Melaine Dalibert (born 1979), a French composer/pianist, has been increasingly recognized for his compositional piano works as well as his interpretations of works by Gérard Pesson, Giuliano D’Angiolini, Tom Johnson, Peter Garland and many others. Trained as a classical pianist in Rennes (where he teaches now), Dalibert studied a large repertoire of contemporary composers' works at the Paris Conservatories. Being involved with experimental music at his young age, Dalibert found a way to compose music through mathematical concepts.
Fascinated by natural phenomena which are both expected and unpredictable, and also inspired by the work of the Hungarian-born French media artist Véra Molnar, Dalibert has developed his own algorithmic procedures of composition which contain the notion of stretched time evoking Morton Feldman, minimal and introspective, adopting a unique concept of fractal series. His piano music has been released on four CD recordings to date: Quatre pièces pour piano, self-released in 2015, ‘Ressac’, released from Another Timbre in 2017, ‘Musique pour le lever du jour’ released from Elsewhere in 2018, and ‘Cheminant’ from Elsewhere in 2019. He was featured as a solo pianist in the album of French-born Greek composer Anastassis Philippakopoulos' ‘piano works’ released on Elsewhere in February 2020. His short pieces ‘Maelström’ and ‘Piano Loop’ were released as digital single tracks in March 2020.
His creations have been radio transmitted (France Musique, BBC, RAI, KEXP, RTBF) and played in many French and foreign festivals, museums and contemporary art centers.
Interview: Fifteen Questions Interview with Melaine Dalibert
photo (c) Le Lieu Unique
15 Questions with Melaine Dalibert
(Interviewed by Tobias Fischer)
When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I first imagined music when I was a child. Then I began to write it as a teenager while being largely influenced by Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen, then Schönberg. But at this time I was stuck in finding a personal way to develop my ideas. In 2010, when I was 30, I finally found my own path.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It took me time to get a kind of freedom in my compositional process. I've been a pianist for twenty years and as such, I have embraced a large panel of pieces from the masters. I learned a lot just through my contact with the instrument, by emulating these masterpieces. But I felt a huge difficulty to mature ideas that in the end were not mine. I worked a while with Ligeti, Carter and Pesson in mind. Then one day I discovered Véra Molnar's paintings that acted like a revelation on me. Her way of painting was what I was looking for in musical composition. It lead me to include algorithms as a compositional tool.
What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer and how have they changed over time?
I would say that it's hard first to find personal technical skills in composition that will make ideas grow up in a smart and efficient way. Later, it's even harder to get good ideas !
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I think about musical composition on a daily basis but I spend only very little time on it. I'm not working in a productive or quantitative way but I can be involved in that process at home, in the train or even when I'm jogging! Most of the time I'm behind the piano in my living room or in the conservatory classroom where I teach in Rennes.
About writing music itself, I would say I just need a quiet environment, music sheet, pencil and eraser. I don't use any software even if the use of algorithms could suggest that.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I try to write down music only if I get a clear overview of the emerging piece. Most of the creative process happens upstream, as an introspective, daily work that can last several months before I pick up a pencil.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The only motivation for me is the desire to figure out a solution to a formal issue. Without any preliminary idea, there is no work to be engaged in. And most of the time I get a deeper understanding of that preliminary work when I'm running.
Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I would quote Deleuze as I'm working on "space-time blocks". The core of my compositional process is about the behaviour of "space-time blocks" series that are based on algorithms. The piece "Ressac" for instance is about varying durations - increasing and decreasing - continuously stretched over time. Then I include some events to randomize the process.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Even if I use algorithms I don't build them with a software. That's a way I'm following to evolve in a well-controlled and more simple fieldwork.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives, including the artists performing your work?
Véra Molnar in 2009, then François Morellet were two great influences for me since their body of work as visual artists helped me to figure out my own musical path. I'm regularly pleased to have my music being played during their exhibitions because our creative procesess are echoing each other. I also enjoyed writing the music to Marcel Dinahet's video footage.
How is writing the music and having it performed live connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
It's an ongoing and evolving topic for me. I'm looking for a kind of simplicity, an optimal minimalism that I think provides good results in an album production. I'm now wondering how to strengthen the 'substance' of my music during the concert. Maybe I could introduce some improvisation, which I consider to be a fundamental part of any live performance.
Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
The notion of time is hard to discuss as it seems illusory to me. It's the primary vector that makes the music come to life. Time enables sonic events to be identified and turns on our memory. One could say it builds a "listening drama". In my pieces time is a quiet element, there is no beginning, no ending, since the algorithm can indefinitely develop.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
The physical aspect of sound is the essence of music. But tone isn't at the core of my work. Like a painter can constrain himself to a very few colors, I compose essentially for one instrument. The piano provides a pretty neutral tone and long harmonic resonances that can be minimized in their expressivity.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
As I said earlier, I perceived the embodiment of my music trough the work of a painter. Sight is for me the most related sense to my compositions. I think a kind of visual transcription of my pieces could be realised. Durations are similar to distances and the pace of durations can be transcribed into paces of lengths. There is also a lot to say about the connections between colors and harmonics, since they are both based on spectral concepts.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I sincerely think my music isn't about any political claim. But I certainly resist any principle that would rule music or define what music should be. In my opinion the artistic involvement is all about the unexpected pathways any artistic field can explore.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I feel that today the sound as a 'personal identity' one can develop is more and more important in comparison to the musical 'discourse'. And it already has a huge impact on formal and structural aspects of many pieces. Maybe artificial intelligence research will surprise us in many ways!
(Original interview is found in 15 Questions website)