By a certain standard, any piece of music about which one can comfortably answer the question "What is this?" is a failure. Temper, then—the second album by 24-year-old Thomas Meluch under nom de musique Benoît Pioulard—is not a failure.
By turns (and often simultaneously) a one-man exploration of intimate guitar 'n' vox bedroom pop, found-sound textural experimentalism, Laurel Canyon folk rock, and processed percussion impressionism, Temper is captivatingly capricious and, for all its vagaries, completely coherent. It is a local album for Portland music fans whose record collections have Elliott Smith filed next to Eluvium, and White Hinterland next to White Rainbow.
MERCURY: You recorded roughly half of Temper in your home state of Michigan, and the other half in Portland after moving here in 2007. What effect did that relocation have on the making of the album?
MELUCH: When I was still in Michigan, everything I was making came in the wake of four years at university and a more familiar lifestyle that seemed to be dissipating, so most of those pieces are imbued with a fair amount of uncertainty and contemplation. I took about a two-month hiatus from recording when I moved, and once I began again I felt a rather palpable surge of energy and naivety (in a good way), which I'm sure lent to the recordings made thereafter.
The tracks on Temper fall roughly into two styles: acoustic guitar-based folk songs set against a backdrop of atmospheric field recordings on the one hand, and less structured sound pieces on the other. Are your processes for making these two types of music different?
The main difference I'd cite is that the purely instrumental pieces leave a considerable amount more of room for improvisation, so they're mostly constructed during the recording process itself after I build up a cache of potential elements. I always try to leave a lot of room for contingency, even in the "proper" songs (hence many of the flourishes and background noises), though when guitar and voice are the center, I do tend to rehearse the hell out of them before rolling tape.
How are you approaching live performance these days? In the past you've been disinclined to sing live or to replicate songs from your recordings. Is that still the case?
Indeed. Since finishing the new album I've been focusing on instrumental pieces, mostly built with guitar, harmonium, and a few other things, and run through a variety of filters and pedals. This is not necessarily the direction I'll move with recordings, but it's been quite satisfying to be able to just sit in my living room for a couple of hours and work with a few simple ideas until more begin to bubble up... I suppose, consciously or not, that I'm always looking for new modes and methods of sound building, so for now I'm in a pleasant place.
Benoît Pioulard performs on Monday, September 29, at Holocene.