The mysterious duo plunges us into their new hybrid electronica project--a merger of theatrical phases, electronic sounds, and sensual vocals.
You’d probably employ a few linguistic liberties trying to describe Montreal performance duo Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and Bernardino Femminielli. Absurd electronica? Hybrid theatre? Digital poems? As confusing as they are engrossing and as natural-feeling as they are synthetic, the only sure thing that can be said about the duo’s performances might be that there are no blanket statements to be made.
It’s at that intersection of electronic DIY sounds and quasi-theatrical performance that the duo’s latest creative collaboration, Femminielli-Noir, sets something hybrid, deconstructed, and slightly disconcerting into motion. Through the project, Lanthier and Femminielli work through the daily details of artistic life with irony and creativity, hoping to sculpt a better world in the process.
L’eveil is the first chapter of this project. The EP will be released on November 12th on Hobo Cult Records, the label lead by Francesco De Gallo. The conceptual project mixes ambient, techno, disco, and noise music with Low-Fi and digital fusion techniques, as well as sensual vocals. This first element to the project is an invitation to introspection, to an inner spiral that alternates between uneasiness and well-being. It’s love or hate--indifference is not an option.
We caught up with the duo as they were getting their luggage ready for a European tour, already prepared for the launch of their next EP Malas influencias, to find out a little more about their collaborative process and their first opus.
The Creators Project : First of all, is it true that your duo’s creativity lies in Bernardino’s mustache, or is that just an urban legend?
Femminielli: The mustache is just for sex appeal.
Tell me about Femminielli Noir. How did you find yourselves working together?
Femminielli: We were good friends before anything creative happened, and we'd been talking about combining interests and sharing ideas on a creative project. It came quite naturally.
Osborne-Lanthier: We'd wanted to collaborate for a while. The first time we did was for an improvisational show where we opened for Hans Joachim Roedelius alongside Hobo Cubes and Riccardo Lucchesi… Bernardino and I thought it was really easy to work together. Although the way we approach music is very different, we found a natural affinity for composing and coming up with original concepts. We love each other too.
Who does what?
Femminielli: It's 50/50… Jesse and I both write ideas, often times inspired by jokes or ridiculous over-the-top situations, coincidences, risks, randomness; mostly it's all in good fun.
What starts off as something humorous, tongue-in-cheek, often ends up becoming philosophical. Depending on the current situation, it varies. Usually, we each start working on our things and then combine elements, we impose upon ourselves to create non-stop – it’s some kind of competitive rivalry that becomes a unity.
There are no set tasks; the production, recording and building of pieces just comes naturally and when we feel it, it all fits together.
It’s very difficult to put a label on the kind of music you’ve produced for L’Éveil. How would you define this project?
Osborne-Lanthier: Putting a tag on it is not something we’re interested in. With L'Éveil we weren't looking to explore a particular genre, but rather, we were exploring abstract stories and themes through sound. A lot of times, it's accidents, or spirits without bodies made from recycled material and things we wouldn't normally use for our own projects…
I think for me, it's also a lot about saving wasted time. Recordings I made impulsively, that I thought were garbage are very easily turned into something beautiful with Bernard's input. With this particular album, we made material that we found alienating and captivating. After a while, we'd get used to the material, and it'd become kind of like a recurring dream; we'd rarely listen to the full album from A to Z, but we knew how it felt, what it was, and somehow, we wanted to inflict it onto an audience. After collecting different pieces from different frames of mind, we glued them together and that's what became L’Éveil. We performed it 3 times, and then it just sat there, on a hard drive for a year, waiting for us to breathe new life into it. We recorded the vocals, remixed the entire thing and it was finished.
Is there a message in this project?
Femminielli: We're not looking to explain what message we’re trying to convey. I think the moralistic issues and philosophies we expand on are like blind spots we have chosen to explore within ourselves. I'm not trying to give morals, or learn from morals, but rather, I'm discussing them with myself and Jesse. No one really knows what's right or wrong, I don't either, it's just a part of life. It’s a constant dialogue, on my own personal baggage both positive and negative. For me, music is just the easiest medium to transmit it–people get seduced by the music, in some way it's their problem if they get sucked into the message or the action in the structured sounds.
Some of the material that comes out of our ideas, especially lyrically and in a live context, becomes offensive to listeners, sometimes to the extent they’ll think they’re being pin-pointed and provoked directly. Often, people take it in the 1st degree, when it's actually meant to be the 2nd or 3rd… It's quite exciting to have that interaction with a crowd, incarnating some type of character they might recognize inside themselves. Sometimes I'll just use one word, or a sequence of random words, and people will take it personally.
I grew up in a spiritual / political environment. I feel like people have the need to attach themselves to entities like this, to attach a specific ideology to the actual meaning behind every action or lyrical statement, when in the end, it's almost useless / meaningless / absurd / empty. I'm almost trying to detach myself from any socio-political movement, which is contradictory seeing as I'm part of it and it’s part of me. More bullshit. Contradiction is a solution.
Osborne-Lanthier: I think it's very suggestive, and people are free to interpret or perceive our themes any way they want. We have stories, ideas, motives and topics we like to delve into, but it's more important for me that people take them and paint their own picture. In some sense, a lot of it is random bullshit, sometimes it's just a matter of sequencing words, and it actually ends up resonating with someone. This allows a greater depth of improvisation, in which asymmetrical spaces generate meaning. In the end, we're just honest with ourselves, It'd be sad to stop the acting process just because someone gets uncomfortable or offended.
