Benoît Pioulard: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyor of: Ethereal folky ambience, warm vignetted drones.
File next to: Rafael Anton Irisarri, Lawrence English, Taylor Deupree
Playing: Wavelength’s “Don’t Speak” Friday, March 25th at Array Space. Get your tickets here!

It’s been nearly ten years since Benoît Pioulard released his debut full-length, Précis, on Kranky — the label known for housing other highly notable ambient artists such as Tim Hecker, Grouper, and Loscil. Utilizing and transforming his guitar, voice, and field recordings to create atmospheric and textural soundscapes, Benoît Pioulard creates musical forms that move seamlessly from more folk-oriented structures to dreamy walls of ambience that wash over the listener. His releases feel uniquely tied together yet evidently distinct from one another.

You’ve just begun a rather extensive North American tour. In what ways do you find that the way people engage with your music differs here versus in Europe or elsewhere?

I find that most audiences everywhere understand the benefits of silence and respect during a show, which makes a massive difference to someone on stage. Sometimes you end up playing a no-cover bar show for the post-work rabble, but that can be fun, too. Being the one on tour, I have no idea how other people internalize or experience the show, but the conversations I’ve had with people over the years convey a very rare connection that means the world to me.

What sort of factors do you find help to determine the direction you take with each release?

There’s always seemed to be some kind of unnamable, unquantifiable intuition that leads me around the next bend in the trail. Not that I’m a fatalist, but I try to be receptive to the world and attentive to my inner self, and it’s led to a lot of very cathartic and fulfilling projects.

Software-wise, I understand you use GarageBand as your go-to workstation, which I’m sure has its limitations, yet you manage to make incredibly layered music. Can you elaborate on the tools and limitations that are key to your composition process, and perhaps how working with other artists has informed your workflow?

For me GarageBand is like a digital version of a cassette four-track, which is what I used to make recordings from about age 12 to 20. The upside is that there are way more than four tracks to use, and the editing abilities are much greater. I always embrace room noise and analog artifacts, so my process has always been pretty loose and adaptable; anything that allows for spontaneity is a plus.

There seems to be a very visual aspect to your music, and you self-describe as a “photograph-taker.” How do you perceive the overlap between your music and your visual work?

I’m equally passionate about both aural and visual creation, but I feel as though I have a stronger voice in music, so photos are more of a dabbling for me… I usually make very strong visual connections to my favorite records, so album art and packaging is essential to my music-listening experience.

Outside of music, what are your main sources of inspiration? 

Hiking, bicycling, and Terrence Malick.

The concept behind this upcoming Toronto show is to remove the element of speech from the concert environment. As a performer or an audience member, is there anything that particularly grinds your gears when you seek out live music?

Not in broad strokes, but I once saw a show at which a drunk girl near me saw fit to sing along — very loudly and out-of-key — with a gentle acoustic ballad, to the point that it was as loud as the performer’s voice coming from the PA. That was pretty rough.

— Interview by Johan Seaton