Marius de Vries


Debut Post Vespertine

Marius de Vries

Composition | Programmation - Musicien/ne

Programmeur, producteur et compositeur anglais. Collaborateur de longue date de Björk, il est réputé pour son travail avec les poids lourds de la musique pop tels que David Bowie, Madonna, U2, Massive Attack...
Il a participé avec Nellee Hooper à la bande originale de Romeo + Juliet (1996) et a signé avec Amiel Daemion la musique du film Moulin Rouge (2001).

Travail avec Björk


  • Programmation claviers



Marius de Vries à propos de Debut

It came together at a leisurely pace. There wasn’t a massive weight of expectation, because Björk was more or less unknown. That was good for the record evolving in a natural way. Almost every day brought a sense of excitement. I remember the day that “Venus As A Boy” found its tone.
It was at a primitive stage of composition, and Björk and I met in the studio one morning at Nellee’s house, after an extravagant night out. I wasn’t quite on my game, and I cued up a bunch of sound files from another project, which had a strong Bollywood flavour. The computer was triggering tablas and squeaky sitar samples.
As I was apologising to Björk she said, “Hang on a minute, don’t do anything !” At the end, she turned and said, “Oh Marius, this is great !” It was like an act of God.

Uncut - Avril 2017

Marius de Vries à propos de Post

She had a massive shot of confidence from the enormous success of Debut.
Nellee gave her space to grow and Björk found her feet. That was great to watch, from her fairly nervous, explorative beginnings to being more hands on. People were imagining what might come next, and the idea was to preserve her sense of uniqueness and not get selfconscious. We had more of a budget. We could take trips to Nassau, where Björk felt it was important to record her lead vocals in a cave…

