Artist Spotlight: Tristan de Liège

‘It’s too easy, with today’s technology, to get distracted by the enormous amount of options you have and never finish anything’

Thanks to current technology, a vast world of sonic possibility now lies within every musician’s grasp. Electronic music particularly – with its accommodation of midi, live recording, sampling and endless editing options – seems limitless in its potential for variation and exploration of sound. It’s this climate of overwhelming choice that often makes or breaks the modern musician; diving into its sprawling wilderness, they either adapt and thrive, or lose themselves in uncertainty. Tristan de Liège has, without a doubt, achieved the former.

I discovered de Liège about a month ago, after coming across the February 2016 release under his main moniker, Stratus. The Diver submerses the listener in a pool of soft synth, rippling beats and undulating strings – I was in love before the second song had started.

Upon hunting down Stratus’ SoundCloud, I was impressed, not just by the quality of de Liège’s work, but by the sheer volume and scope of his musical exploration. This man has been very, very busy over the past few years. 2015 alone saw three album releases under Stratus, and three vastly different collaborations. Lost At Sea, a collab with Benjamin Formanek, sets the listener adrift in an ocean of post-rock lulls and crescendos – while Thoma, a duo project with Askanse, is a downpour of sonic diversity, from tracks drenched in trip-hop electronica to warm Bali gamelan showers. Stratus’ last release of the year, Frontiers, emerged from a series of improv sessions with violinist Allen Russell that attempts to ‘achieve a sound that felt very real and organic, despite being in some sense very produced and programmed’. Each release presents something new to the listener, in terms of style, instrumentation, production, mood and theme. Yet quality does not suffer for the sake of variety; de Liège consistently delivers honed tracks that demonstrate skill and selectiveness.

I got in touch with the man himself last week to learn more about his creative process and how he so fearlessly and successfully navigates the jungle of modern music.

De Liège explains that his creative process consists of ‘two phases: a quick and intuitive, creative phase where I’m just recordings lots of sounds and exploring, and a slower editing phase where I am working on intricate sound design and mixing and creating the beat’. He stresses the importance of balancing freedom and decisiveness in one’s musical exploration. ‘Having a certain kind of momentum is very important’, he says, ‘…it’s too easy, with technology these days, to get distracted by the enormous amount of options you have, become obsessed with using all of those, and never finish anything’. However, he maintains that selectiveness shouldn’t limit the exploration itself. ‘One’s subconscious contribution to one’s art is at least as important as one’s conscious contributions’, writes de Liège, ‘and the only way to realize that in practice is to constantly be exploring lots of ideas without judging them. This creates a nice mental space where you’re just focused on the present’. I believe it is the balance of these two philosophies that allows de Liège to achieve such diverse harmony in his tracks.

De Liège draws inspiration from an assortment of genres and artists, and names Bonobo as his greatest influence. It’s easy to see why: the British electronic artist is known for the masterful diversity of his music. ‘When I realized he taught himself a bunch of instruments’, de Liège writes, ‘I thought, that’s amazing, I want to do that as well. Firstly, because it’s just really fun and interesting to try to use instruments in different ways. Secondly, because I think it gives you a unique sound, since no-one else is going to play the instrument in exactly the same way’. He goes on to list an anticipated variety of other influences, including Radio Citizen, Quantic, Four Tet, Amon Tobin, Prefuse 73, ‘early 2000s trip-hop/lounge, post-rock, gamelan, ethio-jazz, afrobeat… and all the various forms of nu-jazz that have appeared, especially notable on the stuff from Gondwana Records’. N.b. I urge you to go check out this label – home to incredible talent such as GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands, both of which released stunning nu-jazz records this year. De Liège’s music is teeming with evidence of this wealth and diversity of inspiration, yet none of it feels imitative or muddy. Rather than trying to cram a jumble of discoveries into each track, de Liège carefully selects, combines and builds on sounds to deliver balanced, individualistic work.

It’s been a busy few years for Tristan de Liège, and he won’t be slowing down any time soon. I asked what we can expect from him in the future, and it looks as ambitious and varied as his previous work. ‘I’d really like to try film scoring, perhaps for independent films or TV shows’, he says, ‘it would be an interesting project that would make me think differently about my music and could be a good way to meet different artists. I also currently have a post-rock project in the works that should be finished by the end of the summer’, he continues, ‘there may be some another Stratus work by the end of the year, but it depends on where my inspiration takes me. Finally, there’s going to be another release with my side-project Thoma, with the producer Askanse’. De Liège’s voracious experimentation of sound continues to take him to new, exciting corners of the modern music jungle. I, for one, can’t wait for his next expedition.

Listen here:

N.b. This review is from earlier in the year – I will be posting a couple of articles I finished before the website went up.

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