Holy Endeavors: An Interview with Filippo Sorcinelli

 
 

Most people who recognize Filippo Sorcinelli's name will know him for his fragrances released under the UNUM and SAUF brands. Most famous of these is LAVS, an austere incense perfume that was originally a room and clothing spray for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Earlier this year, he released Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino il Volto—a spicy, medicinal blend of cinnamon, clary sage, tobacco, and resins.

But more than just a perfumer, Sorcinelli is a painter, an organist, a photographer, and graphic designer. He has also designed sacred vestments for the current and previous pope through his LAVS Atelier. Sorcinelli discusses the inspirations and aspirations for his numerous creations below.

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Tone Glow: You've mentioned in other interviews that you spent your childhood in the church and grew to love its associated music, fragrance, and imagery. When I engage with your music, smell your fragrances, and look at the vestments you've created for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, there's an obvious seriousness with which you approach your art. Do you consider there to be a link between Art, be it in general or yours specifically, and the Divine? Do you believe there is room for humor or levity in the art you create? What is ultimately the goal you have in mind when creating art, and does it differ depending on the medium?

Filippo Sorcinelli: Art can’t disregard its own origins. Art comes from within each of us, where secrets, pulsions and desires lie, where our anxieties and fears connected to suffering are stratifying. All these factors form our soul, the special gift that can’t be touched... the Spirit. This is Art: searching for beauty everywhere, shaping the Spirit, making it accessible, drawing his contour, figurative or abstract.

It’s clear that shaping the Spirit led us to talk about “something” that is above us... something divine, because the Divine is the aim of everyone, Catholics or not.

The real ecumenism comes from here: describe in your own words what Spirit is for you, but the Spirit, like it or not, is only one. My Art comes from all these stratifications nourished by my life path, which is made of discipline, respect, and substance regeneration. I don’t think there is a lot of humorism at this moment, I leave that for the comedians or maybe when I'm in front of a glass of wine with my friends.

I prefer to talk about truth instead of sloppiness, about density instead of lightness, with a single light at the “tunnel” bottom: the Harmony of Beauty, also through unusual and changing materials. In order to express this thought one doesn’t need just tonal music or a figurative picture... when the eye and the ear are satisfied and when the spark of astonishments bursts, ripping our emotions, it is in that very moment that Beauty expresses itself.


The first perfume you released was LAVS, a heavy incense fragrance that was initially a room spray for Pope Benedict XVI. You've gone on to make many more perfumes, some of which don't conjure up images of the liturgical at all. Would you say you primarily find inspiration for your perfumes from things in the realm of olfaction or from other forms of art? For example, are you fond of wearing fragrances other than your own, and are there any that played a significant role in shaping any of your perfumes? Your time spent in the church naturally exposed you to the smell of incense but are there any other scents that you strongly associate with your childhood, and were any of those influential in shaping your creations?

I like to be precise. I have never realised a home fragrance for the Pope. LAVS (the incense of incenses) was born to complete the sacred vestment boxes in order to enrich the sensorial experience of whomever decided to depersonalize and get dressed with Beauty and celebrate something higher, and make one fly to another dimension, far from everyday life.

From LAVS the brand UNUM was born, UNUM is a continuous spiritual journey together with my personal path steps: the Gothic birth, the Virgin Ascension, the cult of boredom, the hymn to Marcel Dupré's organ music and the scented reading of a Mario Giacomelli photographic project (1961) about the suffered choice of young seminarists.

That’s why my inspirations for fragrances are exactly the same as in any others artistic discipline I cultivate: talking about me, about my sentiments with creative energy, in freedom and coherence.

Paradoxically, I don’t like very much scenting, nor leaving wakes of perfume. I prefer to let my nose open to any stimulus that a day spent with many people can offer. The nature of things, the victory of curiosity over mediocrity, are my imagination, my visions. Every idea genereted by my curiosity gets in touch with my own way of looking at the most important things—the beloved, the infinity. Every hunch becomes Music, becomes language, gesture going to the bottom of things, to the labyrinths of thought, to the danger of anguished hours, among the soul’s ghosts and solicitations. Inspiration is a dramatic vibration involving every sense; life and art are tied by a casual fluxus that neutralizes fears and fixes desires into matter.

Then, improvisation is like entering into the substance with that unspoiled freedom and coherence where the most intimate images can nest, where the truth blends in with the annulment of themselves. No formal, structural scheme, but only a spontaneous and always new wind that gets me in touch with nature.

I welcome it in solitude, with astonishment and an inncocent quake, following the inner impulse in order to connect with Beauty. My heart’s memories preserve a lot of scents and “Omnia tempus habet” which means “everything has its own time”. They have to open a way, create a hole in the shell of my soul, in order to express themselves through me.

 
 

You launched three perfumes under the SAUF brand last year and they were influenced by individual organ stops found on the Grand Orgue in the Notre Dame de Paris. Can you share the significance of each of these fragrances and the thinking behind their associated organ stop? How should one distinguish perfumes released under SAUF from those released under UNUM? Is there a connection between the three SAUF perfumes and the brand's couture and jewelry?

Sauf is french …this word has a special and double meaning: except and saved. Exception and Redemption. SAUF can describe an interesting project better than others words. Free from any production conditioning, SAUF is Fragrances, Bijoux and Haute-Couture.

SAUF FRAGRANCES describes with different incense modulations the Notre Dame de Paris Grand Orgue registers. This is the substantial difference between SAUF and UNUM.

The incense in all his forms, treated, maltreated, pushed, reinvented, betrayed also, sometimes.

