Music Review: Les Halles – Zephyr

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Les Halles


[Not Not Fun; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Horizon, distance, mirage. Horizon, distance, mirage.

It’s as if you could listen to the photosynthesis of freakishly huge flowers found only in humongous rainforests. Or being in a limit, or a perimeter, or a forcefield, or a shield. It’s the sound of a period of absence that lasts — and is — a lifetime. An edge of a world. A landscape of quantum foam, where you finally step away from the center of the world, willfully. It’s the slipping away of life, of ego, of time. In the mountains, in a veil, in a clarity, where monks meditate and the Instagram accounts are wordy, motivating, and positive. And even beyond that. There is suffering even in this bliss. We are all in flight from reality; life readies you for not living. Our mutual misunderstanding of ourselves and of others means that music hinges on vast approximation. No consensus, just interpretation. The miasma of our brainlessness as we prowl the hours, trying not to stray off the chosen path. Chaosmosis, from one genre of music to the next, our emotions and bodies constantly changing. “In order to actualize a possibility, a disentangling potency is needed,” says the Italian philosopher Franco Berardi. To disentangle yourself, listen to Zephyr. Listen to it as if it were wind or warm weather or water. Ask yourself: Does a guru have time for Facebook? (Does the Pope?) What’s an ego to an ambient musician? (And do they listen to pop music?) Can your lifelong struggle to render yourself compatible with capitalism end? Can it? We always have to come down from our high. Zephyr knows that, and thusly contains New Age’s Fatal Flaw: that an emancipative illusion can only haunt the music, but never actualize. Moreover, anxiety lurks in the euphoria, because the euphoria is timed. A void guzzles the void. The abyss smiles at your skull. Ghosts all agleam wander with their aching. And when we enter Heaven, we have to pay an entrance fee.

Horizon, distance, mirage. Horizon, distance, mirage.

Zephyr by Les Halles

Les Halles unveils new album Zephyr, out this May on Not Not Fun

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Lyon, France-based musician Baptiste Martin is emphatically NOT not-fun: the dude makes new music out of old tapes of flute and panpipe under the nom-de-electroacoustic composition Les Halles (which is “The Halls” in English, for you brutes who don’t know French; the name may or may not be borrowed from Paris’ long since demolished fresh fish market of the same name). AND: he even has a new album called Zephyr blowing gently into the world on May 4 via Not Not Fun.

Zephyr follows a yearlong “sabbatical” from recording for Martin, and it’s also the first record he’s made entirely with a computer. His last release, 2016’s, Transient, was pretty well-liked here in TMT-land, and we published an interview with Martin a few months after its release.

Martin describes the new music on Zephyr evoking “landscapes with almost no human traces.” The album’s nine tracks are titled with the words “horizon,” “distance,” and “mirage,” which all bear the distinction not only of being very idiomatically appropriate, new age-y words; but also of being words that are the same in both English and French. (You’re welcome, you uni-lingual boobs!)

To start the non-non-fun as soon as possible, you may pre-order Zephyr here. But be forwarned: in addition to digital, it’s also coming out on a crazy-limited vinyl edition of 100 (and the vinyl comes with a bonus cassette of reinterpreted tracks), so don’t sleep. Check out “First distance,” an advance track from Zephyr, down below while you wait.

Zephyr by Les Halles

Zephyr tracklisting:

01. First Horizon
02. Second Horizon
03. First Distance
04. First Mirage
05. Second Distance
06. Third Horizon
07. Final Horizon
08. Final Distance
09. Final Mirage

Interview: Les Halles

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In many cases, ambient and new age releases are ideal background music. Sleepy synths, field recordings, and various studio tricks can provide the necessary soundtrack for reading, yoga, or a late night, post-party comedown. To put it another way, loads of new ambient releases don’t require your full attention, and eventually get lost in the ether. Back in 2014, one release of said genre that immediately grabbed my attention, and retained it throughout the following year, was Invisible Cities, from French new age composer Baptiste Martin, a.k.a. Les Halles.

While not his first album under that moniker, Invisible Cities sounds like an artifact of an unheralded artist operating at an unknown time. The gorgeously sampled and treated Amerindian flutes evoke emotions both melancholic and joyous. The tape, released via Constellation Tatsu, set the stage for Transient, Les Halles’s debut vinyl release, which quietly made its way online at the end of June. Following the cassette’s aesthetic without running the concept into the ground, Transient makes the case for one of 2016’s best-kept secrets, as bucolic tracks “Threshold” and “Living,” especially, showcase Baptiste’s unique approach to new age.

Baptiste and I connected via email, as he graciously answered my questions about the new album, the close working relationship with Not Not Fun, and his unique process of sampling those distinct Amerindian flutes.

You said that Les Halles is your first and only music project. What inspired you to start making music?

