I imagine that to be an artist in Switzerland must be very much like being an artist in Canada: one has solitude, beautiful natural scenery, a simple life but with access to high culture and proximity to other cultures. To be an artist in such a country is to be kind of a prophet on a mountain, looking down on the crazy life of nearby countries and having time to contemplate it and make sense of it.
This has never seemed truer than after listening to the music of SKNAIL, a Swiss jazz ensemble with international connections and inspirations. You’re listening to the music of someone who has access to all that’s happening in the world of music but who has the time and solitude to step back and really understand it, to develop a deeper consciousness about it, and to produce work that’s real and close to the heart, informed by reflection and enriched by innovation.
SKNAIL, aka brilliant Swiss composer-producer Blaise Caillet, brought us Glitch Jazz in 2013 and a second album, Snail Charmers, in 2015. Recently Caillet took the time to answer the Mindful Bard’s questions about his artistic journey and his unique approach to musical production.
Did you really replace the traditional drum kit with “found sounds?”
Yes I did. The “electronica” part of SKNAIL’s music comes from glitch electro music. Here’s the description of the glitch aesthetic (from Wikipedia and the SKNAIL’s website www.sknail.com):
Glitch is a style of electronic music that emerged in the mid to late 1990s. It has been described as a genre that adheres to an “aesthetic of failure,” where the deliberate use of glitch based audio media, and other sonic artifacts, is a central concern. Sources of glitch sound material are usually malfunctioning or abused audio recording devices or digital technology, such as CD skipping, electric hum, digital or analog distorsion, bit rate reduction, hardware noise, computer bugs, crashes, vinyl record hiss or scratches and system errors. Glitch is a sub-genre of electronica, a post-digital aesthetic. [Wikipedia)]
I like this aesthetic and these micro sounds. It gives a very special atmosphere, very different than that of traditional electronic music. You must know that my two main influences in music are two music labels: ECM Music for jazz and Raster Noton (Alva Noto) for electro glitch music.
One day I thought that mixing contemporary jazz with this glitch music could be very interesting and might even sound great— and it happened! And when I made the first SKNAIL recording session with double bass player and then a saxophone player, I straight away noticed that this mix sounded really cool!
Regarding the sounds I use, all my glitch sounds are real (machines, electronic, computer failures, etc., as well as organic sounds such as sounds from the human body). On the other hand, I don’t record them by myself— I buy them directly on the internet. I always try to find the best quality sounds and samples. Afterwards all these sounds are transformed, processed, and treated with a computer and sound treatment plugins.
Have you ever used circuit-bending toys?
Yes I do. In all the sounds I’ve used, there must be a circuit-bending toy!
Do you embrace a religion, ideology, or spiritual practice that informs your work?
I was baptized Protestant, but I’m not a practising. Actually I don’t embrace a religion, ideology, or spiritual practice that informs my work, but I’m sure there’s a “higher power” that guides our steps.
Do you feel that the artist has a responsibility to respond with compassion to the suffering in the world?
Yes. If an artist does his art with his own sensibility and this sensibilty is touched by the suffering in the world, or by other global and human problems, this will be reflected in his work. That’s what I feel and I try to do.
If you had an artist’s mission statement, what would it be?
Try to suggest something else. Open new doors. Develop new concepts and new sonic experiences. Take risks! This is highly important for me, and yes, that’s right, I consider it a mission!
What conditions do you need in your life in order to continue with creative production?
I need calm and rest to create. I also need to do other things apart from music to get inspiration.
On top of making music, I work full time as an office employer in a little company. It allows me to earn money to fund my own projects.
In any case, whatever I’m doing, I’m still thinking about what to create and how to develop what I’ve already created.
Are there any books, films, or albums that have deeply influenced your development as an artist?
Books: Voyage au bout de la nuit (Céline), Le Désert des Tartares (Dino Buzzati), Cent Ans de Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Le Grand Meaulnes (Alain Fournier)
Films: The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott), Un Singe en Hiver (Henri Verneuil)
Albums: You Must Believe in Spring (Bill Evans), Le Voyage de Sahar (Anouar Brahem), Extensions (Dave Holland quartet), Insen (Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto), The Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd), Funk Power 1970 – A Brand New Thang (James Brown)
How do you pronounce “SKNAIL?” And how did you come up with this name?
This is a “snail” with a “K” in the middle. So we pronounce “sknayle.” The idea came from the scene in the movie Apocalypse Now when Marlon Brando (Colonel Kurtz) makes a delirious speech and speaks about a snail on a razor edge.
Ever since I saw this movie, I kept this image in my mind. So I decided to do the first album cover “glitch jazz” with a snail on a razor edge and to name the project “SKNAIL.”
This image illustrates my philosophy: We’re all snails coming up to a razor edge. But do you know what happens to a snail on a razor edge? Nothing! His body and skin type allow him to rest on a razor’s edge, or on anything sharp or prickly, without getting hurt!
I’ll just let you meditate on that.