Here, a real incense, almost figurative, there a feeling, just an illusion. There is some virtuosity, as under an olfactive hypnosis spell, a superlative weirdness able to overcome the musical score in order to find in the improvisation a sort of melancholic abandonment.

Nowhere like in SAUF have music and perfume been so close: in both cases we can talk about “tones”, “organ”, “harmony”.

In 1865 Septimium Piesse fixed a range of correspondences between musical notes and perfumery raw materials.

Music and perfumery are both deliciously intangible, impalpable, evanescent and therefore, unforgettable: their mysterious immateriality don’t prohibit to touch the heart. Music and perfume have been a way to communicate with heaven, because of their access to the invisible. Sacred music and scent are made to understand each other. And the circle closes. It's a meeting of two passions of mine: organ and scent. SAUF is nothing less than a return to the source of perfume and humanity.

The registers penetrate into the arcane meanings of the cosmos, expressing a vision, gloriying and strengthening it.

Nothing is tangible, all these powerful and velvet sounds can’t materialise to the eye or become a sculpture to touch, but they are substance, wind of a single breath, natural proximity between the leaves of the contemporary darkness and the traces of the day.

You can live light, in the suspended experience and out of the common time. Improvising. Free.

Operating a register is like opening the evocation’s world, the mystery of ourselves.

Music and incense are not just a thought about sounds, they deeply enter the soul and let you know thw quality of an infinite composition.

We are not going towards the incense music; the music is coming to us together with the incense, like the sunrise meets the day.

Enchant me organist with your works, produce that metamorphosis of my thought that naturally becomes contemporary accordance. Incense and organ are now really siblings, lovers producing together the eco talking about an evolution with no history, an evolution that goes further and pursues the origin of its small expected birth.

They are the ones who write in the space of renunciations, with brave actions choosing the appropriate register into the silence that has understood and will not forget the darkness, in order to launch the sacralized gleams that warm the earth and burn the universe.

It’s all about realizing how much incense is to each of us…

• Plein Jeu III-V •

THE FREE POLYPHONY OF ANGELS.

PLEIN JEU IS AN ORGAN STOP COMPOSED OF SEVERAL ROWS OF ORGAN

PIPES THAT ON ONE NOTE OF THE KEYBOARD, ARE SPEAKING

SIMULTANEOUSLY. IT IS CONSIDERED THE CLASSIC TYPICAL ORGAN SOUND.

THIS BLEND OF SOUNDS CONSISTS OF GRADUALLY SMALLER AND SMALLER

PIPES THAT PRODUCE A FAIRLY LOUD SOUND, UNTIL IT GOES BEYOND THE

HUMAN HEARING THRESHOLD.

IN ITALY ITS SIMILAR CORRESPONDING STOP IS CALLED MIXTURE.

WITH THIS STOP “PLEIN JEU OR PRÉLUDE” HAVE ALSO BECOME PRECISE

FORMS OF MUSIC, MAINLY HOMOGENEOUS TRACKS IN BINARY OR

QUATERNARY TIME. THEY ARE LIKE INTRODUCERS SONGS AND MAKE USE

OF AMPLE AND SEVERE RECORDS.


• Contre Bombarde 32 •

THE BOMBARDE IS A REED STOP, GENERALLY PRESENT IN THE ORGAN

PEDALS WITH THE MEASURES OF 8, 16 OR 32 FEET (THE LATTER, HOWEVER,

IS CALLED CONTROBOMBARDE)

OF A TYPICALLY FRENCH ORIGINS, ITS RESONATORS ARE MADE OF

INVERTED WOODEN PYRAMIDS.

IN THE FRENCH ORGANS THE CONTROBOMBARDE IS, TOGETHER WITH THE

TRUMPET AND THE CLARION , THE SO-CALLED BATTERY OF REEDS. THESE

STOPS NEED A SIGNIFICANT AIR PRESSURE TO PRODUCE POWERFUL AND

BRILLIANT SOUNDS.

THE BOMBARDE PRODUCES A SOUND SIMILAR TO THE STOP OF TROMBONE,

FROM WHICH IT DIFFERS IN A MORE PRONOUNCED FULLNESS, CAUSED BY

THE PRESENCE OF DOUBLE (AND SOMETIMES TRIPLE) REED AND THE TUBA.

IT IS THE MOST POWERFUL ORGAN STOP.


• Voix humaine •

THIS STOP DESCENDING DIRECTLY FROM REGALI, IN THE ROMANTIC AND

MODERN ITALIAN ORGANS IS WITH THE NAME OF "CHORAL VOICE".

ITS ORIGINS ARE BAROQUE, SO EXIST 10 VERSIONS INDEED.

THE COMMON CHARACTERISTIC OF ALL THESE VERSIONS IS THE DOUBLE

CONE RESONATOR. THE SOUND OF THIS STOP IS RATHER PECULIAR: SWEET

AND DENSE AND ITS USE TOGETHER WITH THE TREMOLO CREATES THE

SUGGESTIVE EFFECT OF A CHORUS OF HUMAN VOICES.


Your newest perfume for UNUM is "Io non ho mani che mi accarezzino il volto". Its name is taken from a collection of black and white photographs taken by Mario Giacomelli. As you mentioned before, Giacomelli intended to capture suffering with these photographs. Are you trying to do the same with this new perfume? As a teenager, you had the opportunity to get to know Giacomelli personally. Can you speak of your interactions with him, what he was like, and the impressions he had left on you, be it in relation to art or your personal life?

