We spoke with Miguel Constantino about being surrounded by animals, the relationships between moving and fixed images and the mathematical equation that inspires him.
When people ask me where I get my inspiration, I can’t answer. I just pick up an instrument, a pen or a camera, and play with it until something interesting comes out.
From your point of view, what are the relationships between surfing, dogs, moving images, fixed images, music composition and sound recording? What percentage of each of those concepts or practices are you composed of?
All those elements are parts of my everyday life in different proportions, depending on what i’m working on. I could add skateboarding, practicing yoga, drinking coffee, and cooking vegetarian meals as part of daily routines. But I can’t really separate it in percentages. It’s more like a big highway, where each line would be one discipline and I can switch from one line to the other whenever I want or need. It helps me to keep a certain balance, and each practice will unconsciously feed the others.
They have a lot in common, but each one has a specific time scale. Composing or recording music is filling a duration, whereas printing a photo in the darkroom is trying to reach a point where the image seems timeless. Then there are things that I need to repeat every day, like walking my dogs or my yoga practice. They are more or less always the same length, but will feel different every day, and you understand that when you repeat the same things again and again, at the end, it’s in yourself that you feel the changes.
Did you go through any sort of traumatic experience when you were a kid that you can directly link to your creative and artistic work and engagement?
I can’t really find any traumatic event from my childhood to have a direct artistic consequence. Since my dad is an artist, I’ve always been surrounded by art and culture, and I don’t remember any barriers to curb my imagination and creativity. When people ask me where I get my inspiration, I can’t answer. I just pick up an instrument, a pen or a camera, and play with it until something interesting comes out. I tend to not analyze or overthink the results, but sure, there might be dust from my subconscious.
But when I was a kid, I remember spending some month in a farm, surrounded by animals. And there was a turkey that was as friendly as a dog, totally domesticated. But around Christmas, the turkey disappeared. I guess it influenced me in my engagement for animal rights and to stop killing animals to feed myself.
You were born in France in the ‘80s and have a family with Portuguese origins that still lives there even though you moved to Portugal. Why did you make that choice? Can you tell us the story of your family from as far back as you know until you were born?
I guess my name has some Jewish origins, but on the ancestor chart of my dad all the family comes from Portugal, except an unknown part that appears around 1750. On the side of my mum, the genealogical tree goes back until 1830, in Brittany, France.
My parents met in Portugal in the ’70s and decided to live in France. I moved to Portugal because I really prefer the life here, but I also already knew the language and the country so it didn’t feel like such a big change for me. I’ve always been in between France and Portugal. I have the double nationality, but I still don’t feel totally at home anywhere. Living with two cultures is a gift, but sometimes a struggle. It’s like being uprooted anywhere you are.
For me, it’s perfectly fine. It’s more the other people who doesn’t understand it, and it makes you feel like you will never completely belong to their community, even if they don’t do it on purpose most of the time.
Please meditate on waves in general and some waves you’ve met. I’m talking the ocean and music.
Meditation is a silent practice.
What is the most complex concept you have ever had to learn?
The Fourier series is maybe not the most complex mathematical concept I’ve had to learn. But it’s the one I’ve found to be the most beautiful and powerful, and also helped me to link my science background with sound engineering. Basically, this mathematical tool allows you to decompose any periodic signal into a sum of pure sine waves of different frequencies and intensity, with a fundamental and an infinity of harmonics.
I remember that at the university, after some very long calculations, we had to validate our results by the experience using sine wave generators and an oscilloscope to reproduce the signal we just had decompose on paper. If you plugged a speaker on the output, you could hear every component of the complex function, and to me, it was like playing with an analog synth.
The Fourier series has great applications in the psychoacoustic domain. For example, if you take a note of piano and remove the fundamental but leave all the harmonics, your brain is so used to hear those piano harmonics with a bass component that it will re-create that low pitch. I found this really helpful when mixing records, by working on the overtones instead of the fundamentals when a perception of low frequencies is needed.
I don’t use Spotify or Netflix, my phone is not smart, I write everything by hand in notebooks, I like to send letters by the post, I record my own music on cassettes, and I only shoot with film cameras.
Would you consider music engineering a science?
We are using scientific tools, and it’s a great help to understand what is going on technically with your equipment. But at the end, what makes the record is the songs and the musicians. I had recording sessions where one take could sound horrible, and the next one would sound amazing without changing anything on my side; simply, the musicians were playing tighter. Some of my favorite discs are probably awful if analyzed strictly technically, but since the music is great, no one cares. Who would dare to complain about the tape hiss on Miles Davis records?