Uncut - Avril 2017

Marius de Vries à propos de Vespertine

Marius describes the concept behind Vespertine and how Björk communicated her ideas. "The working title for a long time was Domestica. It was all to do with Björk wanting to make a record as a reaction to the wanderings and the pain she experienced making Dancer In The Dark, and how much that had taken out of her, to make a record about the place you come back to after you’ve wandered. The chamber-music dimensions and intimacy of Vespertine are all very much driven by that overriding aesthetic of being homely and comfortable.
"Björk describes what she wants in terms of sounds in a language that to an observer might appear surreal or even nonsensical. But Björk and I have had a connection for a long time, and the people she chooses to work with are often selected with an eye on this. I remember from our very early sessions how she described a sound by saying ’You know when you get a tube of toothpaste and you squeeze it and you watch the toothpaste coming out the end of the tube ? You need to have it sounding more like that !’, and on another occasion she said ’Hold a pineapple in your hand and look at the fluffy bit at the top, well it needs to sound more like that !’ They tend to be very poetic descriptions of what she wants to hear, and you either get it or you don’t."
Shortly after completing Moulin Rouge Marius was asked by Björk to help her finish her latest album, Vespertine. This was only the latest step in a working relationship which began when Marius was working on some remixes for the last Sugarcubes record. "Back then, she was really the first artist who I connected with who provided a home for some of the odder and more outlandish aspects of what I do in terms of programming and sound design," admits Marius. "She’s very au fait with contemporary avant garde music and the more pioneering electronic stuff. She’s always been very comfortable and enthusiastic about both, and it’s also a passion I share. To find someone who is making pop records but was prepared to accommodate such influences was very exciting for me, and I think it was great for her to find someone who was capable of turning out professional-sounding records and understood those languages. In many respects Vespertine pushed some of those elements even further because of the involvement of people like Matmos, Matthew Herbert, Thomas Knak and Zeena Parkins, who are all phenomenal musicians and composers in their own right."
If Marius had been hoping that Vespertine would offer some light relief after the all-consuming Moulin Rouge, he would have been disappointed. The recordings were almost complete but Björk had spent a long time gathering material from many different musicians based in many countries and it all needed to be pulled together.
"Björk collaborated with numerous people on just about every continent. For example, the harpist Zeena Parkins was from New York, Matmos are based in San Francisco, Thomas Knak in Denmark, Bogdan Roszinski in Toronto, and Matthew Herbert and Guy Sigsworth are based in London, so Björk was travelling around with Jake Davies who was archiving and keeping the Pro Tools sessions organised. By the time I came to Vespertine Jake had many hard disks full of people’s contributions. All the parts needed a lot of sorting out and comping, and they all needed to be kind of introduced to each other. Most of what I did was to do with this kind of organisation and maybe add little bits here and there where I thought they were needed. Then there were a few new tracks such as ’Pagan Poetry’ and ’Palm Stroke’, which we more or less started from scratch."
Marius’ task of collating and arranging the Vespertine sessions was made particularly difficult by the different formats of the recordings. "Any given song might have been spread across three or four Pro Tools recordings, some of which came from the early sessions in Spain when it was just Björk and Jake’s programming, a scratch vocal and maybe something from Guy if he was passing through. Harp sessions would have been recorded later in New York, in some cases as an overdub on top of a slave mixdown of that Spanish stuff. Then she would have posted it off to Matmos and asked them to add their stuff. Matmos are happy to work with a stereo track, so Jake would have sent an MP3 stereo backing track, Matmos would have worked their stuff on top of it and sent it back as consecutive DAT streams, with a sync pulse on the front of each track. Occasionally there would also be some additional programming Björk had done on her Powerbook. I took this weird collection of sessions and assembled them into one big Logic session and then put it together track by track.
"It was useful that I came in late because I could see the wood for the trees and I didn’t have an overly emotional attachment to any particular overdub. There were sacrifices that had to be made but I had to be very sympathetic to everyone’s contributions because these are all brilliant musicians and everything they do they do for a reason. Before attempting to mix and match it all together I examined each individual contribution and made sure I was being sensitive to what they were trying to do."
Boxing Clever
One of the most distinctive instruments used on Vespertine is a music box. The parts were first scored by Björk in Sibelius before being sent to New Jersey where they were transcribed and made into music box cylinders. When the finished cylinders were returned it was just a matter of feeding the tube into the custom-built music box for it to play, but the method was not without its drawbacks. "A music box is not a metronomic device, because the punched holes are not as accurate as a quantised MIDI track," explains Marius. "Nor do its variations have any meaningful feeling, it’s just the way it comes. Also as the spring winds down it slows, so there is no locked tempo.
"Part of me wanted to fill an S6000 with music box samples in classic multisampling fashion. Unquestionably that would have made the process much easier, but I’m glad we didn’t do that. I’m sure we would have sacrificed something sonically because of all the cross-resonances involved. And somehow the pain we went through to get all that stuff to work was part of the necessary process. Consequently we had Matmos’ very precise, quantised rhythms together with these rather wayward music box parts that had to be cut and put into time.
"Another complication was Zeena’s playing. She’s one of the great harpists of the world and when she plays around the edges of a mathematical timing grid, there’s always a reason for it so you record it into Pro Tools and respect it, leave it alone. On the other hand, when I record myself playing acoustic guitar on top of a tune and I just want it to fit in, I will strum through, get the chords down and then I’ll go in with the Pro Tools scissors and cut it into time. I will effectively quantise the audio by moving the bits that are drifting and I do that a lot with instrumental overdubs where I want something to do the job but I don’t want it complicating the timing picture too much. But when you’ve got a harp performance by Zeena and you’re trying to add programmed material to it you have to go the other way round. In that situation I would move the MIDI devices’ parts around moment by moment until they are no longer violating the timing of the harp performance. It’s not a pleasant job, it’s very skilled and very painstaking but it’s part of what I do.
"There were moments on Vespertine where Zeena had played on top of something we’d done and I felt we just needed to pull her into time there because it had to work with the music box and it was more of an overdub. But on the pieces that started off as just her playing and Björk singing, that was the heart of the piece, and I didn’t mess with that. You have to somehow find some middle ground between all those wonderful influences that doesn’t compromise any one of them."
Following the editing and organisation process, all the tracks were mixed by Mark ’Spike’ Stent. "Spike is phenomenally adept at coping with whatever you throw at him," enthuses Marius. "He’s got this amazing setup down in London with a 96-track Pro Tools system sitting next to a 48-track Logic system, and he has a team there who really know how to use that stuff, it’s astonishing what he can pull together from the most chaotic situations. We did present Spike with a lot of very evolved and designed sounds but he added to them significantly as well. Spike is very good at processing sounds and making them better, sometimes completely transforming them. But we did get this stuff pretty organised for him because we had to work fast. We mixed the bulk of this album in less than two weeks, sometimes three tracks a day. We had two rooms going at once. I was upstairs in one studio working with Matmos or sometimes on my own preparing the multitracks for the next day while Spike was downstairs mixing. Björk was downstairs keeping her eye on the overall sound of the mix. It was like a production line."