When I was very young I met Mario Giacomelli (Senigallia, 1925-2000) thanks to the serigraphy ELLEA’ of Lorenzo and Anna in Mondolfo. Mondolfo is about twelve kilometers from Senigallia and I often worked in serigraphy for Giacomelli, where they printed posters made by himself, which could not print alone with his own mechanical typography. I had the first meeting with Mario Giacomelli right in the rooms of “Marchigiana” typography in Senigallia behind the town hall. An intense smell of tobacco mixed with inks of printing machinery perfumed the rooms.

The essence's name reveals a fascinating history: in 1961 Giacomelli came in contact with a group of young students of the Episcopal seminary of Senigallia. With the permission of the curia he began to photograph their moments of leisure after tlong hours of study and prayer in preparation for the church life.

He produced images of priests playing ball, while moving on the snow wearing big coats, while pulling cushions between the confusion and fun for everyone; at the end he photographed a series of “Ring a Ring-o'Roses” from the roof of the seminary.

During a Sunday visit to the "little priests", Giacomelli brought cigars to boys and photographed them while they smoked, so the seminary accused him of having created havoc in a place where discipline and rigor had to reign, and they denied him permission to take photographs.

Don Enzo Formiconi, rector of the Episcopal seminary of Senigallia, a friend and supporter of Giacomelli's work, was harshly criticized, enough to be relieved of his duties.

Giacomelli named the series of photos of seminarians at first “Pretini”, then later decided to name it with a verse of a poem by David Maria Turoldo, "Io non ho mani che mi accarezzino il volto", linking those images to a precise concept—a choice that wasn't easy.

The bottle's cap is coated with a double fabric leather and metal almost “to be shaped” like a sculpture.

The materic drapery alludes to the "dance" of the seminarians cassocks and the fabric material wants to evoke the equipment bag of Mario Giacomelli smelling of tobacco.

A photo on the package remembers the rector Don Enzo Formiconi who lost his job in the seminary of Senigallia because of those shots of Mario Giacomelli. Those photos became famous around the world.

 
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You released a full-length album entitled Francophilie which features organ pieces composed by J.S. Bach, Pierre Cochereau, and Charles-Marie Widor. How would you describe your relationship with the organ? Do you play any other instruments? And if so, what draws you to the organ more so than the other instruments you play?

Today I can say that the organ has always been part of myself since I was a kid. Its sound is the one I can’t live without. It is a research focus and the world seems to rotate around it. It is the only instrument able to go deep inside the human soul with an unequaled ability to engage phisically and emotionally. It's not by chance that Mozart has glorified it, calling it “The King of musical instruments” for its completeness, richness and architecture.

The organ is part of me even when it remain in silence and I’m nurished as if it was the grain of every art and every science, I feel its mystery and its being is boundless.

Francophilie turned off the first part of my personal and professional life. It made me free from musical superstructures, technicalities and various academicisms. The time had come to choose a music and to look beyond the score.

The only regret I have is: I would like to dedicate to it more attentions during the day.


Some of the music you have posted on your Soundcloud shies away from traditional classical music and more into (dark) ambient territory. Do you listen to much contemporary music? If so, can you give examples of artists you admire? If not, what steers you away from contemporary music?

Today, the music is a psychological journey, the music is to me an instantaneous sound event where the different silences are the narration of a difference that is difficult to decode. It is the mood of the moment, that through improvisation reveals itself. It is the chaos changing into balance, opening the way to a world of unreal sequences, where feelings settle and spread in a sudden, explosive, disturbing echo.

This mood leads to a dark world where the darkness is the island of our own solitude.

My bordless inquiry with the organ finds its own sacred place, creates a loss of borders and generate dreamlike visions, playing with tones, timbres, time and silence. This magmatic and silent sound is comparable to a dream, where all the emotions flowing into the absolute black symbolizes for me the core of things, the privation of the superfluous and the richness of introspection.

Playing the organ is to me, today, an act that respects the origins, an act shaped everywhere: into the wood, along the sea, in this imperfection that I always loved and from where I always drew on.

Everything feeds everything: the sacred vestments has fed my vision of the fragrances, they at thier turn fed the borders of my photography... Photography has dyed with black the new haute-couture collection, that in turn, draped my organ improvisations.

Everything has his time to turn into a creative fluxus without borders or break.

As a musician I listen to all music, I absorb all the solicitations and I treasure it. In the little I'm able to listen to music, I listen to Olivier Messiaen, Bjork, Buxtehude, Kraftwerk, Cecilia Bartoli interpretations and musicians like The Telephones...

All this is a linear gesture, coherent with my past and my actual idea of life. I follow the paths of independent choices without political and religious strings attached. My improvisations are aggregations of sounds restoring my balance, sounds that applaud a very far Infinty, among scented wind’s tones, black fleshy velvets coming from the deep magma and opening up in their asymmetrical truth.


There's a very clear physicality to your paintings and art installations that I imagine you want people to notice and feel. Do you feel like these mediums of art allow you to express yourself in ways other mediums can't? You stated that "everything feeds everything"—how has working with these specific mediums impacted the way in which you approach or work with other mediums? Would you say that this "feeding" process is more general and abstract or specifiable and exact, or both?

Matter absorbs everything, being lost or founded in it, is the most sincere way to give absolute value to artworks. When one is reborn in the form of an enriched creature, there are not privileged medias but a universal language adopting every instrument and transforming it into a brush able to design a stretch of one’s life, a mood, or a special sentiment. The body gesture that I assume shows the path of my research. Everything is weighing and everything feeds the contrasts, the distortions, the morbid habits, the desire of digging. I wouldn’t want us to stop at the clear surface, I would prefer to move in the fear of what we might find in ourselves, whatever it is. This is the way to the truth.

