Light, body, space, music: An interview with Julien Desprez

Julien Desprez

Julien was born in Paris. He first taught himself to play the guitar before joining the E.N.M.D. of Yerres, headed by Manuel and Patricio Villaroel, then later attending the jazz department in Montreuil, led by Mano Vallois. He obtained a D.E.M and received a jazz golden medal. He later embraced a more experimental, abrasive sound, which he’s pursued in numerous projects, such as Acapulco Redux and Brazil Mash-up. He was one of the SHAPE artists performing at Novas Frequências  festival in December last year.

What have you been up to recently?

My last show was on Saturday night. I play in a band where we make techno with instruments. It is music for the dance floor. I use the guitar and some pedals. The guitar becomes a kind of a controller. We have two guitars, one bass, drums and electronics. We usually play at around 1 or 2am – techno mood. I’m also working on a new project which is similar to my solo project, Acapulco Redux. We are working with a choreographer, lights and a band, and we’re also planning to do mapping. Next week we are researching: how to set it in space, disconnect the various sounds, how to use the body and the movement of a musician, actually. As for the lights, it all revolves around questioning what you see. The same goes for video. There’s no narrative, it’s about changing the space.

It’s interesting, because you started in jazz.

I started to play the guitar when I was 16. I played Nirvana with my friends. Gradually, I discovered free jazz. My school was focused on traditional jazz. We were studying the famous jazz-standard, how to do a solos, etc. The other part of the school was focused on improvised music. I’ve been into that ever since. Subsequently, I discovered noise music. I began my solo project Acapulco, which was only about sound. I sit down and use the guitar as a controller – I fight the guitar, and play pedals with my feet. That puts my body into action. I’ve played a lot of gigs with this project. Each time I played with this project, people kept asking me whether I was a dancer. But the only thing I thought about was sound. We also decided to use light in the same way I use guitar pedals. Push the button, and control light in the same way I control sound. The choreographer pushed me into a “dancer space”, he asked me to do some movements, but that wasn’t exactly my place, because I’m not a dancer. We wanted to use the body in a natural way. We discovered that it was fun when the intensity of the music got very high, and this put my body in a kind of explosion. The question was more about how to find this moment, where sound gets connected to the body. Acapulco Redux was premiered one year ago, and I’ve played it maybe ten or fifteen times since then. Today, my vision is completely different. I got more used to using my body and the space.

In your performances, you are probably looking for some kind of intensity, aren’t you?

I like really intense music where sound becomes physical. Intensity for me is a thing which allows you to jump over the line between, for instance, music and space. It stays undefined, so you can switch between them.

You also do quite a number of other projects, like Brazil Mashup.

Brazil Mashup is a project that I have with a collective of musicians from Paris called Coax. I’m one of the artistic directors of this project. Each member of the collective has to propose something. We also include video. We have three screens in space that surround the audience. The musicians are also around the audience. It’s an immersive piece. We created a game where each musician has to write a piece for the screen device. The video has to come from the web and be connected to the hashtag “Brazil”. Brazil is completely crazy and there’s everything in this country, that’s why we chose this hashtag. It has a lot of possibilities. For each show, we create a new mashup video, plus the music. It’s a bit like a happening where you have the rules, but you also get lost all the time.

Is there a red thread that runs through all of these projects of yours?

There are two ways to practise arts: to focus on a concept or rules, the position I take in such projects is different each time. On the other hand, since I come from the world of improvisation, I really like to improvise in order to meet people, like at Novas Frequencias. I played my solo show a few times, but I also improvised with people from different musical aesthetics. I try to connect with that. I don’t want to play in bands where the focus is on improvisation per se, it’s more about improvisation as some kind of food.

So you can basically play with anyone?

Yes. I’m looking for a space that is undefined, and this space then defines what is done and gives it a meaning.

Do you have a special technique of playing that you developed?

There are many ways to play the guitar. You can play it like a traditional instrument, but you can also play it like a computer. I mix both of these techniques to create a wall of sound. I have a special technique: my arms do something with the guitar, and my feet do stuff on the pedals. It’s like an expanding instrument. My technique is closer to that of a drummer than a guitar player. I use my arms, feet, legs. To prepare for my project Acapulco Redux, I’d watched a lot of tap dance videos to learn how to use the weight of my body and my feet. I’m trying to reinvent my technique all the time. I try to follow what I feel.

Do you also play other instruments?

Before – to earn money – I used to be a guitar teacher. I didn’t like it too much, but they also had drums there, so I learned to play drums that way.

Do you have any influences in terms of playing?

I guess my first big influence was Jimi Hendrix, of course. I also like the American guitarist Bill Frisell. He has a huge technique, but he doesn’t use it. It seems really simple, but it’s actually very complex. I’ve never been into guitar tricks too much though.

What are your plans for this year?

A new project with my band Snap, involving a bagpipe player. I have some shows with a new ensemble, an orchestra with Mats Gustaffson planned. Then there’s Brazil Mashup. My year will revolve around light, body, space and music. For Acapulco Redux, we want to make a movie with a 360-degree camera, which will be made for a VR headset, to get into an immersive situation. I will continue releasing albums, but only improvisations.