by the strings, as if the sound of the orchestra was trying to fill in the blanks between the notes of the synthesizer. Finally, I wanted a melody that would gently close the track, and I naturally turned my head to the piano, a warm and woody one, which seemed to me the best way to kind of quote the orchestral sample.
6. And because I want to put into perspective the remix EP and your album “Variables” before we get into the remixes themselves : “Bakélite” is one of the only tracks of your album that wasn’t cut into several parts : was that why behind you let artists write, in a sense, the “sequel” to Bakélite ?
Yes, exactly. We had left the door open, with Vincent from Kowtow Records, for a sequel, like in movies when you leave the possibility to make a second movie ! But more seriously speaking, we knew that we were going to come back to this track in a way or another.
7. Among the various remixes that the listener gets to discover on this new EP, I wanted to mention Canblaster’s remix in particular. Before talking about the music video and its scenario : the remix itself, which you rightfully call a “rework” more than a remix, puts your original track to good use : it is to be heard in the background, giving it a cinematic feel with its crescendo build up. Did you somehow guide Canblaster and the other artists who remixed your track ?
No, I gave no instructions. For me it was very important that the friends who remixed the track, Canblaster, Hoosky and Apollo Noir, felt free to give their own version of it. I knew there would be nothing to complain about, they are three musicians whose work I respect enormously, who have more experience than me in terms of music production and who, as I expected, were able to take the track way further than I could have done myself.
8. Now, when it comes to the music video – which is radically different from the music video which came along the original version of “Bakélite” and which was very abstract – it is closer to a short film than a music video in its scenario : we get to watch part of the life of a man who is recovering from what seems to be a form of amnesia, who has subliminal flashes coming to his mind and who we see wither away from reality because of these flashbacks (or flashforwards!). How did this scenario come about ? Was it what you had in mind when you were writing the track, more particularly when you were listening to the remix ?
As with the remixes, the music video came from the imagination of its director, whose name is Quentin Keriven, and I immediately agreed with his vision of the rework. I really like all the stories that tackle the distortion of time or its perception.
9. Are music videos planned in the near future for the other reworks ?
It’s not planned for now, but things may change ! In any case, we haven’t answered that question in our minds yet.
10. I voluntarily set aside the remix EP in order to mention and talk about another musical concept of yours which you named “electronic baths” that you played for Tsugi Radio during lockdown : where did this idea come from? Is it something that has been done before and that you wanted to implement in France? Did you adapt a pre-existing concept to your own musical sensibility?
Personally, I think that my will to play ambient music in an immersive way comes precisely from the way I discovered this music genre, thanks to my father, who locked himself in his studio (he is an artist-painter) by blasting Brian Eno, Steve Roach, Jon Hassell, and so many others on his speakers. When I sneaked in to watch him work, the music resonated within my rib cage. I loved that feeling. It instantly had a very powerful effect on me, it almost felt like a drug.
But the “sound baths” project was really born out of a meeting between three people.
In 2019, through Land Arts and on which we were both signed, I met Joseph Schiano di Lombo, an extraordinary musician with whom I have since collaborated a lot. We had organized a live performance for an exhibition that Joseph gave at the Palais Royal, a 7-hour ambient improvisation (!). It was then that we met the third person who gave birth to the sound baths project : Marine Parmentier, the founder of the Parisian studio Mirz Yoga. It was Marine who gave Joseph and me the opportunity to experiment in her studio in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. And this new way of performing ambient music live, and the way it was received by the audience and the effects it had on their well-being at that time… it was a somewhat new approach to music for me, but it immediately seemed very natural to perform this way.
11. I know you’re still off the release of your remix EP, but can we expect new sound baths from you in the next coming weeks ? Or live performances, at least ?
Yes, there are some things on the way that will take place before summer 🙂 but everything is still to be confirmed.
12. Finally, and I always end my interviews with this question because I really like to learn from artists, and I like to know that my audience can discover new artists through the people I interview : is there an artist you’re keeping an eye on at the moment and why ?
I still can’t get over Caterina Barbieri’s “Ecstatic Computation” album, which was released several years ago. All the songs are beautiful, I listen to them very frequently. I particularly think of the track called “Fantas”, which opens the album ; this is an example for me of how to do a lot with very little. There are very few things in this track, yet you know entire worlds fit in there. She also released an album filled with reworks of this track, and I think that influenced the decision to allow for the “Bakelite” reworks. I also was completely mesmerized by Kali Malone’s performance on Radio France this season. It was a lesson for me on how you can express power with and within music, and since then, I have been following what she does very closely.
As a music web writer for several years, I have developed a particularly devoted passion for electronic and alternative musics. From the ethereal melodies of Max Cooper to the introspective music and lyrics of Banks, my radar has me listening to the wide French and international independent music scene... all of this between communication plans for independent labels and artists !