Some music is meant to appear exactly as it was written, to be straightforward and blatant, with no ambiguity or room for interpretation, while some is meant to be exactly nothing but the opposite of all that. Neither of these dominating characteristics are any more right or wrong than the other, and both have their own places in the grand scheme of things. While these things are of course open to debate, it eventually comes down to the listener to determine which of these leanings they personally prefer. Throughout the years I’ve spent furrowing my way through the world of music from that perspective, I’ve time and time again come to the conclusion that I find my enjoyment from the latter of the two, even though I’m not opposed to some caveman-esque execution occasionally. I just generally sway towards things with depth, openness, and equivocality, as those give any kind of music the meaning and significance I as a listener seek for, and today’s featured artist represents all that.
Oiseaux-Tempête are an avant-garde post-rock collective from Paris, France, flavoured by experimentality and drawing ambiances from nothing short of apocalyptic measures, and one I’ve been obsessing over for years. I’ve been meaning to dig deep into them for a while now, and once the opportunity finally presented itself, there’s no way I would’ve declined it. I also got the chance to talk to the band’s prominent members, Stéphane Pigneul, Frédéric D. Oberland, and Paul Régimbeau, abbreviated to their first initials on their answers, for clarity’s sake.
Oiseaux-Tempête‘s self-titled debut came out in 2013 to a wide applause, also being the first effort I heard from them despite stumbling upon them only few years later, after a set of other releases had already surfaced. Already on their debut, the band displayed a master class in carefully crafted but natural songwriting, fascinating instrumentation, and weaving volatile atmospheres packed to the brim with emotion and dynamics. Some of the songs, like the opener “Opening Theme (Ablazed in the Distance)” and “Ouroboros” rely on a more open-ended motion both musically and mentally, while others such as “Buy Gold (Beat Song)” and the ambient monolith that is “L’île” are like journeys into the very essence of intensity and attraction. The additional, shorter field recording/noise tracks round out the entirety that just might be the strongest opening statement I’ve ever heard from any band or artist in existence.
S: ‘Back in 2011, Frédéric and I were playing aside each other, in FareWell Poetry, a cinematic orchestral project with Jayne A. Ross. Due to our desire to play more freely and the inherent problems of a complicated set up with that band, we wanted to experiment another way. Frédéric went to Greece with his friend and photographer Stéphane Charpentier in order to document the consequences of the economic disaster that was going on at that moment. He asked me to jump in on the adventure to write some music for a poetic and political documentary. At the same time Frédéric met Ben McConnell, the drummer of Beach House and Au Revoir Simone. We just gave it a try, one day in a rehearsal room, the three of us. Only improvisation, but the magic was there. After only that one rehearsal and one gig in a gallery, and still without any name for the band, we decided to explore this further and entered a studio in Lyon, France. We were so happy with the resulted record that we just sent it to our beloved label Sub Rosa. Within a day, they replied wanting to sign us. It could not have been simpler and easier, and we were the first to be astonished by their kind response to our efforts. Stéphane C. made the cover and we found the name with the first record in our hands, and Oiseaux-Tempête was born.
‘I’m still a bit shocked nowadays about how effortless it was, after all these years with experience from being in so many bands and working with so many people. Sometimes it’s just magic, you don’t think, you go, you give it a try and you realize you just met the right persons, with the same tastes, the same ideas, even without talking about it. That’s why this band is so cool to be in. It was like this at the time, and it’s still the case today. We don’t think that much.’
F: ‘Retrospectively, it is interesting how Oiseaux-Tempête turned in its own way to become more of a kind of collective, an open family, than a regular band. Chance itself is definitely a member of the group and part of the music that we are playing together We could play as a duo or as a septet, with guests musicians from Middle-East (Charbel Haber, Two Or The Dragon, Sharif Sehnaoui, Youmna Saba, Tamer Abu Ghazaleh), Canada (Jessica Moss, Radwan Ghazi Moumneh), or Europe (G.W. Sok, Gareth Davis, Christine Ott, Blackthread), and it will still be Oiseaux-Tempête, whether a show or a release. All the members are important, from the musicians to our sound engineers, and the video artists to the photographers working with us for any specific things. Since a few years, the musical core team on stage tend to be organized around Stéphane, Paul (Mondkopf) and myself, with drums by Jean-Michel Pirès and voice contributions by G.W. Sok.‘
When I further inquired about the initial motives and drive behind starting the band, the duo echoed each other’s sentiments, which technically, I guess, isn’t surprising at all;
S: ‘We just wanted to be together, as we discovered everything seemed to be so easy. We didn’t have any plans, even less an idea of the music we wanted to do. I started something on the bass, Fred followed without any doubts. He changed instruments and started to play saxophone, I followed the mood. Ben was a very accomplished drummer, very versatile and with a time feel that suited us perfectly. We just wanted to be free I guess, that’s the only thing I can tell about our musical goal.’
