Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lost in Sound 10: Stephane Vera's Tune Teaser

We met Stephane Vera by accident, at the cusp of sunrise in a loft in Detroit for a private and spontaneous afterhours gathering post-festival. Sometimes it’s worth not going home...

You could easily write a book about Stephane Vera. His intelligent insight and years of experience in musical experimentation and production could fill pages, not posts. Although he’s never said it outright, he is a musical genius, a modest one, whose pioneering work has made significant contributions to the expansive world of future music and sound science. When we first met him, he gave us a sneak peak of new work, all electronic music you couldn’t quite put your finger on, such as afro-funk over a glitchy dubstep beat to effervescent house teased with trip hop. Already impressed by his music we were even more intrigued when Vera told us he was the first composer for the deaf, and the first to conduct a concert for a hearing impaired audience. You don’t find guys like Vera everyday.

In anticipation of his new releases coming out this fall, - a 14-track “narrative electronic storytelling” album on Nice+Smooth Ultramedia and an album for Mixed Signals Music – he’s provided us with an exclusive hour-long sampler of these upcoming works. In addition, he let our curious selves pry his mind. Below is an excerpt taken from our fascinating conversation with Vera. This is one guy worth talking to.

You mentioned that you knew you were destined to pursue electronic music from the age of two. That’s quite a young age to determine your future. What made you realize this?

I remember this because it forever changed my life. I was in France where I used to live and I was listening to Jean-Michel Jarre, who is a French electronic music pioneer. [He] had a huge influence on my life. So basically, one day, I had this all-at-once, in a split second, kind of information, like a voice had spoken to me or something without hearing a voice that [told me] I would be doing this for the rest of my life – that I would be making electronic music, making music like this guy is producing. It wasn’t just music I was interested in, it was specifically music with synthesizers. I didn’t understand the big picture, obviously I was two years old, [but] I just knew instinctively what I would be doing.

It’s amazing that you’ve actually lived up to that. Actually, I should say beyond that, considering all the different projects you’ve been a part of. Can you elaborate more on the waveDNA project you are a part of and what position you have in this company?

I’m Chief of Music Operations for, a company in Toronto, Ontario. WaveDNA is a music software designed to notate and analyze new music in a new way. There are a lot of things about the software. I hate to use the word groundbreaking but it really is. It’s the DNA of music.

You told me when we met in Detroit that you are the world’s first composer for the deaf. This is fascinating. Can you tell me more about that?

I became the world’s first composer for the deaf by creating a style of music for the Emoti-Chair. This chair brought music to the deaf, something that the deaf were previously either cut off from or just not interested in it, just they have a disability. They experience music in their own way, if they choose to and most don’t choose to at all. So when I sit in the chair, I have to deafen myself with white noise, to block out any outside sound that might interfere with how the composition is being composed. I allowed the vibrations dictate how the composition started then I’ll add all the instrumentation on top. It’s music that the deaf can experience and the deaf are learning to compose on their own. The chair allows them to feel music through your skin in ways that was previously unavailable to them.

Fascinating. How did people react?

The reactions at first were not as positive as we hoped from some deaf societies because they are proud of who they are. Some deaf people, and I’ve seen this with my own eyes, have sat in the chair and they start to cry. They experience it for the very first time – its a virgin music experience. It’s a very powerful experience. Once that information got back to the deaf societies, it changed the attitude [towards the chair].

You mentioned you are releasing a narrative electronic storytelling album on Nice + Smooth. What is “electronic storytelling”?

I don’t want to say I created this style of music but I don’t really hear anything else that’s out there that sounds like that. It’s music that is telling a story, there’s a lot of melody interplay. I used to call it narrative electronic but people didn’t really get what that was. So I added the word “storytelling” at the end. This music is constantly evolving and changing, there’s no repetition. It’s not to say you can’t dance to it but it’s music meant for listening, not passively on the dance floor. The instrumentation is more of the focus of the mix than the beats.

What is your goal as an artist?

I really want the WaveDNA technology to succeed. We’re putting a lot of power and a lot of shortcuts into people’s hands. That’s very exciting because we’re giving people who have good musical ideas in their heads but no formal training to really express themselves, or hopefully along the way create new styles of music facilitated with this software.

As an artist, what sort of challenges have you faced, and how do you overcome them as a creative person?

After all these years the challenge is to still be very enthusiastic about what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this since 1988 - it’s a long time and I have primarily stuck with electronic or music that could loosely be either house or techno or some category of electronica. So, it’s a long time to be parked in there. I also really want to push the ground so I think one of the ways I’m doing that is composing music for the deaf as well always trying to push the envelope in some way. Part of my diversifying has been the key to my success as well as the not burning out or getting bored. Because I do so many different things my ears are still fresh and I’m enthusiastic about it after all these years.

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