Norscq: Never Neutral
Rockfort talks to uncompromising producer Jean-Louis Morgère about his work as Norscq and his past life as a member of 80s experimentalists The Grief.
A couple of months ago, Rockfort received the superb second album from producer Norscq ‘Gelatinosa Substancia’, with its delightfully layered electro-acoustic soundscapes. Digging further, we discovered that Jean-Louis Morgère was a key figure of the 80s French underground with his group The Grief, before embarking on various solo projects and collaborations, and finally settling on his current moniker. Jean-Louis was kind enough to send us the first Norscq album, ‘Lavatronic’, as well as a two-CD compilation of The Grief’s finest moments, ‘Greatest Hits’. As confirmed by the interview below, The Grief emerged as a late-period Post-Punk/Industrial act. Their sound was never static, though, ranging from Industrial Bebop workouts like ‘Lemon Bop’ from the ‘Fycazz on Bananas’ EP, to a terrifying cover of Kiss’s ‘I Was Made For Loving You’. Also, on the evidence of what’s been included on ‘Greatest Hits’, they may well, in ‘Daedalus’, have produced a masterpiece of primitivism, recorded in a rather unusual location (see below). Hopefully one day we’ll get to hear the whole thing.
‘Lavatronic’, meanwhile, is a minimalist collection of bleeps, clicks, pulses and buzzing tones that opens with the 10-minute majesty of ‘Wag’ and finishes by doing some odd things to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (the iconoclastic gesture seems to be one small thread running through J-L’s career, from that Kiss cover to what sounds like a sample of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ on another Grief track). This year’s ‘Gelatinosa Substancia’ is more roughly textured and varied, even whimsical at times with its nods to spy-film themes and humorous use of samples. Layers of sound are frequently peeled away to reveal new details or piled on to obscure what was there before, so it’s as if you’re casting your eye over a decollage
Interview with Norscq (aka Jean-Louis Morgère)
Rockfort: What were the origins of The Grief? How did you come together and what were your intentions? The earliest tracks sound like an extension of Cold Wave to an extent.
J-L: The Grief started in 1984 in St Malo (Brittany), we were three, in our early twenties, and it was like an urge to find something to do with our lives, a very classic rock situation for starting up a band. We had no real intentions, just following our feelings and diving into a whole, brand new world where everything was possible, micro-labels releasing tapes, vinyls with a huge connection in the mail art network, it was really exciting. Musically there was no concrete direction, we did not know how to play any instruments really so we were playing everything, fooling around and experimenting with everything. It was the post-punk context and you could really feel a crazy sensation of freedom, and of course we were directly influenced by what was happening all around and particularly from England so Cold Wave was intensely part of it.
Rockfort: What was your role in the group?
J-L: There were two singers writing the lyrics and me dealing with electronics, bass and guitar and composing the music. It was the period of time when the electronic musical technology was exploding and it was starting to be affordable, a new musical toy was appearing every month, it was really very stimulating.
Rockfort: Were there any other groups you felt close to in France, or internationally? The music seems to have constantly mutated, but I picture you in the context of a artists like Einsturzende Neubauten, 23 Skidoo etc
You're right we were in that kind of musical direction, for me the closest brotherhood we had was with Hula
, a Sheffield band. We were a bit temperamental so it was a strange situation regarding other French bands we were in contact with during concerts. We were experimenting with freedom which was driving us to something a bit surrealistic, full of paradoxes and some non-sense. Sometimes it was excellent, sometimes it was really ugly, never neutral!
Rockfort: How do you feel now about the 80s in France, in musical terms (or otherwise)?
J-L: I don't have any idea about this really. I'm facing my future not my past, and I'm not into nostalgia so I don't think about this so much... I was living in my own dream while France was living its socialist dream, it was a good moment to build things up.We were growing up together with the thing itself and met interesting people and much less interesting ones! Some very good things happened musically with all this indie dynamic, and some are still relevant which is very good, but I do really hate the revival idea and concept, especially when there's nothing more than any form of good old times… it's pathetic.
Rockfort: Why did the group come to an end? How did you react to that?
J-L: We stopped in 1992, our lives had changed directions during those eight years. Slowly I became the only one to really invest in that way of artistic life. Choices had to be made and more and more I was the only one considering and taking those choices. It is a strange and difficult decision to take to end a band, as no decision is good really, but it was impossible to go on, the group came to an end just because it was dead. During the next six-seven years I was unable to make any decent music, it took me a long time to find a new way of doing it just on my own. I was trying things but no sense was coming, no direction was appearing.
The only thing I did completely was a project mixing Arabic popular music together with my electronic works. I played the tracks to my dear friend Phil Von (Magnet
), he liked it very much and suggested singing on top of it. We finished the material for an album in 1993 and we tried to sell it to bigger record companies we used to work with, as we thought the music was a bit more ‘commercial’ than we’d done before, but it was a flop. That kind of trans-cultural project was very under-developed at the time, there was just Muslimgauze
on one side and Transglobal Underground on the other side. I decided to put this album in my safe, very well locked, as I was not very happy with it, it didn’t have the soul of a real band. It came out in 1998 under the name of The Atlas Project on the Prikosnovénie label. In fact I allowed The Atlas Project to be released as I felt it was a good opportunity to get back into this activity of making records.
In less than six months, at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, I released two brand new albums: a second Atlas Project album, ‘Wechma’, and the first one under the name Norscq, ‘Lavatronic’. I liked both records very much and I was very happy to be back in action. In the meantime, I developed my work as a sound engineer and mastering engineer, also producing other bands. I kept in contact with composition through dance and theatre soundtracks which was a new thing for me, very interesting because for the first time in this activity I didn’t have 100 per cent control over the decisions.