F: ‘Having no plan was — and still is — the main plan with Oiseaux-Tempête. And even more so when speaking about musical genres and common influences… Our fuel is the pleasure to perform and to record music side by side in any space. Then things are happening and also guiding us in a way.‘
The immediacy and naturalness the band talks about is tangible in everything they do. The collective approach and featuring musicians beyond the confines of a standard band begun early on, by way of expanding the tonalities to be found on their debut by producing a full-length remix album from its tracks on the following year, featuring a wide array of renowned musicians and producers from all over the globe.
In 2015, Oiseaux-Tempête released their second album ÜTOPIYA?, a record that saw the band taking the form that already appeared impeccable and fine-tuned it even further, and the result speaks for itself. The floaty opening of “Omen: Divided We Fall” kicks in with spacious drum rhythm and haunting guitar and saxophone leads, providing the firm foundation the rest of the album was built on. The album also saw the introduction of the vocalist/narrator G.W. Sok, who has frequently collaborated with the band since. Besides his inclusion, the album features a plethora of other musicians, an ever-shifting setup that has stayed as a trademark for the band from there on out.
Despite experiencing changes in their line-up, different people coming in through the door simultaneously while others leave, some staying just for a brief moments while others have for years, the band has never really changed their approach to writing, generally speaking. Nuances of course get altered from time to time, but the overall recipe has remained.
S: ‘By experience, we know that our best ally is the mood, the cocoon, the party we had the day before or the next one, not our musical skills. We tried many times to explain this when we were asked, but we just came with this word: overplay. A kind of trance of friendship and joy, like kids in a playground. We pay attention to the sound in this ‘bubble’, and are kind of gear nerds, but that’s all. When Paul and G.W. Sok joined the band, it was the same pattern, the same evidence — everything must be easy in studio. What you can hear on records is very often the first take. We edit a bit, trim or otherwise fuck up the things, but in essence, the part is already there. We just sit and play, and this aspect never really changed through the years. Again I’m still amazed how it is simple when we are all together. I can’t explain more, or maybe I just don’t want to understand. Like those tunes you never want to play yourself, to keep it mysterious, to keep it magic in your head and fantasies. Does “The End” by the Doors have more than a D chord? I don’t want to know, I just want to keep dreaming when I listen to it! Is Robert Smith a great guitar player? I think he is one the best ones, I don’t want to know why.’
F: ‘I guess the way that we are editing our tracks changed a bit during years or, more precisely, every release needs something a bit different when playing around with the recorded material in order to make a Oiseaux-Tempête album. With our S/T release, and also with parts of ÜTOPIYA?, we were really careful to keep the whole take from the studio when possible, almost untouched from the recording, just mixed. This was almost an unconscious rule: if the take is good, let’s try to find the closest emotional way to mix it and to reveal the magic in it. Tracks like “Ouroboros”, “Omen: Divided We Fall”, “Soudain Le Ciel”, and more recently “He’s Is Afraid And So Am I” and “The Naming Of A Crow” were really built like this, straightforward from the studio. Then our album AL-‘AN ! in 2017 expanded for us the crazy territory of the multi-editing in our tracks: we could take a bit from here, another part from there, maybe a third part from this thing we’ve recorded with a cellphone, and mix all of this various recorded material in a single working session in order to ‘compose‘ a song or a piece. This weirdo thing was already there in our first albums, especially with the use of extra field recordings in some songs, but the global process with AL-‘AN ! pushed us deeper into this direction. Adding an extra instrument at the last minute on this one? Yallah, let’s go, if we’re feeling it… The more we’ve grown with this band, the more the musical frontiers are moving further in a way.‘
The collective released a compilation of sorts composed of mainly previously unheard material titled UNWORKS & RARITIES 2012-2015 in June of ’16, before embarking on the creation process of what I think is their most sophisticated effort to date when it comes to sound design, the above mentioned AL-‘AN ! الآن (And your night is your shadow — a fairy-tale piece of land to make our dreams). I think this album is exactly where the band found their most profound self, with the outcome being an unprecedented voyage into what music can mean as a concept.
