Przewalski's Horses story (by Constantin Dubois)

Przewalski's Horses
(Constantin Dubois' version)

I'm not so good with agendas, but let's say that PH started around 2005-6 when Aurélie Brouet & I met again. We first met some twenty years ago in school. Then met again with common interests in music years later and sort of plunged into playing without plans, just wanting to try to make sounds together. Aurélie had been singing for a while, and followed a workshop with Silent Block's F. Le Junter which taught her a lot about playing with amplified objects. Einstürzende Neubauten is of course a major influence for that. I have never had any sort of musical background except the listener's one. No musician in the family or friends, no musical training. I still don't know what a note sounds like. I'm terrible with patience and have never had enough to try and learn an instrument properly... i'm a musical zero and trying to cultivate that condition that defined PH's sound if there's any...
I have been an eager listener of all types of music for years, and gradually turned to more and more experimental and weirdo's stuff when getting access to the web around 2000s. Then been writing reviews for the French webzine, and around that time, i'd say 2004, i started discovering Robert Horton's work. Bob's music has been really what taught me anybody is a musician. And that you don't need instruments. Just stuff, an ear, a desire to produce sounds, a mic. I'm fascinated by the liner notes of his records, he is having fun describing all the objects he's using as sound sources: vacuum cleaner, electric toothbrush, along with guitar, objects, contact mics, field recordings, washing the dishes... So gradually it came to my mind that i could do that too. The microphone is the most elemental instrument: whenever you got something recorded, it's already a bit musical, in a way. I never met Robert in the flesh, but we became friends by mail, and i've had the pleasure to release his stuff on Nothing Out There.
So i guess i started buying gear... Haha, yeah, bad idea, but we learned, we fiddled a lot with bad instruments, effects, objects, toys, lousy keyboards, DIY contact mics... and the MYMWLY record really reflects that "era" of PH. Raw and spontaneous. The only constant in PH, ever since the beginning until now, was how we play and record: we just lay some stuff around, put the mic on, and then go. Total improvisation with maybe a couple of words before, about who is gonna use what, that's all. Some day i was invited by a friend to play glockenspiel on one of his songs during a show, something like 20 notes... I fucked the thing up. Anything pre-written just panics me. There's simply no other way for me to play and PH's always been working this way. Plus, i love chance, encounters, accidents, and i want the music i record to rely on these elements.

When we started playing i was documenting a lot about the exclusion zone around the closed Chernobyl plant, and learned with fascination how it came to be a natural reserve for these wild horses. They are an endangered species, and have been introduced in this "contaminated and abandoned" area (or so it looks when you don't know about it), and it was a real success, they now breed and live safely there, and no, they didn't grow no sixth leg. I liked the name, i liked the reference to the idea of failure, i guess i could say Chernobyl somehow sadly is a symbol for failure. And we felt a bit like we were the Przewalski's Horses of sounds. Producing in areas of sound that seem dead or uninteresting. I guess the only thing i (i'll speak for myself, Aurélie will speak for herself) have developed that could be called a musical technique is trying to remain always fresh, have a fresh ear and fresh hands. Especially with instruments. You produce interesting stuff as a neophyte because you're not caught up into predetermined techniques, and that's something i'm trying to cultivate. It's in fact a struggle sometimes, to remain fresh after a couple of years. You get habits and honestly, the best guitar noises or notes i've recorded are long gone. For that reason i'd like to play more often with kids. In a way, it all comes down to that famous Picasso quote, when he explained that he spent all his life trying to draw like a kid again.

