A rare interview with one of microhouse's founding fathers.
Remember Marc Leclair? It's fine if you don't. The Montreal DJ/producer known as Akufen and Horror Inc. (among other pseudonyms) keeps a low profile, rarely doing interviews or (these days) releasing music. There's a reason for that, though. After pioneering a clicks and cuts-heavy house sound, Leclair has gone back to the lab, searching for the next step in his career. He pops up every once in a while—a tour as Akufen in 2009, a 12-inch as Horror Inc. last year—but then he seems to disappear from view. It's unclear whether a live show at this year's Mutek festival or an upcoming album on Perlon under the Horror Inc. moniker will change things. Chatting via e-mail earlier this month, however, it seems that he's absolutely fine with that.
I guess the obvious question to begin with is one that someone reading your Discogs page might ask: Where have you been lately, and what have you been doing?
I've been living in the present moment with my child and my loved ones. I've been away for some, but I've been very much present for others. I've seen articles and blogs where people have said that I was missing in action, so I've been glad to see I was never completely forgotten. My music hasn't stop playing, I just haven't released anything new. I've been touring quite a bit in order to make a living and, slowly, I've gotten back in the studio and I'm currently working on new music.
One cannot expect inspiration to come easy every day. There are moments you have to lay back and observe what's been accomplished if you wish to move forward. I believe in doing things when the time is right.
You say that "there are moments you have to lay back and observe what's been accomplished if you wish to move forward." What do you look back to in your own work with regards to what you've accomplished? And where do you take inspiration from that in deciding how to move forward?
Well, primarily I would question myself on a level of personal satisfaction. "Am I OK with what's been achieved? Was my integrity respected? Have I done something I should have declined and, if yes, why so? Do I have any regrets?" Since I believe there is a lesson to learn from each unpleasant experience and disappointment, I would say the answer is always "no regrets." The second concern would be: "Were my interactions with the public, journalist, record labels and musicians healthy in general?" I'm very concerned with the relationship I have with anyone who's been supportive and kind to me.
The third concern would be: "Could I have done more?" The answer will always be yes, there is always more to do, but if it wasn't done, I guess it just wasn't meant to be. I always try to stay as compassionate as I can be with myself, and try to be aware of my limits, which is not always obvious. There could be a considerable amount of stress related to our work, as we have to deliver material on a regular basis to remain present in people's minds. The music we make can be ephemeral, so it's a necessity to reinvent ourselves continuously in order to surprise people.
The electronic music scene renews itself quickly. There are always numerous excellent musicians out there, so it's crucial to remind myself that we are a community and we have to inspire and support each other. There is nothing more rewarding than letting other artists know how inspirational their music is. Sharing their work with others is most probably the best part.
The last but not the least of my concerns is, "Have I sacrificed my child, friends or family for my own benefit?" We can easily forget where we come from and where we belong, so it's good to check on this regularly. I'm very passionate with what I do and sometimes I realize I may have been months without communicating with my loved ones. But they love me enough to understand and let me know when I've been missed. This concern could also apply to myself: "Have I lost touch with myself? Have I taken good care of myself? Did my psychological, spiritual or physical health suffer?" We tend to forget ourselves. It's always important to keep a fair balance, and spirituality has been a precious source of inspiration to keep myself grounded. I could not claim I'm Buddhist or Taoist, but I can say those teachings have been very helpful and brought a lot of serenity in the past decade.
"I'm not Buddhist or Taoist, but
I can say their teachings have
been very helpful in the past decade."
You've mentioned in the past that hearing Philip Glass and Steve Reich was a turning point in your life. It seems like at least one lesson that you learned from Reich, in particular, is that everything can be used to create music. Sound is, in its essence, just information. Is that accurate?
It is very accurate. How you obtain results is one thing. To me, the result matters most. Reich and Glass were in a way my companions when I was a young teenager. They were in my Walkman following me everywhere. I found their music soothing. They were composing with full ensembles and yet their music sounded like one big warm pulse. Like all elements of nature unchained. When my daughter was a baby and even a young kid, I used to play Music for 18 Musicians to her every night when she was falling asleep. It's so meditative. I also saw Glass in Montreal when I was 16, and it blew my mind. Such discipline in these gentlemen's music, and at the same time you just feel like letting go.
"Such discipline in these gentlemen's music, and the same time you just feel like letting go." It sounds a little bit like dance music, no? Is that something you hear in your own music when you've made a good track? A balance between discipline and abandon?
"The allegory of the garden in Being There always seduced me."
