Guest Spots: Benoît Pioulard on three perfect moments in soundtracked travel

Benoît Pioulard: LastedBenoît Pioulard: Lasted (Kranky, 10/11/10)

Benoît Pioulard: “Sault”

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Releasing music under the name Benoît Pioulard is one Thomas Meluch, a Portland, Oregon-based ambient electronic artist. His most recent album, Lasted, is his third as Pioulard, but it’s just one of more than 10 releases for the long-independent 26-year-old who cut his teeth as a drummer in half a dozen bands. His lo-fi, pop-influenced compositions are driven by a fascination with natural sounds and the textures of decay. As someone tuned into his surroundings, Meluch describes three memorable moments in his travels where everything — time, place, and sound — came together perfectly.

A Plane, a Train, an Automobile: Three Perfect Moments in Soundtracked Travel
by Benoît Honore Pioulard

1: Loscil: “Rorschach” (Plume)
On a flight from Detroit to Portland, December 2008

In lieu of any kind of pharmaceutical calmative, I typically assemble a playlist of the slowest, most repetitive music that I can summon from my now-antique third-generation iPod when I travel. On one particular plane trip from a holiday visit with the fam, on my way back to the Pacific Northwest, I happened to put this Loscil track (hey, Scott!) in the mix and settled into my window seat over the wing.  Seat 14F, maybe?

Anyway, once the piece swelled to full volume, I noticed that the careful pace of the song was exactly in time with the flashing of the little light at the end of the wing.  Not “sort of,” not “a little bit,” but fucking exactly. And it remained so for the entire eight-ish-minute duration of the track, keeping me wholly mesmerized.  It was the kind of thing that I always want to happen when my blinker is on in the car and it syncs up with whatever’s on the stereo, but y’know it always fall out of phase.  It was perfect, and I get a little sad when I realize that something like that will probably never happen again. Alors, life goes on.

2: Autechre: “Leterel” (Tri Repetae)
On a suburban train line going into New York City, June 2002

On one particularly sweltering day during my seventeenth summer, I was in the middle of my first independent road trip to the East Coast to see some friends that I’d made the previous year at a program for American kids in Oxford, UK. My friend Jen happened to have an aunt and uncle somewhere outside NYC, so we stayed with them and took LIT trains (I think) into town to avoid paying precious pennies for city parking and the guarantee of tickets and keyings and careless dings from aggro cyclists.

Anyway, I put Tri Repetae on my portable CD player (can you believe we ever lived this way?), and this track in particular, with all of its melodic crunch, was just outrageously perfect for the continuous view of graffiti, garbage, and other detritus lining the tracks on the way into the city.  Having anticipated my first visit there so electrically, I felt the scales falling from my eyes one by one. Oh, New York, I thought, you are beautifully grimy and gnarly, and I fear what may happen when I’m inside you (gross), but this moment in time makes me feel like I’m on a train to the future via the past.  Oh, mmm, that doesn’t really make any sense.  It was awesome though, and even 15 years after its release, that record is still ahead of our time.

3: William Basinski: “Pantelleria” (Variations for Tape & Piano: Pantelleria)
Before and after a camping trip, July 2007

Probably my favorite place in the entire world is a little island in the middle of Lake Michigan called North Manitou, where there is no electricity or running water and the only vehicle allowed is the golf cart that the park rangers use to come get you if you break your leg or die. In July, it’s perfectly stunning and pristine, and I have a sort-of-secret camping spot that allows me to go a week or more without seeing another human soul if I so desire. To get there, there’s a ferry from a town called Leland that goes a few times a week, and during the summer before I moved from Ann Arbor to Portland, I made a solo sojourn up there with some albums in tow for the drive, knowing that I wouldn’t have any music once I was in the wilderness.

Since the ferry leaves at some absurd hour like 6 AM, I got a crappy hotel room the night before and woke early, and for the short drive to the dock, I started playing this piece, which is about 45 minutes long in total. So, of course, I had to stop it in medias res once I arrived.  The succeeding days presented me with some of the most profound moments and fulfilling solitude I’ve ever known, and by the time I returned to the mainland — bedraggled, muddy, smelly, and with a pitiful half-beard — I had forgotten about what awaited in the CD player. As a piece by itself, Basinski’s piano loop is a wonder, but as a bookend to such a key experience in my life — especially driving through some seriously splendid Northern Michigan scenery — I couldn’t have imagined anything better.

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