With the all-too-frequent bustle and rush in the world around us, our minds and bodies crave solace, rest and "me time" to recharge, refocus and ideally find some inner peace. The downtime enables us to re-emerge and presumably thrive in our daily lives with a refreshed perspective. Immersing oneself in music is a common way for many of us - myself included - to escape for a little while and find that perspective. If you're looking for a reflective soundtrack to 'getting away from it all', then Se Dire Au Revoir, the stunning new album from Dutch musician and composer Pieter Nooten, should be at the top of your list.
The 11 gorgeous, semi-orchestral soundscapes on Se Dire Au Revoir evoke images of shimmering colors, with sensations of serenity and melancholia. Think of gently rolling clouds; tranquil, yet mysterious night skies with shimmers of the aurora; and cinematic scenes replayed in slow motion. Each track evokes a new sensation, with minimalist movements and overtures layered in delicate, cascading arrangements of strings, piano and other ambient sounds.
The entire album is magnificent, with moving arrangements that flow cohesively from start to finish. Tracks like "She Is Asleep", "Desolate Hotel" and "Mother's Care" feature slow, deliberate string and orchestral movements, while "Moon Shining Bright", "Se Dire Au Revoir" and "Melancholia" present elegant piano arpeggios with subtle string and ambient backgrounds.
Se Dire Au Revoir is Pieter's fifth album release with independent UK indie label Rocket Girl, and the seventh solo album release since Sleeps with the Fishes (1987; 4AD), his collaboration with ambient guitarist and producer Michael Brook - an album hailed by many as Pieter's most-acclaimed work. Pieter is probably most well-known from 80's darkwave/goth band Clan of Xymox, in which he was a member from the self-titled debut album Clan of Xymox (1985) until Phoenix (1991), at which point the core members of the band parted ways.
Both Sleeps with the Fishes and Clan of Xymox's Medusa (1986) continue to hold treasured places on my "desert island discs" list. Looking back at the early days of Clan of Xymox, the orchestral/classical elements and Pieter's musical influences were apparent in tracks like "Equal Ways", "After the Call", "Clementina" and "Crossing the Water", among others. While I've been a big follower and admirer of all of Pieter's solo releases, there's something super magical and intriguing about Se Dire Au Revoir that places this album on a sonic and sensory stratum that parallels Sleeps with the Fishes.
I recently caught up with Pieter to talk about the new album, gain some insight into his songwriting process and reflect a bit on the start of his solo work.
[STMB]: Congratulations on the release of Se Dire Au Revoir! I believe the title is French for 'Say Goodbye' - Is there any significance to the title, or a common theme/thread that runs through the songs?
[PN]: Absolutely. In that respect it is a concept album. All songs are set in scenes that convey a sense of farewell, separation or loneliness. It’s in all the titles as well. ‘Desolate Hotel’, ‘The Philosopher’s Walk’, even ‘She Is Asleep’. They are titles that imply a single person’s experience.
The stunning compositions and movements on Se Dire Au Revoir seem to be more string-prevalent than some of your previous releases. Do your choices of instrumentation and sound ever change throughout the songwriting and recording process, or are they inherent elements of the compositions themselves?
[PN]: Thank you for the compliment! To be honest, I have tons of great plug-ins and software. Most of it I never use, especially soft synths that claim to sound analogue. I am just not impressed with them: they sound clichéd. Acoustic modeled instruments on the other hand have a sense of timelessness about them. You can create contemporary sounding music just using the piano and it will form an excellent basis. After that I decide if I go for a contemporary sound design approach or stick with the acoustic sounding libraries. Everything goes in the songwriting process but I always start with the piano.
Can you provide a glimpse into your creative and songwriting/recording process?
[PN]: Without Kontakt I would be clueless. I rely a lot on good sounding libraries and I won’t mention any brands, not before they decide to support and fund me haha. Piano libraries, string libraries, sound design plug ins and tons of effects. I spend every day a few hours on tutorials and composing. Inspiration derives from just being at work.
Both Sleeps with the Fishes (your debut solo album and collaboration with Michael Brook) and Medusa (with Clan of Xymox) fall on my 'desert island discs' list, and are considered by many others to be among your most essential and warmly-held compositions. When you think back to that time period, did you ever imagine that these two albums would withstand the test of time as they have, along with the renewed interest in your work due to your recent album releases?
[PN]: Those were the days of labels being able to spend quite large amounts of money on album production. Time and money weren’t a problem. I do not agree they are my ‘most essential’, but they were recorded, mixed and released with nice budgets. We certainly had an ambition to make music that would last. I myself was never into any ‘trendy’ music, being influenced by classical music so much. So yes, I am happy that especially Sleeps With The Fished did what Michael and I intended to do: make timeless music. Every time I post anything on Xymox or Sleeps on social media I get far more likes and comments when compared to any posts on recent work. But well, people tend to hold on to the music they heard and loved when they were young, Apparently, storing new music into your brain’s ‘all time favorite bank’ gets more difficult with age.
To what extent do you think social media has contributed to or expanded your base of listeners and followers?
[PN]: It allows me to connect with them so much more easy than ever before and vice versa. I do get about 2 to 4 friend requests per day and I have a feeling it is getting more frequent. Slowly but steadily. Spotify clocks 2000 streams a month; being notified about these things, is a big motivator.
Thanks to Pieter for providing all the insightful responses!
For more information about Pieter Nooten, follow him on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), and find his music on the official Rocket Girl website, Bandcamp, Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music.
With that, I leave you with the mesmerizing video accompaniment to "She Is Asleep" from Se Dire Au Revoir.