Two years of pandemic have not slowed down the composer and apostle of the piano Gonzales, he assures us on the phone from Cologne, his home port. Inaugurated in 2018, his musical workshop called The Gonzervatory may be on a forced break, but he continues to put on unique projects. Among others: Gonzo has just released a cover of the theme, composed by Michel Legrand, from the film Summer 42announcing a covers album, Legrand (re)imaginedby the famous French composer, expected this fall. He also just launched Consumed in keya proposal so absurd that we went to ask him to justify himself.
“I’m a little late,” Gonzales admits of the source of this new album. Twenty years later, to be exact: in 1998 appeared consumesfourth album by Canadian composer and DJ Richie Hawtin under his famous stage name Plastikman, and Chilly Gonzales launched his career the following year with a first offbeat hip-hop mini-album, OP Original Prankster.
However, four years ago, the pianist discovered the existence of consumeshe who, he admits, “isn’t very keen on electro, especially at that time. I had never been to a club in my life. It is a culture that I respect, but it is not my religion”. Corn consumes piqued his curiosity. A mysterious disc, made up of fastidious and rigid rhythms like those of Detroit techno that Hawtin embraces (he grew up in the suburbs of Windsor, about thirty minutes from the American city) and low frequencies soaked in dub echo.
Listened to at high volume, consumes (like the first three Plastikman albums, by the way) plunges the dancer into a kind of hypnosis, launched in pursuit of the evolving sounds of synths; when played in the comfort of the living room, it invites reflection, the void forming in the bass chasm and between the synthetic percussion hits begging to be filled by our imagination.
“Me, I heard it as a work that leaves us a lot of room and that makes me think of many other styles of music, explains Gonzales. I heard jazz in there, although of course there are no jazz instruments. I heard cabaret music, dub, a bit of disco, a bit of classical music too. »
“Generally, explains the artist, electronic music works with a simple 4/4 rhythm. Now, like Richie [Hawtin] explained to me later, he adapted the delay effect of his machines to generate three beats per measure – and there, we end up with a ternary rhythm, the to mix together as we say in English, and that’s a jazz rhythm. Almost three-quarters of the album is in ternary; immediately, I heard something very different and fresh in this album. I had never had such a reaction about an album. And then I said to myself: maybe I can translate that into what I feel, musically. It was my instinct that led me to do this. »
To do what, exactly? To play the piano on consumes. Gonzales took a minimalist techno classic and added piano to it. It is therefore no longer consumesit is called Consumed in keybut what exactly is Gonzo? Does this work turn out differently because you put piano in it? And one shot, if you had been a painter, would you have dared to paint a mustache on Mona Lisa ?
“It becomes something else,” he admits. You know, there’s this word in German, Urtextwhich defines a closed, finished work, but theUrtext can serve as a source for another work — Maurice Ravel, for example, who composed his own orchestrations for Pictures at an exhibition by Mussorgsky, respecting what was in the original work, but adding something. I treated consumes like a Urtext : it becomes something else, but without disrespecting the original work. On the contrary, I am reviving the original. So, I believe that we have the right to add a mustache to any portrait if we feel that it is not a parody. If we feel that the intention respects theUrtext. I made a version of consumes hoping it would have its own truth and not detract from the original. »
Not according to the main interested party: Richie Hawtin approves, he even redid a mix to integrate the piano scores into his techno matrix, first burying Gonzales’ contribution to the last basement on the first tracks (Contain, Use, Passage in), allowing him more expression, latitude, on very atmospheric tracks, like Echo and the very dub Locomotionthe latter being one of the most successful of the project.
“It was probably more difficult for him since this disc is his baby, recognizes Gonzales. Me, I was disguising her baby by making her wear another costume. It was therefore up to him to make the difficult gesture of letting go of his baby, and I am very grateful to him for agreeing to do so. He could have said to me: “But what are you doing with my album? It’s been around for twenty years, and you want to do something else with it!” He could have closed the door, I would have understood, but he was open, and Tiga played his diplomatic role well. »
Tiga, electronic composer and DJ too, originally from Montreal, co-founder of the Turbo Records label is the one who publishes Consumed in key. He served as an interpreter, a go-between, between their two worlds. It’s a bit thanks to him that this album exists, believes Gonzo. “People who know me know that I like to recreate emotions with the piano, for example recreating the emotion of rap on the piano, without rhythm box. I’ve always thought that a musical genre didn’t depend on the instrument you use. We can very well evoke hip-hop and electronic music on the piano, and I feel that Richie does the same, evoke other musical genres, but with electronic instruments. He and I are a bit on either side of a mirror. »