La Théorie des Cordes: a sonic journey of improvisation and minimalism – An exclusive interview with the Band on ‘4U 9525’

La Théorie des Cordes, a French jazz rock progressive unit, initially took shape as a dynamic duo formed by Mathieu Torres on guitar and Stéphanie Artaud on piano. Drawing inspiration from the diverse realms of 70s British progressive rock, avant-garde progressive, Canterbury, as well as the hard rock and metal scenes, their musical journey has evolved with a changing lineup while maintaining the core Mathieu/Steph duo. Their debut album, “Premières Vibrations,” resonated with listeners in 2011 under the Musea Records label, followed by “Singes Electriques” in 2013. After a hiatus dedicated to individual projects, La Théorie des Cordes reemerged as a collective, unveiling their third album, “4U 9525.” This latest release delves into improvisation atop minimalist structures, offering a glimpse into the band’s evolving sonic explorations. The album not only serves as a testament to their artistic growth but also hints at future releases that promise further musical adventures. With “4U 9525,” La Théorie des Cordes showcases their commitment to pushing boundaries and embracing new soundscapes. For a deeper understanding of their latest musical endeavor, the extramusic editorial team had the privilege of interviewing the band. Stay tuned for insights into the creative process, inspirations, and the fascinating journey behind “4U 9525”.

Can you tell us about the origins of La Théorie des Cordes and how the band evolved over the years?

We created the band in 2010, with the urge to play something new, authentic and real, amongst the other projects I was already in, La Théorie des Cordes was the best way I found to express myself with the guitar and Steph to come back to the piano, her original instrument. We played together for 7 years, with us, a different line-up through the years, Julien Langlois, Tadzio Gottberg, Camille Bigeault, Ophelie Luminati, George Storey, Baptiste Segonne, etc.
Overall, the guideline was that the music had to tell a story, even without words.
We released 2 albums between 2011 and 2015, and we’re about to release the 3rd one just before we put a halt to the project in 2016.

Your debut album, “Premières Vibrations,” was released in 2011. How has the band’s sound and style developed since then?

Essentially, we gradually started to write less and improvise more within the structures. While on one hand, we kept on molding the narrative melodic structures into creative fables, we were also, on the other hand, acquiring mutual confidence as we played together. Throughout the years, we tend to develop a form of musical conversation of our own, that lead us eventually to express more using collective and real-time improvisation.
Also the musical discourse is systematically enriched by listening to different projects, as we are full-time musicians in different projects too, curious by nature and we love music in the broad sense (which does not care too much about aesthetics) each experience , each new musical obsession, each meeting or each listening to a new album of a new project, then enriches the subject and serves as a breeding ground for what we will compose subsequently.

Your music is described as being inspired by 70s British progressive rock, avant-garde progressive, and jazz. Can you share some specific musical influences that have shaped your sound?

Math: There are lots of them, we didn’t think of this project with a particular aesthetic, as you say we created innocently this LTDC monster, then some people saw parallels with the music that was being made in the 70s and it is true that there are similar elements in the way of thinking about long pieces which use several types of music, with improvisation and a particular importance given to the subject and the soul which is emerges, more than the hope of satisfying a rather mercantile charter book.
As for our influences we can cite, frank zappa, john zorn, gong, magma, squarepusher, univers zero, mr bungle, steve coleman, pantera, nirvana, coltrane, tigran hamasyan, alfa mist, stravinsky, soft machine, poil , ni, jack dupon, skindred, plini, mahavishnu orchestra, polyphia, phantomas, panzerballett, mobb deep, plaid, machine head, ennio morricone, mogway, danny elfman…

Steph: Honestly I never listened to any of this music before people started labeling us with it. On my side, at the time, I was mostly into films scoring and impressionist pianists of the 19th century, such as Gabriel Dupont and Claude Debussy, and for the contemporary, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Mr. Bungle. Voilà!

Your latest album, “4U 9525,” explores improvisation on a minimalist structure. How did the concept for this album come about, and what inspired the choice of theme related to the Germanwings crash?