 
 

With art installations, there's a clear importance to the space in which a piece is located. In other words, an art installation is comprised of the physical piece that's created, its environment, and the interactions that occur between these two (and at times, a participant). These things can be considered and prepared prior to someone engaging with them but for your fragrances, people are free to wear them whenever. Do you consider there to be a recommended or optimal way in which one should engage with your fragrances—a specific time of day, location, or season? Do you think one should be wearing specific type of clothing to match with your fragrances? Are these things that you think should even be considered when making a fragrance?

All this is a real mystery. I don’t have the power to declare to the world something absolute, I simply have my way to look at the mystery. Everything comes from an impulse—I’ve been saying this for a long time—and the impulse comes from a state of mind. The one who can freely argue, describe, sculpt and score his own mood without external contaminations, has reached both truth and coherence. I have to say that Music helps me a lot in this process: I find this mystery among the notes, in the distance between them; distances that are audible but not measurable. We can recognize the interval between the sounds but I can’t say at which precise moment everything could be accomplished or how long it will take to collect among the fog my sculpture of life and what harmony it could belong to.

All this process is not sensible to the canonical seasons, but lives its own temporal silence measure, where the most intimate, unpredictable reactions stay, shaping the score of imagination. From the glimpse of impulses can come reactions that don’t let us resign to the non-sense, they are olfactory animations feeling the booster's evocation more than the seasons or the moments. I let the ones that are perfuming themselves the most become a sort of extension of my impulse, spreading my primitive emotions, generating ideas. Nothing else exists but cultivating our own redemptive spirit.


In an interview with DW, you mentioned the difference between the vestments you've created for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. The former's are far more ornate and extravagant, and you stated that this was because Pope Benedict XVI wanted to express the beauty of God. In contrast, Pope Francis's are far more minimalist. Interestingly, you said that these relatively modest vestments point more towards Pope Francis himself than to God. I imagine numerous people would argue that it is the opposite. Can you expand on this idea? Do you feel like Pope Benedict XVI's vestments could be seen as something that could highlight himself more than God?

I have never said that Pope Benedict XVI was wearing more eccentric clothes, nor that the sacred vestments attract more attention to the Pope than on God! My job would be vain and ruinous. A sacred vestment is not a theatrical suit and it has to talk about the private person’s absence. The one who is wearing it, is at the place of Another. Pope Benedict XVI himself says that the priest is not the most important, the priest doesn’t talk about himself but about Him, having made himself an instrument at the service of God. The priest acts in the name of God, as a messenger "in persona Christi". Taking Saint Paul’s words: in front of those who waste their life eating and drinking excessively, in impurity and dissipation, Saint Paul shows the way of “being dressed in Christ”—dressed of such a high Beauty that men have tirelessly sought to repeat through their insufficient means, incomparable to the Divine.

The two last Popes comes from very different geographic and cultural positions. And THIS is really decisive in matter of "taste", because the Liturgical and artistic culture induces one to choose, even if this choice must have one purpose: referring to something that goes beyond the meaning of exterior clothes.

It is an anticipation of that new and absolute astonishment which is the emanation of God’s light. This is concerning every sacred vestment but clothes in general are also an expressive sign. It is not anymore about covering the body and hiding its forms: when covering the body we make it visible instead of increase its grace and expression. This happens also in architecture, where there is matter of sensibility, when we want to make intelligible something that is as indefinite as space is.

We separate space with opaque limits: we realize in that way a little artificial universe, visible to the eye and evocative for the Spirit. It hides itself in order to reveal the interior of God, made accessible to our faculties.. it can be used as a tribute offered in the attempt to describe the supernatural Majesty.

Are there any specific vestments you have created for either Pope Benedict XVI or Pope Francis that you're particularly fond of? And hypothetically speaking, if you were to design a vestment for yourself, how would you want it to look?

All my artworks, all of them are for me like little daughters, whether they are for the pope or for a simple priest. When they are gone they enter into memory because we often associate them with special moments or moods. Of course I remember very well the first sacred vestment I realized for Pope Benedict because it was the one that consecrated our atelier LAVS at an international level.

Regarding myself, every drawing I make undergoes—almost automatically—a mental elaboration: I draw sacred vestments and today also haute couture as if I had to wear them. Right after then, the idea of universal Beauty takes over and my body becomes a limit. In this way there is a real separation between what to be and what to reveal... I prefer the second one.

As is abundantly clear, you've dabbled with numerous mediums of art. Are there others that you haven't explored yet that you would like to explore in the future? And if so, how do you feel like they would help you in further expressing your vision?

Music gave an impetus to many of the disciplines I cultivate: the research of sound through improvisations made me deeply enter into my soul, scratching the substance at the bottom of it and presenting it in a new form. This is my infinite nourishment and as something infinite, it doesn’t feel expressive limits nor mathematic calculations. For me every day is the last one and at the same time, a new one. That’s why I’m always in a hurry to speak and am joyful to create, using all possible means, in the madness of the primitive gesture, in the mystery of what will happen only after having made it.

What upcoming projects are you currently working on that you're most excited about? Is there anything unrelated to your work (be it art-related or not) that you're looking forward to?

Today, having reached the haute couture sector, it makes me more and more curious. It made me dive into a world of stress without ever losing the sense of Beauty. Every new look I treat gets contaminated and evolves spontaneously through the flame of the previous one. I turn my head and look back and only today I realize that everything I have made is in a close connection with me and my life... and I realize that there is no more difference between work and life.

The world, historically, is full of disappointing artwork that leaves a bad taste in our mouth or causes no reaction. That “weirdness” is missing, that strangeness, that magic, that mystery that lets Art land in very special places, where by magic one can live through music, poetic painting, olfactory drapery and unknown substance. It is an unseen garden where one says yes to life without clichés, with a propulsive force that always reaches over because truth doesn’t reflect itself in facts, but recognizes an authentic purification process in Beauty, beauty that doesn't have precise meaning but a continuous path.


