Delphine Dora: An In-Depth Interview

August 30, 2012
By Jackie Farrow

Since 2005, Delphine Dora has been releasing nearly two albums per year (now being on her 14th one), often collaborating with other artists that share a similar musical perspective. With her latest album “A Stream Of Consciousness”, a poetic sonic entity of 14 tracks based exclusively on piano coming out on Siren Wire Editions in a limited edition of 50, I asked her for an interview regarding her view on her overall work and how staying creative works for her.

1. Your music style is possessed by an avant-garde feeling, maintaining the experimentation but also keeping things at a certain level. Can you define that term as you perceive it as an artist?

I have little relation to the term “avant-garde” to describe my musical work, it could sound pretentious and inaccurate. I have released many recordings that were more of an “outsider music” approach than avant-garde. I would say that my music is hard to classify, there are many musical styles in the various recordings I’ve made (outsider, folk, minimalism, experimental, modern composition, improvisation, free jazz). All of my musical work/world is multi-facets, it is the reflection of the multiplicity of my musical interests.

I could assume that there’s certainly an avant-garde feeling in my piano playing style that I’ve been working on for many years; my practice is probably an intentional musical quest. It’s also due to the fact that I’ve been into avant-garde/contemporary/experimental stuff for many years and that I show more attention to the subtlety of the composition/production details. I listen to a lot of old and new composers who have each one explored different techniques of composition in their work (meaning a certain research in silence, tonality, drones) and I think that it has influenced me in a certain way. Such influences exist on my latest piano record, but also on a soon-to-be-released free-improvised project I’ve created with Paulo Chagas and Bruno Duplant.

In fact, I’m really bored with some neo-classical-world piano compositions, where only a few notes are being played throughout the musical piece, hiding this lack of composition aspect with electronic sounds or field recordings in the background. Unlike many “ambient” piano composers, I’m not afraid to experiment with the piano by exploring new territories. So, my focus now is to take my work into unusual directions using the piano and my voice too.

2. How does composing and recording music work for you? Besides self-expression, does it help in keeping yourself in a certain mood as well?

I don’t feel very much of a composer in the traditional sense, as I don’t have a background in theory, musically speaking. I don’t write sheet-music and I never play the same song twice. Composing (mainly by ear), improvising, playing the piano and singing, such things keep me in a certain state of mental awakening, sometimes relating to meditation and spirituality. Besides self-expression, music helps me connect with the True Self. For me, playing and recording music has to do with the act of capturing special moments in time, working like a musical diary. I consider my music more as a process than as a final product, so it’s somehow close to the impalpable and the ephemeral. I’m more interested in the moment, where past, present and future connect. I don’t know if it all makes sense, my work is continuous, every release has a different character.

3. Your work seems to be strongly connected to literature, it’s something that enhances the listening experience. What’s your personal attachment to poetry and literature? Do you consider musical notes as words?

I’ve been interested in poetry for four years, since I first studied works by authors such as William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Larkin, Stephen Spender, Louis McNeice. I wasn’t into poetry at all before, maybe because of bad preconceptions. For me, poetry has to do with orality and musicality. I always sing poetry at home; reading some lines, then putting them to music.

In 2010, I adapted Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass” to a piano/voice setting, I admire his ability to conciliate almost anything (nature, individuality, collectivity, politics). His famous quote “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes” pretty much reflects the way I perceive my own creation. I don’t necessarily consider musical notes as a means to translate the world. I think of music more as a language, able to express the invisible and the unspeakable. This year, I collaborated with my friend Valerie Leclercq, making a record called “You’re not mad, You’re just lonely” based on texts inspired by some fictional and real characters such as Sarah Kane, Molloy (Samuel Beckett), D. P. Schreber, Zelda Fitzgerald. I always had an interest in “outsiders”, people on the fringe of society (I’ve written a Phd thesis on “outsider artists”). On this album, using literature, I wanted to emphasize on topics such as mental illness and isolation, to question the border between illness and normality.

4. From a very young age, you started with classical training in piano. Sometimes students get trapped in keeping a certain form that doesn’t allow them to experiment and find their own style. Did you find that to be of great help to you? Would you rather be self-taught? How and when did you finally come down with your style?

I had been studying classical piano since I was 6 years old, stopping at 15. I had four different teachers during that time. It was traditional education. Playing the classics, there was not so much room for freedom. Having never improvised or composed something on my own, I decided to give up piano lessons as I was more into rock music, kind of bored with classical stuff and the music-sheet limitations.

