Turning conversation into music; folk songs into modern compositions… Christophe Chassol is a musician and composer who can turn such sounds into music. As a matter of fact, to make music, we need sounds. However, sounds do not necessarily come from musical instruments. Human voices, birdsongs, a slammed door, the rain on the ground... In our daily lives, we are surrounded by a variety of sounds. Christophe's ears perceive them not as "noise" but as music material: with his regenerative approach to composition, Christophe harmonizes all sounds into music. If we could borrow his ears, the streets we walk every morning would be a unique experience every day.
What is the most striking sound you have heard recently?
I think it was the sound of my niece. At a family gathering the other day, she was uttering "ba, ba" to convey something. It was an extremely moving moment: the moment when a child, who had previously communicated by crying, used the sound of her voice for the first time. Another sound will also remain in my mind for a long time: the voice of a woman I met on the street in front of my house. I've met her several times, so I think she lives in the neighborhood. She has a very impressive voice, as if she was a character from a cartoon. Her choice of words are also something like a line from a musical: "Oh my little boy, you have such beautiful hair!" It is something I can't get out of my head.
Your activity as a movie soundtrack composer may also have had an influence on your appreciation of trivial life scenes and everyday conversations. For Solange's fourth album,When I Get Home, you recorded the conversations you had with her and composed "Things I Imagined" and "Dreams" by combining those recordings with music.
I don't make as much film music as I used to. But I still have the same craftsman-like approach to composing, and I have more freedom with sound now. I entered the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study classical music. After graduating, I worked as a music teacher and composer for TV advertisements. I also arranged orchestras. I think I discovered field recording and the "ultrascore" technique featured in Solange's album thanks to all those experiences. It takes time to find your own style.
Did you just move here recently?
There are still boxes everywhere, sorry! It won't be easy for the photoshoot... I moved here about six months ago, and I still have to tidy up. My previous house was closer to the city centre, but I decided to move a little further away. The energy is very different, but this area is extremely quiet and I like it.
You are also planning to build a studio in the basement.
The studio is currently undergoing big renovations. We have to soundproof the walls, and that might take another two years. It’s a pity I can’t show it to you this time. Until then, this room on the second floor will be my working space. The light is nice, right? I like it here: I can see the street from the window, and I can see when my child is coming home.
There is a big garden. What is that mirror over there?
Oh, that's a mirror I picked up in the street. At night, when I look at it from my bedroom, I can sometimes see the reflection of a starry sky, and if I'm lucky, I can even see the moon. It's a magical scene. That's why it's in the garden. My kid finds it creepy, though.
When we were taking a walk earlier, you mentioned that you had never used Amazon or Uber Eats before.
This isn't related to any political reason. I've just never felt the need to use it. I go to the store to buy most of my groceries, including when I get them delivered. For meals, I go to restaurants or I cook at home. Maybe it's because I don't want to be lazy, but it's also because I enjoy every part of the shopping trip. For example, when going to second-hand record shops, the main purpose is to buy records, but there are many other things that can be enjoyed on the way: having lunch at a bakery nearby, the conversations with the staff at the record store... So the records I buy are filled with such memories. I think shopping is all about that. In other words, efficiency is not always beneficial.
Even such trivial events that happen on your way to shopping can be made into a work of art. "Madame Etienne Lise" from your album Big Sun feels like it was recorded on the spur of the moment at a market.
That's right! There was a woman holding a big plastic bag of flour at the market. I found her appearance intriguing, so I asked her what she was selling and recorded our conversation. She was so happy to be approached that she started telling me a lot about herself: that she was 85 years old, had danced in carnivals all her life and loved music... It's funny how everything sounds different with music.
Do you have a favorite quote?
There is a quote by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat that says: "The more I paint, the more I like everything." It's a good one. The more music I make, the more I feel that every sound, whether it is a conversation, birds chirping, a slammed door, even unpleasant noises, can become material for composing. I become more and more addicted to listening to the various sounds that exist in the world. Basquiat's words are teaching us something very important: to change our way of looking at things. For example, even lint on the floor may be used for something. Everything matters.
Nothing is actually garbage. It is important to keep the concepts of regeneration and circulation in mind.
Yes! Actually, I don't call anything "garbage." (Laughs)
Do you like happenings and accidents?
I don't! I have studied jazz and classical music since I was a child, but I was not good at improvisation, which is a unique feature of jazz. That's why I decided to find my own way of improvising, using minimalist techniques like Steve Reich. One of my performance styles is to play music on top of the video recordings I make during my travels. This is different from complete improvisation, because I am adding sound on top of the recorded video. Rather than improvising everything, I like to improvise based on a planned element.
What does the word Regeneration make you think about?
I wonder if there are some things that should be regenerated or not. What is called remake or remastering in cinema and music doesn't always work. How many times have I been disappointed by movie remakes! One exception was Spielberg's West Side Story. It was great, because it shared a proper feel of the late 50s, in a very contemporary and relevant way.
How do you feel about your outfit?
I don't wear flashy clothes with logos, so I like the classic design of this coat. I also feel "protected" because of the fabric.
The logo of your keyboard was also hidden with black tape, right?
Yes. Once I went to a club, and I couldn't help but notice the Apple logo on the computer of the DJ. I came to listen to music, and all I was seeing was the Apple logo... So sometimes, I hide the logo of my music equipment.
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
I was accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston when I was 26 years old. When I lived in the US, I was staying with an acquaintance who loved music. We would listen to music together. At the time, I began using a computer to compose. When I played my compositions, this acquaintance said: "Christophe, you should keep your technique a secret at school. Otherwise it will be stolen, for sure!" I didn't agree with him and I shared the technique with everyone. In any possible way, I want to help music move forward. I share everything without hiding. I guess it relates to the recent concept of the commons, the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society. So I think it's not about keeping ideas to yourself, it's about sharing them with everyone.
Born in 1976 in metropolitan France from Martinican parents, Christophe was exposed to music from an early age. After attending Berklee College of Music, Christophe made his debut as a professional musician, composing music for TV commercials and films, theater and dance performances. Christophe also contributed to Frank Ocean's Endless (2016) and Solange's When I Get Home (2019).