Do you feel like there are many others who share the same vision you have for art? If so, who?

This world is such a complicated one for the ones who think and for the ones who create. It is an endless script and we often share it, at least for a few minutes, with those who make choices similar to our own. History taught me the existence of some people who had this common demoniator of incessantly searching for a this particular idea of art and Beauty. Sometimes this search has become an obsession, sometimes a battle, a fight. I don't have a specific number, but I’m convinced that I‘m in good company with these people, both past and present.

 
 

Is there anything else you would like to add that you would like for readers to know, be it about yourself or your art?

I want people to know that I'm not privileged. Sometimes I think that I’m a wretch who, as personal Purgatory, has the work of communicating the true meaning of things with no break, no rest, no peace. I'm always worried about making something in order to leave it. I'm sure that loving means to understand and let free, to find one who appreciates you without the desire to change you, who shares without contaminating you, who leaves you in your world and brings you into the world. And that's even if they're a step behind you, because the position of our bodies is not that important. What's important is what you feel, and that goes beyond things and actions. I’m for the audacity, the courage, the determination of being outside the box. I’m against being sold at any price, I don't think I will ever accept it. And this immediately catapults me out of actual reality. I’m for the ones who protect, not for the ones who own.

I’m for the ones who suffer the truth and what it means in life. But my major difficulty is being understood and it makes me a very unlucky person: a lot of people with less content receive bigger accomplishments while spending less energy. Is this fate? Destiny? Luck? I often think I have made something wrong because I believe we can matter, but today we are immersed into daily indifference, simply fighting for life and simply surviving it, trying to grab with our hands something intangible. And you actually realize that the talent becomes a weight, not a pride. Who chooses all this? Me or someone else? Is it simply the associations of events and ideas? Is man the engine of his own existence or simply the protagonist of a gigantic chess game? We’ll never know. To choose and to let go are the most important of man’s virtues... that’s all. Man’s mistake is to feel important. I don’t think I am. Freedom is important, because it means acting, having strong convictions. All the rest goes and flies away. We have to fight for what we believe in. The rest doesn’t really matter.

Gold Digging 001: Passengers Of Time

 
passengersoftime
 
 
 

Gold Digging is a new mix series on Tone Glow. To kick it off, I collaborated with a close friend who works under the pseudonym bloodmaw. He's an avid record collector currently residing in New York who has uploaded numerous mixes on his SoundCloud. We took some records from our personal collections and crafted a mix highlighting pop music from around the world — Brazil to Japan, Haiti to Korea, France to Indonesia. The first half is from bloodmaw, the second half is from yours truly. You can stream the mix above or download it here: FLAC or mp3. The tracklist can be found below. The cover is taken from "Fun to Run", a furnishing textile designed by Estelle Laverne in 1947.


Passengers Of Time tracklist:

Side A (bloodmaw):
Juan Valdés ‎- Tú Sabes Quien Soy
Pier Rosier Et Son Groupe Gazoline ‎– Ba Nou Lan Min
Chelique Sarabia - ‎Pasajero Del Tiempo
Piotr Figiel Ensemble - I Will Give Everything
The Main Attraction - Here We Are
Pinny Johnson - Take It Baby
Rodrigue Gauthier - Bon Conseille
Alibo - Jodi Jou
Craig T. Cooper - Quality Time
中森明菜 - 燠火
Cocteau Twins - Cherry Coloured Funk (Mark Clifford Remix)

Side B (Tone Glow):
Masashi Kitamura + Phonogenix - ヴァリエイション・IV
권영후 / 이덕화 / 이보희 - 긴 그리움
Naomi Akimoto - Tennessee Waltz
Detty Kurnia - Abang Payah
Andreas Hofer - Untitled
Siassia & Talk - Escale (Bolingo)
Ti-Fock - Sokouye
Tanya Saint-Val - Kon Sa
Haira - Proxima Du Centaure
Alcides Neves - Desencontro Das Aguas
Jardin Exotique - As Flores
Barbara Ward Farmer and the Wagner Alumni Choir - Peace In Heaven

Korean Flavors: An Interview with Songwriting/Production Duo Caesar & Loui

 
caesarloui
 

Daniel Caesar and Ludwig Lindell have been making music together since they were six years old. Decades later, they're still working together but under the joint name Caesar & Loui. They're currently signed to The Kennel, a music publishing, production, and management company based in Sweden. As with other songwriters and producers on The Kennel, Caesar & Loui write songs for pop stars all over the world. Recently, they wrote and produced new singles from LOONA, Red Velvet, and Girls' Generation. They touch on the process of writing those songs and more below.

 

◦◦◦

Tone Glow: As you two know, a lot of people are involved in the release of even one K-pop single. And naturally, it's the actual members of a group who get all the recognition. One of the reasons I wanted to interview both of you was to shed some light on those in the industry who work behind the scenes. So to keep things very simple: who are Caesar & Loui, and how did you two meet? How long have you two been making music, both in general and together?

Caesar & Loui: Caesar & Loui consists of Daniel Caesar and Ludwig Lindell. We met when we were 6 years old in school and have been best friends ever since. We started making music together early on, in the beginning by just recording ourselves with a room-microphone and playing 4-hand synth—both playing on the same synth :). At the time Daniel took lessons in guitar and Ludwig in piano. When we were 16 years old we both applied to the same music high school in our hometown Linköping.

