Secret Thirteen Interview - Franck Vigroux

Multi-instrumentalist Franck Vigroux of band Transistor

Photo by Guillaume Belvèze

No plans, no dogma. Just wishes. Interview with Franck Vigroux


Franck Vigroux is a French musician, instrumentalist, composer, turntablist and movie director, who covers wide musical range from avantgarde and improvisational music to experimental and extreme kinds of electronic music. He uses both classic instruments such as a guitar as well as analogue electronic devices. Vigroux records and performs by himself or in terms of collaborative projects and live acts with artists like Mika Vainio, Ben Miller, Reinhold Friedl and other artists such as dancers, visual artists or directors. In 2003, he founded his own label D'Autres Cordes Records and 5 years later started the Company D'autres cordes, dedicated to performing arts. For Secret Thirteen, he shares his creative strategies and approaches, talks about his various projects as well as his attitude towards the future.

You are a virtuoso on guitar, worked with instrumental ensembles, use a lot of different electronic devices and are a turntablist... Yet on your new album Climent, you brought your guitar back to life with simply playing tones and overtones. How your approach of making music changed during the years?

Guitar is my first instrument, I still play it, but not that much. After years and years of practice and hundreds of concerts, I was looking for something else, new musical experiences. So at the beginning of the 2000's I started to use turntables and samplers, making live collages, cut-ups, improvisations. That's how I also came to composition and particularly electroacoustic music.

I have neglected the guitar for the last three years, I was totally focused on my electronic instruments and my work in terms of performing art or audiovisual projects. But last spring I found again that old 50€ guitar my mother bought me when I was 16. Strings haven't been changed since probably 15 years, the instrument really needs to be repaired, but… It was an instrument dedicated to play with a bottleneck actually, I have to say I was a blues fanatic at that time, I was particularly into the delta blues… The roots.

So I recorded Ciment while I was making the music for Centaure EP. Both recordings are based on two very different instrumental approaches, but at the same time, they both are something very natural for me. And esthetically, they're not that far away from each other, even though one has clearly blues influences (Climent) and the other has industrial noise influences. But for me, it's something natural, it looks like my musician route.

What kind of feelings or impressions do you like to leave in listeners' minds with your music on Climent? Or is it more a study of the guitar and overtones themselves?

There are many things to comment on your question. When I compose music, I don't think about listeners, I don't think about the others, I just think about the music and the ideas I try to reach with the few musical skills I have. Otherwise, you probably know that recently U2's album was in all iTunes upgrade, that was just the worst thing Apple has ever done at such scale, what's next ? A book obliged to be read? We are almost there, real dystopia.

For Ciment I wanted to avoid any kind of virtuosity, I tried to make something slow and open, no chord resolution, ghost melodies, silence… There may be something melancholic in that music, something appeased, while in Centaure the sound is massive and brutal, made of beats, noises, drones. But both albums are very complementary and if you want to know my music, I think it's interesting to listen to both of them!

Do you study sounds more from their physical, metaphorical or biological perspective? Which aspects of sound do you examine recently?

Physically for sure. It's something I like to explore - the volume, extremely low and high frequencies. But I can say I particularly explore all kind of distortion combinations with digital and analogue, fuzz, overdrive, bit crusher etc.

You search for new sounds mainly in your studio. Apart of the guitar, which instruments have you been using lately? And where do you get your inspiration for sound exploration, apart of your studio?

I try to invent my own instrument with combination of several electronics devices. The last set up I'm working on is a combination of a Buchla synth and Revox reel to reel tape recorder, plus two "freeze" pedals. That's an example. Usually, I have 4 or 5 sets of that kind for live performances.

In studio, I like to explore analogue electronics like synths or filters and acoustic sounds I record by myself. These sounds are already very inspiring, their nature is so rich... My inspiration also comes from everywhere - the music I listen to of course. And all I see and hear on a daily basis is inspiring.

In your music project Transistor, you work together with musician and vocalist Ben Miller. Since most of your and likeminded artists' music doesn’t include vocals and lyrics, does the process of music creation differentiate from other projects? And how do you work on the musical content – do lyrics come first for you to create music that would illustrate a certain atmosphere, or do you first make music and the vocals and lyrics come afterwards?

I work with Ben since 2009, when I met him while I was in NYC. Ben wasn't officially a "singer", but my colleague musician Elliott Sharp from New York told me about Ben's singularity as a singer. At that time I was there with very few equipment, only a sampler-sequencer and one synth, so I though a voice could be interesting to work with as a counterpoint to the music I was making at that time. So that's how it started. We made a couple of LPs, but we've never really worked in a studio to produce a catchy single. That's sad, we may do it one of these days!

More seriously, I think that this band has a really good energy when playing live. Ben's experience in music is huge, he started in the 1960's, so it makes our collaboration very easy to be done. To be concrete: I propose music, he proposes the lyrics and sings it, that 's simply how it works.