Do you have the same influences for your duo as for your solo projects? Influences other than musical?
Femminielli: The influences are always the same for me, the themes are recurrent; a desire to transcend rage… It's expressive for me, and so, everything roots itself back to personal experience. patently absurd.
Osborne-Lanthier: Although, inevitably, some of the sounds I end up creating are reminiscent of my solo work, no. Femminielli Noir is a kind of scapegoat from personal endeavors. It's not exciting to find myself in the same headspace as when I create on my own. It's coherent with what I look for in creativity, but when I’m alone, I tend to over-complicate, and approach art differently. With this project I'm not influenced by any particular music, as stated in the previous answers, so the inspiration comes more from schemes, invented scenarios or concepts we decide to build on together. Something funny, something unsettling, a story, a joke, a study, a philosophy, a day, a point of view, a night out, a dream… The sounds become more of a conversation than electronic music production, this is what tickles my pink.
The theatrical aspect of your performance is almost as important as the musical one. Can you tell me about that?
Femminielli: Personally, I'd be boring without it. Just another musician playing a show. Charisma gets the audience into our world… it's impulsive and it feels natural to engage the listener in that way; you're breathing the same air as they are, drinking the same poison, living the same moment.
Concerning the technical aspect, what material / software do you work with?
Osborne-Lanthier: For everything we've made it's been different. The production depends on the particular instruments we have at hand and what we've decided to do with them… For L'Éveil, most of the glitchy beats and ambiances were made from Bernardino's voice, stretched and processed through various Maxmsp interfaces like Micropony and Gleetch Lab… other vocal jams ran through Reaktor presets and modified with digital modular systems… others we're processed through an analog modular synthesizer. Lately, we've been using drum machines (TR-606, 707, Elektron stuff, Monotribe, an old Rhythm Ace), an old shitty version of FL Studio on a broken PC and the Minibrute, all of which are run through some analog compressors and over-driven through a mixing console. The medium is simply used to express an idea, we are not necessarily attached to using any ''set'' combination of gear, if it works with what we are doing, it just does.
It's not about gear fetish, the equipment is interesting when it talks back to you, when something unexpected happens. Those moments are the most stimulating, and that can happen with anything from a broken microphone to a paperclip. Who knows really, we might end up making an album with a good-old drum set, a piano and broken glass someday. Our first show as Femminielli Noir was performed using 2 awful over-head microphones (that we used for voice), a broken/detuned piano, a vocoder, poems, cigarettes and a lot of beers. We're also pretty poor so as far as the mixing, mastering process, we are doing everything using pretty basic plug-ins and knowledge. It's strange: I'm annoyed when people post pictures of their gear online, but I often find myself doing it, somehow gaining validation through ''likes'' and positive comments on social networks. More often than not, people seem to be more interested in the machines than the music that comes out of them. The compositions should be able to speak for themselves, yet somehow, it takes being noticed by a popular blog or magazine to be recognized beyond the faders, potentiometers and bleeping lights that make up the studio.
You use a lot of analog gear. Do you find it more appropriate for the style of performance you offer? Why?
Osborne-Lanthier: We'll use anything really… Digital, analog; doesn't matter. Whatever works.
Femminielli: I sometimes have a suitcase filled with unplugged gear, some stupid props like a comb, a mirror, a burger and burnt poems, this brings in an comical element for us on stage. I open up the suitcase and interact with the objects, to create a random story, really it just makes us laugh, and makes the stage thing a lot funnier and more playful. People expect some (boring) crazy-bald-beardo-wizard-synth-knob-twisting-synth-worshiping-guru- thing. Truth is, there's no electricity in that case. The most important thing to us is to have fun on stage. If the sound guy is being a prick, or the promoter is trying to pay us less than promised, we'll just turn that situation around and try to make it interesting and stimulating, somehow re-appropriating the concert and having a cackle.
Your latest opus, L’éveil, is addressed to a particular audience. But your upcoming EP, Malas Influencias, which is scheduled to be released in 2014, is said to be much more dance-y. Why have you decided to change your audience?
Femminielli: The party isn't over. The interaction in Malas Influencias is pretty immediate with hard-hitting beats and sequences. People can get into it right away, whereas with the experimental stuff, it feels like there's the expectation of some kind of explanation in order to please. It's always good to live through both experiences though.
Osborne-Lanthier: We never decided to “change audiences”… Maybe to make it bigger, I don't know really, it just went that way. I guess with Malas Influencias we are expressing what we lived in Berlin and while touring and playing elsewhere… some kind of study on the decadence of nightlife. We don't decide to make “experimental music” or “dance music”, we just go with it, really. Side B of L'Éveil introduces that four-to-the-floor, cyclical, beat-oriented party material. The EP is just an extension of that, non-linearly-choreographic-rhythm-soundscapes. It was just the mood we were in, and what came to be. Without questioning it too much, people like it, people move. It's nice to feel both ends of the spectrum: the silent room full of people experiencing confusion and that sweaty human impulse to move.
Finally, you’re leaving for Europe to perform for the release of L’Éveil. What can we expect if you make it back in one piece? Other projects on the horizon?
Femminielli: Of course, we live together now, and we work on stuff non-stop, both solo and together.
Osborne-Lanthier: More shows, more music, residencies, lots of collaborations with interesting people... Whatever comes though, we’ll keep it challenging and fun. What else could we do anyway?