Over the past few weeks, during life’s more stressful moments – the morning rush hour traffic, the mountainous pile of washing up – d’Eon’s Music For Keyboards has been a regular fixture.
Its svelte synth jams, hovering somewhere between Brian Eno and Harold Budd’s Plateaux Of Mirrors and the noodlier transmissions of Oneohtrix Point Never, were offered up for free download by the artist himself. As a format, it’s fitting: this is compact, delicate ambient music for the Mediafire age.
What’s more, the album is just a sidenote in d’Eon’s blossoming career – 2010’s Palinopsia, last year’s Darkbloom (a split EP with fellow Montreal resident Grimes) and the forthcoming LP constitute the producer’s “proper” body of work: bright, slightly deranged house music and densely arranged leftfield pop which sits comfortably in the Hippos In Tanks catalogue. Recently returned from the SXSW festival (during which all of his gear was unfortunately lost), d’Eon fielded some questions from FACT’s Angus Finlayson about the forthcoming album, his love for minimalist composers, and his aspirations to become a florist.
“When most people think of improvised music, they think of super-long noodly drones that go nowhere and have no coherence or unifying theme.”
I’ve been really enjoying Music For Keyboards lately. Could you talk about how you went about making those tracks – they sound quite improvisatory, or where they tightly structured?
d’Eon: “Thanks a lot! I’m so glad you dig. All of the tracks are improv with the exception of like two tracks. I did ‘#03’ and ’#05’ in 2003 and they’re the only tracks which were planned out note-by-note. The rest are first takes of keyboard improvisations. I feel like sometimes improvisation gets a bad rep, since when most people think of improvised music, they think of super-long noodly drones that go nowhere and have no coherence or unifying theme. I like setting limits, like I’m only going to play for four minutes, use the same two-chord progression the whole time, and have a main melodic theme that is improvised on the spot but that the track starts with and comes back to.
“The piano tracks like ‘#84’, ‘#85’ and ‘#118’ were done like that. Some other tracks are definitely more noodly and ‘improvisational’ but the piano tracks are supposed to sound like they were not done on the spot. I wanted to see if I could make tightly structured songs without having written them beforehand. I played a lot of Chopin and Debussy as a kid so I think that helped shape the way those tracks came out.”
Why did you decide to put those tracks out for free – were they offcuts from the album?
d’E: “Most of the tracks were done during the time I was writing and recording the songs from the LP. The LP itself took an excruciatingly long time to finish – I started writing the LP material right after the split with Grimes came out in May, and I just finished this February. Each song on the album took so long to do and involved so much tedious work to make sure every single note and instrument was in its right place, that every once in a while I needed to just play keyboard and come up with a track in one take. I needed to play music that was more immediate. The Music For Keyboards tracks were definitely therapy for the stress of making the LP. I wanted to just release the mixtape for free because it’s immediate, like the music.”
“Listening to Reich and Riley and Arvo Pärt made me realize that some of the most pure and sacred music is music that only consists of notes and nothing else.”
To me those tracks – and a lot of your music – sound very indebted to minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Would you agree with that? What is it that you find interesting about that kind of music?
d’E: “For sure. I first heard Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass when I was 11 years old. I found the Steve Reich 10-CD box set at a library and I listened to every single disc one after the other. As a kid who obviously grew up surrounded by modern pop and dance and rock music, listening to Reich and Riley and Arvo Pärt made me realize that some of the most pure and sacred music is music that only consists of notes and nothing else. Hearing ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ or ‘Tehillim’ or ‘The Desert Music’ [by Reich] or ‘Shri Camel’ [by Riley] opened my ears to 100 percent tonality. And with Reich, so many of his compositions are repetitive, and I had been really into stuff like Underworld and The Orb around the time I found out about his music, and obviously dance music owes everything to what Reich did with repetition, so it was perfect timing.
“Some people make ‘soundscapes’ with lots of crazy synthesis and sound design and production techniques, but people like Reich and Riley make note-scapes instead. Synthesisers and circuits and software and sound effects are man-made, but notes are eternally, inherently present in the universe, and we as people just need to pluck the right frequencies out of the sound spectrum and combine them in ways that are pleasing to the ear. I love listening to and making production-oriented, synthesiser- and sample-based music, but making music with a focus solely on the notes is a holy practice that has been around for tens of thousands of years and will hopefully not be de-emphasised in contemporary music just because we have all kinds of cool technology.”