From the hauntingly beautiful “Notes From The Mediterranean Sea” to the outdoor marketplace-esque (I know, right?) “Feu Aux Frontières”, and further to the immense noise rock and delicate instrumentation forming the 17-minute epos that is “Through The Speech Of Stars”, the measures the band is taking to provide the listener with various sensations and feelings is borderline unbelievable, but most importantly, delightful as such. I don’t think I’ve ever came across anything even remotely resembling AL’AN ! as an entirety, and I honestly doubt I ever will. The tones, moods, and especially the colourful instrumentation, evades all logical conclusions one could’ve made based on the first few albums, and it’s something that’s proven to be quite difficult to be put into words. So just go and listen to it, please.
As apparent, Oiseaux-Tempête are ridiculously hard to categorize, albeit naming things isn’t that necessary in today’s musical climate to begin with. One thing that seems to be a constant with them however, is the engulfing atmospheres. As a listener I find profound meanings in all of their doings, and am aware that my interpretations might be, and probably are, just my own for the most part. The band, I learnt, cherishes this ambiguity to an extent, while admitting that there’s some kind of a bigger picture hidden in plain sight;
S: ‘I guess the others will say something else, as we are all different, but for my part, I don’t want to think too much while we’re in the studio or even on stage. I think it’s the same for the others, but we just let it go. It’s more after we recorded that we ask ourselves what we think are the good questions and try to answer those. The visuals are very important for us. Especially for Frédéric who is also a photographer and did the covers for several of our albums. We talk about and choose the lyrics together with G.W. Sok. The credits also are also important, we can put some lines, some directions in the titles. So of course we have our own ideas regarding the world, but I like to think that we leave it all open to people for interpret in their own ways. We leave some clues on our website, embed some secret links, etc… it’s not a big thing, but we do leave things for those who want to look for them, and it’s fun!’
F: ‘Covers and artworks, words used with vocals and titles, the specific travels we’ve done to record each release, are definitely some keys to unveil a possible mystery around our discography… But I like also the idea that music is just music, and that some listeners can jump on some of our tracks without knowing anything about our background or the little epiphanies which made this song or album happen. We don’t think much about it actually, but if someone wants to dig around and to enjoy the whole journey, I guess there are always some tiny details and rhizomes to discover.‘
After releasing the live album طرب TARAB in ’18, the collective ventured forth to release the album From Somewhere Invisible, a somewhat of a mix and match of everything they’ve done previously, while returning to a less abstract pace that flourished on AL’AN !. The wild instrumentation is still there, but overall the band took a turn towards heavier and darker tones, also putting more emphasis on the narrative side of things. The album’s chilling concept speaks its own language once again, making it a unique effort in the band’s discography.
I know it might seem strange to say how each of Oiseaux-Tempête‘s albums have their singular sound yet sound coherent when put together, but you’re better off by just believing me when I say it’s very much the case with them. The band’s existence is far from linear, as each of these releases reside on their own planes while sharing certain unspoken, underlying similarities and distinct, shared feelings. Still, you’ll notice that an evolutional curve exists in parallel to this road map of releases.
S: ‘Maybe the electronic part is more obvious now and so it tends to sophisticate things, but since the debut album, this aspect is present. The production also may influence this feeling. Our second LP UTOPYIA? was really rough because we mixed it ourselves with Frédéric. Now we got Jean Charles Bastion and Radwan Ghazi Moumneh behind the desk and with their skills and gear it may have some prints on our records, for sure. But again we don’t have any plans for this, if Frédéric wants to play more saxophone or keyboard and Paul wants to play guitar, it’s all fine and natural, just the heat of the moment.’
