Émilie Simon is a fantastically-talented artist with a unique background: her work now falls clearly into pop territory, but her lineage is just as much experimental and classical. Conservatory training gave way to time at the avant garde nerve center of Paris, IRCAM. IRCAM’s Director, Cyrille Brissot, still plays alongside her – more on his wild invention in a moment.

Simon has been a big hit in France; you may know her composition from the soundtrack to March of the Penguins. But now, she’s a New Yorker, which brings us to the topic of the headline. The singer-pianist-artist released a new record last fall, The Big Machine. I do miss some of the quirkier style on her older records, and I rather liked the singing in French (I’m sure NYC has its share of Francophones). The new record tends in a Kate Bush-influenced direction which has divided some fans. They are just as well-crafted, however, and Simon’s writing and performance is inventive as always. It’s a new direction, but it’s worth giving it some time. I think you’ll like the results, and it shows Simon’s continued versatility and artistry.

One thing with which you really can’t argue is Simon’s exceptional musicianship. I love her new series, which has her releasing studio sessions shot in her Bedford Avenue apartment. In the edition at top, the work begins with the expected ballad form, but takes a very different direction. Commanding sounds and effects from a militaristic, future-punk controller on her arm, Simon adds electronic textures, aided by a Yamaha Tenori-On and Doepfer Dark Energy synth. The wrist-strapped controller is Cyrille Brissot’s invention, aptly named “The Brissot.” Somewhere, Thomas Dolby is very jealous, indeed. (They would match his goggles.) Episode two, released yesterday, is after the jump.

Few of us would do a multi-cam rig in our apartment (I’d better make some friends), and I could do without the faux-film effects, but there’s still a terrific intimacy of the sessions, and her stage presence shines through. It’s a reminder that adding technology doesn’t have to mean removing that sense of a live performance – quite the opposite, in fact, as a solo act wouldn’t be able to do this much of this on the spot. Electronics are, as I keep saying, the ultimate renaissance of the one-man- (or one-woman-) band.

So, if you think you can do better – heck, even if not – let us know if you release a similar session. And Cyrille, Émilie, if you’re out there, I’d love to catch up on your work for CDM.

  • http://www.soilsound.com soilsound

    This is different AND still musical. A nice blend. Thanks. :-)

  • http://tohmjudson.com Tohm

    Great stuff…

    It feels rather like where Tori Amos left off (melodic lines and inflection seem quite similar)… taking it down the more experimental route. And I have never dared compare someone else to Tori… I mean it as the highest compliment, just to clarify.

  • tekcor

    wow!

    i would like to see details about this retro sci fi midi-arm-controller. cant find anything on google…

  • aje

    Thanks for sharing the video :)

    Strangely she reminds me a lot of early Kate Bush, both the voice and the vibe.

  • http://www.derrick-s.com Derrick S

    great performance and voice!

    very talanted girl and its not so much interesting because of the controller and synths but the way she really is performing and using as instruments with just a few things

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yeah, absolutely – I'm taken mainly with her musicianship. Of course, we care about the gear, too, for the same reason that you can care about the craftsmanship on an instrument, even beyond what immediately impacts the sound. But it's fantastic to see people with the chops to make it all about expression.

  • Bipolart

    His dad is a great sound ingineer in france if I'm correct, maybe he make her controller…

    Emilie déchire.. vive la france.

    A french guy..

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Ah, interesting. I can confirm, though, that the controller is designed and built by Cyrille Brissot of IRCAM, who also plays with her.

    I don't doubt her engineering and technical chops, either, though; she's done some things, as well (and is a great singer and pianist to boot, putting the rest of us to shame).

  • http://UiandUs.com Keith Lang

    Love the musical ideas, but……what I'd like to see is less video editing, and a camera person with a real artistic eye and a $14 steady cam.

  • Sam_K

    Since you asked… I have grand plans for wearable controllerism. My music is all soft-synths and I'd love to be able to busk with it.

    I intend to have a back-pack PC running Ableton Live, a custom keytar (which I am partway through building) a button grid on one arm-brace, other miscellaneous controls on the other, a headset mic and speakers built in to some jumbo sized boots.

    By the time I finally get around to finishing it all it'll probably have all been done by someone else. :(

  • mp

    Think the sound is pretty cool!

    Hate the visualizations of the tenori-on… seems quite in contrast the the overall steampunk-esque aesthetic.

  • http://www.skyron.org SkyRon™

    OK, let's look at the HYPE points – (sorry Peter!)

    French – 3 or 4 hype points,

    Lives in New York – 5 hype points

    (follows what Varese did in the 1920's – 10 hype points)

    (probably not a genius like Varese – minus 10 hype points – sorry!)

    uhm . . . went to iRCAM – 20 hype points (OK, that's still a pretty great institution)

    is a woman or minority – 10 hype points (yes, it still sux2b a strait, wite, mail) (yeah, still, not over the politically correct 1990's)

    did I miss anything – - – oh, I suppose I should LISTEN to what she does . . . (again, sorry, peter, nobody 'gets' what I do, so I'm not too jenerUs these days for the beautiful, yung, and suksessfull – - you can delete my komment if it's too diffikult, no hard pheelingz) Shame on mee . . .

