Sacrifice Seul: ‘My production looks like old modular synth mixed à la Mad Max”

Charlie Aubry graduated from isdaT (the Toulouse Art School) with honours. He creates installations using various objects that he assembles, crafts and hijacks. These structures are often autonomous and activated with a programmed score and they frequently generate sound. At the same time, he develops performative music projects using short-circuited machines and various recordings that he accumulates, resulting in a total confusion of sounds, mostly powered by a dirty beat. He performs under the name Sacrifice Seul. Since 2013, he has regularly collaborated with the Maguy Marin company.

How have you been in the last half year, which has been testing for most people, artists and musicians included?

In France we have a special status for people who work in the audiovisual industry, it’s called “intermittence du spectacle”. You have to work 507 hours per year in this domain in order to get it. The government pays you a stipend each month, and I had the chance to get it this year. So, I wasn’t in trouble. It’s always stressful to make up your hours, and with the confinement it was difficult to manage it, all the artists and technicians were worried about it. For me, the last 6 months have been very constructive. I basically lived in my studio during the confinement, so I had a lot of time to make music and read all the manuals for my devices :). It was a good moment for thinking about the situation and what I want, what I do. I’m always in a deep descent, with no end, all goes so quickly and I’ve the feeling of missing what’s essential.

You graduated from an art school, and have been involved in both music and art. How do you perceive these two worlds – especially in terms of underground music and art, and the institutionalisation of both?

Here it’s very difficult to mix both. People have a need to categorise you, both in the underground and the institutions. It’s complicated because you have to be a kind of chameleon. The art scene in Paris is very binary, a few artists earn a lot and a lot of artists earn nothing, there is no middle ground, and in France in general it’s hard, because cultural politics is concentrated in Paris. I grew up outside of Paris, in the south of France, and I see the differences.

When it comes to music, it’s a little bit different, because it’s less binary. For all the mainstream music you have to be in Paris because of the labels, especially the major labels, but in the rest of France, you have a lot of independent labels and musicians. With the internet it’s easy to have influence, and the underground scene is more visible, there are a lot of projects around, and people communicate with each other. I think the music scene is less individualistic than the art scene. There is less competition in music, I think.

As for the institutionalisation of both, it’s an infinite war. When you begin to be supported by an institution you are considered mainstream by the “underground”, it’s like you cross a border. I’m not fond of this reasoning, and I don’t want to generalise. The institution loves to reappropriate the code of the underground, but it’s a different world. Most of the time the money is there. I find it interesting to juggle these two worlds. Each has their own characteristics with good and bad things.

How is the music / art scene in Paris that you are a part of?

I’ve been here for two years and step by step I’ve found my own circle of people and places. Paris is too big to meet everyone. It operates through circles and friends. A friend of a friend introduces you to someone who knows someone else who makes things… Whether it’s music or art, it’s the same. Paris is the centre point. Because of this, a lot of people take themselves too seriously. I partied a lot between the ages of 17 and 26, and now it’s different. Maybe I’m getting old… because of that, I don’t meet a lot of people and I’m not really aware of the scene. I do my stuff in my basement and it’s cool like that.

Can you talk about your approach to the instruments you use, especially their hacking or circuit bending?

In the beginning, I was a student with no money, and I bought a broken guitar amplifier on the internet with the goal of fixing it. It cost 190€, which was a high price for me at that time. So, it was a big gamble. Finally, it just needed a weld, it had an easily visible fault. This experience opened my mind, and I began to collect electronics from the street. I began to make weird sounds with tape recorders, modifications of the motor speed, old toys. I traded the amp for a Roland TR505. With the TR505 I discovered and learned a lot. I bought a TR626 and did the circuit bending with banana plugs like a Serge synth. I understood that I could make my own tools, with my own ergonomics, colours, size etc… all my production looks like old modular synth mixed à la Mad Max. All of this was a necessity, only DIY and resourcefulness, because I was earning 0. This was a small experience of the system and discovering the possibility of changing it. And for me, it’s important to communicate this, because it’s politics; it’s important that people understand that they might be able to do it too. Knowledge is too separated. In the circuit bending community, I find people are sharing tricks, talking about stuff and this should be more common. With the new ecological consciousness, more and more physical or internet spaces are opening up to sharing stuff.

Another topic that you said interested you is the discord between environmental and ecological values and using modern technology, especially as an electronic artist. In this way, perhaps circuit bending and second-hand instruments’ markets are also ways to counter this obsession with new technologies (gear, etc)

I think in my practice, we can find a kind of recycling, and I’m always happy when I fix an old machine, or some electronic stuff, but it takes a lot of space. And when I’m travelling to perform, I’m worried about my ecological impact and I feel terribly guilty about it, because all this stuff can’t be moved so easily. During the quarantine, I saw a lot of streaming of video music, I made some too. But all the servers, the internet, Netflix etc. are terrible for the environment… I don’t know my real impact on the environment, and it is complicated to deal with it. Four years ago, I travelled across Europe to play gigs. It was a great experience, getting out of my house and getting around. Meeting people, discovering new cultures, new places etc… This opened my mind, but it’s totally individualistic and now I ask myself where the border lies between my personal needs and the global effort I have to make for the community. I think our mode of production is coming to an end, and the next revolution is about creating new universal protocols, languages for using old stuff and bringing it back to life. I think we have to think about a new interface able to adapt itself to the old electronic devices. As an electronic artist, I try to consider this question about the possibilities of new protocols, language, interface etc…

Interview by Lucia Udvardyova