The process of creating Nothing Out There basically was the same as starting to play. I was fascinated when i realized what was going on with small labels like Ruralfaune for example. That way of working quickly, with very small prints, DIY, it was a freedom i just wanted to experience. I don't remember exactly, but i guess at one point, especially when i was living in Brussels, i met some musicians, did some interviews via email, spoke with fascinating guys during their performances (like Tom & Christina Carter, Arrington de Dyonyso, or Pelt)... After meeting a couple of people (in the flesh or on the web) that i felt like they could and should release more records, the idea of creating a label grew more and more insistent.
I was also fascinated by how some of my favorite musicians, like Robert, like Campbell Kneale, were so much ultra prolific, it's like a crazy stream that's these labels dam up, i wanting to be part of that, I guess.
From the beginning, i wanted to concentrate on handmade artworks, with specifics designs for each release. I discovered the world outside the "jewel" box with Zoviet France and so much loved that. A good artwork for a record is magic. The very first records i bought were chosen on the cover, like a lot of people i guess...
It's not always been a success, and most of the time it was a bit of a struggle too. Aurélie is a trained artist and taught me a lot about how to do something with my hands and NOT fuck it up. Also, the musicians i release have to wait a lot for a very small print in the end, what they get is only some twenty copies at best. At some point around 2009-10, i thought it was over. I had too much projects and no time nor space to carry them on. The label became more of a burden than anything else, but then things settled down again, and NOT's back to life again... I'm just finishing the 23rd release of the label these days, and it's the third Robert Horton CD i'll be putting out!
Can't speak of the label without a word of thanks to all the faithful customers and mail-orders that kept supporting it. I even have my own Jesus, maybe the truest of all, who bought every single and each of the releases from the label. Thank you guys!!!

Przewalski's Horses
I realize a kind of constancy came to be, spontaneously, in our different releases. They can be sorted by how they sound and how they've been recorded. I'm particularly happy with an open "serie" of tape releases that include Pripyàt Holidays and Soupe de Sorcière. They include what is likely to be our most "accessible" recordings, because it's short tracks that could sound like songs if you're very drunk, and it's the materials that have been reworked the most, post-recording. These tapes are collection of tracks that fit nowhere with one-shot, 30 mins improv and thus gathered on these releases. Most of our discog is just raw live recordings, with a bit of editing to remove what's just too bad to be heard. A way of working that anybody with a professional relationship to sound will find just terrible. With these two, it's different, there's much more post-editing work, done by a self-taught guy with a bad ear, but done.
Involuntarily, there's also another ensemble that came up. The darker, dronier, instrument-based stuff. They would include Bulbs, Detroit, Looking for the middle of the night. That's a way of playing we've been working on a lot more lately. I've got rid of a lot of junk we've used and that caused the sounds of recordings like the one on Ikuisuus, the one on MYMWLY. We wanted to concentrate more on energy and sound than gear or weirdness. So now most of the time when PH is playing as a regular duo, it's a couple of guitars, a couple of effects pedals and we torture that set-up like kids, fiddling spoons everywhere on the guitars. Our best recording in that fashion is definitely Looking for the middle of the night. We did that tape, released on Earjerk, inside an abandoned house we've been living in for a couple of months. It was autumn and cold, we had a couple of guitars and a couple of toy amps, that's all, but the situation, the tension and fatigue we were experiencing each day came out in that recording in a way i'm really satisfied of. Tony's words about it are excellent.
Tony from Earjerk also released something we have been wanting to do for a long time. That's the Nyàr double 3" CDr. We recorded that during the same summer as the Museum thing. Out in the garden, with a handful of objects and acoustic instruments. The thing that Nyàr is just two 20 mins tracks very sparse and atmospheric, very slow. You can even hear a religious procession walking along the street outside, that happens only once a year here. We made some copies and sent them anonymously to guys who have been an inspiration (Le Junter, The Jewelled Antler...). Some time later i realized that it would be great to be able to put it as a double 3" CDr, as the whole thing gets much more interesting when you're playing both tracks simultaneously... Tony was the one who got out for that. The release is beautiful eventually. I hope some people have been able to try it out, play both records at once. You can rebuild an infinity of pieces depending on how synchronized you play them.
Basically PH's sound has always been defined by the situation we are in when we start to play, and what we have lying around. Recording Where Kahn... was one of our best moments. It lasted the time the recording on the tape lasts. It's just one shot and that's it. We had the opportunity to record into a mountain village church, all we had was the harmonium, an accordion and a mandolin. It fits into another genre we've explored, that's the totally acoustic sessions, like on Museum for the Trees (Lattajjaa) and Nyàr (Earjerk). It's quite a challenge to play fully acoustic, for me, as i'm too often stupidly relying on effects to do weird stuff for me. Focusing is a major problem for me when i'm playing. I tend to switch from instrument to another thing to another instrument every ten second, like a panicked chicken. There's an energy i'm trying to dam. Aurélie's got a lot of patience waiting while she's doing good sounding stuff, i'm just one meter away from her, caught up in some improv dead-end, all ears shut...