When we were in high school we really started getting into music and we wrote and played together in different bands. We also had our own projects at the time. Ludwig was really into jazz-piano and started playing with a trio. Daniel sang and played guitar in a rock/punk band called Blunk. We also had our own band at the time called Giano that we wrote and recorded/produced music for. It was mostly for fun, nothing serious but we really learnt a lot about Cubase (software that we used at the time for recording our music, we use Logic now).

After high school Daniel went to Santa Barbara City College (US) and studied production/songwriting/acting for one year. After that he applied for a production/songwriting school up north in Sweden called Musikmakarna. It was through Musikmakarna that we got in contact with our label The Kennel.

Ludwig took another path after high school. Wanting to be a musician, he applied for different schools in Sweden. He studied for one year at Skurups Folkhögskola, which is located south of Sweden outside of Malmö. At Skurup, Ludwig studied jazz-piano and played with different groups. Afterwards, Ludwig applied for the royal music college in Stockholm and studied there for three years (which was also for jazz-piano).

When Daniel had his internship through his school (Musikmakarna), Ludwig and Daniel teamed up and worked together as a team. We started off writing music for The Kennel before we signed there as songwriters/producers. During our first three years as songwriters we worked as a trio called D3O with our friend Olof Lindskog. After 3 years we decided to split up and Caesar & Loui was born. Olof continued working by himself with the name Ollipop!

 
 

Despite the split, you three still collaborate—as was the case with Netherlands-based Angela Vero on "Work It"—so there's presumably no bad blood here. Was there any particular reason for the separating? Both of you guys are working together under a single name so I imagine there's an understood synergy between you two. How are the dynamics of working on a song as a team? And in general, what would you say you individually bring to the table that the other half perhaps doesn’t?

We started working as D3O and it was a really good time for all of us. We managed to score a lot of cuts (cuts = released songs with artists) together and had some really fun moments! After 3 years we all felt like we needed to move on. The reason was simply because we wanted different things so we decided to split. And it’s no hard feelings after the break, we’re still really good friends working from the same house and we still write music together.

Since we’ve (Caesar & Loui) known each other for such a long time we have a really strong connection together. So after the break from D3O there was really no question about if we would continue as a team or not. We really trust each other and have always had the same goals in music/life so we’re probably gonna go on for ever! :)

Since we have different backgrounds, we have a wide range of skills together as a team. Daniel comes from a rock background playing the guitar and singing in different bands. So all the guitars in Caesar & Loui's productions are almost always recorded by Daniel. Ludwig on the other hand comes from a jazz/R&B background so he has a lot of knowledge about chords and of course playing the piano/synths. We are also both singers so we usually sing on our demos when we write music for boy bands and male artists. We also both produce, and it’s really nice for our workflow when we have a lot of productions to finish up.

Writing songs together is always different. Sometimes we come up with ideas on our own and then work together from the idea. Or sometimes we start from scratch. We also have sessions sometimes working with other talented songwriters and for those, we usually have tracks and ideas prepared for the sessions. We really like being prepared to make the workflow better. We both feel like when we write the best songs, the ideas come to us quite quickly. After we have the main ideas recorded we start to look more closely at the details of the song. Since we're both producers we can really go back and forth with ideas on the production, which can be really nice when we get stuck or when we just need some inspiration and push.

Sometimes we even split up and work alone or together with other songwriters. We just try to be open and let the inspiration flow. But for probably 99% of our songs we write them together.

The Kennel is based in Sweden and does indeed make songs for Swedish artists, as was the case for C&L with The Fooo. However, The Kennel has songwriters and producers who work with artists from around the world. Can you discuss your experience with The Kennel and explain what the process is like for getting songs for these international artists? For example, are record companies often coming to The Kennel to get a song written? Is there a pool of songs that artists/companies are free to choose from? On your Facebook page, you guys mentioned that it was your dream to write a song for SHINee back in 2013 and eventually did last year with "Wishful Thinking". Do you two have significant say in the artists you want to collaborate with?

Almost every time we write music for artists, we have some kind of connection with the label the artist is signed to. That connection is usually made through The Kennel via email. Then we get an email explaining details about the artist, maybe some links to their previous releases, and an explanation for what kind of songs they are searching for at the moment. Sometimes we have meetings directly with the artist/management. And sometimes we get the contacts on our own via networking and so on.

For example, with The Fooo we had a meeting with their previous manager and talked about what kind of music they were searching for at the moment. After the meeting we got into the studio and started working on songs.

We write a lot of songs each year and of course not every song will find an artist straight away. So all of these songs are available in our catalogue for artists to try out if they want. These songs are handled by our creative manager Pernilla Svanström who works at The Kennel. Her job is mainly to send songs and handle the contacts to score the best artists as possible. And of course we can pitch these songs ourselves if we think we have a suitable artist for the song.

We can of course request artists that we wanna write songs for but as we mentioned before, it’s really important to have a good connection with the label/artist first. For example, take the SHINee song "Wishful Thinking" that we wrote with Andreas Öberg. We wrote that song aimed for the Korean/Japanese market but didn’t have any specific artist in mind beforehand. Since we have good connections in South Korea/Japan via The Kennel, we managed to get the song to SHINee and they liked it. This is different with all the songs we write, sometimes we have a really clear picture of which artist we wanna aim for and sometimes we just write a song that we like.

How would you describe the Korean/Japanese market, and how would you say it differs from others you write for? And similarly, what keeps you interested in writing songs for this market?

What we’ve always thought was really interesting and fun with the K-pop/J-pop market was the variety of styles and sounds in the music. It feels like the labels are always looking for something fresh and new; they're not afraid of taking chances. If we compare this to writing for the Western market (US, UK, etc.), it feels like a music style will stay longer on the top charts and the leads (leads = what the labels are looking for) for artists refer back to the same songs for a longer period of time.