F: ‘Next year Oiseaux-Tempête will turn 10 years old… How fast these years went! Of course, I guess we changed a bit along the way, as our music did. On a personal level, I still don’t consider myself as a multi-instrumentalist who could play anything, but with experience I know more now about how to use various instruments in order to produce some specific language with them. I love to be able to jump in between some specific timbers, to be versatile. The idea is to make your instinct grow and to connect with something you really want to play that can help the collective building of the piece. From the inside to the outside. I guess we like to search and to experiment with our various instruments; it is a ‘game‘ and playing music is keeping alive the child inside of you. Synths and modulars were part of the trip since our debut, with tracks like “L’Île” and “a Traversée”. Last years, from AL-‘AN ! maybe, we went deeper into this, Stéphane joining the modular synth adventure, Paul arriving with his skills as a full-time member in the team, and myself going further into the world of analog synths and keyboards. It is just another way to produce electricity, right?’
P: ‘I think every records are influenced by the one before, because every album is a recording of a moment, often not prepared to, and gives new ideas for the next one. And what is great with this band is that it’s like a playground. Frédéric and Stephane invite new friends to enter the circle and to play with them with no rules and everyone influences each other. It’s not musicians to fulfill a need for a band, it’s the band that fulfill the need to play with musicians and simply having good time.‘
It’s particularly interesting to hear how each recording session influences the following one, especially when considering my point about them not being linear by design. But judging from everything they’ve told me, I guess it’s the unknown itself that makes the band, and by extension their listeners, tick as a whole. Embracing the moment without prejudice, expectancy, or other bias, proves yet again to be a fruitful model, and something I think people should make a note of. Not necessarily just in music, but in life in general.
One, yet another staple aspect dictating Oiseaux-Tempête‘s singular tone is their predilection to recording everything live. This not only makes their music gripping and tangible, but also gives it gives it a sense of unexpectedness and the capability of being surprising when you the least expect it.
S: ‘As I said, this is our natural process. I don’t think we even could do it otherwise to tell you the truth! The only times we tried to record like 6 or 7 takes in studio, it all usually ended in the garbage bins of our hard disks. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true!’
F: ‘We don’t have a rehearsing space with Oiseaux-Tempête — or with any of our other bands, actually. Just sweet home studios where we can do solo / duo things but not record a whole band with dynamics. At the beginning it was as simple as that: we’re meeting to play, sometimes we’re going to a studio for a few days, improvising live, and fun and pressure are doing the rest… I guess the key could be here, the fact that we’re not playing too much together, trusting our collective ideas in the now of the recording. Then, always, we’re taking our time, sometimes even half a year before working again on the material we’ve recorded. Editing, eventually re-recording, and mixing process need to step on the side to be effective for us, as we need time to digest and to think.
‘During the first confinement, we had an offer to compose a full-length original soundtrack. For the first time, ’cause of the pandemic, we had to record our solo parts in our respective home studios — and surprisingly it worked well also in this configuration. So things are definitely open for us.‘
Indeed, besides the mentioned albums and other efforts, Oiseaux-Tempête have also composed few soundtracks. This fits to the band’s established overall aesthetic pretty well, and I think it’s interesting how anyone could listen to the soundtracks as bonafide albums, rather than pieces separated from something else, a film in this instance. I asked the band if is it important to them — or something they hope to do — to be able to include their signature tones on these, ‘extracurricular’ efforts as well;
S: ‘Again, we just try and see what comes out with what we have. The team changed a bit during the years, Jean Michel came in just before we landed to Canada, and it was all so fresh again. But we never asked ourselves what we’re gonna do. That’s the case especially Jean Michel, he just waits the moment to enter with the drums, and has just the perfect idea with what is going on. I think we just do what we can do. So I guess that applies to the soundtracks too.’