Oh definitely yes! In chaos there is always a share of intuitive mathematics, which brings the balance back. To let go sometimes you have to go through a lot of turmoil. Nothing comes easy. The amount of time and thinking we have to invest to dig and seek can be considerable, but the fruits harvested will be tasty. The allegory of the garden in the movie Being There, featuring Peter Sellers, has always seduced me. There is an amount of discipline that has to be invested in our lives, families, couples and work to avoid stagnation.
M.C. Escher is probably my most significant inspiration. Mathematics were all over his work, though he's always refused to see himself as a mathematician. You can look at his work from different perspectives. Yes, there is the complexity, which you will notice if you take a closer look, but then you can embrace it as a whole and simply see a beautiful drawing. The result is what matters. We all take different paths to get where we wish to go, but nothing more than the result matters.
What other lessons did you learn from listening to Reich and Glass?
That music didn't have to be pompous to be interesting and uplifting. It was all about beauty, simplicity and serenity. Music triggers images related to memories that only us as individuals can recognize. There is a meaning for each one of us to find. The power of suggestion in music has always fascinated me. Music is a passage between our soul and body.
You toured a bit in 2009 with a new live set as Akufen. My main memory of the music is that it was definitively "Akufen" but much slower than it had been in the past. Was it a conscious decision for you to work at a lower BPM?
I guess part of it is getting older. As you get older, slower is better for everything. [laughs] I wanted the new Akufen to be sexier and less hectic. I've pushed the exercise of micro sampling to a limit with My Way and my other projects, and I thought it was time to slow down the pace a bit and give people something they can groove to, instead of flooding my music with complicated digital sounds that go nowhere. There is way more instrument playing on my part, like the keyboards, the bass and guitar.
In all I wanted to give it a more natural feel, almost like a band performing. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not criticizing minimal techno music at all, but this is where I'm at now and I'll always make the music I’d like to hear. I never understood the point of doing what was in style at the moment in order to gain popularity. It's been always a great challenge for me to feel what could come next and help move things forward in all humility, with upmost respect for the listeners. I've always simply wished to do things my way, and it's been working fine. The more sincere you are, the closer you'll get to people. It’s nice to feel you’ve left a heritage behind, for your child and the generations to come.
"Some cannot stand the absence
of percussion. It's like a life jacket."
I like the idea of "complicated digital sounds that go nowhere" in a way. Did you feel like in some of your early music that you were almost sending out red herrings? Showing a hint of where a track could go, and then abandoning it altogether instead?
I will often embark the listeners on a ride and, at some point, remove the floor under their feet, in order to let them swim in uncertainty for a while. It's a way of establishing trust with your audience. They know you will not let them down. Some cannot stand the absence of percussion. It's like a life jacket for them. I've always wished to make an entire danceable album that would have no percussion at all, the sounds themselves creating the groove.
When I speak of complicated digital sounds, I'm making a reference to all the Reaktor kids who swear only by abstract soundscapes. It could be very nice, but it turns into a very sterile practice after a while. That said, it's not like there aren't producers that make very good complex electronic music. I've always been a huge admirer of Aphex Twin and Atom Heart. Their music leaves me clueless when it comes to decoding it. But there is a lot of soul in it.
And no offense to Reaktor of course because it's a wonderful tool, but the problem is that because it sounds so clean and sharp to begin with, the kids out there do not—for the most part—go past the presets. I can't find abandon when I recognize a synth patch or preset. That's why samplers have been, since 1986, my favorite instrument of all. You can really create surreal environments. The sound bank is the world!
Why have you decided to do some more things under the Horror Inc. alias recently?
To gain some peace of mind. It's the ultimate goal of this life for me: To someday feel like I've done what was best for me and everyone else. Horror Inc. helps me achieve that. The moniker Horror Inc. can confuse a lot of people, but it has to be taken the appropriate way. It's me battling my demons.
It was always crystal clear in my mind that there was no way out of running away from my nature and Horror Inc. has become sort of an epiphany that could lead eventually to a salvation in a way. The project is as old as Akufen, but I never wanted to flood the shelves with it. I wish to select each piece and make it a special journey. And quite frankly I've been getting better feedback for this specific project than any other. Which is very rewarding, as it is much closer to me than Akufen, for example, will ever be.
What does that name allow you to do that Akufen doesn't in your mind?
We all have a yin and a yang. Horror Inc I guess is my yang. We all have preoccupations and obscure thoughts throughout our lives and Horror Inc. in a way allows me to probe some of those questions. People could raise their eyebrows thinking it's pretentious or intellectual, but I would say it’s rather humble. Almost naïve. I've gone through some difficult episodes in my life just like anyone else, and Horror Inc. has been an outlet to release a lot of tension, fear and concern. It's very sensible and melancholic. Most melodies were triggered by a memory or a dream I had, so it's a journey into my subconscious.
