Richard Pinhas Is Still Fighting for the Light on His New Album ‘Reverse’

Over five decades, the legendary guitarist has made drones that reflect both the darkness and the joy of the world.
January 27, 2017, 9:00pm
Photo by Richard Dumas

French guitarist and composer Richard Pinhas has worked in five different decades refining osmium-dense drones and outer space explorations, both under his own name and in collaboration with his band Heldon. His work is heavy, but ascendant, the sort of six-string manipulation that prizes both chaos and fragility, darkness and light, swallowing worlds in his torrents of abstracted noise.

Over the last decade, he's been especially prolific, turning out over a dozen releases that push the boundaries of his six-stringed experimentation. But his latest LP Reverse—out today on Bureau B—might be his most intense yet, a stunningly complex collection of four pieces that heave and flex under his monolithic guitar lines. Aided by Oren Ambarchi, Masami Akita (best known as Merzbow), the drummer Arthur Narcy, and a host of other players, Pinhas was able to channel the gravity of a period of his life marked by confusion and loss into something remarkably uplifting. The cloudy, complex pieces on Reverse acknowledge the unimaginable grief and disarray that comes when you lose people that you love, but there's a lightness to them too, with room for recovery amidst the darkness.

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Below, Reverse is streaming in full, alongside a brief interview with Pinhas about the marvelous weight of this record and his plan for the endgame of his career.

French guitarist and composer Richard Pinhas has worked in five different decades refining osmium-dense drones and outer space explorations, both under his own name and in collaboration with his band Heldon. His work is heavy, but ascendant, the sort of six-string manipulation that prizes both chaos and fragility, darkness and light, swallowing worlds in his torrents of abstracted noise.

Over the last decade, he's been especially prolific, turning out over a dozen releases that push the boundaries of his six-stringed experimentation. But his latest LP Reverse—out today on Bureau B—might be his most intense yet, a stunningly complex collection of four pieces that heave and flex under his monolithic guitar lines. Aided by Oren Ambarchi, Masami Akita (best known as Merzbow), the drummer Arthur Narcy, and a host of other players, Pinhas was able to channel the gravity of a period of his life marked by confusion and loss into something remarkably uplifting. The cloudy, complex pieces on Reverse acknowledge the unimaginable grief and disarray that comes when you lose people that you love, but there's a lightness to them too, with room for recovery amidst the darkness.

Below, Reverse is streaming in full, alongside a brief interview with Pinhas about the marvelous weight of this record and his plan for the endgame of his career.

THUMP: You've said that this album has been influenced by changes in your life, could you go into a bit more detail about what that means?
Richard Pinhas: Yes, I have been in a very troubling period. I lost my two parents in four months while on tour. In between, [I split with] with my girlfriend and lost my flat. But with this album and the help of a few very close musicians, I had quite a healing period that made me optimistic. At least for a little while. I will be back to my old demons and my dark obsessions for sure. So it is like an intermezzo.

Do you feel drawn to create in those periods of disarray, or was this something that came after? But either way, why pay tribute to such a period with an album, instead of just trying to forget?
It's impossible to forget anything, we are human beings. Can you forget the Laogai or Gulag? You have to remember it, even if you prefer not to.

When I am in a down period, I don't play, record or perform. Just because it's impossible. But then I'm very productive again, I think, and full of inventions and strength. In the last 18 months, I recorded four to six albums, and played 43 gigs in two months—across Europe, the US, and Japan. I am a workaholic, when I am not in too bad of a psychological condition.

Reverse was part of the healing process, of figuring out that in life there is some light possible and maybe another world too. I do not want to forget the bad times—and I had a lot, believe me—but I always turn to the light. But the future seems dark It is just what I see, as an observer of what happens.

How do you feel that period is reflected on the record, is it in darkness or in uplift or both? The record doesn't really present only one feeling or path.
All the moments of my life—and probably of all lives of men and women—are bright and dark at the same time. When it is a dark time you feel dark 99%, but when it is a good time you always remember that dark times exist. They are in the past and also upcoming. But when I am recording or on tour it is always a matter of light and happiness. I can't play without it. When the black sun comes I stop, cancel, procrastinate. At the same time there is a general plan: make music, give and receive love.

Do you see music like the stuff you make, which often moves slowly and contemplatively, as having a functional purpose. Especially in times when the world outside is chaotic, do you use it to slow down for yourself?
No, I am naturally very fast (when I am not down or depressive) and have a lot of power to work. I am not contemplative. But my music has, I think, a political function: chaos. And it is of course also a message about love and creation. But things change: 40 years ago around the three last Heldon records everybody said, "you can't sell this kind of music and you can't dance on it." But now: young people get this music, generations of people get this music in their hearts, and at concerts there are people from 18 to 80. Last tour, a lot of young people danced. So in these rare moments I am happy.

Tell me a bit about the cast of players on this record. Over the course of your career you've worked with so many people—why work with the people you did for this one, especially on something that's being released under your name?
I do love to play solo sets, but as a musician i love even more to play and record with other musicians. Choice comes from possibilities and will. For the album Welcome in the Void, it was obvious that Yoshida Tatsuya was the one for recording a more than one-hour track. It was the same thing for the drumming on Reverse, these tracks were made for Arthur Narcy. And with Oren [Ambarchi] it was a kind of brotherhood. There was also a small part of recording from Masami Akita, William Winant, and Duncan Nilsson-Pinhas, my beloved son. I love to play with my friends from the USA, Japan and Australia.

