Q3Ambientfest | Q&A | interview from February 2021

Christine Ott & Mathieu Gabry – Snowdrops

Snowdrops celebrates musical freedom. Formed in 2015 by Christine Ott & Mathieu Gabry, the french chamber duo is driven by a deeply personal approach to composition, improvisation and orchestration. The pair draw from a unique combination of contemporary classical, jazz, electronic music and ambient, and spent the first few years of their partnership on various collaborations, from theater plays, AV shows to films scores.

Most notably, Snowdrops composed the acclaimed soundtrack to Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s first feature Manta Ray, which won the Lion Award for Best Film at the 2018 Venice Festival (Orizzonti). The motion picture score was released by Gizeh Records in 2019.

Snowdrops signed to Injazero Records for the release of their graceful debut album Volutes on October 2020, an eloquent miniature symphony of strings, piano and Ondes Martenot.

Finding Inspiration

Christine Ott : My inspiration is clearly intuitive, the spontaneity of the moment, the relationship with musicians, instruments or spaces. It’s the music itself, spontaneous, visual, digital, and unconscious. By the way, there are undoubtedly unconscious inspirations; nature and cinema especially. 

Mathieu Gabry : But currently… it’s difficult to say. These difficult times take us away from many sources of inspiration. We put everything aside. And so we get attached in thoughts to what we love, to those we love, and we aspire to better days…

Gain & Loss

MG : Maybe a positive point at the end, is that this break gaves to Christine and me the opportunity to be more focused together on past recordings we did, to edit and mix it, and to prepare or imagine a few releases. I think we finalized “Volutes” during the first lockdown, as we found this connection with the label Injazero Records, House of C. Diab or Heinali…

CO : I also have a new solo album coming from this year, to be released on april 9th thru Gizeh. We also worked together with Mathieu on it, on this last strange year. And i worked with Benoit Burger for the mix and with Lawrence English for the mastering. But all recordings were done before, on a very large period, from 2012 to 2019 i guess…

Physical Stage

CO : I think we both have a conflicting relationship with the scene…

MG : Certainly it’s something we don’t really like because it’s an endangerment, but at the same time it is something that we adore because it is an endangerment… (laugh)

CO : As far as I’m concerned, I may have given a lot of concerts, whether in classical, or for ten years alongside Yann Tiersen, or on tour as a solo support act for Tindersticks.. or with Snowdrops.. there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t had stage fright. It’s a bit crazy. But anyway, when you’re on stage, and it’s gone, it’s ok !

MG : I see the Snowdrops concerts as laboratories open to the public. We invite you to enter, at least we try.. and often we experiment things on stage according to the places, the possibilities.. the public too…  The ‘Snowdrops sound’, if it exists, is based on this “playing together” experiment, at minima Christine and me, but sometimes with others like on “Volutes”, with viola player Anne-Irène Kempf. This is live music by the way ! “Volutes” is a kind of live recording, half-composed, half-improvised. But everything is played live, together. It gives to our sound a kind of humanity which is certainly important for us. Then on stage, we often try to find that kind of moments. Not for all the set, but a large part. Sometimes we stumble and it doesn’t work. But sometimes we are there, “in the zone”, and something magical, unique happens. It’s very precious. it’s a bit like Voodoo magic with a Nordic influence. (laugh) And this sometimes allows to certain pieces to crystallize, or other pieces to enrich themselves… I remember of an unreleased piece called “Lame de Fond” that we really love with Christine… We wrote it in 2015 maybe… We had a real structure in mind before, half-written, but the first time we played it on stage, at the small stage of the ‘Opéra de Lyon’, we went out of the structure during the show, rather consciously, half-improvised, and it gave this really powerful moment. But i have to say Christine is an incredible improviser ! She’s doing sometimes really crazy things on stage ! (laugh)

CO : When we visited you guys, at your festival in 2019, we experimented also. A brilliant idea of Mathieu…

MG : Yeah, it was not easy, but we had to try ! You had two pianos on stage in Potsdam, which is not so often, and this strange one called Una Corda. So we had to experiment some track on both pianos together. But it was real challenge, as much by the discovery of the instrument as by the imposed positioning, back to back, as far from each other…

CO : We played back to back several times on stage, but not as far from each other. It is sometimes an interesting process because it makes the “listening to each other” more visible, while we cannot see each other. I think one of the best Snowdrops show (to me) is certainly the performance we did at the archaeological crypt of Notre-Dame de Paris, just under the cathedral. We created a real bubble of sound. The place and the public were really inspiring.

Studio & Workspace

CO : I was recently talking and describing my workspace for the magazine Headphone Commute. So maybe you would like to have a look at this page.

MG : Our workspace together, the Serpentine Studio, is mentioned there…

Daily Routine

MG : Damn, what a question ! No, no routines, not at all… We follow the wind, trying not to sink…

CO : House-work, emails, cooking, gardening, emails, teaching, composing, emails, emails again, practicing yoga, walking in the forest, reading, too much emails, watching movies, emails kill me…

MG : You forgot to say “emails in fucking english”… Poor french people we are…

Dream Collaboration

CO : We cannot know without having played together.

MG : Ok let’s take a trip… David Lynch filming, Thom Yorke on the piano, machines, effects and doing things we don’t understand, Mickael Akerfeldt making some strange drones with his guitar, the Bulgarian choir “Black sea sirens” singing, Christine coming on the Martenot, Jupiter 8 and singing also, Weerasethakul filming, David Lynch move to the piano, machines, effects and other things we don’t understand, and Laurie Anderson is here, waiting for the right time…

Entry Points

MG : Piano at six.

CO : And about the ondes Martenot, by a score that i first saw (and not listened to) called “son-relief” by Jean-Marc Morin.

Finishing Records

CO : It depends. About some solo pieces, it’s pretty crazy, but I have a real physical feeling or sensation, like an inner feeling that tells me that this is the end of the composition process.

MG : About “Volutes”, it was as much a short as a long process. Finally 2 days to record everything. But nearly 1 year to think about it, experiment editing & tracklisting, and mostly mix it, trying to keep the sense of sound and intention. I think we know when the record is finished when the instrumental dramaturgy makes sense from the beginning to the end. By dint of listening, it became obvious to “Volutes”.

Health & Productivity

CO : Very badly !

MG : …It’s time to take a break.

Resonating Releases

CO : You mean these days ?

MG : It’s been a while i was not moved by an album from beginning to end. But I recently enjoyed works by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson & Carlos Nino, by Kali Malone, by Deaf Center or Julia Kent.

Visit Snowdrops’s website here.

Background image by Nobuhiko Murayama.