He is the creator of dreamy electronic universes at concerts, online and for an LGBT documentary. On the road, touring his second album Contre-Temps – which will take him to Sala Apolo in Barcelona on April 9, for example – Flavien Berger speaks to us about how these sonar dreamscapes are born, early adventures in music and friendship.
You have defined your musical genre as ‘science fiction’. Is this to highlight the importance of narrative and imagination in your work?
I have used science fiction as a genre because I like stories, specifically narrative. I like how science fiction literature gives a window into our world, and our present, while using a lot of genre-specific tools that turn it into a space for creativity. Also, I use a type of literature to define my work because I don’t really know what type of musical genre I fit in.
As part of Collectif Sin~, a group of multidisciplinary artists, you create machines that react to sound translating it into a tangible dreamscape through light, moving water or smoke. How did this abstraction of sound influence your current album?
Well, mainly curiosity drew me to Collectif Sin~. Curiosity is an everyday exercise and I always get ready to be surprised by what comes out from a creation. So by experimenting, by creating a situation in which you don’t really know what might come out or where from, you put yourself in a position of observer, and then you have to use the results for your work.
When creating your own albums, you do everything yourself: you write, compose and create the album. Do you have to be alone for this creative process? Why?
Yes, I prefer being alone because I’m so easily influenced. Every time someone I love, care for or respect comments on my work, I try to do it their way, not my own, even unconsciously. Plus, music is a kind of shelter to me. I love to work with other people, on collective projects, but concerning my music and my albums, I feel kind of fragile while creating. So, if I want to reach where I want to go, and I really know where I want to go, I need to be sort of alone in this path. When I reach the point that I wanted to reach, I invite people to work with me.
I’ve been working with a lot of people on this record musically. That was kind of new for me, and that didn’t change the music I wanted to do – maybe it changed it but maintaining my freedom. I mean, it’s not a matter of being in control no matter what; it’s just to manage to reach the creative point I wanted to reach. If there are some changes, let them happen but for good reasons.
You sample a lot from real life – conversations, plastic bags, you have even cited boiling beetroot as a sound clip you’ve taken. I saw a video of Jacques, a French electronic musician and performer, looking for sounds in a thrift shop. Do you go ‘sound hunting’ or prefer to capture what you hear day to day?
Those are the same thing for me – I hunt every day. Actually, Jacques is a friend of mine and we have a sort of common philosophy, he even plays as a guest guitarist at the end of my record as a mate. Music can be malleable; it can be a discipline more than a career and, sometimes, sounds express stuff that you can only reach with music. Recorded noises add mystery and meaning to music.
I’ve been collecting a lot of stuff since forever; photos, like everyone else, but also recordings. That gives me a sort of library. I even have recordings of random speech, like my creative experimentation with Collectif Sin~. I like unpredictable recordings – I let myself be surprised by what works.
During a live show, introducing a song, you say your favourite number is 88888888, the symbol of infinity. What does 99999999 off your recent album stand for?
I like symbols because they can unfold history, unfold stories. While my first album was about roller coasters and a trip into the abyss, a metaphor of me encountering music and feeling so deeply drawn to it, this record is more looping time and living memories again and again. 9 seems like a spiral, a beginning of a spiral and a time tunnel, a turn, an infinite turn or an ongoing turn. 9 is like a turn in the road, seen from the sky, that will end on its very self. I think 9 is the beginning of a spiral.
Around the same time, you toured with Christine and the Queens, what was it like working together?
We didn’t really work together. I mean, she invited me to open some of her concerts – four of them –, that’s not a lot. I saw from behind-scenes what a big show looked like, what being professional meant and how an artist can protect a person. A performer can be so different from a human being; she is sweet, caring, intelligent and might seem fragile, but once on stage, it’s where she belongs somehow, she turns out to be really strong and really powerful.
You composed the music for Mala Mala, a documentary on Puerto Rico’s LGBT+ community. The music is sensitive and emotional, what drew you to working on this project?
I was invited by the director because we have a common friend, and I think they liked the challenge of asking an unknown French still-student composer to make the music for a sort of big first documentary, which was a great challenge for me because we only skyped and I started to see the pictures really late in the process and I loved it. Also, the subject is really universal, it’s a story of people and how you can accept them. It’s a story of freedom also, fighting for human rights. It’s an ongoing universal story that I was happy to join and illustrate with my own sensibility.
Playing Need for Speed on PS4, you would stop your car and watch the digital clouds and sunset at Ventura bay. It makes me imagine you have a chilled but also anti-conformist personality. Does this seep out of the digital world into your life?
I might inverse the question because I try to see the world in a non-conformist way and I also do it in the virtual world. But I don’t really know what conformist means, so I won’t define myself like this. I would say that I try not to take things for granted and stay curious, as I keep repeating.
In Contre-Temps, you investigate what time is made up of. It seems in an interview you locate time in one single, on-going experience of the present. Does that mean we can take Contre-Temps to mean up against, touching time, rather than contradicting or working against it?
Exactly, yeah, that’s what it means. Contre-Temps is against time, but against can also mean close to something. If my first album was trying to tame music as if music was a monster – a huge octopus from under the sea that connects us in lot of ways; this time I tried to tame something else: time. In order to understand time and to make it your friend and not to just endure it, I think that we should dance; having a close dance with time is a solution, so Contre-Temps means hugging time.
Dreams, escapism and love appear to be strong themes in your work. Where does it come from?
We don’t really know where dreams come from. Escapism comes from my love of psychedelia but I try not to be exotic. I try to talk about spaces and escapes that are not too cheesy. And love, love is something you can’t see, but we all feel it so we created a word for it. From one human to another, the definition is different, so it’s one of the only things that is the same for everyone but paradoxically no one sees it the same way, and that is what is unique about love.
Flavien Berger plays on Tuesday, April 9 at Sala Apolo, carrer Nou de la Rambla 113, Barcelona; as well as on Wednesday, April 10, at Daba Daba, Mundaitz Kalea 8, Donostia/San Sebastián.
Flavien Berger Par Julien Bourgeois H D02.jpg