Things I've Learned:
An occasional series of hard-won-wisdoms from the mischief-making, pixie-dust-sprinkling, original-thinking auteurs of the audio world
Please supply a short 'official' biography
Axel Kacoutié is a Sound Artist and Musician who's been working on his craft for nearly a decade. His work can be found on Channel 4's Random Acts and Radio 4's Short Cuts. He's also the Guardian's theme song composer and sound designer for their daily news podcast, Today in Focus.
But who are you, really?
An old soul finding the courage to give language to things not everyone can see.
What are your top tips for making audio pieces?
1. Remember what you’re trying to say.
If you can’t remember, don’t worry, keep going. The result will remind you. If you’re still stuck then simply tell the truth. A mind block is a not-so-gentle-reminder that you’re either scared or not being honest enough. It’s an invitation to evolve.
2. Be prepared to do things badly.
You have to because it’s the only way you will improve and sound like yourself.
3. What does this button do?
Stay curious, look things up and push yourself but don’t force it. If it doesn’t feel right, go left. In fact, go left first! There’s always something new to try.
4. Take regular screen breaks to stretch and forget. Forgetting is an important reset.
5. Get naked.
Find someone you can share your work in progress with. Someone who can call a spade a spade, a turd a turd and you, a genius. Get in the practice of not justifying your creations and let the work speak for itself - especially in person because your body will instantly know when a moment needs more silence here or unpacking there. Trust that.
6. Let it go.
Sometimes it won’t be perfect and that’s ok. The next one will, I promise.
7. Admire, not idolise.
Everyone is making it up as they go along so be wary of people and things that make you feel inferior. Treasure only what reminds you that you can do it too.
8. Routine and ritual.
Label and organise your sessions. Please. You don’t want to spend ten minutes soloing every channel trying to locate the rogue whale sound in your mix.
9. Quieter not louder.
Your ears are precious. Pick a volume to mix at, note the level and stick to it. If it sounds great low, it’ll be amazing when pumped up!
10. You are a human being before any career or prospect.
No idea is worth compromising your health or ruining relationships. Organise. The world needs you and your art so be gentle with yourself and take the time to connect with the things you love. I journal, meditate and try to call my grandmother every weekend. Sometimes I treat myself to long walks in or outside of London. Sometimes I binge watch YouTube videos on Birth Chart Astrology, Tarot and Marvel Films because why not?
What's your favourite of all the things you've made and why?
Very, very proud of what I’ve done with the sound and music for The Gift! Directed by Dumas Haddad, it’s a surrealist Grime art film exploring the theme of identity of in the genre’s formative years circa 2003. The freakish and unsettling world created using the old school sounds I grew up listening to is one thing but it’s the normal things like the panning of car park soundscape and the police siren – that still tricks me into thinking it’s out my window rather than in the film – that I find really satisfying listening back to!
What's your (current) favourite piece of audio by someone else?
A wonderful piece called, The Phoenix’s Last Song by Sami El-Enany made for an art installation. It’s just so beautiful! I can’t describe, you have to listen! The thought that went into animating the Phoenix with both sound and music? The script written by the Dorine van Meel who he collaborated with? The reading by Emma Bennett? It’s all very perfect to me and I’m glad it exists.
Who are your influences (in any medium)?
James Baldwin. I consider him to be my mentor. Never read his novels but I have a book of his collected interviews and essays that include my favourite: “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity”. Prophetic in the way he describes the Artist’s awakening, it will forever be my call to arms (or pen and paper) when it’s time to start a new project.
Others include: Audre Lorde, Nayyirah Waheed, Langston Huges, Hans Zimmer and Nicholas Britell.
Please supply a visual representation of your life in audio
“FINISH WHAT YOU START”
As important as the message is, I choose this mainly because of where I was at that particular time in my life. Probably 19, I recently found out that people born under the sign of Aries are apparently terrible at following through with their ideas. This didn’t bode well for me because I just saved enough money to buy my first pair of studio monitors (Yamaha HS 50M – that I still use) in order to take my music making more seriously.
So as an attempt to defy this trait, I wrote this down and stuck this on my bedroom wall above the computer.
Still above my screen in a new setting, I worry less about finishing things so it’s now become a symbol of my past and a reminder of how far I’ve gone on this journey called life.
I’m sure 19-year-old Axel would be proud…