Published Feb 15, 2019Asked about the thematic throughlines that bring together Yann Tiersen's new album All (out today on Mute Records), the musician is quick to invoke the time he was stalked by a mountain lion while biking through California in 2014.
"We were not knowing where we were, what the rules were, who was living there, and who the territory belonged to. We almost died," says Tiersen in an Exclaim! interview from his home on Ushant, a remote island at the southwestern end of the English Channel. "And so we carried on for six hours not knowing if we'd escape or die, because, y'know — mountain lions will mess with humans for a joke."
Tiersen survived the encounter unscathed, but with a newfound understanding of the relationship between human beings and their environment. He began incorporating the sounds of natural environments on his 2016 album, EUSA — a sonic map of Ushant complete with field recordings — but the near-death experience continued to inspire him to refine and further his approach as he began a follow-up.
"I think it switched my vision of the world," says Tiersen of his encounter with the mountain lion. "I realized that everywhere, not knowing your natural environment, it's really bad. And really bad for you, really bad for the planet. You're endangered, because nature is the master, and it's great, but it's dangerous."
All weaves field recordings compiled from all over the world, including Schumacher College in Devon, a decommissioned airport in Germany and a forest outside San Francisco, with multilingual lyrics (including lyrics in Swedish, Faroese and Breton) for a unified landscape of natural and linguistic sounds drawn together by plaintive instrumentation, all performed by Tiersen. In a world threatened by borders, both physical and political, All is Tiersen's way of breaking them down with the power of sound.
"I had simple instruments and built the album with that, this organic thing, to have this dialogue and resonance between field recordings and music," says the composer. "The idea behind this album was to bring the place where I live, to share and mix it with other natural environments to create a dialogue between ecosystems."
Ushant, where Tiersen recorded most of the instrumentation, is All's geographic and spiritual centrepoint, and the album itself marks a turning point in the composer's relationship with his longtime home. While Tiersen has long recorded on Ushant out of his home studio, All marks the first album recorded at the Eskal, an abandoned discotheque on Ushant that Tiersen recently purchased and converted into a new community centre, complete with venue and multi-room recording studio.
"[The building has] been 15 years with nothing in it. Before, it was the [social] centre. It was a disco, a place to celebrate weddings, it was near the town hall so it's the centre of the island," says Tiersen. "It belongs to the island, and it's got this big live room to record, also a venue. I want to do workshops, coffee, lots of stuff here. It's great. It's a free studio, the big one, the big mixing room, there's an electronic studio, and another smaller studio for me to work with, and then to share with them as well."
Emboldened by his newfound understanding of human beings' role in the world's ecosystem and the importance of giving back, All practices what it preaches.
"Living in a small island, eight kilometres by four kilometres, everything's possible. And so we can go into the studio and share a lot of stuff," says Tiersen, "but I want to share that and give others the opportunity as well."