If you think falsetto vocals somewhere between Antony Hegarty and Kenny Rankin, guitar playing that somehow reconciles Rankin, Derek Bailey, and Robert Fripp, combined with drones that recall Norwegian fiddle music, you might be able to conjure up the sound of Toronto’s Eric Chenaux. But don’t bother—just check out some of these videos [there are multiple videos of the same tune to show his improvisatory nature]. Or, better yet, buy his latest record Guitar & Voice so you can experience his unique talent for creating gorgeous lyricism tempered with willful dissonance. Chenaux offers Guitar Moderne readers a glimpse of how he arrived at his singular style.
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
Well, proficiency is something we may have a hard time finding in my music, not to mention a moment when proficiency began. I am [comparing myself to] Justin Haynes, Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot, and Sam Shalabi. These musicians are, of course, not only proficient, but mind-blowing as well.
My listening and my playing are not always obviously illustrative of each other, which I think is something that many musicians would also say. When I was playing in a post-punk band in the late eighties, I was listening to Dancehall Reggae, Bebop and some of the more lyrical music of the new romantic or post-new wave (Howard Jones, Cocteau Twins et al). As a young guitar player with a very limited knowledge of the instrument and of music in general, I looked for guitarist’s records in the record store and found Pat Metheny. I listened to a few of his records from the Eighties, though I cannot say that I listened very attentively. At that time I think I had a better time listening to Neil Young. Who knows what I will be listening to when I become proficient?
What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?
Again, a point in time that is hard to pinpoint. Specifically speaking of the guitar, the first time I heard Derek Bailey or Eugene Chadbourne I knew I was hearing something that would stay with me, if only an abstract feeling I would continue to believe in. But these kinds of epiphanies, if you will, are never enough on their own. They are the easiest things to recall and to pass on as memories, starting points. After spending some time studying guitar with Lloyd Garber, I met some musicians in Toronto that were very much interested in similar sorts of things. With Martin Arnold, Ryan Driver, Doug Tielli, Stephen Parkinson, Allison Cameron, Dan Freidman, Rob Wannemaker, Mike Gennaro, along with some incredible visual artists and dancers (if we are to distinguish) I started to get involved in improvised and experimental music.
Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.
The past and present are very much on my mind right now. Two years ago I moved to Paris, and for financial reasons could not bring my CD collection with me. I put some things on my hard drive and that was it. I visited Toronto this summer and quickly pulled out some CD’s to bring back with me to Paris. Here are some of the things I brought:
[List included in full as it illustrates Chenaux’s eclectic influences]
King Jammy’s Dance Hall Collection
Peeping Tom: Boperation
6 CD’s by Toronto based composer Martin Arnold
Rudolf Komorous: Listening To Rain
Robert Ashley: Atlanta Acts of God
Nowegian Hardanger Fiddle records by:
Knutt Myrann, Hakon Hogemo, Torliev, and Sigmund Eikas
Pandit Pran Nath: Midnight
Elis Regina and Tom Jobim: Elis and Tom
Tvisongur: Icelandic Medieval vocal music
Robert Ashley: String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies, Automatic Writing andThe Wolfman
Peter Cusack and Max Eastley: Day For Night
This Heat: Deceit
Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed: Takkabel and Halgizey
Brian Eno: Discreet Music
The Howling Hex: Allnight Fox
T-Rex: A Beard of Stars
John Martyn: Live At Leeds
Gagaku (no other information in English)
Hallgrim Berg & Erik Roine: Munnharpa [Jaw Harp duo]
Gilius Van Bergeijk: Volume 1 and 2
Pandalis Karayorgis: Heart and Sack
Masayuki Takayanagi: Lonely Woman
Franz Koglman: L’Heure Bleue
City Of Salt: Towers Open Fire
Willie Nelson: Crazy: The Demo Sessions
Blue Gene Tyranny: Free Delivery, Go Blue Compositions By Blue Gene Tyranny, and Just For The Record
Dionne Warwick: Anyone Who Had A Heart
Peter Ablinger: Weiss/Weisslich
Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra: Visions
Masters of Piobaireachd: Volumes 1, 2, 3 [bagpipes]
Gavin Bryars: Hommages
Sun Ra Arkestra: Reflections in Blue and Standards
Christian Wolff: (Re):Making Music
Anne Briggs: A Collection
Camberwll Now: All’s Well
This Heat: This Heat
Richard Ayers: NO.31 et al
Ferrara Ensemble: En doulz chastel de Pavie
Helmut Lachenmann: Reigen seliger Geister
Karayorgis & Pakula: Lines
Syzygys: Complete Studio Recording
The McPeake Family: Wild Mountain Thyme
The Flying Lizards: The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards
Steelye Span: Please to See the King
Lata Mangeshkar: In Many Different Moods
Kesarbai Kerkar (Hindustani classical vocalist)
In a totally different context with the quirky jazz group Drumheller
How did you get better at your current style?
Listening to the above list is one way of serving this question with a direct answer. Another way is to talk about continuing. When a performer is playing, especially an improviser, we often hear about instant composition and making decisions on the spot, in the moment.
This is quite beside what interests me about playing music. While a musician lives her life she is thinking about music and working it over. This is not only done while playing. At the moment of playing a musician has a belief in a music that comes from all of these moments. The performance time is a different kind of time and what interests me about reflecting about a music practice is how these moments of reflection (that take place while walking, eating, watching things, after watching things, hearing things, after hearing things, cooking, eating, talking with friends, or, while doing not much at all) bump up against these moments of playing or performance. Both alter each other. So to replace “better” with “continue” we can say that it is these moments constantly bumping against each other, and even melting into each other, that makes for a music practice.
What are you trying convey with your music?
John Cage always had a good answer. He said that he wished for us to listen to the sounds around us, traffic, trains, etc. like we listened to Mozart. That is how I remember it anyway. Like all good answers, they are a pleasure to reverse. Can we listen to Mozart like we listen to traffic?
Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?
I have a small array of things that I use for just about everything. A Gibson 175 that I have modified with a Dan Electro lipstick pickup and an Bigsby bar, a nylon-string guitar with a pickup, an Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedal, a Z-Vex Fuzz Factory pedal, an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail pedal, a Morely Bad Horsie Wah, a volume pedal and a Fender Pro Junior Amplifier. For bowed guitar stuff I use a variety of small speakers, cell phone speakers and a Danelectro Honey Tone amps that I place in small jars, in my mouth, or swing overhead.
Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?
I suppose that there is a little more fun to be had in front of an audience less virtual.
How have you built up an audience for your music?
An audience can be thought of as something that is at once quite abstract and concrete. The space of performance, the record label of the recording and the past performances form an ongoing memory of audience. That is another way of saying that “I make music for myself,” which can sound a little snide, although I do not think so. That is to say, we make music for a hypothetical and concrete audience made up of ourselves. What do we want to hear? What are we interested in hearing. What may we want to hear? This is the notion of “making music for ourselves” where there is something to chew on.
With whom would you like to collaborate and why?
Most of my favorite musicians are those that I do play with. That is in no way a side step to the question, though I realize that perhaps that this is a bit of a dreamer-question, so with that in mind, I could say that playing music with Robert Ashley would be something I would want to hear.
What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?
My latest solo recording Guitar & Voice is available on Constellation Records.
A duo of guitar and synthesizer with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh entitled The Sentimental Moves is available on Grapefruit Records.
The Reveries’ Matchmakers Volume 2: The Music of Sade is available on Barnyard Records.
Drumheller’s Sometimes Machine is also available on Barnyard Records
A duo with the chanteuse Eloise Decazes is available on Okraina.