Radio 6 interview about Biophilia

BBC Radio 6, 13 juillet 2011

Transcription par Ashton / Gungalei

6 : I wanted to talk about the album, ’Biophilia." It sort of draws on the idea of human beings having an affinity with nature. Why was that interesting to you ?

B : Well I guess on the last tour we were working with touch screens, which are sort of the ancestors of iPads and iPhones, and we were performing some of the songs on that. And then I just got really carried away, like "Wow, this has such potential." Because when I was a kid I always wanted to run a music school when I’d grow up, and then I got all side-tracked by this pop thing. And I felt, well now this is the time, because I felt cutting-edge technology could sort of show kids in a really simple way about musicology. So I picked ten elements from nature that show best ten different things in musicology. Things like scales, rhythm, chords. I touched each one of these subjects to an element in nature, to make it look super simple for a kid. We started programming it back in 2008, and heard these rumors that in a couple years time this things between and iPhone and a laptop would come out. Then two years later the iPad came along, so it sort of just fit like a glove, really. And during the three year project we also did bump into a lot of people ; app-builders, scientists - which wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened. In the end I don’t know how many people are involved in this project. It’s a lot a lot of people. And it ended up being this semi-educational project, where we’re trying to figure out in the year 2011 where is the simplest simplest simplest point where music, nature, and technology meet.

6 : And there are gonna be educational programs for children, aren’t there, as part of the festival ?

B : Yeah ! Actually right now it’s happening. I guess the Manchester festival is sort of the prototype. I think they’re quite good at that. They sort of help nesting projects that are still in the making, to foster them. So we’ve got 30 kids now doing a five-day program, doing two songs a day. So for example, the crystal song : they get to see real crystals, what they look like, and how they grow. They would get like a biologist, and straight after that they will get a musicologist telling them about structures in music, and then they would get to play with the app and make their own song. It’s amazing for someone like me, who studied music for ten years from five to fifteen, and it was always very very academic. But what’s quite exciting about how you can have music education now is it could be totally impulsive, and more tactile. And it’s more about you, that you can write what you want.

6 : That’s all of an early ambition of yours, then, to have a music school, or to teach children. Does this feel like a realization of it ?

B : Yeah, the frustrated music teacher is finally picked out. She’s a redhead. I’m still developing her, though. Got to do the fine tuning.

6 : Well you’ve got the hair today as well, which is part of the show. Is it a permanent thing, then ?

B : Not sure ! It’s like this project. It just started three years ago and just grew and grew and grew. Maybe at the end of this project, 2013, maybe I’ll fine tune the music teacher, and her hair will be like all sorted. Maybe she’ll wear like a little tweed suit with binoculars. I’m not sure.

6 : How are you finding Manchester ? Because you must’ve been here for some time now.

B : Yeah ! I mean, I haven’t been here that often. But I did come here back in ’89, the first time I came here, with Graham Massey. I sang on their [808 State] album, did a concert, and they took me to all those little clubs and raves, and I got totally blown away, and was really happy being introduced to electronic music in that way.

6 : Tell us about Graham Massey, then. We heard you do a shout out in your first show to him.

B : I guess we met back in ’89. At the time I was in an indie band, and as a teenager I was more listening to Brian Eno and Kate Bush or something, and was not so much into the guitar solo thing. And then when acid house or whatever happened I was just like, "Wow !" Which I think a lot of people of that generation were like, "Finally !" And I guess Graham Massey was kind of the one who took me around and showed me about. He would make me casettes, which I would listen to 5000 times. I actually wrote him a song on ’Post’ called "Headphones," which is a thank you letter for all the tapes he made me. So yeah we kept in touch since.

6 : Tell us about the live show. You’ve created some instruments as well, I’ve written it down : a sharpsichord, and is "gameleste" how you pronounce it ?

