One of the main reasons I started this blog was to get a chance to speak with this man, Philippe Laurent, better known to many as HOT-BIP. One of the greatest electronic badasses to ever walk this planet. As one of the pioneers of what’s grown to be called Minimal Wave, his catalog of music speaks for itself, track after track he has revealed himself to me as one of the most impressive electronic musicians, even more so, composers I’ve come across in my long and exhaustive search for the best music that exists in our physical dimension. He’s produced some of the most inventive and beautiful music I’ve heard, laying down funky-cold-ass-beats, played by synth sounds that are true voices, crafted so carefully to have a personality all their own. He is also host to this amazing radio show ANTENNA . Hot-Bip RADIO SHOW. His main language is French, which I understand enough to request to be given drugs, and to not be put on life support, so I asked another of my favorite artists CHRIS VON STEINER to help me out, big thanks to him for translating the interview. The piece below marked with an (*) was provided as translated by Georges Dumas.
In case you’re not familiar with his work, I just wanted to give you a quick primer on Philippe Laurent before you begin reading, listen and enjoy some of my favorite tracks, at least those that are available on youtube. I’ve included a link below I wish I had years ago, to a daunting but incomplete discography (as pointed out by Laurent himself), at least you’ll know what you’re looking for, it’s worth collecting each and every track from his impressive collection of music.
Do you remember the first time you played on a synthesizer, how did you feel?
Yes, I remember. I had this strange sensation of touching something magical and complex, the impression that this machine would allow me to experiment and build personal sounds… but it took me a long time to get there.
Vous souvenez-vous de la première fois où vous avez joué sur un synthétiseur, qu’avez-vous ressenti?
Oui je m’en souviens. J’avais la sensation étrange de toucher un objet magique et complexe, l’impression que cette machine allait me permettre d’expérimenter et de construire des sonorités personnelles… mais il m’a fallu du temps pour y parvenir.
What was your first band or musical project?
The Hot-Bip was my only real musical project. After a few short experiments at the beginning, I realized that I should work alone in the field of composition, in order to take a radical electronic art direction.
Quelle a été votre tout premier groupe ou projet musical?
Le Hot-Bip a été mon seul véritable projet musical. Après quelques courtes expériences au début, j’ai vite compris que je devrais travailler seul dans le domaine de la composition pour pouvoir prendre une direction artistique électronique et radicale.
What inspired you to write your manifesto, and do you feel things have improved since this writing?
When I wrote the “Manifeste électrique” in 1993, it was about affirming the Promethean ambition of my music and explaining that the use of machines was an artistic choice and not just a technical one.
More recently I have written other texts (*) to explain my artistic process. In the past, I was against the current trends majority. I don’t feel that it’s very different today. Despite the sympathetic revival of what is now called the Minimal-wave, I think people who are interested in creative or original music remain a minority.
Qu’est-ce qui vous a inspiré pour écrire votre manifeste, et vous sentez-vous le climat s’est amélioré depuis sa rédaction?
Quand j’ai écrit le «Manifeste électrique» en 1993, il s’agissait d’affirmer l’ambition prométhéenne de ma musique et d’expliquer que pour moi l’utilisation des machines était un choix artistique et non simplement technique.
Plus récemment j’ai écrit d’autres textes (*) pour expliquer ma démarche artistique. A l’époque j’étais à contre-courant des tendances majoritaires. Je n’ai pas l’impression que ce soit très différent aujourd’hui. Malgré le sympathique renouveau de ce qu’on appelle aujourd’hui la Minimal-wave, je crois que les gens qui s’intéressent aux musiques originales ou créatives restent très minoritaires.
What inspires you creatively?
Many things inspire me. The European artistic avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, on the album (2 CD box) “Faste occidental”, for example. There is a real thematic involvement in my work, I think, but at the same time, a strong, very free and always offbeat approach of the themes.
Difficult to step back on my own work, but I think my guideline is questioning the link between tradition and modernity through our tools, machines… God in the machine (smile) …
Qu’est-ce qui vous inspire de façon créative?
Beaucoup de choses m’inspirent. Les avant-gardes artistiques européennes du début du vingtième siècle pour l’album (coffret 2 CD) “Faste occidental”, par exemple. Il y a une véritable implication thématique dans mon travail, je crois, mais en même temps la volonté d’une approche très libre et toujours décalée des thèmes.
Difficile de prendre du recul sur son propre travail mais je crois que ma ligne directrice est le questionnement sur le lien entre tradition et modernité à travers nos outils, les machines… Dieu dans la machine (sourire)…
Are you working on any new projects?
I’ll try to keep on publishing old unreleased tracks on disc and try to produce something more recent. For some music obviously too difficult, as my concerto “Les Illuminés de Bavière” for example, I can not find any label.
Currently, I have several musical projects with bands I like, a split-disc with the band Soft Metals on the label Electric Voice Records and another split-disc with the band Inhalt on Dark Entries Records. I also think that Hot-Bip records will come out next year.
Right now, I am preparing new music for concerts in 2013.
Travaillez-vous sur de nouveaux projets?
Je vais essayer de continuer à sortir d’anciens morceaux inédits sur disques et tenter de produire des choses plus récentes. Pour certaines musiques visiblement trop difficiles, comme mon concerto “Les Illuminés de Bavière” par exemple, je ne trouve pas de label.