F: ‘Of course, for a soundtrack, our music has to fit in something else which is bigger, the film itself. That’s the goal. But I guess, normally at least, if some director is coming to see us to compose some tracks for their movie, they should know why… It is not because our music is ‘cinematic‘ in a way that it could suit easily inside a film; it is a whole combination of feelings, of moods, of perception of time which are more complex with animated pictures than with just closing your eyes while listening to music. For example, in the work with Ala Eddine Slim, TLAMESS (Sortilège)’s director, the process was very intuitive. He knew exactly why he wanted our music as a character in his movie. So we tried instinctively various things in front of the rushes before the editing of the movie, with him in the studio listening and watching, and half of the definitive choices were made together in a few days. For the last one we’ve composed, Holy Emy by Araceli Lemos, the process was different, no drums needed, more synths to play home and shorter tracks in length to record. I guess there are still our ‘signature tones‘ and ideas here and there, but the result is of course very different. I like the fact that our music could be as open as the possible members featured on it, or the instruments we would like to play in the now.‘
That brings us to the present day, and the collective’s most recent effort, the TLAMESS (Sortilège) from last year. As mentioned earlier, I think any listener would’ve chugged it down whole as a ‘real’ album regardless of whether or not they knew it was a soundtrack. I’m one such listener, and had apparently kept my head in the bushes, and just jumped on it blindly when it appeared on streaming services. And it struck me, hard.
Even though I detest cinematic as a word, and think it shouldn’t be used to describe any band when it comes to determining how any music sounds like since to me it mainly translates to a concept of lacking something, visuals in this context. But in spite of my connotations, I can see how that ideal might pop up when scrutinizing everything Oiseaux-Tempête has done, and I sure as hell know why it comes up when listening to TLAMESS (Sortilège), obviously. It’s amazing how well the band’s sound transformed into a soundtrack, without really breaking character at any point, and that’s the way I look at this release as well. I also have to say that seeing a film with the score you’ve heard in an isolated form for a dozen times before even realizing what it was made for, was quite the odd experience. Most importantly, the film is stellar, so I recommend you all to give that a gander if you haven’t yet.
Before rounding out this behemoth of an article, I wanted to slightly reflect on the past year and a half, mainly to see how a band whose whole essence revolves around unity, has coped through these dire times. We’ve all seen, heard, read, and lived through all of it so I won’t go into it in length for obvious reasons, but it’s comforting to know the band has found even some productive ways to make their time count, much as the majority of all of us have, I’m sure.
S: ‘It just killed me staying at home and not being on stage. We did record another soundtrack during these terrible months and believe me those were the only good moments I had. Even if we couldn’t be in the same room, we experimented another way of writing some stuff and it felt good. But all the questions, what is my purpose, do I still mean something when all culture areas are shut down, is music not essential like they say and all that philosophical existential shit I’m used to living with, were present and during that time, very hard.’
F: ‘Mmm… Personally I went through so many various moments with the pandemic and multiple confinements, from sideration to care, from compassion to disbelief, sometimes to anger because of how stupid the restrictions and orders were, but eventually jumping from the idea of feeling bored and useless to the possibility of taking care at least of my home studio, upgrading it, and finding a way to play new music in solo form, which was something I wanted to do before the pandemic anyway. The first result of that is called Même Soleil, in collaboration with photographer Gaël Bonnefon, and will be out on IIKKI next July. Of course, in a global level, future is scarier than ever. The pandemic seems to be used by politicians everywhere as a new chance to shut down what capitalism calls unnecessary jobs, destroying public services by privatizing it, education, culture, and prosecuting protestors. In the meantime, while our planet is slowly but faster and faster dying, billionaires want to build colonies on Mars… Wait, is this shit real?’
P: ‘In France there is social care for artists that protect us when we don’t have gigs but because of the capitalism’s teeth who ruin everything good for the people we don’t know if it will be like that forever.‘
For the time being, we can all only hope that the governments on a global scale recognize the unprecedented trials and turmoils musicians and the industry as a whole is going through, even though most of the time it seems like they’re doing exactly the opposite of that. But until then, at least we have each other — albeit from a distance — and music to count on. In addition, we also have the kind of articles you’re reading right now, just going on and on in the same fashion as the pandemic itself, with no end in sight. Self-realization much?
So, how to sum up something that by design can’t be summed up? The easy answer, is that you don’t. I’ll take that route, and just command you all to experience Oiseaux-Tempête if you haven’t yet, and you can do exactly that over here on Bandcamp. Just bring an open heart, open mind, and a bit of time with you. Also throw the collective a follow over here on Facebook and keep an eye out on their website to stay updated about their doings. All I know is that they hope for the coming times to turn better for everyone, are working on something yet to be announced, and that it will be loud. Take that as you will.