Also, what we really love about the K-pop/J-pop market is the effort put into the songs' videos and choreographies. It was the first thing that we really fell in love with when we heard/watched our first K-pop song!

It feels like the K-pop market especially has a really global and viral spread right now. And every year it grows a little bit more. We feel like it’s a cool journey to be a part of and also, of course, it gives us a lot of opportunities to get our music out. Since we have both the K-pop/J-pop world and the US/UK market to write for, we tend to always find a home for our songs!

 
 

You two wrote Girls' Generation-TTS' "Stay" as well as f(x)'s "Spit It Out". Like many other songs you've written, those definitely felt like they were chosen for the perfect artists. Did you have these artists in mind when writing these particular songs? And do you recall what the influences and inspirations were for them? And more broadly speaking, when writing songs for Korean artists, how often would you say you're taking influence from other K-pop versus pop that comes out of America or Europe?

Both of those songs were written specifically for SM Entertainment and their artists! We had the girl bands in mind of course when we wrote those songs. SM are really good at picking songs for the right artists and making them their own. But we thought—let’s just write good songs for the girl-groups at SM. We have to mention that both of these songs were written as D3O, so Ollipop is a writer/producer on the songs as well!

For "Stay" we had the idea of making a future disco beat with a big chorus. We wrote it with Kennel writer Hayley Aitken, who has an amazing voice, so we were really able to get the vibe right for the song! We thought it would be fun to make a disco type of drop after the second chorus. We kept the piano in focus with typical disco chords and had an R&B-ish melody on top of that. It feels like the song has a really special vibe with those elements put together.

”Spit It Out” was actually one of the first songs we wrote together as D3O. Our inspiration for the song came from hearing Girls' Generation's ”I Got A Boy” for the first time—we thought the sounds and the melodies were so special and cool.

Inspiration comes from all different genres for us. Especially for tracks, we have a lot of producers that we follow and listen to. For example we love productions from The Struts (Tove Lo, etc.), Skrillex (Justin Bieber), Mura Masa, Diplo, etc. And of course we follow the latest K-pop trends for inspiration. But basically we just take inspiration from any great music we hear.

 
 

More recently, you two wrote "Singing in the Rain" for JinSoul of LOONA. Blockberry Creative is a rather new label so I'm interested if they were the ones who first got in touch with The Kennel. Its release seemed perfectly timed too, coming after the moody electropop of Kim Lip's "Eclipse". I know you stated that you'll have songs written that won't be used until later but how much time was there between writing this song and its eventual release? And how much time, on average, would you say there is between any song being written and its release?

We came in contact with them when they said they wanted the song. We don’t know the whole story about how The Kennel came in contact with them!

The song was written during one of our own camps called "Camp Awesome". We had it together with our dear friends Ollipop, Cage (producer/writer at The Kennel) and Oneye (producer/writer at The Kennel). The idea of the camp is to write great songs together during a whole week and end it with a listening party. It’s a really fun and creative way of writing songs and all of us can come in and give feedback during the process of the song-making. This song was found rather fast by LOONA, it took only a few months until they wanted to record the song.

On average we would say it takes about six months to up to a year before a song gets cut. But it varies a lot, we’ve had songs laying around for two to three years before finding its home and sometimes it happens right away!


I find the song super exciting because it seems to take sounds from the post-dubstep scene of the early 2010s but also feels right at home in the landscape of K-pop today considering the more contemporary dance music sounds that have existed since 2015. I'm thinking of stuff like LDN Noise's work with SM as well as last year's "Promise (I'll Be)" and "Think About You" from 2PM and Jun. K, respectively. Can you discuss what you two were aiming for with this song?

Actually the song is a mashup of two different productions. The drop part was made by us like 2-3 years ago. We actually re-produced the idea right before the camp! The other part of the production (verse-beat and the part before the drop) was made by Oneye right before the camp. During the session of making the song we thought, let’s put the productions together, and it worked! After that we top-lined the track and came up with the title "Singing In The Rain". I think the main idea of the song was to create something groovy and danceable. It felt like LOONA really understood that, the video and the dance moves looks great.

 
 

Red Velvet's "Red Flavor" is a massive hit and it is, in my opinion, the K-pop song of the summer. I feel like you don't really get a sense of how propulsive and joyful the song really is until the song slows down with Wendy's final line. Even then, there are a lot of details in the song that I feel like are easy to miss. What was the process like for writing this song?

This one we wrote by ourselves. It was actually aimed for the UK band Little Mix since we had a meeting with one of their A&Rs at the time. But we felt like it could work for the K-pop market as well! The song started with the track and the low voice you can hear in the intro and during the chorus. After that we just wrote the melodies and played around with the track. The result was the song "Dance With Nobody". It was the original title before the lyrics were translated into Korean. We hired our good friend and great singer Ylva Dimberg (writer; f(x), Girls' Generation, Taemin, etc.) to sing the demo of the song and you can actually still hear her background vocals in the pre-chorus! Finishing this song actually took a little bit longer than usual. We took a break from the song for a few months before finishing it just to listen to it with fresh ears. We’re really happy with how the song turned out. Red Velvet and SM did a really good job with the song!


Both "Singing in the Rain" and "Red Flavor" feature interesting vocal snippets. In the former, you have the vocodered bit that first appears in the second chorus and in the latter you have the titular line that sounds like someone slurring their speech after a few drinks (which, coincidentally, fits in nicely with the video!). Were these samples? Or were they things initially sung (by the members, by you two) and processed later?