Actuellement j’ai plusieurs projets musicaux avec des groupes que j’aime, un split-disc avec le groupe Soft metals sur le label Electric voice records et un autre split-disc avec le groupe Inhalt sur Dark entries records. Je pense aussi que des disques Hot-Bip sortiront l’année prochaine.
En ce moment je prépare de nouvelles musiques pour des concerts en 2013.
(*) Hot-Bip (one night in 80’s)
Electroluminescent diods were slowly flashing in the dark. Night had overcome both the home-studio and the landscape behind the window. No lights in the room except the red and green ones coming from the leds, creating an intimate environment like sleepy fires of the long work awaiting me. Complete silence. All that could be heard was the low humming coming the amplifier and its glowing red lamps, like the breath of a dozing animal.
You had to wait for synthesizers and sequencers to heat up before they would be tuned to the right key. That initiatory wait was the first ordeal. The electric energy would pass onto me, getting my mind to merge little by little with the machines. That was no soft meditation, that was my spirit getting ready for a telluric confrontation.
In the distance behind the window I could see the geometric figure of the old gas factory, backlit in the dim glow coming from the streetlamps of the industrial area. Time had come to switch on the lights of the studio. Cables would run at the surface of the modulars while all the different devices were connected through long twisted cords to the clock of the beatbox, the metronomic core of the whole installation.
Instruments from differents brands, though thought incompatible, were synchronised together thanks to a trick allowed by the external signal processor MS20. The internal architecture of the electronic devices was a touchy one, with demands you needed to satisfy before you could overcome them. You had to commune with the machines, to choose a musical strategy that was indirect, different, in order to get something radically new. You had to fight a battle against musical archetypes, a battle against yourself.
There in the printed circuits of the synthesizers lay the legacy of centuries of researches and discoveries. From the premonitions of the initiated alchemists up to the latest scientific progress, there it was, right at the electronic core of my instruments. Naïve people were looking for God in nature and daisies while I could see him in the heart of my machines. I would turn up the volume of the amp, ready to start the ceremony.
The most tedious task was to program the pitch of the notes coming from the sequencer. Each rotating potentiometer for both A & B channels of my SQ10 covered a 5 octave range. Just turn the black plastic button a little too fast and you would get completely out of pitch: so there was no other way but to be very patient and precise. To adjust the keys and pitches of my sequencer I would use the MS20 and get a sound both simple and colourless by striking a note on its keyboard and maintaining it with a leaden weight. Once that long tuning was over, I would press the Start button on the beatbox and at last a sequence would start running. It was now time to create sounds with the synthesizers directly supervised by the SQ10, two MS20 and one MS10.
It was the very moment when I would start choosing the wave shapes on the oscillators, completely losing any track time to dive deep inside the sound textures.
I had a soft spot for the square shape of the VCO when it came to rhythmic sounds, whereas I prefered the sinusoidal curve regarding the ethereal layers meant to wrap up around the whole construction. For hours and hours I would turn the cursors commanding the filters, the frames and the LFO, moving my hands like precise caresses taming stiff and wild sounds.
I would plug one of the individual TRIG OUT of the SQ10 onto the second frame of the MS20 commanding the filter, through external connections on the right part of the front panel. That would create a regular variation in the sound of the running sequence, some sort of robotic phasing that would increase the mechanical aspect of the music. By connecting step number five of the sequencer into the TRIG IN of the MS10, I would trigger a white noise that would later superimpose over the snare drum.
Programming the CSQ600 was more simple. That second sequencer would launch a discreet bass sound that I had previously programmed on the SH09 and its filter capable of creating a more flexible and round sound. I would only save a few bars in the memory of my TR606 beatbox, the variations would be recorded later. I would keep on programming all the other devices using that same basic sequence in A minor coming from the SQ10. The rhythmic structure of the whole musical project would slowly emerge and consolidate.
It would take several nights for the track to shape up. Ajusting the volumes and equalizing with 17 février 2012precision each channel of the ancient mixtable were necessary to find the right balance. Once the rhythmic part was mixed, it would be recorded on the first track of the multitracks tape-recorder. The clock would be recorded on track 4 so that I could later synchronize new sequences on track 2.
Recording the voice would come last. The vocal track would be filtered and loaded with effects to sound less natural, more fit to merge with electronic sounds. My voice would not be emphasized during the final mixing: it would be just one instrument among the others, preventing my ego to interfere with the overall construction.
Mixing the already pre-mixed four tracks would be the final and mostly crucial step. At the beginning of the 1980s I had no idea that the music I was working on would have to wait several decades before it would reach careful ears at last. Back then I acted like some sort of ingenuous teenager.
Behind the windows of the studio, dawn was breaking again and the sounds of the waking working-class area would put an end to the nocturnal electronic ceremony. That world of workshops, factories, workers and their machines was mine, that was where I had grown up and I had the feeling it was all present somehow in my urban music.
I would turn the volume button of the amplifier back to the zero position. Then I would switch it off, and all the wonderful electronic instruments after that, one after the other in a very strict order. The diods were off, the devices would cool down and gently go to sleep now. I would light their fires again the next night, following the sacred ritual of the electronic cult.
Philippe Laurent (translated from French by Georges Dumas) 17 february 2012