I started to play piano again eight years later when I was 23, recording my first songs on tape recorder. Having lost all my piano techniques at the beginning, my aim was not to be an excellent pianist, but to simply compose my own songs. Often experimenting and recording songs in one-take, it was kind of liberating, it felt like some sort of catharsis. Now, I wouldn’t say that my classical background was completely useless. Piano practice plays a major part in my life as I’m more interested in it as a solo instrument. I find that the more I play and practice on my own, the more I play with a certain ease. This wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t taken all these piano lessons before. It’s like riding a bicycle; even if you haven’t taken a ride in years, you never forget how to drive it.

5. How do you think art is important in an age driven by computers and digital information? Is it possible to make a living out of it?

I don’t want to give an answer that speaks for everyone. I live in a place where apparently most people can live without art. But for me, creating my own music is more than a necessity, it’s something completely vital for my existence and my psychic survival. I don’t know why exactly, but it helps me feel more alive.

Is it possible to make a living out of it? That’s more difficult. It depends on what kind of art you make and on your ability to promote yourself. Regarding my music, I have no illusions, from the very beginning I was sure that it would be hard to make a living out of it. But one thing that I luckily have is freedom, which has no price.

6. Do you compose music on a regular basis? What are a few things that you find that inspire you the most?

I try to compose/record music on a regular basis. For the past seven years, I’ve been putting out one or two recordings per year. Generally, I try to challenge myself and record once I have new ideas. I don’t necessarily try to “fix” or memorize anything when I’m playing. Many times, when I played the piano, having forgotten to turn my recording equipment on, almost everything I played was lost in the air. That’s a pity. Maybe if I didn’t do that, I would have a larger discography today, like putting out 10 records per year. Certainly my best “performances” were not recorded. But sometimes there’s an urgency to play like that, just for yourself.

I’m inspired by lots of things, I’m an avid listener. Recently, I was really into composers who were inspired by non-western music like Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, Toru Takemitsu, Gurdjieff/Thomas de Hartmann, Alan Hovhaness, Lou Harrison. I was also listening to Bartok and Shostakovitch’s piano works. The fact that I’ve got Russian, Hungarian, and Vietnamese blood may be the reason why I’m becoming more and more interested in composers who made combinations of western and  non-western elements.

Lately I’ve been really inspired by my environment and the place I live (the nature surroundings but also the sky, seasons changing, light and silence). I think that the music I play today has nothing to do with my earlier recordings, mainly because of that. It explains why I will focus more on space and silence at my future compositions.


7. What are some modern musicians / composers whose work you find notable?

There are too many to mention… Some actual musicians whose work I find inspiring are: Kyle Gann, Sarah Cahill, Alvin Curran, Terry Riley, Thollem McDonas, Helena Espvall, Richard Youngs, David Sylvian.

8. Supposing you were asked to choose a novel which would be made into a film with you scoring the soundtrack, what would that book be?

I have no precise idea, but it would be something abstract, metaphysical, dramatic, psychological.

9. You just released your album ‘A Stream Of Consciousness’ on Siren Wire Editions, a limited hand-numbered edition of 50. It’s almost like poetry, tell me about it, what does it represent for you?

“A Stream Of Consciousness” is a solo record of 14 half-composed and half-improvised piano pieces which I assume as a whole entity. It’s my first piano solo record, so it’s a special one, thinking that it’s the first time I use the piano as my main instrument. First of all, unlike many of my previous recordings which were made very quickly (just in a few days!), it took many months to finish, working hard to have the sound I wanted. I’m very proud of it and I really want to concentrate on this instrument that I love so much…

10. What are your future plans? Will you be doing any touring or are you working on more new compositions?

I’m going to move to a new wooden house in the next few months. Not far from where I live, but closer to nature. In this new place, for the first time of my life, I will have a big room (a home studio) dedicated to record my music. These past few years, I couldn’t immerse a lot in recording because I was doing a Phd thesis. Now, I’ll be writing music full-time, so it’s really exciting since there’s so much to explore and I’m confident with that.

I have many projects in my head and I can’t wait to start recording in this new special environment. I’d love to also learn a new instrument like the violin or the cello and I hope to buy a harmonium in the near future.

I want to keep composing and releasing stuff on a regular basis, documenting my different experimentations. I’m also willing to start touring many parts of the world where I have some listeners of my music. I hope there will be some opportunities to release my stuff and play some improvised shows sometime in the future….

11. Thank you very much for your time, I really look forward to your future work.

Thank you very much for your interest!

Delphine Dora Links:

Website / Bandcamp / Soundcloud / Facebook

Delphine Dora – An Ode To Infinity

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