The latest instalment of The Maker brings the conversation to Frédéric Dufourd. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, Frédéric has been one half of the duo Donna since 1995, exploring lo-fi and experimental approaches to music making centred around a death theme. Frédéric joins Julien Demoulin to create ‘Entre Chein et Loup’ (RTR051), an album collecting layered synths, field recordings, and fragmented instrumental performances.
In this feature, Frédéric discusses introductions to ambient music through film and electroacoustic composition, collaborative creation, making music as a necessity, and cassettes embodying the independent scene. Frédéric has also provided a wealth of listening recommendations, from favourite recent releases to those that inspired early musical exploration.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
I take the risk being a bit pompous, but as far as I can remember I would date my first epiphany about abstract music to the very first time I watched ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ at the age of 5 or 6. My father took me to a movie theatre where we watched it twice in a row. Since that time György Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ and ‘Lux Aeterna’ are engraved in my eardrums, and also the idea that music is not only about melodies & rhythms, but also sounds, textures and ambiance.
Some years later, I got the chance to join the electroacoustic music program of the Chalon-sur-Saône Conservatory of Music. This is where I got introduced to tape splicing & editing techniques and “classic” electroacoustic composers. Bernard Parmegiani’s ‘Géologie Sonore’ is probably one the first drone pieces I heard that really blew my mind. I could also mention François Bayle’s ‘Tremblement de terre très doux’ or Michel Redolfi’s ‘Pacific Tubular Waves’ as the first masterpieces I remember being introduced to at that time.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
I’m not sure… I’ve never really dissected my sources of inspiration. I feel like I’m a bit of a sponge. New ideas generally come from furtive moments of contemplation and reverie, most often focusing on surrounding sounds. They could be the chirping of crickets on a summer night, or my neighbour’s watering system. With that said, a clear source of inspiration is the material shared by my beloved musical mates. For this project (‘Entre Chein et Loup’), the tracks received from Julien were like wide open sound worlds I wanted to explore and play in, revealing sounds and emotions I saw hidden in there.
How do you approach working on a new release?
Donna’s projects usually started from a very precise concept and any given release was generally the result of a week spent recording, in a different location each time, with a very limited set of means & instruments. Resulting albums being like an instant photography. For my personal projects I do not really think in advance in terms of new releases. Even if I haven’t managed to make a living from it, making music is a constant need. It is part of my identity. It trivially helps me fade away my anxieties and express what I cannot put into words. And so, I continuously have sounds and music patterns in my head, which I would like to experiment with and record. Recording being one of the main parts of the creation process for me. Resulting tracks respond and aggregate to each other, and finally outline the blueprint of a new release. The collaboration with Julien has acted as a catalyst and helps me a lot in that process of building up a coherent and time bounded set of music that we call a release.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
I won’t be the original one this year again… but the new release that moved me the most over the last 12 months is definitely Low’s ‘Hey What’ album. This is a perfect example where audacious production and experimentation in pop music could bring what would be yet another slow-core indie pop new album to the next level. Harsh sound design (at the edge of sabotage) combined with the emancipation from usual pop structure on top of the intrinsic quality of the songs, highly contribute to make that release a soul-breaking masterpiece.
I would also like to benefit from that tribune to mention a bunch of other experimental music releases that make my year, such as the wonderful posthumous album from Pauline Anna Strom, ‘Angel Tears in Sunlight’, the delightful genuine electro-ambient metra.vestlud’s ‘∞’ album, the stripped-to-the-bone playful modular synth based Sarah Terral’s ‘Le Ménisque Original’, and also the amazing ‘La Ola Interior’ compilation of Spanish ambient and underground experimental music from the 80’s.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
Cassettes undoubtedly represent freedom & emancipation to me. Before the arrival of personal computers and iPods, cassettes were a very easy, direct, and affordable means to record my own music, elevating myself from music consumer to producer. This medium was also an enabler to bring the music I like everywhere I wanted to. Playing cassettes in 2022 could probably be considered as snobbish by many people, notably those exclusively listening to music on streaming platforms. But the cassette medium remains a symbol of craft experimentation, DIY process, and so, independent music production.