Interview

The Other Dimensional Music of Ramzi

Robyn Fadden - May 22, 2015
The Other Dimensional Music of Ramzi

Within Ramzi’s music is a portal to another dimension, not entirely unlike our own but somehow more wondrous and wild – such is the imaginative strength of Vancouver-based Montréaler Phoebé Guillemot when she’s creating sample rich, dancehall-skewed hypnotic soundscapes as Ramzi. 

It’s remarkably easy to get lost through this phonic looking glass, where birds and insects – and zombies and aliens – cavort in a lush jungle to dub rhythms, as Ramzi’s voice reverberates in the midst of it all. “I could define my music as ‘environmental music’ in the sense that I like to immerse people in another world, in the Ramzi world,” she says. “It’s a parallel world that is evolving – I’m thinking about creating maps and it’s getting a bit sci-fi – and that I’m defining more and more. It’s for sure tropical and psychedelic but I want to keep myself free to create other atmospheres as well as this one.” 

That particular world emerged within the music and Ramzi expanded from it: “It was a bit unexpected, but Ramzi became sort of like an alter ego, my subconscious, my intuition or my inner child that is neither a boy or a girl,” Guillemot explains. At the same time, that world is also what listeners make of it and doesn’t need to be explained through words: “It helps me compose music and has a kind of narrative but I don’t want to make it too obvious, I just want it to be felt through the music.” 

Ramzi’s first album, Dezombi, began Guillemot’s excursions into the Ramzi dimension. The tape release joined the gamut of underground electronic experimenters on Montréal label Los Discos Enfantasmes (Le Fruit Vert, Les Momies de Palerme, k.a.n.t.n.a.g.a.n.o.) in 2013, along with a 12” called Etwal Timoun (featuring “Monsters Makeup” with sharply warbling synth from Bataille Solaire). The 2014 self released album Bébites, on Guillemot’s imprint Pygmy Animals, expands grooves and deepens beats, adds exotic instrumentation, pitch bent vocals and a cacophony of animal noises.  

“For me, it feels good to hear sounds of nature through music and it gives musical space another dimension,” she says, adding that the advantage of electronic music “is that you can blend anything you like and create your own environment from it. There are a lot of bird recordings that I’ve passed through weird effects and there’s also the funny aspect of having multiple voices interacting, different voices from throughout the animal kingdom trying to get attention, as if they’re fighting for their own moment in the music.” 

The human voice is there too, often obscured in the mix, part of the broader conversation. “The voices I use are like the feminine and masculine exaggerated – I use a slightly high pitch and a lower pitch and create a dialogue between them, but really it goes beyond feminine and masculine. Sometimes they are the only two in this world, trying to survive and help each other, or they’re fighting – it’s an evolving relationship that comes from psychic duality in the subconscious, like hearing two rational voices in one’s head. I put that division of the self into music.” In her live sets, she improvises with her voice, not plotting out what she’ll sing and purposely confusing languages into a blend of French, English, Creole and her own made up words. “Sometimes I can just mumble the words because it’s more about the intention in the voice – people can get what I say because it’s more about the musical aspect of the voice than the meaning of the words.”

A self taught electronic producer with the creative mind of an artist and musician, Guillemot  comes by her samples of lesser known world music, dancehall and dub honestly. “I never decided that I would make tropical music – the music just emerged like that from my attraction to these sounds,” she says. “That said, I’m really inspired by a lot of world music, especially warm, lo fi recordings of obscure music. This is what I grew up with, it’s my childhood music –  it’s like sharing childhood memories, and maybe there’s this collective subconscious we can reach that way. I also like electronic music that comes from a specific locality, that is really influenced by the culture and tradition of a country but is a new musical expression – I’m always trying to find this kind of new music.”

Guillemot has never tried to imitate the music she loves, instead exploring these sounds through interpretation, as a way to weave an environment and express her personal feelings and experiences. “I saw electronic music as a way for me to make lo fi and hi fi music at the same time and create the warm ambience I wanted. I’m not trying to define what kind of music I make or will make – I like all kinds of music and focus on elements that really talk to me. Some say it’s collage music but I see it more as its own creation. I never asked these questions of myself when I started making music this way, but now I’m much more aware of cultural appropriation and I know there’s a limit. I wish the music I make to sound like my own world, my own interpretation, with many elements to it.”

“I give a lot of meaning to important moments in my life and try to get songs out of that, collecting layers of cherished moments and making a kind of ‘true’ music in that way,” she continues. “At the same time, I’m there as Ramzi, I try not to be too much of Phoebé because it’s more of an escape for me into music – it’s less about the ego, less from my ‘self,’ and more about a collective experience.” 

Vancouver-based tape label 1080p will release the new Ramzi album, Houti Kush, in July 2015.

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