Charles Koechlin is, without a doubt, one of the most important (and influential) French composers of the 19th and 20th centuries with quite a unique path. His Traité de l’orchestration is still a reference to this day, even if its 4 volumes (and consequent price) make it hard to own. He orchestrated for Fauré and Debussy, and created the Société Musicale Indépendante with Ravel and Schmitt in 1909. He made a living as a music educator, and I’m happy to own a couple of his books that I love (Étude sur les notes de passage (1922), Précis des règles de contrepoint (1927), etc.)
Charles Koechlin (1867-1950)
His name tends to puzzle a lot of French speaking people, myself included. Is the o+e combination a misspelled œ (e dans l’o, a letter that does not technically exist in the English alphabet)? What about that [ch]? Is it a [sh] sound or a [k] sound? I got it all wrong until I heard one of my composition teachers (a fellow Frenchman) pronounce it correctly. I later found a great article in French about the pronunciation of this patronymic of German origin where people argue a lot. I chose one that I give here, that makes sense to me and sounds really nice…
All the drawings that I’ve seen (over two different shows) seem to defy both time and balance and remind me of the work of Martin Klimas. Klimas uses photography, but how do you capture these moments with such a “slow” medium as drawing?
My drawings actually begin as photographs so photography is an integral part of my process. Drawing is slow, my drawings in particular, and that slowness in some way works to negate the photographic aspect of the images. I like to think of my drawings as having a spontaneous appearance, even though the process is slow.Before you asked the question, I wasn’t familiar with Klimas’s work. Most of his images capture an extremely brief moment – a glass vase shattering, or a bird in flight –something that we couldn’t savor with our eyes. It happens too quickly.
My images happen quickly too, though less so than Klimas’s, in the sense that what I ask of my models can be uncomfortable. They can’t maintain random stuff on their body or head for a long period of time, for example. Some of the objects are placed precariously, and as I take the pictures, there’s a constant threat of everything toppling. It’s funny because I’m often asked whether I draw from life, and of course I don’t. I ask a lot of my models as it is.
untitled - Graphite on Paper - 21.5 x 13 2010
The contrast and the textures that you achieve on your graphite on paper drawings are incredible. What makes depicting reality so attractive to you?
As much as I use a very realistic style – I aim for photo-realism in my drawings – I don’t actually consider what I depict to be reality. They aren’t documentary images, for example, but drawings of staged portraits or situations.
A couple of years ago I made a series of drawings of rooms with furniture and objects in disarray. These drawings look like a glimpse of a crime scene, but actually, I meticulously arranged the rooms in this way prior to shooting the photos, so again, it may look like reality, but it’s all staged. In most of my older drawings, it was important to me that the image depicted be a kind of record of a real event, a record of something acted out, for example. I used to like to think about my work as recording a performance of some type, and then, I probably would have like to think of myself as depicting reality. Now, though, I’m less concerned about that.
My attraction to photo-realism is firstly based on a desire to represent specific people, objects or situations, so I try very hard to be as detailed as possible. I’m more interested in the image rather than the fact of its being a drawing. I’d like the drawing to be a window of sorts, as much as it can be, and this means detail. This has meant that as I move forward, my drawings have grown in size so that I am more able to get that detail. I also just really enjoy drawing skin and textures. I love little bits of cardboard and folds of fabric.
untitled - Graphite on Paper - 20.25 x 32.25 2010
Your work also covers video and audio. Could you tell me more about vs. The New You?
“vs. The New You” is a sound project I did in 2005 with a friend, Ted Reiderer, and his band, The New You. When I started that project I was working on a series of home recordings under the name Deadpan Portraits of Local Notables. At that point I had gotten into very repetitive habits in my song writing, sticking to the same structures, and so on. So the initial concept for “vs. The New You” was to structure a group of songs around a pattern someone else had set for me.
When I was considering this, I happened to learn that Ted would be recording in the studio the following weekend, and I asked him to record a short segment of drumming, about one or two minutes. He brought this to his band mates who each agreed to record a short bit of drumming as well. They could do this in whatever way they wanted, and not all of them have a lot of drumming experience. I later created the remainder of the songs through multi-track recording using each of their contributions as a guide. So it was collaboration between me and each one of the four members of The New You, but what I like about it is the kind of after-the-fact quality of the collaboration.
This project actually helped me get away from my own style of song writing. After this was completed, I found myself more able to experiment in songs that I would write on my own.
The music you composed is really refreshing and surprising, building on the spontaneity of these four musicians who had no clue (I assume?) of what you were going to do with these recordings. What were you trying to achieve?
One goal was to expand my own songwriting, but I’m also interested in musical compositions that blend spontaneity with fixed instructions of one kind or another. When I first moved to New York City, I would see John Zorn’s “Cobra” performed whenever I could. “Cobra” is a game piece where Zorn conducts a group of musicians by holding up various objects – shapes, numbers, letters, etc. – and although each object carries certain instructions, the piece has a crazy energy that I’ve always wanted to try to capture on my own. “vs. The New You” gave me a bit of that because what I had to work with from each of the four band members was fixed; their drumming became the instructions or the backbones of those pieces, and I matched their choppy rhythms with quick sounds from a variety of instruments.
During our conversation you mentioned pieces you’re working on at the moment that require you to blend digital and “analog” visual arts (I mean taking pictures of you and working on them in Photoshop…). What is your process and (snare drums—signature question) are you concerned with a possible loss of craftsmanship because of technology?
As far as my process for these recent images, I begin with a pretty solid picture that conveys already most of what I want to include in the finished drawing. If there’s an occasion when a photograph lacks something compositionally, I have lately been editing in, or adding elements to balance out the picture. So in one image, for example, I had a seated model covered with a few objects, but later, I felt that it lacked intensity. I found a picture of flexible air duct tubing online and added it in, placing it on the model’s lap in the picture. In the finished drawing, it’s very difficult to tell that this has been added digitally.
If the final product of these images were photographs rather than drawings, I might feel less strong about them. The use of digital enhancement or additions would be less desirable for me if I thought of them as photographs.Since the images become drawings, though, I consider the digital additions to be on par with the actual objects that I put on the model. Perhaps this comes back to your earlier question about depicting reality. I’m not uncomfortable with editing in Photoshop and I don’t at all think there’s a loss because my drawings don’t depict a reality that exists apart from my intervention.
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