As far back as I can remember I’ve played an instrument but when I was child and teenager I was pretty moody and inconsistent, so I’ve never excelled at any of them. I started recording music in 2011 thanks to my roommate Charles, who makes music as Magnétophonique. He let me borrow his 4-track. It started with insignificant and random recordings and took me a few years to find my aesthetic, until Invisible Cities, which I recorded at the end of 2013.

Did any artists or records influence the sound you’ve developed as Les Halles?

I wouldn’t say the sound I’ve developed as Les Halles has been influenced by any artist but I like to listen to new age, modern-classical music.

Invisible Cities and Transient draw out a deep emotional response whenever I listen. Is there a specific mood or headspace you get into when you work on Les Halles music?

Yes, definitely. It’s hard for me to compose music when someone is in the apartment. I prefer silence and to be alone. I like to play when I have things to heal. After weird and cloudy days, after wasting time and money, when I feel remorse, playing music helps me to connect with reality again. I clean my place, sit down, and focus on my own music. During these times I don’t want to go out and I don’t want to listen to any other music. Sometimes I don’t listen to anything else for a couple weeks and that’s all right. I guess these relieving feelings are everywhere in my music. There’s a personal story behind each song.

Without giving away too much of the mystique behind your work, what is your process in creating a new song? The songs themselves sound so loose yet focused, almost as if you recorded the entirety of Invisible Cities, for example, in one take.

I usually start with a sample, then stretch it and add effects, then add other instruments and other samples. At the end I sometimes even remove the first sample I started with. I imagine each album as a journey. Transient is presented in almost chronological order.

I usually use the same process for a whole album. Invisible Cities was sampled from pan flute and Incan pan-pipe vinyl records. I plugged my turntable into my effects pedals and tape recorders. For Transient I sampled promo videos of people selling Amerindian flutes. I like the idea of turning music that has no aesthetic purpose into mellow and personal songs.

What drew you to the sampled pan flutes and Amerindian flutes, and how did it influence the direction of the Les Halles project?

I love Amerindian flutes, so mystical and spiritual. I found dozens of pan flute records in a thrift store the day I arrived in Montpellier, it seemed like they were here for Invisible Cities.

Can you tell me about the origins of Transient? How long did you work on the album, including the supplemental cassette, Sentient?

It took almost one full year to record Transient. It was a hectic period for me: going to school to finish my master’s degree plus working a part-time job. Recording Transient was my light, the peaceful haven I needed among the uncertainty, anxiety, and loss of control. It helped me keep my head above water. In May 2015 I attended a Gavin Bryars performance here in Lyon where he sang poems by Samuel Beckett, including Quatre Poèmes. His words resonating in that space on that specific day really moved me, and evoked very personal feelings. The word “transient” has several meanings and they all fit the mood and atmosphere I was going for.

Sentient is two 10-minute pieces. The first was recorded in February 2016. Charles/Magnétophonique played zither in the living room and I built the track around a couple loops of that. Side B is what I consider the first fully realized Les Halles song, “Ursa Major,” retitled “From Then To Now.” I recorded it in June of 2013, in Dijon, during one of those long nights when I couldn’t sleep.

What’s the music scene like in Lyon? Any record stores, bars, or venues that stand out for adventurous listeners and performers?

I think LYL Radio is pretty representative of the local scene. Many local activists have a show on it, and they also invite artists from elsewhere who are passing through town on tour. The techno scene is pretty big right now and has been growing constantly. But there are also some places for experimental music such as Ground Zero, which is a self-run space that’s been around for over 10 years. There are some other great venues too, like Le Sonic, where many Not Not Fun artists have played. I’m sure it’s always been hard to run a venue but it lately it seems like it’s gotten even harder. Shout out to these people!

You have a radio show with Magnétophonique, but besides that is there a live iteration of Les Halles? If not, do you plan to play shows in the near future?

I’m currently working on a new live set with Magnétophonique, because we’re touring in August from Lyon to Warsaw and Prague, then ending the tour at the Missing Numero festival in the west of France. Touring will be brand new experience and I’m very excited. I’m also going to get to meet and play with some friends I only know through the internet, such as Gora Sou, Seth Graham, and GS Sultan. I feel like I need this now.

What has the experience been like with Steven (Ramsey, who runs Constellation Tatsu) and Britt (Brown, of Not Not Fun)?

I guess some labels prefer to receive finished albums that are ready to be released, but this wasn’t the case with Not Not Fun. During the year we worked on Transient and Sentient I constantly kept Britt informed of what I was doing, sending lots of rough drafts, then hearing his thoughts and enthusiasm in return. That was super important to me because I knew I wanted to take my time with this album. That’s also what made this experience very unique and human. I haven’t counted the amount of emails we wrote but it was for sure a couple emails each week. Britt is definitely devoted to his label. I’m very glad to now be part of it!