Steph: All we really wanted was just to jam together, with Hugo and Heiva, like we would have done w/ LTDC. So we put the rules down, chose 7 modal pieces, 1 chorus in each for whoever felt comfortable to do so, 10 minutes per track w/ chronometer to force us to stop at a decent moment. One whole day trying music, sounds, patterns, rhythms and colors until everyone was good. Next day recorded within two-shots of each, straight up. So it’s very lively and accidental too.
The German Wings crash, came at the end of day two, if I’m correct. I was drifting along while listening to the recordings and a lot of images and emotions came to my face. I was trying to name them accordingly and it were city names that came up! Like a travel book, « journal entries » and I don’t remember who yelled.. of a suicidal pilot.

Steph: It was me.

Math: Not exactly, During a final listening session, I suggested that the song were somewhere between color and emotion, Steph suggested almost all the names with a town and a sensation, then suggested it could be somewhere between a travel diary and a personal diary of someone depressed, and Steph remembered the Germanwings crash so we finished to arranged the titles

Steph: Ok, maybe sometimes I’m appropriating the good ideas a little.

Math: The starting point was to improvise on 7 fairly simple starting points (which ultimately resulted in 9 pieces) (we had only set one musical mode, a tempo and a rhythmic signature per piece). The idea was to take a bit of the creative process of Miles Davis’ “In a Silent Way” album, with a large part of freedom and improvisation, but to do it in our own way with our language.
Once recorded, it was obvious to us that this was in fact a new ‘la théorie des cordes’ album.
For the choice of the theme in fact it is multiple. We were captivated by the story of his suicidal co-pilot, already because it is an extremely shocking drama, it is a complex story which tugs at our empathy , obviously we are quite directly led to think of the victims, of their families and to consider the horror that it must be but also because Lubitz quickly became the ideal monster who could easily be delivered to the popular vindictiveness he seemed useful for us to step back to look at the situation properly and be able to identify with each of the characters in this story including the most complex.
A parallel could also be made with LTDC which, like the 4U-9525, is a vehicle which scratched in 2016 without us really being able to control the trajectory.
Finally, we are currently also on board ‘Capitalist Airlines’, and from the window where we are looking at the scene it seems that the ground is getting dangerously close…

Could you elaborate on the creative process behind the nine improvised pieces on the album and their connection to the tragic events of the Germanwings flight?

Math: As I said above, it was only after listening to the recording session that the idea of the logbook came to us, it seemed quite obvious that each piece told the story of a city, of an emotion relating to this city, like a logbook.
So the narrative process quickly led us to imagine that this was Lubitz’s travel diary a few days before the tragedy.

Steph: We thought, let’s be him, telling his fictional story. I believe a suicidal human in this society is very much like the rest of us, but sadly, helpless. We like to impersonate the situations to fully understand them. The guy must’ve been in a huge distress and ignored himself probably before he snapped and decided to terminate his and the passengers and crews lives. It’s like, how do you go on living someone else’s dream and definition of life in different places and situations around the world, but no-one really listening to your own painful silent music. It becomes clearer by the end of the opus, that all is starting to merge with his own feelings. Everything is going so fast, while death and all its silence ahead is reminding you, that at the end of the day, we’re all heading to the same very, very quiet, inert place…

The band’s music is described as highly technical. How do you balance complexity while ensuring that the audience can connect with and appreciate your music?

Steph: Our music may be technical, just not more than the complexity of the people listening to it. We try to make it fun and exciting to listen to. I’d be sad if people were bored when listening to us, thinking we’re so predictably flat. If pop music is tepid and flat, it’s because the industry chose it should be, it’s only easier to produce and repeat, simple is just (usually) business and an imposed taste too. Audience is human and intuitive enough to understand our music without any effort.

Math: We don’t really think about music through technical considerations, we think above all about making something that makes us happy or proud, and we think that through the pleasure we take and the desire to deliver an emotionally accurate speech will necessarily speak to an audience, provided that they are not too formatted by the extreme power of media hypnosis which tends to transform music into merchandising tool with a unique hip/rock/electro style of 3 minutes maximum.

Considering the thematic nature of “4U 9525,” were there concerns about how the audience might react to the somewhat morbid subject matter? How has the response been so far?

Math: We’re like teenagers, we don’t think about the consequences, we realized when we took it out that it seemed morbid, but in reality, our political period is much more so and we prefer to look away and drown in a billion of entertainment while the industrial world assassinates the entire ecosystem, we find it difficult to look away from the humbug of the capitalist world, making works of art, truly loving and fighting against these forms of oppression are things essential which on the contrary allow us to escape a little from the morbid that our current society offers when we look at it with truly open eyes.