Rockfort: Does the group have a legacy in France? You’ve worked with Colder, for example.
I don't know if we have some sort of direct legacy, I can imagine some people were influenced by our work in various ways. I am pleased to think that if any legacy does exist it is more regarding a way of doing and dealing with the complex, hard and constantly evolving world of music than just the music itself. I produced the first two Colder albums which were pretty successful, I know that Marc N'Guyen Tan was a great fan of 'Daedalus', our last album, recorded in caves! It is one of the funny and interesting meeting points between my sound engineer and music producer work and my artistic work. Colder’s adventure was a strange one as Marc was a good friend and when he decided to go into music seriously, he played me a demo and I really liked it. I suggested producing it so he could search for a record label. He sent a few demo CDs and Output Recordings really jumped onto it. We had another studio session and the album came out. It worked so well, especially in the UK, the first single was even Single of the Week in the NME! It was a funny feeling to know that music coming out of my studio was such a success in England! When I did The Grief ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation with Optical Sound
I asked him to do a cover which was also released on a b-side of a Colder 12”.
Rockfort: What was your aim with Norscq?
J-L: Again, I had no concrete intention. Norscq was first my producer's name and then I used it for my general musical activities. Making music is something I need I guess, on my own and with or for other people. I very much like building sonic architecture or sonic stories, I completely dive into this fascinating moment of creation of an abstract new musical and extra-musical world.
Rockfort: How do you feel the Norscq sound has developed on the new album?
J-L: During the lifespan of The Grief, I was following the classical way of doing an album every year and a half approximately and then promoting it, let's say building a ‘career’. When I went back into it in 1999 and the early 2000s, this idea completely vanished very soon, I was just trying to focus on producing and releasing the good albums, avoiding the bad ones. This drove me to consider my work very differently. Then the ‘5 Streams’ (pictured below, live) album arrived, also released by Optical Sound in 2006, which was the résumé of my musical stories with and for Ibrahim Quraishi, a US/Pakistani director I have been working with since 2000, full of passionate and fascinating adventures. I feel now it was also the end of a long musical period of time, let's say 20 years. Now I'm more and more interested and touched by the 'trivial nature', the 'minor interest', the 'isolated incident' – ‘l'anecdotique’ as we say in French. This new album, 'Gelatinosa Substancia' is for me very pronounced in this direction, I'm considering it as a first step to brand new horizons and it makes me really happy. I want to use all the things I learnt and use it in my own way more than ever.
Rockfort: Where did the (very long) track names come from?
J-L: Those very long titles and the title of the album itself are all from a Jim Harrison novel, 'Warlock'. When I read it a long time ago, I wrote down on paper a few sentences I liked very much, some were funny, some others were more abstract or deep. At the end of 2006, Manfred Guebl of KW.I, a micro-label from Vienna, invited me to participate in a conceptual project. I remembered those phrases so I searched for this small piece of paper. I arranged the ten phrases in order, building up my own little story, which was the starting point of this new album, each phrase being the title of each piece of music with the tracklisting already given by my little abstract story. The project had its own very specific life in various installations but I liked it very much so I suggested to Pierre Beloüin from Optical Sound that we release it and we decided to do it as a picture-disc vinyl. It will be released as well by Staubgold (Germany) in gigital and on CD on August 28. I extended it to a vinyl format, adding three new tracks and re-working the previous ones. The album was structured as a single piece with ten small chapters having their own strong identity relating to the phrases/titles. It was lots of fun to play with this, I improvised a lot with guitar and bass and plenty of other live stuff, a very instinctive work.
Rockfort: You have plans linked to the album (a website and a film), is that right?
First I'm a big fan of cinema even more than music, I like stories. When I finished mixing the ‘Gelatinosa Substancia’ album, it revealed such a strange shape and structure that it gave me the idea of associating images with it. The artwork itself was already a good starting point in this development with the beautiful front cover photograph by Maria Ziegelböck
. I asked a good friend of mine, Véronique Ruggia, if she would be inspired to write and direct a short film/video clip. She wrote a beautiful script about a day in the life of an unemployed cosmonaut in constant motion. It was shot last January and right now we are doing the final editing. It will be released by Optical Sound as a DVD in a few months. On the other side, it was also fun to let a good and creative website maker Loïg
, work with all of this – the music, the video shots and the cover shots – and see what he could bring out from this. In fact it features complementary works using Jim Harrison's phrases as a starting point, arriving at a coherent, small, extraordinary world
Rockfort: Do you think there are traces of what you did with The Grief in your work as Norscq?
J-L: Of course there are traces, the music is still composed by the same person. The vocal parts disappeared so it gives a really different focus and it is more abstract, in less of a song format. By the way, my next step would be to make an album of pop songs, in my own way of course. So my music has been following my moods for the last 25 years, names and identities haven’t changed anything about this. It is funny and very interesting to see how it appears to draw a chaotic but coherent line, record after record, project after project, a constant but unconscious exploration of my own abstract world.
Rockfort: What are your other activities apart from making music?
J-L: I was a fashion model once for Austrian experimental fashion designer Fabrics Interseason, it was fun and impressive to me! I'm not really an actor either but I did act in two short movies directed by a friend Christophe Folie, and I also play the cosmonaut in the ‘Gelatinosa Substancia’ movie. I would like to do more but cinema is even more difficult to set up than music can be. Apart from that I very much like travelling, it is essential to me, it feeds me and makes me feel alive.
Article and Interview by David McKenna