Growing up, Parisian born Valentin Stip spent his days filling the family apartment with the echoes of Rachmaninoff and Mozart every afternoon. You can hear reverberations of his classical piano training throughout his debut LP, “Sigh,” which recently released on his childhood friend Nicolas Jaar’s Other People.
The album is incredibly well thought out – a complete idea, each track bringing something unique and fresh to the story, while perfectly pushing the whole picture along with grace and ease. But you’d expect nothing less from a philosophy major with a background in sheet music.
We caught up with Valentin Stip, who has provided podcast 166, in New York as he toured for his recently released “Sigh.” We chat more about the album, his tour, the nature of music as language, and his attempts at blending classical and electronic music.
What’s your live setup like? For now I’m basically re-orchestrating clips from the different songs. So I have all the parts very separate down to the very elements, and I reassemble them to recreate, or, I guess reenact the narrative of each song, respectively, and try to compose atmospheres of the different songs together.
When the crowd hears it, would they recognize the song if they knew it well enough? Some of the songs are recognizable, but it’s also a lot of unreleased material because as much as I would like to play a completely ambient version of my album, most of the songs are not so danceable. So I alternate between unreleased, more danceable material that I’ve made specifically for the sets, and songs, which are part of the album to keep a strong dynamic, even though the songs are atmospheric.
I’ve read that in regards to, “Pendule,” you said you the track was like you coming to terms with time. Is time something you struggle with? Yes, in a way. I studied philosophy, and one of the ultimate problems at the end of the day is – what really is time? In music, we use time in every song without really paying attention to what it is or how we’ve come to conceive it in society today. And so the song is one beat per second, so the beat is evolving at the pace of the clock that we have set, the objective clock, but the whole experience of the song is reduced to something subjective, because the progression itself is very slow. So the song itself is trying to use some kind of a pre-established conception of time, and kind of blur it out through the experience of the track.
So because the track progresses slower than our preconceived notion of time, it sort of slows time down or stretches it out? Yeah, it attempts to.
Would you say you’re a fatalist? I noticed when you were talking about the track, “Sigh,” you said it came to a fatalist conclusion. People tend to say I’m a relativist, but I disagree. In the end I think I’m a phenomenologist more than anything in that I don’t take anything for granted and I always question things again. So the album itself is called “Sigh” because the simple fact of giving it a name would preset as a concept, so to speak. “Sigh” lets it be just kind of this living organism, it’s just a movement, which is not really a movement, it’s just a name we gave to a way of breathing out.
In a way, I don’t think I would be a fatalist. I was a very strong idealist when I was younger, but I think I’ve softened a little bit (laughs).
You also mentioned when speaking about "Aletheia" that language is a paradoxical tool for communication. In what way? Well we’ve come to accept language as this objective medium, and we tend to disregard the subjective component in all communication. At least personally, I’m very troubled with the impact that words that I choose may have on what other people perceive those words to be. Having grown up with English and French, both as present, I have this very, kind of, step back relationship to language. It may be why it bothers me so much, but I struggle with it a lot.
Do you think that’s maybe why, at least in part, why you chose music? Is it a more pure form of communication? Yeah. I mean I wouldn’t say it’s the reason I chose it, because there might be tons of reasons, like the fact that I can’t see very well and I chose not to wear glasses, so I just relate to the world of sounds around me. There’s many different reasons, but it’s definitely a big part of it, that I try to reply those views through music rather than anything else.
Do you think music because it doesn’t rely on words and gets ideas across in a more pure manner? Yeah, it may be less precise, but it is further reaching I think.
You also said that you’re trying to establish a relationship between the song and religion. What kind of relationship? It’s mostly trying to recreate the necessity of religion, and how religion has really filled a gap that is unexplainable in history. Today, in some sense, we are coming to terms with it scientifically and philosophically, with some kind of structure that establishes the need for some kind of faith or some kind of higher course. I think that whatever people have been calling God; if it’s anything it’s something very deep inside people, something very subjective. I guess in “Aletheia” I used the words as a reference throughout because in a way it’s a pure translation of a sound into a relationship between people and a higher force. But I think it’s a wide issue. To me at least, I think that the necessity of religion can be resolved through things like arts or philosophy.
I was reading in an interview with Tale of Us who said people really take albums too lightly. It’s like, “here’s the shit I’ve been doing the last three months,” and I obviously didn’t get that impression with your album. It seems like there was a definite story arc. How long did it take you? What was the process like putting it all together? It started with songs, and then a year ago I tried to organize everything into a full-length format. I did it one time – I put a bunch of songs together and listened to it for one month. Then I decided I wasn’t happy, and having tried to put something whole together, for the second draft I had a very clear image of what I wanted to do in mind. I kept maybe half the songs from the first draft and I filled in the gaps with new songs that I made to fit in the bigger picture. It was really made to be one 45 or 50 minute track for one sitting.
I would say it’s a definitely complete picture. Did you have to go in and edit any of the tracks that you kept to help it all fit together? In the end, when I was mixing everything together, I would go back in and edit the tracks so they would flow better.
Would you say that you’re more of a serious person in general? I like to think I’m funny (laughs). I can take things lightly enough. I spend a lot of time thinking in my head so I guess that’s the serious part, but I love puns… I make silly puns all the time to have a laugh. So I guess I’m half serious, half funny.
Do you have a favorite pun? Not from the top of my head. For my second EP, a lot of the names were based on puns.
You said you’re learning more instruments everyday. What have you integrated into the studio so far? I’m learning to play drums slowly. I’ve also picked up the piano again now that I’ve moved back to New York. I have all my scores and I’ve been digging into old sheet music and picking up classical piano a little bit more. Also, getting into synths and electronic instruments, figuring out how the whole circuit thing really works. I’m really trying to blend together classical instruments.
Do you have any favorite classical composers? I have many. I really like everything that was happening in the first half of the twentieth century – that’s what I like the most. Maybe Ravel, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff are three.
Do you have any other music in the pipeline? Hopefully. I don’t know in which direction it’s going to go but I have many different projects in the works. I have all these techno tracks that I’ve been making for fun. I’ve been making experimental music with synthesizers. It’s really going everywhere but I don’t know what the official next step will be.
Find out more about Valentin Stip: geist-agency.com/roster/Valentin-Stip
Other People: http://other-people.net
Photos by Samantha Casolari http://www.samanthacasolari.com