Przewalski's Horses
We sadly have very few opportunities to meet and play with fellow minded musicians. It's worse since we left Brussels. There, one of our most important encounters was Michael Northam. A terrific guy and it seems our paths crossed at a perfect moment when he was trying to get into a more spontaneous way of recording. Well he couldn't find more spontaneous than us. That's just all we could share. So we had the great opportunity to play with him more than a couple of times, and learned a lot... Now, we're back living in France and just gave up the idea of looking for people to play with. Chance will tell, but looking won't help.
I'm trying ot build a solo practice under the Mangy Goodfriend pseudonym. Basically getting back to a type of sound somewhere between our Detroit and Mendota Hotel releases. MH is maybe the earliest recording of PH, and that was me solo, with a prepared guitar and radios. Got back to that recently last winter when recording Detroit; that time on bass. Mangy is a way to plunge into that kind of recordings, merging the bass with the guitar and the radios, along with a lot of looping.
Aside music, i'm a photographer and lover of vintage photographic gear. I buy and sell old photo gear to make a living. I also work in art centers as a guide for tours of the exhibitions, mostly of contemporary art, a great job.

There's nothing outside the web. It's just that simple. The label, the releases we've been able to put out as PH, it's all thanks to the internet. As i said the few connections we have in the flesh are dispatched everywhere in Europe, so even if there's sometimes really cool encounters, and people who seem excited by the label's releases and artworks, it's pretty rare. That's just the way it is, which is really nothing bad considering how the label has been distributed all over the world by Boa Melody Bar in UK, Tomentosa in the US, Art Into Life in Japan, Metamkine in France, Staalplaat in Germany, etc... I've had unexpected orders from people all over the world.

I guess we love all possible formats. They all got their good sides. I feel linked to the CDs, the first records i spontaneously bought were CDs, although my very first musical experiences were on tape. Digital, download only is always a bit less fun of course, but i'm not against it at all, each listener we get is a blessing, so doesn't matter the format. I'm not gonna report mediafire links of our records. I don't care, i'm just amazed that anybody would listen...
I like tapes for more wobbly releases, that's why Pripyàt and Soupe are tapes. I like CDs for colder, dronier, darker stuff. Sadly, we haven't had the chance to release any vinyl yet. Of course it's a fantastic medium, but i doubt any past PH recording would fit onto a vinyl. There's something too noble about that medium. You'd have to scratch the records a bit for us.

There's no reason for PH to split now, it's been existing as such a fragile, sort of spiritual thing for 5 years. We never know when and where we're gonna record something nice. One thing new recently is we might be able to rehearse on a regular basis in a dedicated place. Like a regular band i guess, but something new to us, as we've always been switching places, seldom played in the same place more than twice. So now there's nothing precise planned, but i hope to have some Mangy Goodfriend stuff gathered soon...
As for the label Nothing Out There, the new Robert Horton release will be out this summer. Then, there's a couple of projects, one crazy cut-up/paste/folk/spoken word project by a band of guys from Tournai, Belgium, they're call Les Holchteins. I'm really excited about this ; it's something i feel just nobody else will release, and it's totally unique, very very funny and also just excellent musically. Then there will be a Michel Henritzi release of his "Walking in the shadow" live performances. Great guitar player too, it's the french Loren Connors really.

Przewalski's Horses

Our entire "discography" is available on our bandcamp page...

July 30, 2011