Both of the voices that you refer to are recorded by us. The "Singing In The Rain" voice is actually from the demo version of the song. It’s Ludwig's voice pitched down to make it sound like some kind of a robot. In "Red Flavor" it’s Ludwig's voice recorded through an iPhone microphone and then processed through Logic with a bunch of effects. The "Red Flavor" voice was inspired by the song ”Run The World (Girls)” (Beyonce, Major Lazer).

You two helped produce "All Night", one of Girls' Generation's brand new singles. It's especially exciting because the song and album were released 10 years after they debuted with "Into The New World". To further commemorate this anniversary, SM released a "Documentary Version" of "All Night" that finds the girls reminiscing on their time together. The girls also handpicked some songs from their discography for an Apple Music playlist. What significance does Girls' Generation have to you two specifically? And if you had to choose one or two songs that hold special significance to you, be it from their Korean or Japanese releases, what would they be and why?

Girls' Generation was one of the first K-pop acts we listened to. So they kind of introduced us to the K-pop style. We thought it was really cool how they could have such a big group but still make it work. The choreographies and the harmonies in the vocals were really new to us.

If we had to pick two songs we would pick "I Got A Boy" and "The Boys". "The Boys" was probably one of the first K-pop songs we heard and we were really amazed by the cool production and the well-made video for the song. We also really loved the harmonies in the vocals! Especially in the intro of the song when the vocals are alone.

"I Got A Boy" was written by one of our Kennel writers "Sarah Lundbäck Bell" so we got to hear the song in its early stages. We thought the style and the tempo transition were really cool! The song really inspired us to think outside the box and, as mentioned before, we wrote the song "Spit It Out" after we heard it.

 
 

Was "All Night" another song that you had specifically written for SM? Tiffany's rap in the second verse and the synth ornamentation in the bridge bring to mind "Stay", funny enough.

We wrote the song together with our friend Olof Lindskog a.k.a. Ollipop! We thought it would be fun to bring back the old team (D3O) so we sat down and wrote the song "All Night" specifically for SM Entertainment. The song came to us pretty fast and we had a really fun time making it. The idea of the song was to mix two styles together. We have the 80s analogue synth bass line in the verses with playful melodies on top. It leads into the chorus that has more of a trap sound to it and a powerful melody that leads into the hook "All Night". This gives the song a special vibe we think. For the demo vocals, we asked the amazing Hayley Aitken (Kennel writer). She really took the song to another level!

We think we subconsciously took some inspiration from "Stay" when we wrote the rap. Usually when we write the rap parts we just freestyle and sometimes we maybe use the same rhythms as another song we've made. For the instrumental part we also just freestyled the lines in the synths. And yeah, it reminds us a bit of "Stay" as well!


Both "Red Flavor" and "All Night" feature lyrics that were written by Kim Yeon Jung aka Kenzie. Were you ever in contact with her during the process of writing/producing the song or afterwards? Or was it more so that you had the song sold to SM and then she essentially took over and changed the lyrics? You stated that "Red Flavor" originally had a different title—did "All Night" have a significantly different title/lyrical themes beforehand as well?

She's a really good writer and a wonderful person. For these two songs we didn't have any contact with her during the process. We just sent the tracks and she took over with the lyrics! However, we have worked with Kenzie in South Korea once before! "All Night" was actually the title we had for the demo version. So in this case they kept the title.


You two have visited South Korea multiple times. Do you have any memorable stories of meeting and working with any of the artists there?

We have met a few artists while being in Seoul! One of the strongest memories was when we were writing songs at SM entertainment and we were told that Girls' Generation had a meeting outside the studio. We were supposed to wait until the meeting was finished. But after a few minutes we were told to go out to the meeting room and we were introduced to the whole group. It was a really special moment since it was our first time in Seoul. We also met EXO at a TV performance (when the song "Growl" was big). It was really cool since we really love EXO!


Are there any artists, be it Korean or not, that you still haven't worked with but would love to in the future? And any particular reasons why?

In Korea we would love to have a song with EXO someday. Just because we love the songs they are releasing and their skills in both dancing and singing are just flawless. Our dream is also to release big songs in the US. We don’t have any specific dream artists in mind, more so collaborations with writers/producers. One of our biggest dreams is to work with Max Martin and Shellback!

 
 

Aside from the songs you've written, are there any recent K-pop songs that you've really enjoyed?

We really like NCT's song "Cherry Bomb". The song has a really nice swag to the beat and the dance moves in the video are crazy good! We also love the M8 part when the chords go into more R&B vibe!


And are there any songs you two have coming that K-pop fans should be looking forward to?

Not at the moment! But we're planning on going to Seoul this fall, so we'll probably get some nice songs out of that trip. :)


I just want to thank you so much for taking part in this interview. Is there anything you would like to add?

No actually not! Great questions and thanks for wanting us to participate in this interview! :)

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Caesar & Loui K-pop/J-pop

Production Discography


4minute - Whatever
VIXX - Hyde*
Shinhwa - Scarface
Boys Republic - What Up
WA$$UP - Nom Nom Nom*
4minute - Wait A Minute
Super Junior - Swing*
f(x) - Spit It Out
C-Clown - Let's Love*
Girls' Generation-TTS - Stay
Taemin - Pretty Boy
Zhou Mi - Why (Color Blind)
TVXQ - Special One
Boys Republic - Pump
BTOB - Giddy Up
SHINee - Wishful Thinking
Pentagon - Pretty Pretty*
Shinhwa - Super Power
EXO-CBX - Girl Problems
EXO-CBX - Diamond Crystal
LOONA/JinSoul - Singing In The Rain*
Red Velvet - Red Flavor*
Girls' Generation - All Night*

*lead single/has a music video
 

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