Website: Sonic Circuits
Writer: Valerie Paschall

French guitarist Richard Pinhas is no stranger to groundbreaking musicianship. In the 1970s, he played guitar for the influential band Heldon before breaking away from the traditional format. The result has been thirty years of collaborations and solo efforts that push the envelope of what a guitar album can sound like. His most recent release, Metal/Crystal contains dizzying, swirling guitar melodies, but also hissing, hypnotic drone that threatens to overwhelm the listener with its weight. It's alternately very dark and very freeing; the result of two years of tragedy for Pinhas.

Pinhas will be playing a set at tonight's Sonic Circuits event at the Maison Francaise with another influential international noisemaker: Merzbow. Beginning in Baltimore on the 29th, Pinhas will begin a mini-tour up the East Coast with one of America's premier experimental acts: Wolf Eyes. We got a chance to talk to Pinhas about philosophy, working with international collaborators and the influences for Metal/Crystal, out on Silver Spring-based Cuneiform Records.

Had you heard of Sonic Circuits before you were invited to play the festival?
To be honest, I just heard about it when we played a couple of times in Washington in some clubs. Last time, people told me about this circuit and the work of Jeff. Then Jeff contacted me one year ago to make a proposition to get with Merzbow after the double CD we made together and I'd say it was pretty hard because Masami, which is the real name of Merzbow, doesn't want to move to much because he's got animals and he said it's a long trip. Which I can understand because coming from Tokyo is a very long way and at the end, Jeff gets Masami, so it was perfect.

Have you gotten to see any of the other acts during the festival, so far? [Ed. note: this interview was conducted on Wednesday morning.]
I got to see the concert with Fennesz and it was marvelous. Really marvelous. It was the first time I saw him live. I have heard about him since a long time but you know, everyone is touring everywhere and sometimes it's very hard to see people.

Is this your first time to the States?
It's a great country. I love America. I come every year, or two times a year, or for holidays and we were here last June.

Where have you enjoyed staying?
The city that I love the most is of course, Manhattan, but it's too expensive, so I never committed to live there. It's the only one I know that's more expensive than Paris! But the ones I love are Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit.

Some of the people that you've collaborated with on Metal/Crystal are former bandmates and other countrymen that you've worked with before. How did you arrange working with international collaborators like Merzbow and Wolf Eyes?
Oh, it was easy! I went to Tokyo a couple of times for touring or concerts and we took some days with Masami to work and record. Then we played and recorded live with Masami in Tokyo, in Paris, in New York, in other places I cannot remember. So, we have a lot of material that I use to put together. And the guys from Wolf Eyes I saw in Paris. Duncan, my son, played with them and we talk a lot about what they do. So I hear what Wolf Eyes does and I saw them a couple of times in Paris playing. So they make an opening show for us in Detroit, and they organized the show when we played there which was 2007 or 2009. Then we get friends and when they know that I come in for the festival, they ask me if it's okay to do concerts with them. So we're going to do some recording in Baltimore on the 28th and start a mini-tour the 29th. We're going to play in Baltimore, in New York and in Boston.

Will your live sets be entirely from Metal/Crystal?
No. In D.C., it will be the work with Masami, so it will be very close to Keio Line and the one we just released, Metal/Crystal. But with Wolf Eyes, they include me in the band. So it will be a mix of what makes Wolf Eyes and what I do. I don't know yet what we're doing, but they are great musicians, so it's no problem to work one night and converse after. It's not very often, like all musicians, you're invited and it's really to get in the band in a few minutes if you have the same feel as the band. Just having an idea, a good song and when you know that your song is near from their song then things go very fast.

It sounds like there were some unfortunate events in your personal life that inspired the writing on Metal/Crystal.
I had two big problems two years ago, but is that very important? My young brother died in thirteen days from cancer and my girlfriend had a suicide attempt at the same time, so it was very hard to record for this, so I take two years to do the Metal/Crystal album. At the end, the art is broke and I had to re-put together in three weeks.

What was the thought process behind your titling for Metal/Crystal, where you combine the desperate emotions like Hysteria or Paranoia with the name of a metal?
I've always been involved in philosophy. I've done a Ph.D., I've been chair at a university one year in Paris, and I stopped because the first album went good and I decided to be a professional musician. So, I've always been interested in philosophy. I wrote a couple of books and it's my hobby. Well, not my hobby, it's as important as music, but I try to make my living with music and it stays a hobby. But I spend two or three hours everyday to work on this. And in philosophy there is a sub-title that is psychiatry and all the mental ills are very interesting because they give a good idea of what is regular or normality in the other where there is no normality unless you try to import it from external side. I tried to use mental illness that I know from me or from other people so I can have a good idea of this. Some friends are really paranoid, some other ones are really schizoid so I think it was time to do something about this.

Do you have a philosophy about your approach to the music you make and the sounds that you're trying to create?
Of course, I think that all the music is in relationship with the concept of time, repetition, difference. I work a lot about the concept of time.

latest releases

released january 2017
bureau b

Process And Reality
process and reality (w/tatsuya yosihda & masami akitra)
released september 2016
cuneiform records

mu (w/barry cleveland)
released september 2016
cuneiform records