Originally published in Arthur No. 20 (Jan. 2006)
UNDER A BLANKET
Amidst the culled samples and loops of antique instruments, where in Colleen‘s music is Cécile Schott?
By John Adamian
Lockstep rhythms, heartstring-tugging melodies and overpowering volume can bring the masses together. People talk a lot about the communal and social nature of music. The language we use reinforces the connection: “groups” and “bands” play in front of “crowds.” But some music—like that of the contemporary French musician/composer Cécile Schott, who records under the name Colleen—is intensely solitary, almost private. Not in the candid, pulled-from-the-diary, confessional sense, but in the I’m-alone-inside-my-head sense, holed up in a zone between headphones. In Colleen’s music there are no words, and computers and effects create its blanketing layered feel. It’s the music not of crowds, but of solitude.
My wife and I just had our first baby, Bernadette, a few months ago. Ever since we brought her home from the hospital we’ve had a lot of music in rotation in the CD changer. We’ve tried Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, Raymond Scott, some old Brill Building pop, Vashti Bunyan, the Louvin Brothers, Art Blakey, Gary Higgins, new ones by the Clientele and Broken Social Scene, and lots more. A few records seem to go over well with the baby—a field recording of the Bayaka, forest people from the Congo, a couple of Glenn Gould playing J. S. Bach, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, two Elizabethan composers, and two discs by Colleen. The mix is pretty seamless and it creates a sufficiently womblike atmosphere for all of us, but Bernadette clearly prefers the Colleen discs.
Colleen’s first record, 2003’s haunting Everyone Alive Wants Answers, is made up entirely of looped and layered samples, snippets culled from her record collection; the music creates a cocoon from thrums and furious zithers. It might seem simply soothing at first, until it casts its menacing shadow. For her followup, this year’s equally captivating The Golden Morning Breaks, Colleen (who had previously played only guitar) decided to abandon her method of using reprocessed bits from preexisting recordings and play all of the instruments (cello, music box, gamelan, melodica, etc.) herself. She then, in effect, sampled herself.
If Colleen’s music feels hermetic, of its own world, it’s not entirely coincidental. Schott, 29, works and performs almost exclusively by herself. She shuns collaboration. She doesn’t see herself as fitting in with a group of like-minded musicians. And maybe she’s right. Working for months at a stretch on her recordings, Schott prefers not to let anyone hear her work until she’s entirely through with it. She doesn’t exactly reveal herself through the music of Colleen as much as she loses herself in it. She avoids traditional touring because of the frantic travel from one city to the next without time to soak anything up.
I spoke with Schott twice by phone about her work, once from her apartment in Paris and once just after a soundcheck for a show at a London museum.Continue reading