We’ve worked together on two recordings. Both took place in really weird environments: an architect’s office and a house in the country. The architect office sounded so great. The house too, actually. How come those environments can sound mostly as great as a professional studio. If you had a studio, where and how would you build it?
I have great memories of the two Passe Montagne recordings I did with you, but the first one was really special for sure. I was just starting to record professionally, and you guys were one of the first bands I didn’t know personally that trusted me. The first reason to turn that architect’s office into a recording studio during the weekends is that we didn’t have to pay any rent. Then it was surrounded by shops, but no habitations. So we could record only at night, but all night long if needed and as loud as we wanted.
But I guess we got lucky that we had one microphone left (and it was probably not the best one) to put randomly on the floor, facing the windows, 30 feet away from any sound source. It’s really the signature of that record. A friend, who is also sound engineer, told me the snare sounded like the one on In Utero. So from there, I realized there’s no need for a traditional studio to make good-sounding records. I’ve started to have a list of different places I could rent or borrow for some days, depending of the acoustic qualities needed for each project. You have to know your equipment very well and to be ready to carry it anywhere.
I guess the people who work with me also like it that way. It’s an experience, and it’s always pretty satisfying to have a loud noisy rock band blasting in an old man living room. Of course, it’s great when it’s possible to rent a real well-designed and well maintained recording studio, the comfort and quality help to get the sound you want easier and faster. But it’s not guaranteed that the band will play better in that kind of environment.
With a bit more experience now, I guess a good recording studio is a place where musicians can feel comfortable, away from the daily distractions to be able to focus fully on their records, in a calm and peaceful environment, but where they can play as loud as they want, without headphones and all in the same room if they want, as late as the music needs, and where the technical aspects interfere as less as possible with the creative process.
How do you remember recordings you’ve worked on: by sounds or images? I’m curious to know how your brain keeps those concepts together in your memory, as you are a person of both sound and image.
I feel that there are different layers of memories. When I see the artwork of an album I worked on, I remember the technical aspects of the recording, the microphone setup, the instruments, who did the mastering. I can picture in my mind how it sounds without any music being played. Then, when I listen to the music, memories of moments shared with the band start to appear: the life in the studio, the magical takes, the hard times.
A lot of people I’ve recorded became very good friends. Usually, I’m the only witness of the creative process of a band, of something they dedicated a lot of time and energy, and that is the most important thing in their life at the moment of the recording. My role is to help them to achieve what they have in mind. And there will be difficulties at some point, but going through it together creates strong bonds.
What’s the most overrated movie you’ve ever seen?
I could name dozens of bands or photographers, but I’m so bad with movies. My favorite ones are usually very underrated, but I have an enormous list of films I have to see. I lived six months per year in Portugal when I was a kid, but we were going back to France just before the school year finished, so I could validate it.
When I was meeting back with my friends, I had missed all the movies the kids were talking about in the schoolyard. I guess I saw E.T. and Back To The Future probably 5 or 6 years after everyone, thanks to friends who had a VHS player, and I still have yet to see Ghostbusters.
Finally, what’s your point of view on how culture is consumed nowadays? I’m mainly thinking of the streaming culture of Netflix and Spotify in general.
I don’t use Spotify or Netflix, my phone is not smart, I write everything by hand in notebooks, I like to send letters by the post, I record my own music on cassettes, and I only shoot with film cameras. I like to buy books and go to museums, and I think it’s a totally different experience to hold a gelatin silver print in your hands, instead of seeing photos on a small screen. Seeing everyone holding their phones for pretty much anything is really scary.
I guess in some years, we will not have any archives of our time. I know that a lot of my recording backups are already impossible to open. I don’t know how a society without memories can work.
Curated by: Julien Fernandez
Conducted by: Email
Published: June 8, 2018
Total questions: 10
Word count: 1868
Reading time: Six minutes
analysis, animal, aspect, Baleal, calculation, camera, cassette, Christmas, component, decomposition, dust, engagement, equation, Fourier series, frequency, fundamental, gelatin, genealogy, harmonic, infinity, inspiration, instrument, intensity, interest, layer, mathematics, meditation, memory, Miguel Constantino, museum, Netflix, overthink, Passe Montagne, pen, periodic, Portugal, print, recording, signal, sine, skateboarding, Spotify, subconscious, sum, technical, trauma, university, vegetarian, wave, yoga
About the curator
Julien Fernandez was born in Mayenne, France in 1976. He currently lives and works in Pescara, Italy with his wife, two kids and a dog, Lenny. He is captivated by structural relations between objects, animal behavior, contagion and magic, and is currently working on a mechanism that would classify mental images in the physical world. He also designs and envisions the day-to-day architecture of North of the Internet.
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