  • jonA

    Not really seeing the "experimental" in this as stated in the beginning. Just a dumb ass with some cash.

  • Bipolart

    By the way you should listen her first album : 'Emilie Simon' and the song 'Desert' she made an English version ;)

    I saw her one day in a french radio (RTL) performing and she was awesome.. Very nice, very charming girl…

    Take care of her in New York :)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    SkyRon: Varese owned a Tenori-On and wore a wrist controller?

    IRCAM earns points with hipsters?

    White males are under-represented in the press?

    Nope, no need to delete the comment. I learn something new every day. Carry on.

  • borc

    gimmicky video effects and electronics, a piercing voice. my cat doesn't approve either.

  • http://www.skyron.org SkyRon™

    Edgard Varese had a jet pack and flew up to the top of the Chrysler building every day to jam with the 8-year old Frank Zappa! So there!

    (Amériques, anyone? Although, Déserts is pretty kickass, too. Just sayin')

  • anon

    bedford ave is for rich people now… rich people that annihilated crap that used to be genuine

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @anon:

    You're kidding, right?

    I've been on pretty much every end of Bedford Avenue. That's one long-ass street. It has Hasidic Jews. It has Jamaicans. It has hipsters. It has poorer neighborhoods. It has rich neighborhoods (and not all of them hipsters). (I've spent most of my time on the Williamsburg end or the opposite extreme, around Brooklyn College — which already gives you a good continuum.)

    I have no idea where Émilie lives, but if I can't generalize about a single street in the town I live, I have a crazy idea — how about not generalizing about anywhere, period? Just a thought.

  • David

    jonA, lol I sort of agree :) she seems to me to be a fairly mediocre songwriter, and a pretty generic producer. uninspired…

    SkyRon(TM), I like your dreem site :)

  • anon

    heh 'whatev'… williamsburg is full of rich widwest kids and rich eurotrash who pay $3k/mo to live in this fucking toilet… its too EZ to generalize when everyone around you is an over-hyped rich-people attention-starved euro-crap artist. i'd like to quote someone who i met playing wolfenstein enemy territory once… 'good luck being awful' har har now fuck off

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, got it. Let it out, dude.

    Folks with apartments outside NYC (assuming anon hasn't sold you with his/her real estate pitch), feel free to send us videos shot in your place. Like if you live in Springfield. (Any one of them.)

  • http://www.twitter.com/Birds_Use_Stars Birds Use Stars

    Right so uhm…cool videos right guys?

  • Jim Aikin

    I don't mind the video FX at all — you gotta do something to keep it moving for four minutes. Yes, Tori and Kate come to mind, as does Bjork. I could shoot a video in my home studio, but I guaran-damn-tee it wouldn't be that much fun to watch!

  • anon

    as long as you shoot it in a $3k/mo overpriced studio who cares?

  • Refund

    as soon as a girl does anything (musical or otherwise) in a male dominated industry, people's opinions go polar extremes in the love/hate spectrum.

    If this were a guy and someone didn't like their style, they'd probably be indifferent rather than trying to tear them down.

    I think this is the reason why females find it hard to make music and release, they get judged so harshly no matter what they do.

    Regardless of what beef you want to invent about her musicianship, the worth of her music, or how "try hard" you think she is for dressing up, She's making music and putting some of it out for free and that is all.

    If you don't like it, please grow up and move on and stop flaming needlessly.

  • http://www.eatyone.com EATYone

    Il pppppllllleuuuuttttt…

    Rare case where i'm proud to be French these day…

  • netch

    I got to see her in experimental settings with Brissot and wasn't too convinced by the huge electronic rig they had. My eyes didn't meet my ears..!

    But I like her work, pushing the envelope, bridging one of the many many gaps between art/music/sounds/research/experiment/pop.

    Sure she has the means(money) to move to "billyBurg", to be frenchy-artsy.

    Well, how many american writer/painter moved to loaded Left-Bank Paris?!?!…

    Yes this is too Kate Bush to my 2010 tastes though…

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  • http://music-interface.com mat

    really, really great music!

    To my opinion she is a classical singer/songwriter just using modern technologies. For sure, this is NOT experimental music. But I don´t like the the arty attitude of so called experimental music at all…at least the result is a song. And would you listen to that experimetal tunes on radio? (e.g. the Lego-controller-music in a video here these days)

    I know that making experiments with your music as an artist is important…and it is so much fun in making… but at least the result counts. OK, everybody got his own taste. But I would prefer more "classical" artists just using electronic gear…

  • blop junior

    @Refund

    stop the bullshit , critics are more violent between male artists …

    I personnaly think her last album is horrible, and she cant sing english at all… she should had stick to french …

  • Refund

    blop. I'm talking about regular people on the internet, not music critics.

