Steve Valentin – Please Wait
A talk with Steve Valentin about his music
Coincidentally, like Lucien Guy Montandon who made the preceding Bambient release, you are also a musician who started out as a drummer and then developed a deeper interest for electronic music.
That’s right, I was playing drums in a rock band while experimental music was strongly present from the beginning. I managed to keep my playing conventional enough to pass as a rock drummer, but I was already heavily influenced by the electronic music I was listening to.
How did this translate onto the sound of the band?
I tried to integrate different influences concerning questions of album production. It wasn’t enough for me to just play these simple rock backbeats. I’ve always had this approach of asking myself what I hear within the music and how I could transfer it onto the drum kit.
It’s a general idea that I pursue – this is probably true for many musicians – that you hear something and continue from there; in the sense that you hear a note and within the note you already hear the next one that you want to play. It’s probably not even limited to electronic music but just a musical thought in general.
It sounds like an interesting idea that the drummer of a band would take on a kind of visionary and/or experimental role.
I think I had my ideas but sooner or later it became a problem for me because the possibilities were kind of limited – nothing against the music we made, but there’s only so much space you can move in within this type of genre. The drum set itself also became a problem because I just didn’t know how to apply my ideas. This is also why I returned to electronic music and eventually left the band. I felt like I couldn’t do both at the same time.
Do you think it would have been different if Navel had been a purely instrumental band?
I might have preferred that, but at the same time I’m not even sure if I’d have been prepared to understand what this really means. It was rather during the time that followed, when I started to try out things in electronic music, that I learned a lot about what can really be done with drums. I think it was only much later that I came to a point where I could actually create experimental music with drums – and truly understand what is possible in a musical context on a drum kit.
That’s so interesting, do you have an example?
For example I have a certain setup where the idea is to make the whole drum kit resonate, by filtering out all the different overtones of the separate drums and prolonging them, which allows me to extract a tone by hitting a drum and develop it into a distinct note. It was the idea of rhythmical densification that is compressed into texture. What happens basically is that the drum set becomes a drone.
Let’s talk about your EP. The opening track “Leak” is twelve minutes long but when you listen to it, it just flies by because it’s so intriguing and manages to maintain high levels of intensity for a long time. How did you achieve this?
I’m happy to hear that. It’s a noise track, but for me the noise is full of intersecting stories that sometimes emerge and then retreat again. It’s this kind of approach where you try to hear what is there, and even if it isn’t a lot, you hear things and you know when you need to take hold of something or push it into the background. Or where something happens that you can emphasize. So even while it’s white noise, there’s a lot to discover within it.
Can you tell us something about your workflow?
I don’t record in the conventional sense, I do a lot of intern stuff, lots of send tracks and feedbacks, and work with equalizers. The core of this track especially is really just the filter transitions of an FFT freeze that keep the texture moving. The bass drones are extracted by equalizers from the noise. It’s a lot about the idea of freezing the sound, to make one point stand still and then see what you can do with it.
“The Hangup” however is more rhythmically driven. Did you create this by starting with the idea of a drum beat?
I do hear it as a beat but to me there is a strong connection between the drum set and the electronic music I make. I like mixing ambient and techno in the sense of combining monotone beats with dynamic textures. The track is sample-based and heavily equalized. There is no clear rhythm, the beat is there but rather as a part of the texture than an independent groove. To me, to achieve an organic sound is to allow imprecision. I try to break out of the rhythmic grid by putting transitions in places where you wouldn’t expect them. It’s difficult though, because I always find myself thinking in these grids. But the idea that you can hear that someone actually played this – of moving the faders in just the right moment and so on – it’s something very interesting, and also quite musical I think.
There’s an aspect to your sound that is quite dark, is this an intentionally created atmosphere?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself often – where ones musical style is created and where it comes from. For me the dark element is the energy I am able to bring into the music, but why it is so dark I really don’t know. It’s the emotional place where I find energy within music. Also as a listener – dark, sinister sounds and developments fascinate me. I don’t see my personality type as particularly dark, however, so that’s why I sometimes wonder where it comes from. But it’s the atmosphere I’m drawn to musically – I haven’t so far managed to create a happy song.
When I asked you to send me some of your influences, you named Akira Rabelais, Mezzotint by Chris Herbert, and Tomas Köner – artists whose sound could also be described as quite sombre at times.
Yes this is definitely the direction that interests me a lot. There is something mystical within the music, maybe because of its undefinedness. I love pop music, but it’s very clear. What I like about textural music is its ambiguity, because you can hear things within the sound and you’re not sure what they are or how they appeared. The monotone and minimalistic element emphasizes a certain sinister emptiness. This emptiness is also why the second track on the EP is called “Leak”, because I imagined something was escaping, exiting from the sound.
“Please Wait” is a re-release on Bambient; the original was self-released and had different artwork that you made yourself. How did you come up with it?
I was in the train and had no connection so the music library on my device didn’t load, and I got this rotating wheel symbol instead. I thought this might be fun to use as cover art – especially for digital releases, because it looks like the artwork is constantly waiting to appear. This is also why I called the EP “Please Wait”.
What are you working on currently?
In the future I would like to record something where the acoustic drums might find a role again – integrating drums that are not so much cut apart through sampling, but “humanly” played. I also started to discover the zither as a percussive element. The idea might be to combine this with drones and the acoustic drum kit in an improvisational setting.