In another project with Antoine Schmitt, Tempest, you recreate the creation and evolution of simple universal particles, matter and energy, that later became life in different forms. How did you make up this concept? Are you interested in astronomy?

Well the basic idea is to develop a cosmogony with the material of noise as a sound and noise as a visual.
Antoine controls a live generative video program and draws these amazing geometric figures and forms with 10 000 pixels, while I play very distorted chords during a long crescendo. It's probably my more polyphonic and harmonic project, there's a lot of distortion and drones and almost no beats. The sound isn't connected to the video at all. It makes a real visual and sound tempest, with big waves. But I don't know anything about astronomy.

What are non-musical fields and topics you are interested in, then?

Music is a half of my activity, for the second half I'm a director of performing art projects mixing dance, theater, music and digital arts. So I'm very interested and passionate about art and all those performing arts disciplines.

Your are inspired by Iannis Xenakis. How do you perceive the connection of architecture and music or sound sculpting?

He is among my inspirations, but I have many more. For sure he was a pioneer in many territories of music composition as well instrumental and electronic music.

In the 70's, he created something what he called the "polytopes". He was actually composing for specific spaces and architecture, such as Abbey, Planetarium or Centre Pompidou, using sound surroundings and lights (with laser) to create spaces of sounds, geometry, perspective and so on. I'm working with Paris based musician Kasper Toeplitz and a group of musicians to create a live instrumental version of his acoustic piece La légende d'Eer.

Moreover, you made movies containing your music/performances. Did you direct them all by yourself? Is there a movie director you would like to work with?

Yes, I made many films with found footages or my own videos. I was making a lot of super 8 films during a certain period of time, but when they stopped the Kodachrome films, I wasn't inspired anymore. Later on, I met Belgian video artist Kurt d'Haeseleer and we started to collaborate in the performing art field, so I had no reason to continue making films by myself anymore, since he does it so much better than me!

If by chance David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Aki Kaurismäki, Jonathan Glazer, Philippe Grandrieux or Bruno Dumont would call me, I'd be very happy to collaborate with them!

What are the key words of composing contemporary French electronic music? Do you think we can find the approach or legacy of French electronic music composers from the late 1940s?

Probably, in my case it's Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Éliane Radigue, Bernard Parmegiani, Xenakis (even if he was born in Greece) and many more, actually all that GRM (Groupe de Recherche Musicale). Their legacy is essential. Christian Zanési at the GRM in Paris does a great job of music recently and also of experimental electronic music in France.

Your music is sometimes organic mess or cold industrial, sometimes it is raging and aggressive or soothing and warm. What do you think is the biggest influence on its nature, when you create it, and which characteristic mentioned above is the closest to yourself as a person? Or do you like to focus on the space between these extremes?

I don't know, I have my own taste for sounds and that's why I'm always exploring sounds into a composition. Musical form is also a challenge for me. Some years ago I was very focused on complex and sophisticated forms and rhythms, while these days I create mostly very simple forms and I'm more focused on sound. Whether for Ciment or Centaures, it's always one idea (one or two beats, one chord or pattern ) that I develop during 3 to 5 minutes, sometimes more. You can find some similar basic patterns both in blues and electronic music. I think I still have a lot to explore and learn in music. Sometimes you do one step beyond, one step behind and so on… But obviously, I also work on longer compositions. I have no plans, no dogma. Just wishes.

Most of your work is rather dark, heavy, grounding, noisy, dystopian. Do you have this "Fuck this shit I'm going to space" attitude, or do you give hope to present and future?

I'm an optimistic person. I'm not seeing any psychoanalyst yet, but my noises are probably a reaction to some conformism I've always hated and rubbed up. I grew up while catholicism was still big in France, then it collapsed. I think there's an end for any kind of doctrine – look at what's happening in Hong Kong, China Achille's heel. In 2011, I co-directed a performing art piece about dystopia, and I made an album called Camera Police, which was inspired by a very important novel by author Yevgeny Zamyatin "We, us" (which is also a title of my album from 2012). It was censured by Stalin and it was written much earlier before Orwell's or Huxley's novels. I recommend it. I think artists also have to provoke and shock their environment.

Once we saw another artist you work with, Mika Vainio, igniting a speaker as a result of his brutal noise production. Have you ever destroyed some electronic device with your music?

I worked with Mika and it was a great experience. We did some live shows together and I really like it, he's among my favorite musicians of today.

Now we have a new album to be released, it should be out within the next months, we don't know on which label yet, but we will probably do live concerts again after the release.

About destroying PA elements, yes, sometimes it happens, if the equipment is too old or the sound engineer is bad. Otherwise even if I like to play loud live or to produce extreme frequencies in studio, I'm always careful because of PA or speakers or a whole part of my instrument. If I blow it, I can't play, too sad and absurd!

About Author

Zuzana Friday Přikrylová is a Berlin based music journalist writing since 2006. She studied new media and popular music, made PR for music events, worked with artists, makes music and generally keeps being an eternal music nutso.