  • Refund

    my response was mainly to do with the following comments

    JonA "not experimental" (this was stated at the beggining) "dumb ass with cash" (I'm not cashed up and I own more gear than her!)

    and

    Anon "bedford ave is only for rich people" (what the hell has this got to do with her music?)

    I agree with her being an average songwriter though, I don't like either of these tracks.

    I'm always interested to see live compositions (as opposed to pre-recorded)

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  • VroomVroom

    Blop Junior : "and she cant sing english at all… she should had stick to french …"

    Tell that to Bjork. Her horrific english didn't stop her from making some of the most interesting songs of the last decades…

  • http://dmlandrum.noisepages.com/ Darren Landrum

    I don't think it would be all that hard to set up three different cameras at different angles and distances and cut together a final product later. Sure, all the shots would be static, but if Survivorman can make it work… And with HD cameras costing as little as $150-180 for something with a decent picture, why not?

  • jonA

    @Refund, i'm not trying to start anything, i'm just sick of people selling themselves short for garbage music. Get real, this girl sucks and if it was a man, he would still suck.

  • http://www.mikehillier.me Mike Hillier

    How about a link to Émilie's website in the copy Peter?

    I'm loving the design of The Brissot. Much sexier than this arm-based MIDI controller I reviewed a while back: http://www.musictechmag.co.uk/mtm/reviews/gypsymi

  • Tabyo

    netch: "I got to see her in experimental settings with Brissot and wasn’t too convinced by the huge electronic rig they had. My eyes didn’t meet my ears..!"

    As was the case with the video too. She was pretty much just playing the piano and singing on top of a track. The other stuff was just irritatingly trying to look cool and "experimental" with the carefully placed DarkStar in the backround and layering a couple of samples with the tenori on to get some flashing lights. Too much going on which she didn't have any affect on. I really liked the track though.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, so, the experimental side of her performance isn't on evidence here. It's something she has done in the past. I wasn't immediately able to find video of that work.

  • lu0000000

    I get the feeling there are a couple of hypocritical accusations floating around here. I agree (like probably everyone else) Simon isn't cool just because she's "experimental" or female. In my opinion, Simon has honorably earned her merit, regardless of her tools, background, and distracting beauty.

    Agreed, I prefer to skip over some of her pieces (like "Song of the Storm" in the first vid I'm posting), however, dismissing Simon upon first listen of some of her new (extremely and purposely pop) works is an absolute shame.

    Ice Girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o571_64WsEU

    Opium: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5idbBXTBa4

  • konstanze

    now, that stuff (the links above) is quite up to her voice. easily beats the tenorion anyway

  • Blob

    @lu0000000

    I completely agree with you. Thanks for the 2 videos you shared where we can see her in a different context (with a band playing electronic and acoustic instruments).

    I watched the videos and looked up more of her stuff in the web. I also prefer her previous pieces, which have a more experimental pop side, but I think her new stuff (although not exactly my cup of tea) has potential.

    Her one-woman show is a bit too gimmicky for my taste, but is nevertheless a good example of how new musical technologies can add dimension to a real live performance.

    She's a talented performer and composer, has a lovely voice, employs musical technology creatively, has put her resources to good use and is building what appears to be a very interesting artistic career.

    Sadly, this seems to piss some people off (as we can see in some of the previous comments). But the bottom line is she will probably stay on our musical radar for many years to come.

  • Jonathan

    She has a few genius moments here and there.

    I can see why someone at Universal Music would dump a bunch of money on her.

    The songs are a bit too dozy for my taste.

    The "Bedford Ave" title is soooo lame. Whoever at Universal is behind this little campaign is trying to give her "cool artsy hipster cred".

  • Blob

    @Jonathan

    Hadn't thought of that – yes, it is possible that the "stripped-down apartment sessions" are a Universal marketing campaign – which, if true, is a bit lame in a let's-get-down-with-the-kids sort of way.

    In any case, I still appreciate her music.

  • Baas

    Stunning performance, certainly a very talented artist! Props!

  • olivier

    For what it worth, Cyrille Brissot is not IRCAM's director but does work there though :)

  • sean

    Emilie Simon's latest album is a great disappointment for me. I discovered her music when she came out with her debut album, and followed her through to Vegetal. Love the experimental electro-pop/rock french chansons, and comparisons to Bjork were justified. But what is going on with this new album? I understand that artists need to grow and develop, but The Big Machine is sonically grating on my ears. The voice, which some have likened to Kate Bush, renders this album difficult to sit through. I am left wondering where Emilie Simon has gone. Before this album, she seemed quite intelligent and unique, creating her own path in music. And while some may argue she is doing that still, I find she comes across as a dumbed down, gimmicky (Bedford Ave. Sessions?!) songstress. If this is where she is headed, then I guess another one bites the dust. Come back to us Emilie before it is too late!

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