Unlike a lot of your contemporaries in Montreal that came to prominence around the turn of the century, you never seemed interested in making a career out of music. At least in the "normal"—record, release, tour; rinse, wash, repeat—manner. Why do you think that is?
We asked Akufen to tell us the last five records he listened to. The results were typically wide-ranging and fascinating.
An Evening with Harry Belafonte & Myriam Makeba
A beautiful collection of traditional African political songs. Very uplifting, warm and beautifully sung.
Stephen Beaupré's upcoming album
It's extremely sensitive and moody. A well-crafted effort that deserves a careful listening. Stephen is my closest friend and an accomplished musician. His work sadly doesn't get the recognition it deserves.
A collection of the musical themes from the French filmmaker's movies. Jacques Tati has always been a predominant inspiration and influence in my work, especially his film Playtime
The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album
It includes nine jazz standards, including Evans' own compositions with five bonus songs. It's a poignant interpretation and a sincere collaboration between two of the most gifted gentlemen of jazz. A conversation between two friends who evidently respect and appreciate each other very much.
Death in Venice soundtrack
This soundtrack to the film by Luchino Visconti features the music of Gustav Mahler. The Adagietto from Symphony no. 5 is simply heartbreaking.
I wouldn't say this is completely true. I embraced some aspects of it, knowing very well it was part of the deal. People respect you and your work and the least you can do is to be there for them. This was always important to me. There is, though, some truth in what you say. I definitely never felt comfortable with the whole stardom aspect that comes with it. It always made me feel like uncomfortable. I think I can call myself an introvert and finding myself overnight caught in that social business was quite frightening to say the least! Don't get me wrong, I am truly grateful for the reception my music got and I sincerely couldn't complain, as I've been making a decent living from writing music in the last twelve years, but I'm still not at ease with the system with which I often have to deal with.
There is a lot of pressure put on the musician's shoulders to produce music in order to stay afloat in the scene. I often feel that a lot of music released is incomplete due to that pressure. This is why I've always refused to release music for the only purpose of remaining visible. It's a harder way to do things because an artist can easily be forgotten. Everything moves so fast in the music industry. You can see yourself quickly going back to the bottom of the ladder, trying to regain some notoriety.
Traveling is another issue. A musician cannot claim to make a living from record sales anymore. The only way to put bread on the table is massive touring, and even that is not obvious at the moment, as the offers have decreased significantly in the last couple of years for most artists, especially when you live abroad. My daughter is another reason, and probably the most valid one. When you have a family and children, you can't just leave everyone behind. My child comes first and, quite frankly, Montreal is a nice enough town to remain in Canada. Some of us have to remain home to represent and keep the local scene alive. I made it a personal duty.
"[Tati's] Playtime is my all time favorite film. I've watched it maybe a hundred times, and I still laugh my brains out each time."
How important is humor for you in music? You mention the filmmaker Tati as an influence, so I would imagine it is.
Playtime is my all time favorite film. I've watched it maybe a hundred times, and I still laugh my brains out each time. I wish Tati was my uncle, let's put it this way. I think he was the uncle of a lot of people. He was Mon Oncle, wasn't he?! From what I read he was an extremely kind person who struggled for his art. He didn't get much help and had to finance his films entirely from his piggy bank. He not only directed, but he was also a part of the crew as well. He would roll up his sleeves and help build the sets. He hasn't gotten the recognition he deserves in my opinion. But he was a visionary and so unique in his way.
He is acknowledged today by many artists of all spheres as a source of inspiration, and I am one of them. Tati is a school for me. He is also Matthew Herbert's favorite filmmaker. The way he used silence and sound in his films was groundbreaking. By amplifying sounds we hear daily, he really made me aware of my surroundings. After watching Playtime for the first time, I never listened the same way. I started finding humor in everything.
The humor in it, of course, was always one of his strengths, though I always found a great sadness in his films—the same sadness I sense when I watch Buster Keaton breaking his balls, risking his life to make us laugh. They were lonely gentlemen with a lot of heart. Their passion and devotion made their lives miserable. If only we knew better when those great minds were alive. So, yes, you've probably guessed by now that humor is important in my work. It is what keeps us from going bitter and crazy. I read the news and I think we may as well laugh!
Published / Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Photo credits / Header, DJing - Miguel Legault