B : Actually the sharpsichord we didn’t make. While we were doing all the research for the instruments, my friend Matthew Herbert sent me a link to Henry Dagg, this guy in Kent who had this instrument in this warehouse and didn’t have much use for it. And we were like, "Okay, it doesn’t totally fit into what we’re doing but let’s at least meet him." And he’s incredible, like the inventor in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He’s got a warehouse in Kent full of istruments, like a gamelan run by a bicycle, and all these other things. But the reason why we had to invent a couple of instruments - they’re actually not that outrageous as they probably come across in print - in the end really what they do is, when you hold the iPad and you make the structures with your fingers on the apps, it’s plugged with pipe organ, or other songs are plugged with the gameleste, which is in a way like a celeste. A celeste is a bit like a piano, and we took out all the notes, because we’d run out of budget at that point, and just replaced it with bronze notes, which the gamelan is with bronze notes. That’s why we’re calling it "gameleste," because it’s a bit of a hybrid. Then we have a pendulum, because I felt the pendulum was a really good way to teach kids about counterpoint and basslines. It moves back and forth, a bit like gravity.

6 : Another aspect of the show is David Attenborough. His voice popped up to everyone’s surprise ! How did you get him involved, and why ?

B : Well, we explained to him the project, and he was up for it. We were just so thrilled, because he’s been my hero since I was a child. Literally just a week ago it came together and he recorded it, and two hours later we played in the premiere, so I knew the text inside and out. Then I heard it with his voice, and it was like I’d never ever heard it before. I was just like, "No way !" Because when he says it, it’s like the truth.

6 : You were starstruck at your own show !

B : I was just totally... yeah, our eyes were just full of tears. Because I had been thinking of him for the whole three years, he was like who inspired the whole thing.

6 : And the choir who are part of the show. Could you tell us a bit about them and how you got them involved ?

B : Yeah, I guess was the first original idea with this project was not to have a choir, it was all about the electronic troubador. You know, I always felt really jealous of people who have acoustic guitars or piano, because they could just walk up to a piano or a guitar and play "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or whatever. But you can’t really do that with electronic music. You do like "No No Limits" or something that just sounds a bit naff. You don’t have to with the iPad. It has all the sounds in there, you just need headphones. And hopefully people can meet with many iPads and just faff about when they get tipsy, and sing together like people with acoustic guitars do at bonfires, you know ?

6 : Or "No Limits."

B : Exactly ! And then the choir thing just came in. I was just like, "Oh yeah, it’s just gonna be with an iPad." The show’s gonna be really low budget, and really simple, and then you could just see the iPads on the walls. Little did you know, that three years later there’s like 24 choir girls. Yeah, I just got a bit carried away.

6 : It sounds like the whole project has been something that’s just escalated and escalated. Have you at any point thought, "Where is this going and what have I gotten myself into ?"

B : Yeah, all the time, actually.

6 : You still feel like that ?

B : Yeah, it’s just sort of a contradictions project. It’s kind of hilarious, it’s just taken its own life. Because it was like, "Okay, I did the last project, and it was ’Volta’ and as bombastic, I had all my hooligan songs, and we toured all the festivals. Now I’m gonna do something really simple. DIY, on an iPad, touch screen, like really simple." And before you knew, it was just like *noise*. It really grew.

6 : At the end of the performance you asked everyone to dance along to "Declare Independence." And we tried our best ! I think there were some quite jagged movements, is that what you were hoping for ?

B : Yeah, I guess that song was supposed to be some sort of tongue-in-cheek song, to get a techno political thing. Which I thought, at the time, was hilarious. But my sense of humor, I think about me and my two friends maybe laughed, and the rest probably didn’t get it. But I just always thought the worst songs on earth were political anthems, I just thought they were hideous. So part of me being a musical fascist, and trying to break my own prejudices. It’s sort of joke like that, make a punk song. Yeah, I think everybody did a really good job. Concerts take forever anyway. I’m just always really pleased when they’re over, so at the last song at least you can jump up and down and everybody can go home.

6 : Have you been secretly laughing at everybody then, trying to dance along to that ?

B : Well I’m the worst dancer, anyway. I learned pogo dancing at the age of 14, and my dancing hasn’t developed at all from then. So yeah, acid, house - I’ll jump up and down, that’s my kind of choreography.

publié dans BBC Radio 6