Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Francis Plagne by Richard Macfarlane

Artist interview/article: Published in cyclic defrost issue 18, November 2007.

Before I spoke to Francis Plagne on the phone, I rode the bus with my headphones firmly in place, the volume up high. For the duration of my trip, I made it nearly all of the way through Francis Plagne, his second album, watching out the window the entire way home.

After spending much time with this record, it seemed the perfect way to hear it, the strange and visual evocations of different places, and the variety of different spaces that shift throughout its 91 minutes. There are claustrophobic spaces, and wide-open vistas conjured through the use of field recordings. Francis Plagne is like looking out the window of a bus as the scenery unfolds. It’s easy to attach metaphors to his sprawling work, but it’s bewildering to discern exactly where Francis is coming from, probably because he’s coming from everywhere at once. You could say it’s a schizophrenic musical identity, but I’d say it’s really just glee and enthusiasm that drive it all.

“I suppose initially it just comes from having an interest in lots of different things. Everything I did on this record was just something I was peculiar about in its own form, field recordings, songs, or whatever. There was a point where I just decided to stick it all together; there is something a lot more schizophrenic about this new album, or at least more self-consciously so. With the first one, I just made a whole bunch of concrete and a whole bunch of songs, but with this one, it ended up that there was a lot more obvious interplay between the two things.”

So, he’s young - 20 years old. Francis started playing guitar early on and started recording “garbage” onto four-track when he was about thirteen. He’s currently studying for an Art History degree in Melbourne, making music in the same bedroom as he always has, at the same time. He’s got different toys now, and way more of them. There are plenty of instruments and sounds at his fingertips, but far more to grasp onto in terms of music that has come before. I’m unsure if it’s necessarily a youthful willingness to try and take past music and further it, or destroy it (or both), but Francis is certainly eager to do so.

“I suppose all music, whether popular or experimental, is based on interpretations; no one ever makes some outrageous new discovery, or at least very rarely. With the way that I work, which is lots of different styles mixed together, it becomes obvious that it’s me picking and choosing from what I’m interested in, and then having a go. One of the things I really like about recording at home, with limited means and playing everything myself is that I can try and rip off something. I could do a direct rip off of some big ’60s band, and it will sound like a hermetic interpretation of a ’60s big band. Really it’s just me trying to do the same thing but I just can’t, because of the means that I have at my disposal.”

“I think a lot of what goes on musically today, in popular music or indie music or whatever, there’s an overly-knowing appropriation of different styles without personality attached to it, that happens a lot. But when someone can actually use influence to make something interesting and worthwhile—that’s where music is for me, I guess.” His music is dense, that’s for sure. For all the field recordings and abstract sound pieces that stitch Francis Plagne together, it’s clear a lot of work has gone into creating these spaces, allowing the ‘song’ based moments room to breath, or room to suffocate. The album is positively littered with pop gems; I visualise Francis struggling to walk along underneath an armful of different musical odds and ends, some falling off along the way.

It’s a gleeful act of appropriation, but with such a unique spin on music, it’s hard to label it as merely that. Francis Plagne is forward thinking in its take on the notion of music being everywhere, if you just listen, in the streets, your house, and the park. Francis Plagne is everywhere and everything ; it’s cluttered, but sounds purposefully this way. The title of the track ‘A Chance Exposure To A Distant Rumbling’ reflects one of Francis’ chief aims; random moments in sound coming together all in one place, creating spaces, letting songs form beneath and between their folds. It’s an act of cutting and pasting, a monumental process of trial and error, considering just how many sounds make up his opaque pieces.

“This time, a lot of the things that weren’t songs, I worked a lot with editing improvisations. It was a case of making an hours worth of stuff and then cutting it into small pieces and sticking it all together. It is intentionally dense; I wanted it to be as dense as possible while still being listenable.” This begs the question; just how one would decide where to put all these things? It seems like a nightmare in terms of editing, because in a sense, many of these sounds don’t match up, they don’t fit together conventionally. Foreign sounds meet the all too familiar, open spaces are met with the claustrophobic, pop meets noise. Working from home allows Francis to indulge his perfectionism, even if his perfection is littered and rambling.

“On the first album, it follows a pattern of five minutes worth of pop every ten minutes or something—it’s pretty predicable—especially when I realize how it sounds after I step away from the whole process. There are moments where I use that same sort of pattern on the new one. I like the idea of having a juxtaposition of ten minutes of abstract stuff then the song comes in out of nowhere, like the first pieces of the record. I like the sound of one song stopping and another starting straight away, like on a proper pop record. I was trying to play around with that on this album, just trying to think of good ways of leading into what is a song and what’s not a song; rather that just having a sharp cut or fade.”

Most of the record is field-recordings; plenty of cars passing by, but most importantly a tonne of different spaces and textures. It’s an extremely visual sort of sound; there are hundreds of different rooms and spaces within what is basically one continuous sound piece. Most of all, it’s a warm record, thanks to the Casio keyboards and organs; the sound of cartoons in the morning, the warm buzz of the afternoon sun. “Part of that, is that when I am recording at home, I end up with a lot of background sound and I don’t really make any attempt to get rid of that. I like the openness of sounds with a resonance like they were recorded in a big room with an open window. I usually try and bring across some sort of feel of space in the way I record things. It’s not a conventional studio technique; someone that knows about that sort of thing would probably just say I had really bad miking! I do it on purpose, or at least that’s what I tell them. I really like that once you start getting some feeling of space the sounds aren’t abstract any more. It’s tied to some visual thought, the listener could maybe imagine what the room looks like.”

Straddling pop and textural styles of music leaves Francis in a funny place, if he were to locate himself in a scene or collective, working in Australia. Francis feels partially at home, in terms of an ‘experimental’ scene in Melbourne; but there’s a humourous and irreverent spirit running beneath all the musique concrete that keeps his stuff from sounding stagnant. Half way through ‘Replace U With An A’ comes an absurd little voice—put on by Francis—denoting a healthy spirit of humour that runs through his music and the way he works. “I think a lot of my friends in Melbourne are related to the ‘proper’ experimental scene—I mean, they don’t sing songs. I know that I have high standards to try and meet, as far as the experimental stuff goes, but a lot of the time it could just be me doing this lazy thing that is interesting because of the context. I have friends that write pop songs as well, so I feel as if I have influences from both ‘scenes’, although in Melbourne it’s just one big soup pretty much.”

“For me, a lot of things that I like in music I find really funny, as well as substantial. My music isn’t sort of dour or anything; there are musical jokes, in a sense, running through my work. For instance, my range does not go as high as I sing, so it’s funny to have this squeaky little bit sometimes.” His take on music is a palpably fresh one, as I talk to Francis (softly spoken, slightly sarcastic) over the phone. He’s self-aware but not over-confident. His perceptions on making things new are certainly inspiring and his ideas seem to culminate with little concern for style or genre.

Free Wheelin’ Francis is relaxed, and why wouldn’t he be with such an enormous world of music at his disposal? “Styles and genre are helpful in figuring out how music works. I think a lot of people pick some sort of stylistic thing and try and work within it; I don’t really have any interest in that at all. I just take whatever and then do whatever I want to do with it.”