Interview with Masomenos

by Gilles Wasserman

Masomenos is not just another duo on the international underground music scene. Masomenos is a multimedia project by Joan Costes and Adrien de Maublanc. Over the 15 years since they’ve been active, Masomenos released dozens of EPs, several LPs and toured the world multiple times. Joan is a graphic designer, Adrien a movie director, together they make one of the most distinguished and recognizable designs and visuals which accompany the music they make.
In the past, Masomenos have become known for their groovy minimal sound, but since a few months ago, the new chapter in their career has begun.
Masomenos started a new downtempo project with infamous Hotel Costes, which will see the releases of 8 albums and 16 EPs that this exceptionally talented duo recorded with various jazz and classical musicians in the last 2 years continuing the legacy of worldwide recognized Hotel Costes series curated by Stephane Pompougnac in past. We sat down with Joan and Adrien and talked about design, the new downtempo project with Hotel Costes and of course DJing.

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Hi Joan and Adrien, lovely to have you here at Delayed, how’s your day so far?
A
: Cool, dropped the kids at school, but these days I feel like going to the factory. We’ve been replugging the whole studio to make it broadcastable (trying it out this sunday!), and we’re not done yet. Last year, I’ve been producing a LOT of music, and now’s time for releasing, and structuring a new set.

J: Cool, as well, Adri dropped the kids at school ; ) just arrived to the office, poured myself a coffee and started answering this inspiring interview.

You’ve been doing the Masomenos project for more than a decade, how did the idea come around at the first place?
Well, when we first met, it was something like a mini big bang. Something new emerged from that, we started exchanging ideas and having fun creating audiovisual material. 
A friend asked us to pitch a soundtrack for a brand. We had to find a name, and as we just came back from Mexico, we were still using Masomenos whenever we had something to say. We just kept on.

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You have a very distinctive and recognizable design presence. It’s unique and interesting, but at the same time accessible to wider groups of people. How important is for an artist to have something accompanied with their music nowadays? 
Sure it is, but that’s not how we thought about it. They came along and were bound together. We couldn’t have split them, like us. It’s that binding that makes Masomenos what it is. Whenever we try, cause we did try to split it, it’s too much, it loses its essence. It’s all One. 

Have you done any exhibitions of your art, and if so which one was your favorite one? 
Not so many, but the one that was really marking and positioned us as artists beyond the electronic music scene was the Open Studio event we did in our workshop in Ivry (check this video) we were sharing with Sebastien Pascot (a kraft artist with whom we spent a year designing and building the hut,an immersive audiovisual installation part of the Totem & Tabou album project). 
It was a wonderful gathering of people we loved and we created an experience for them because they had to come all the way to a kind of dodgy warehouse, to enter our world through the hut. Then you had a display of our painting work and installation from Sebastian. Very nice memories. Also at that time, we had the first idea of making the show, a long term goal we have of displaying our work as an interactive experience mixing music, light, performances, costumes, decor and most of all, lovely people!

Which came first, your collective passion for design, or music?
J
: We both started digging the image/design before. I studied graphic design. I began to buy record in my twenties and started djing soon after.
A :  I started to work very early in the advertising business. Then I became a movie director, to end up building up a home studio while Guillaume Atlan from Supermanlover was living at my place. We started the project together. Then our roads have separated. I met Joan a while after that, as I was moving out of my studio. She invited me to move in her flat, that was empty after a renovation work. I was one week after we met and it became my home. 
As a director, I already had an approach for sound and music and the post production tools are very similar to the tools of the studio.

Where do you find the inspiration for your design work and where for music production?
A :
Everywhere. I have to say I’m blessed with ignorance ; ) what I mean by that is that I don’t have references that would leave me comparing my work, and sometimes limiting myself. Joan diggs, knows the names, the artist works. I have the freedom to create my way things that might exist already but that i don’t know about. 
J :  I realised now how I got inspired since my childhood. It’s a totally organic process where textures, shapes, colors re-emerge and re-defined themselves in the present with a “remastered” touch. 

Your performance is accompanied by stunning visuals. Are visuals unique for each performance? 
We have been trying to ask and also invited a lot to add for visual support to our dj/live set, yes. Again, the more facet of our work can be presented simultaneously the better our work can be understood, or even perceived for what it is, hence the idea for the show.
When we began, we sent our first tracks to various labels, and it took us a while to get there. We not only had all material to create as our own, but it would make us stand out for what we are, and it did. Le Poulet was an amazing ambassador.

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How much time during the week do you dedicate to working on music versus working on a design? Do these 2 things ever happen simultaneously? 
J:
I spend very little time in the studio. More in the office. Music wise I curate playlists, and dj, I don’t produce. I love to give my insight thought. Coming with my ears after the production process is very interesting as well. As far as the design, I draw, I layout, and Adrien adds perspective to my work. Transform them into installation, lights, decor etc.
A : I have periods, like tunnels. Now it’s about technical matter, it could be about making the 3D for an installation, or jamming and recording with our friends. 

