Yann Tiersen knows no limits
New album, Infinity
The astonishing Yann Tiersen has once again got himself noticed with a fifth, variegated album, Infinity. The Breton multi-instrumentalist, who took a while to shake off the legacy of “Amélie Poulain”, made a move into noise, then post-rock. With his new foray into experimental music, he told us why he turned to the UK and about his love for electronic violins.
RFI Musique: Why did you choose the title Infinity for this collection?
Yann Tiersen: This is my eighth album. Eight is the symbol of infinity, which corresponds pretty well with the composition process that I used for this disc. By that I mean recording the basic acoustics, but not using them as they are: processing and changing them to create new tracks, over and again. It was like an infinite process in which I was always picking bits up and transforming them.
Does that mean you tried out a new way of composing?
No, no, that’s not it! The idea was just to use things recorded live and a modular synthesizer to electronically modify the basic sounds. It’s like making an album of remixed songs that doesn’t exist and never will. I was looking for ideas to use as sound matter to reshape.
Have you been working on electronic music for a long time or is it something new?
I’m working on a parallel project called ESB with Lionel Laquerrière and Thomas Poli (Ed’s note: Dominique A.’s guitarist) with just synthesizers. I started out with electronics in fact. In the early days, I was into “sound machine”, and it was on the sampler that I decided to start using piano, violins, accordions, etc. And my recent albums contain a lot of electronics. On Skyline the last track is made up of samples taken from throughout the album. That’s exactly what gave me the idea to apply the principle to a whole record.
It’s also the first time that you’ve used Breton vocals, on the track Ar Maen Bihan. What was the reason?
It went well with this album, which is centred on minerals and stone. I live on an island in Brittany and I wanted to include a song in Breton, a song in Faroese, the language of the Faroe Islands, and another in Icelandic. I’ve always been attracted to old languages – Breton is a more ancient language than French. My partner wrote the lyrics. It’s about a house and a stone. There’s a character who takes a stone and puts it at the base of another stone. It’s an infinite circle, in fact.
This album is also about Breton landscapes with their cliffs, islands and the sea.
It certainly doesn’t have a very urban sound and then, Brittany, yes… I recorded most of this album at my home in Ouessant, and the other part in Iceland. I spent ten days in Reykjavik with my toys making these acoustic circles that I wasn’t actually going to use in that form, and then I went home (smiles). I like to go somewhere else right at the start of an album, to establish something new and not have that pressure of being at home and saying to yourself: “Ok, now I’m going to start writing.”
You’re now signed up on the British label, Mute (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Goldfrapp) and most of your tour is scheduled overseas, especially in the US. Why?
Because that’s where we’ve been asked to go, and that’s where the fans are. It’s as simple as that (annoyed).
Do you feel as if you’re not understood in France?
Not at all! It’s because we now operate like an international band and although I do less dates here than I used to, we don’t give any fewer concerts in France than we do in Germany. The problem in France is not the audience, it’s in the business, where people tend to just think about France, and that can be a handicap. Only the French think like that!
Infinity has a really distinctive sound; it’s a fairly experimental record. Looking back over your career, it’s like you’ve never stopped changing track and taking risks…
The passage of time doesn’t change the risks, there’s only the music, which is my life, something I need. I take a huge amount of pleasure from making my music. So I want to always be enthusiastic. I need things to evolve and it to be like on the first day. And that’s what happens all the time! The bits that I really enjoyed when I was making this album were when I was behind my computer or with my modular synthesizer, not my instrument.