(download a short bio in PDF)

Interview with Salome Kiner, writer and journalist

S.K: You now write and sing in French and Chaldean, while you used mostly English in your other projects.

L.B: I’ve been trying to introduce French, my mother tongue, into my music for a long time, but without any real success. This language was resisting me. It’s tough, the sentences are too long, polluted with adverbs and complements. It’s also the language of study, of habits, of the family, of institutions: of everything I’m trying to free myself from.

I had to learn to get rid of these symbolic layers, to allow myself to play with grammar and syntax to make this language an ally, a tool. I had reached a point where English was no longer enough for me. I guess I associate English with a form of cultural and colonial domination. I wanted to access something more intimate.

S.K.: Considering your background, it seems that music is like an alphabet that you manipulate to compose your ideal language?

L.B: Music is a way of situating myself in relation to the world. I grew up in Switzerland, in the Gruyère area. It wasn’t the town nor the country, it was a bit of both: I lived in a popular building that was mixing a lot of cultures and at the foot of which cows and sheep were grazing. First duality. I’m an only child, but not the spoiled child type – I received a careful and rigorous education, quite patriarchal. My father was born in the Christian communities of northern Iraq. His mother tongue is Chaldean, and he also speaks Arabic, although at home we spoke mostly French. My parents listened to classical music and the great divas of the Middle East. I played the piano. My life was both offbeat and focused. When we started the band Skirt with my girlfriends at fifteen, it was to escape the parental gaze, but it was also a way to open myself up to the outside world.

The projects that followed, Kassette in the first place, were each in their own way the expression of what I wanted to give of myself at that moment. An impulse to make the world more livable, whether it is a women’s choir, pop songs, electronic music or noisy rock. Whatever I do, I just try to be myself, exploring all my possible versions!

So yes, as well as being the main thread of my engagements, music is a language, in the sense that it’s a way of reaching out to others by giving something of myself.

S.K.: Isn’t it also a way of going towards yourself, thinking carefully about the processes of creation, production and collaboration?

L.B: Yes. It’s a recent dimension in my work but now unavoidable. For a long time I believed in this great societal myth that wants to make us successful at all costs. I was over-investing the result. Today, the most important is to produce things that make sense. To work with people who share my values, a certain sense of collaborative ethics. To create bonds that are virtuous, respectful, generous. It’s the same with the audience. I find it hard to play anywhere, anyhow, like background music. I need to be present, in my body, in my gestures, and to feel this attention in return.

S.K: Does this search for authenticity imply certain sacrifices?

L.B: Not from my point of view. But once again, it’s a question of managing to escape the injunction of profitability that constantly overwhelms us. It’s difficult to give up what the standard offers us, especially in the music and stage industry.

By re-evaluating my goals and working methods, I have deepened my connection to music. It was a means of communication; I pushed it into the field of spiritual exploration.

S.K: What are the tools you use to conduct this exploration?

L.B: I’ve always felt close to handcraft gestures, DIY. These are the sine qua none conditions for a certain form of independence and self-management without which I can no longer live, let alone create. It’s not an easy choice, it’s tiring, but it’s a guarantee of freedom. The energy you spend to achieve this always ends up coming back to you threefold. It’s the principle of the vegetable garden. It requires a lot of work, but the flavors it offers you in return are incomparable.

Deep down, I’m a grimoire enthusiast! I spread rituals in my life, in my concerts, in my collaborations. Oh, nothing very bad: symbolic objects, a fire by the river, magic words. They exacerbate the meaning of my work. Besides, Jodorowsky inspires me a lot when he says that he is not interested in art that does not heal (talking about healing in a large sense).

S.K.: You often compose with or from visual arts… What can we find in your interior image gallery? 

L.B: Tons of references! I’m convinced that the world is not limited to the material, that you have to go beyond appearances and the visible. I’ve always loved science fiction, invented universes, creatures… I have a bit of a geek side. Is it an only child thing, having to make up worlds? I guess it’s a way of reconnecting with my child gaze, which I think never really left me.

S.K: In addition to the albums you record and concerts, you work with other art forms, including installations and sound pieces.

L.B: Sounds as such fascinate me. It requires listening to them, in all senses of the word. I spend hours walking in cities or in nature and recording what I hear around me. I also like to record people, their voices, their words. I find, for example, that the voices of the elderly have a special strength. From this material, I then create narratives, landscapes – it works like a collage.

I try to explore new places and new forms all the time. I like to go towards the unknown by following my desires and curiosity, which arouses emotion: what fascinates me, what appeals to me, what makes me angry, what makes me happy?

S.K.: Many sounds and instruments pass through your music. Are there among them faithful, immutable in a way? 

L.B: There’s the electric guitar. It’s never left me. It’s my oldest friend, my favorite jeans. It follows me everywhere I go, in the sense that I can manipulate it, use it to experiment with ideas, twist chords, dig up sounds.

And then there’re synthesizers. I’ve always liked that. What they carry around with them: machines, electronic music. I also use digital resources, cheap stuff, whatever I can get my hands on. But I still prefer the object to the digital. When I was in residency in Cairo in February 2020, I had access to online plug-ins synths – it’s handy, but for me it’s too abstract, it screws me to the screen, it’s problematic. I need to touch the instrument.

And finally, the voice. Recently, I discovered Jean-René Toussaint’s Primitive Voicemethod, which is an exploration and a work of the voice as such, detached from singing. Thanks to this technique, I can better connect to my body and remain movable inside. I no longer judge, I invest the sensations, I am physically more present. I look for the physical echoes of notes, words and images. By trusting my voice, I give it power, I transform it into rhythm. Moreover, she regularly welcomes new languages – Chaldean, Arabic, Spanish and French, to come back to your first question. It’s a perpetual metamorphosis.