Your outstanding ’12 days a week’ LP came out in June starting a new era in the Hotel Costes chill out/ downtempo series. You’ve collaborated with Hotel Costes in past with your ‘Bon Voyage’ series which was oriented more around minimal electronic music, how did the idea about this chill-out/downtempo project come along?
A
: Having a family, slowed us down. The downtempo was a better suited soundtrack for our life. Exploring and discovering new ground is also vital for my creative process. Our Studio being inside of the construction of the new part of hôtel costes, it also fitted the mutation. The soundscape of the works. We were happy to release it through The Hotel Costes channel, as we thought it was a nice way to get this music to different audience, as it was still fitting the Costes DNA.

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How long did you prepare for this project? How much did you leave for improv while recording it? 
A:
Truth is I did not prepare for this album. Our friend Moritz Capellmann was coming to Paris to upgrade the studio as we were planning to make a few changes in the set up. I had a patch on the modular and decided to play some chords, remembering my time fooling around on my parents piano. It started on Monday, by Friday Moritz arrived and I had 5 or 6 tracks...but as we were discussing, I was not willing to unplug the studio just then... And we ended up just talking.
I finished the album over the weekend. Then we left on a road trip with the family for the holidays and listen to it a lot in the car. Coming back, the decision was made to re-record the parts with a real piano and to mix it again.

The Studio HC has been your home in the past 2 years where you invited various musicians to collaborate with you. How does it feel to be in the ‘conductor’ role for this project and who are some of the names you worked with?
A: 
Julien Quentin (piano), Yonathan Levi (Double Bass), Adrien Boisseau (viola), Alioune Kone (Cora) are musicians coming for classical or jazz background and they all read and write music (i don’t know music theory) maybe we manage simply because they accept to let go, forget the rules, and follow my enthusiasm.

What were the guidelines that you were giving to guest musicians for this project?
A:
None really beside trying to record them when they are ready, meaning we do not have a 2 hours session to deliver, we spend all week together and see what comes up.

While we are in the jazz realm, I would like to ask you who are your favorite jazz musicians to listen to?
Sure. Masters such as Miles Davis, Jon Hassell, Yusef Lateef,  Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby and from today we like Matthew Halsall, Sam Gendel among others.

Your Studio HC#1 EP came out a few weeks ago following ’12 days a week’ LP which came out in June. How often we can expect the rest of the releases to be out? 
Albums are expected every 3 months whereas EP should be every 6 weeks.

I would like to switch gears a bit now and talk to you about DJing and performing live. B2B sets are a trend that became a common thing in the last couple of years. As a duo that has been performing b2b sets for more than 10 years together, how do you prepare for your sets? I know that some duos put the music in one folder and then go over the music together and take out tracks that they don’t like, others leave most of it to improv on the stage and have separate music folders. What’s your secret? 
J :
Oh it’s easy, Adrien only plays his productions! I play my selection. I dive into my collection and pick what inspire me for a specific night or show. Tomorrow, I’ll share the deck with Laetitia Katapult for her Rinse show, so I guess I’ll dig into Adri’s folder as well (love to do that!!)
A: Hehehe, indeed. It took me a while to get a decent amount of sound in my crate! Now, i’m good.

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You also perform live, what is your set up for playing live like?  
A
: live for Masomenos have always been with a very minimal set up, a computer and a push, sleeting 4 out on the club mixer. Now the bands such as midiminuit require a much bigger set up (piano, double bass, modular,synth) and a light show can come on top, different story.

You performed several times in NYC (we’ve been to some of those parties 🙂). What was your favorite gig in NYC?
Ahh tuff question. Blkmarket that’s for sure! We always have a blast when performing in NYC. I could pick our first at bar 13th when Taimur & Fahad did a favor to a friend and booked us ; ) for NYE as we just started.
What a fun night. Last one also at Good Room was so much fun with Steve o Sullivan!  Meanwhile we had rooftop, warehouse, clubs, parties. I also love one on Broadway, where they tore down all the curtains for sunrise! Good times!

What are your plans for the future, is any club music planned to be released soon? Are there plans to perform '12 days a week' live? 
Our plan for The studio HC sound is to become a broadcaster. We aim at doing live jams from the studio that could be aired live online and in the hotel. We’re gonna experiment it this Sunday with our close friend e/tape.  We’re also very happy to travel and play this sound in gigs. The ambient scene is getting very creative these days. Festival like Intrinsic, or Houghton have created space for this. Kasheme in Zurich as well, where we’ll be in December.

See you there!  Thank you for this inspiring set of questions, it’s always a pleasure to answer a proper interview like the one you wrote.

photos by Benjamin Didier