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“Otherworldly and kind of sad”: How the brutalist buildings of Montreal inspired CFCF

“Otherworldly and kind of sad”: How the brutalist buildings of Montreal inspired CFCF

04 July 2012, 12:50
Words by Ro Cemm

We’ve been following the career of Montreal producer CFCF with some interest over the last few years, from the moment we were first introduced to his track ‘You Hear Colours’ by Air France, through to remixes for the likes of HEALTH, Grimes, Active Child, covering OMD’s ‘How Bizarre’ and releasing a series of EPs. We have a long overdue chat with the man behind the music, Mike Silver, to mark the release of his Exercises EP

CFCF takes the name from a Montreal television network that was around during Silver’s childhood, a subtle note of affiliation with the city he calls home. While he isn’t sure how much his changing musical style fits the name anymore, the city itself still clearly has an impact on him, and played its part in influencing the production of Exercises. “I was making a piano version of a song from a previous EP and I had cut in some footage from David Cronenburg’s Stereo, which was shot at University of Toronto in Scarborough, in this big brutalist building. The sound and the visuals together made a world I wanted to explore further. Montreal has a ton of these buildings – none particularly famous or great (apart from Habitat 67), but they are part of the fabric of the city. There are loads of these concrete slabs and long corridors and mezzanines and walkways that are crumbling now. It’s otherworldly and kind of sad. I was trying to evoke those kind of feelings.”

Since emerging on to the scene in Montreal in 2009, Silver’s music has continuously evolved. From the early beat driven material through to his latest EP Exercises, which finds him presenting a series of woozy, melancholy piano led pieces that have a stark, meditative beauty to them. “Continent was a record I made over a year, and I wasn’t thinking of it as a record at that time, just collecting songs. I was listening to a lot of Kraut rock and psych, but also a lot of disco and stuff, and old Tangerine Dream, and trying to meld it into one thing. As time goes on I’m listening and discovering new things like Japanese weird music from the 80s or ambient things I hadn’t heard before. Learning about new music pushed me in the directions that you hear on this new record.”

One of the key influences on Exercises is the work of Ryuichi Sakamoto, with Silver citing his record Playing the Piano as well as the more improvisational work with Alva Noto and Fennesz as being in the forefront of his mind when working on the tracks. “It’s really gorgeous stuff. It was interesting because when I was working I didn’t actually have a tuned piano to work with. I was in the process of moving so I was working with what I could get in terms of samples and stuff. But I wanted to make it have that warmth and that feeling of a concert hall and match that feeling, just without the resources.”

Many of the melodies on Exercises are the result of Silver sitting and playing his piano for hours on end, working and honing his ideas into something that could work. He was wary not to over-polish things however: ‘Spirit’ came about by playing over a synth bed where the idea was to not think about what was being played. “It’s a thing I got caught up in, and I think a lot of electronic music creators can get caught up in: laying out your notes and quantizing everything and making everything sound good and on beat. lt’s interesting now as more people are going back to the 70s or 80s idea where you just create and walk away from it. Take Kuedo’s record Severant from last year. A lot of that stuff is just played and moved on- he’s so good he doesn’t need to go back. It’s like a Bladerunner world record, it’s simple but exploring this retro future idea.”

While Silver has an interest in film, the idea of creating a score or a soundtrack isn’t one that he has followed so far. “I’ve done short films for friends and acquaintances, but nothing too big. Or serious. It’s a complicated process because you are being directed by someone to suit their vision. Hopefully you get the freedom to work in your style but you have to defer to them, so it’s a little different and weird, because you have to be on the same page. It’s basically collaboration. I’m not used to collaborating often, I’d like to do more. But you have to believe in the work otherwise it’s just like lip service.”

As the interview comes to a close we turn our thoughts to the future. With a sound that is constantly evolving, what can we expect to see from CFCF in the future? Was Exercises an exercise? “This record is a bit of a side step. I’ve been working on another record for three years, changing things round, and re-recording. But that is more like a pop record but also an accumulation of everything I’ve already released. I hope it will have the experimental elements of The River, and some of the subdued and improvised aspects of this record. It’s the biggest and most intensely involved record I’ve worked on, and there will be a lot of vocals on it this time. I’m thinking it will probably be next year now. It’s funny I was listening to some of the songs on the way from last week and they are in a folder called 2010. I want to have them out there soon. The challenge is to make something that isn’t just of the moment, that bridges the gap between creation at the very moment and something that will last a little bit longer.”

Exercises is available now through Paper Bag/Dummy Records.

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