Julien Mier: Walking in a synthetic forest (interview)

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The composer and producer Julien Mier (born 1989 in the Netherlands) is known for his eclectic and washed out collision of musical genres. His signature is this width approach of fragmented melodies, packed in a palette of sometimes almost waterfall kind of textures and dreamy, melancholic stories. He studied at the School of Music & Technology in Hilversum. His debut album Out Of The Cloud appeared in January 2015. 

Is nature important for your work?

Julien Mier: Absolutely, it is a big anchor point because I grew up west of Amsterdam near the dunes in a little village called Santpoort. I’m moving to this side of the country again, it sort of feels like coming home.

How would you say this influence manifests in your music?

JM: Something I’m really inspired by is collage-like work. Nature is like a big compilation of animals and it’s an environment that’s really interactive, there are a lot of fragments and things that work together as a whole. I just call it the nature’s way but you can capture that kind of feeling in a city as well. That’s pretty interesting because the concept of what nature is, is pretty vague.

How is it possible to replicate nature in electronic music?

JM: That is something I’m also working on at the moment. When I lived in the forest, I saw a lot of birds communicating and flying around. I was watching that and noticed how interesting it is that every bird has its own melody. So there was a period of time when I was just analysing these melodies and replicating the tonal gestures on the synthesizer. I was getting pretty close with layering all those birds together so it would sound like you are walking in a (synthetic) forest. I think the interesting point is when you walk away from that in electronic music, untangling their melodies into my own made-up melodies. It’s a synthesizer in the end, so the sky is the limit. It’s really interesting to progress from this natural environment sonically to something which is like a musical ensemble.

So it’s about processing the sounds rather than using actual field recordings?

JM: For this particular project it was mainly for analysing purposes. For example a tomtit does ti ti tu ti ti tu.., and it could be variations of that. But there you have the core musical motive, you already have that very melody which is recognisable for the animal. Maybe on itself it’s not that interesting, but it starts to be when you trick the listener into thinking it’s something real and then you just reveal it’s not. Then you begin to tell a story as a musician or a composer.

So these various fragments start to have meaning when they are juxtaposed with some other fragments?

JM: It’s also something very suggestive. For example sometimes a sound doesn’t mean anything on itself, and suddenly when there’s context behind it, you have this meaning. It’s like visual collage. I draw a lot of inspiration from visual scenes, it’s about the scenery and the whole layering of things.

When you hear a certain sound in nature, can you already envisage how you’re going to place it?

JM: I record a lot of things all the time. At the moment, I’m not actively working on something, I just record random things. When I’m working on a piece, I always have a very big database of sounds that might be interesting for it, so it could be a recording I did five years ago which ends up being the last missing puzzle of a recent piece. I put a lot of those kinds of recordings together from different times and sculpt my composition out of it.

But you leave this fragmentary feeling in the final result as well.

JM: Yes, because in the end it does need a purpose. You always have to think what’s the function if you’re using fragments instead of recording as a whole. I like it when it’s broken. It gets different perspectives. You can listen to it at a macro level, but also within a microscopic range.

Do you also have some conceptual reason behind it or is it purely the sonics?

JM: It’s sort of a little presentation of my head. Sometimes my thoughts feel like a spiral of fragments in my head. It’s just the way I am I guess.

Because this fragmentary thing also describe how most people think and operate these days.

JM: I have a Tibetan uncle, and read a lot from the Dalai Lama. An example is The Paradox Of Our Times, where it says that these are times where people prefer fast food but have slow digestion. If it’s not snappy, people are not sticking to it. So in some way you could say that fragmentary music is a pretty current representation of our age I guess.

Can you talk about your latest album Out Of The Cloud?

JM: That’s the album I made when I was living in the forest, in the Veluwe, the biggest rural area in the Netherlands. For example, the third piece, called “We Are Clockwork”, I made when it was really stormy in the Netherlands. There were these high trees around the place where we lived. One of the trees fell on the neighbours house, luckily they weren’t at home. It’s just a reminder of how forceful nature can be. Lot of pieces on that album are location-based, the second piece, “Timid Feathered Creatures”, is about the first day these small chickens came out of their coop on the farm.

Out Of The Cloud, does it describe anything?

JM: Out Of The Cloud is a little bit like leaving the society for a bit, everyone is in a specific cloud, literally, in the internet. It made sense to call it like that because it was a sort of an escape to the great wide open, instead of hanging together in the same cluster.

Were you frustrated with civilisation and urban life?

JM: I think the cause of this was the address where my ex-girlfriend and I used to live before. It was next to a junkyard. I made my previous EP called Jane’s Junkyard there. Those were dark times, because we lived next to a garbage dump and you had beeps and noises coming from there all the time. On the other side, there was a factory for coffins. It wasn’t one of the most of the happy places I’ve been to. Our cat also got injured during this period and our landlord was pretty bad as well. When we moved to the place in the woods, it really felt like a prison break in some way. Also sonically, it was never quiet. Then we moved into one of the quietest environs we’ve ever been, at night it’s pitch black outside, there’s nobody around, it’s a total contrast.

So music for you is autobiographical as well.

JM: Yes, absolutely. I never try to do it in a way that I’m going to write a love song, but I always draw inspiration from my direct environment, because aside from textual music, singer songwriter stuff, music is pretty abstract. For me personally, it’s always nice to have a read thread going through my work which I can glue onto. It’s like a diary.

Do you have any specific musical references that you like to turn towards?

JM: It’s more pure emotions that are not describable in words. Something that triggers memories. For example once I had a pretty happy piece that’s called Je t’écoute (French for: I’m listening to you) from my 2012 EP on King Deluxe. In that piece there’s a trumpet which makes the whole piece really sad towards the end. It’s because this trumpet is playing the death march. Even though the context is pretty dreamy, even happy, the complete atmosphere changes because of that. It’s the suggestive side to music which I really like.

Do you know what sort of emotions you want to trigger, or it’s up to the listener and sometimes you also get unexpected reactions?

JM: Unexpected reactions are the best. When people contact me and say this and this piece helped them through a part of their life. A friend of mine quit music for a decade and then he heard one piece of mine and suddenly started getting inspiration again to create.

What do you think will be the next chapter for you?

JM: I’m moving now, and actually at the moment I’m creating quite a bit of music. Since I live in a temporary room, I don’t have any furniture, so I have my whole studio set up on a carpet so I’m working on something called the “Carpet Island Sessions”. I’m not sure what will come out of it, sometimes music has to be slow-cooked.