Steph: Humanity is super morbid and suicidal itself (cf. climate breakdown). It’s like holding a mirror in front of society sometimes, it usually hates its own reflection, or worst doesn’t even recognize it… Anyway, as Math said, we like taunting our audience, its a dance, grab my hand and I’ll make you twirl fast. Even if you think you hated it, at least you felt something sincere today, happy we provoked that!

The band’s name is inspired by the theory of strings in theoretical physics. How does this concept influence your approach to creating music?

Math: In reality, it was often our useful constraint to create, the idea was to honor this theory by trying to take a macroscopic and microscopic look at the subjects that we decided to treat and find parallels in the different scales of these worlds, similar points in the infinitely large as well as in the infinitely small.
Like sociological work, which would sometimes tend to essentialize certain behavior/reactions to look at things and their mechanism from a little further away, or with a different angle than with a look too close to the handlebars of immediate reality or too caught up in it ‘affect.

With frequent lineup changes, how does the collaborative process work within La Théorie des Cordes, especially when working on concept albums like “4U 9525»?

Steph: It’s actually lineup changes that end up taking LTDC in places like 4U9525!
Different musicians that come with their different vibes, and as the string theory once said : [√(∑·∆)÷(ƒ∞)] ≈  or in other words, all accident is an earthly symphony to a free jazz musician.

Math: The heart of LTDC is the collaboration between Stéphanie Artaud and I (Mathieu Torres), but with each new team to give shape to different paintings and each collaboration pushes the project towards new forms. Here we wanted to play together (HUGO / HEIVA / STEF / MATH) we expressed the wish to get together to record a session which became an album of ‘La théorie des Cordes’ and it relaunched the desire to create things under this form, now Hugo is also huge part of the heart of the project.

Given the exploration of improvisation on the latest album, do you foresee continuing in this direction for future projects, or are there new directions you’re eager to explore?

Math: Ha ha, in fact we love to explode all the dogmas, particularly those that could settle in us ^^ As I told you, we are not safe from the fact that the next LTDC album will be more written, or even a mix of several différentens créative processes, we’ll see, for the moment my current obsessions are on forms of creation inspired by rock in opposition, I’m quite fascinated by that at the moment…

Steph: I’m open to whatever is new and creative, and fun, lots of fun, and cool, has to be cool. Maybe do music with plants, they have a lot to say. I might bridge my electric piano to the Linden in the garden, he’s a great pianist.

Your earlier albums, including “Premières Vibrations” and “Singes Electriques,” were released with Musea Records. How has your collaboration with the label influenced the band’s trajectory and the production of your music?

By digging into the label’s artists we discovered a vast universe and a very rich network of progressive music, it really enriched our culture in that regard. Moreover, we continue, when possible, to work with Musea, and now Luminol records has taken over and this label is in a fairly similar dynamic, in a mission to bring to life music in less conventional formats and which leave room to explorations.
Nowadays it’s really a remarkable commitment, we take this opportunity to really thank the entire network of prog music without whom it would be totally impossible to exist in this area which tends towards an intensifying neo-conservatism also in the musical thinking.

Can you provide any insights into upcoming projects or albums that fans can look forward to?

Steph: We released a video for Adelphya, Math’s new project. I myself am in Sociopark, experimental hip-hop, in a duo with Hugo Lemercier. We’re about to release half a massive X-LP in 2024. We also took part in the latest UBBS’s Abraham Psyché, hot dark, John Cagey’ vibe. I’m entering The Diogenes on the bass and choirs. And of course, other surprises on LTDC’s end to expect. At the moment, Zhorhann is the closest to LTDC, it’s actually the official sequel to it.

Math: Zhorhann (a bit of a cousin of LTDC) “Ainsi parlait Hominina” album which was released in September 2023 and with whom we are currently on permanent tour and perhaps a music video to come and a second album in the pipeline.
SocioPark (Hip hop/Experimental trip hop/post rock): upcoming album (Les 7 montagnes) and tour in 2024.
The Diogenes (grunge punk): album (Qui pourrait craindre le bien ?) and tour coming early 2024.
Adelphya: video of a live session (very soon) and tour coming late 2023/2024.
Urban Ballshit: live session of a free/punk/jazz improvisation which should arrive soon before the end of 2023 on Luminol records too.
LTDC: recording of the fourth album in December 2023.

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