I can have a very simple way of recording or a very complex ones. Reverse is very complex, recorded in many different studios across different countries. More important: Oren Ambarchi is co-composer for half of the tracks. Without him this album would not even exist. There is a 5th track, the best and longest one, that will come as "Dronz - Bonus" on the next Bureau B vinyl release.

You mention in the press release that this record was initially conceived of as your final release, why was that and what eventually changed your mind?
My very last album will be named At Last or @ last, but we are not yet at that point. For two main reasons: I have to finish the depressive tryptique. And there is an upcoming Heldon album. And some live collaboration with people like Yoshida Tatsuya. And Yoshida and I recorded as a trio with Makoto Kawabata, last november in France. And there's an album with William Winant recorded in a famous studio in Oakland. And so on and so on. Then at the end of the end you will get @last, maybe soon, maybe in ten years. Second reason: I have a three album contract—minimum—with Bureau B. And I keep my words... or I try to. You know...love is an important matter. And doing albums is a question of love.

THUMP: You've said that this album has been influenced by changes in your life, could you go into a bit more detail about what that means?
Richard Pinhas: Yes, I have been in a very troubling period. I lost my two parents in four months while on tour. In between, [I split with] with my girlfriend and lost my flat. But with this album and the help of a few very close musicians, I had quite a healing period that made me optimistic. At least for a little while. I will be back to my old demons and my dark obsessions for sure. So it is like an intermezzo.

Do you feel drawn to create in those periods of disarray, or was this something that came after? But either way, why pay tribute to such a period with an album, instead of just trying to forget?
It's impossible to forget anything, we are human beings. Can you forget the Laogai or Gulag? You have to remember it, even if you prefer not to.

When I am in a down period, I don't play, record or perform. Just because it's impossible. But then I'm very productive again, I think, and full of inventions and strength. In the last 18 months, I recorded four to six albums, and played 43 gigs in two months—across Europe, the US, and Japan. I am a workaholic, when I am not in too bad of a psychological condition.

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Reverse was part of the healing process, of figuring out that in life there is some light possible and maybe another world too. I do not want to forget the bad times—and I had a lot, believe me—but I always turn to the light. But the future seems dark It is just what I see, as an observer of what happens.

How do you feel that period is reflected on the record, is it in darkness or in uplift or both? The record doesn't really present only one feeling or path.
All the moments of my life—and probably of all lives of men and women—are bright and dark at the same time. When it is a dark time you feel dark 99%, but when it is a good time you always remember that dark times exist. They are in the past and also upcoming. But when I am recording or on tour it is always a matter of light and happiness. I can't play without it. When the black sun comes I stop, cancel, procrastinate. At the same time there is a general plan: make music, give and receive love.

Do you see music like the stuff you make, which often moves slowly and contemplatively, as having a functional purpose. Especially in times when the world outside is chaotic, do you use it to slow down for yourself?
No, I am naturally very fast (when I am not down or depressive) and have a lot of power to work. I am not contemplative. But my music has, I think, a political function: chaos. And it is of course also a message about love and creation. But things change: 40 years ago around the three last Heldon records everybody said, "you can't sell this kind of music and you can't dance on it." But now: young people get this music, generations of people get this music in their hearts, and at concerts there are people from 18 to 80. Last tour, a lot of young people danced. So in these rare moments I am happy.

Tell me a bit about the cast of players on this record. Over the course of your career you've worked with so many people—why work with the people you did for this one, especially on something that's being released under your name?
I do love to play solo sets, but as a musician i love even more to play and record with other musicians. Choice comes from possibilities and will. For the album Welcome in the Void, it was obvious that Yoshida Tatsuya was the one for recording a more than one-hour track. It was the same thing for the drumming on Reverse, these tracks were made for Arthur Narcy. And with Oren [Ambarchi] it was a kind of brotherhood. There was also a small part of recording from Masami Akita, William Winant, and Duncan Nilsson-Pinhas, my beloved son. I love to play with my friends from the USA, Japan and Australia.

I can have a very simple way of recording or a very complex ones. Reverse is very complex, recorded in many different studios across different countries. More important: Oren Ambarchi is co-composer for half of the tracks. Without him this album would not even exist. There is a 5th track, the best and longest one, that will come as "Dronz - Bonus" on the next Bureau B vinyl release.

You mention in the press release that this record was initially conceived of as your final release, why was that and what eventually changed your mind?
My very last album will be named At Last or @ last, but we are not yet at that point. For two main reasons: I have to finish the depressive tryptique. And there is an upcoming Heldon album. And some live collaboration with people like Yoshida Tatsuya. And Yoshida and I recorded as a trio with Makoto Kawabata, last november in France. And there's an album with William Winant recorded in a famous studio in Oakland. And so on and so on. Then at the end of the end you will get @last, maybe soon, maybe in ten years. Second reason: I have a three album contract—minimum—with Bureau B. And I keep my words… or I try to. You know…love is an important matter. And doing albums is a question of love.