Boundary-blending, electronic-to-classical artist Ouri meets Notion to talk spectrums of sound, gender in music, and why she is no longer trying to stay anonymous.
Ourielle Auvé, better known as Ouri, is an artist who would truly be a challenge to pin down – and she wouldn’t thank you for trying, either. Spanning serene orchestral sounds (the Montreal-based musician originally trained on piano, harp and cello) and pounding urban electronic experimentations (the sonic equivalent of a crane compacting scrap metal), refusing to abide by expectations is a big part of the point for Ouri.
It was when Ouri moved to Montreal from Paris in 2016 that underground music exploded onto her radar. She was soon a frequenter of the Canadian city’s clubs and lesser-known venues. In a sharp departure from her classical upbringing, Ouri studied Electroacoustic Music at university, with a side helping of Jazz Harmony.
When she first arrived with her effervescent electronic debut EP ‘Maze’ in 2015, having seen the way in which female artists were pigeonholed, Ouri chose to shroud herself in anonymity. It took her until the release of ‘We Share Our Blood’ in 2018, following the release of her first full album ‘Superficial’ in 2017, to share her own vocals on her tracks.
Along with a desire to shatter the rules of music, Ouri has a penchant for making music in “intense environments”. This year, she embarked on the feminist project Hildegard in collaboration with Helena Deland, the pairing so named after a female medieval composer. Over a period of eight days, the duo shared whatever creation they had mustered up.
2021 also brings Ouri’s latest album, ‘Frame of a Fauna’, a sound-digesting paradox of refined instrumentals and crunching, gritty electronics. We chatted to the artist about finding freedom through music, ecological approaches, and much more.
So firstly, I wanted to start off by asking about your most recent singles “High & Choking, Pt. 1”, “Ossature” and “Chains” – are there stories behind those singles, and in what way do you feel they’re connected?
I feel they all have this relationship between the voice and the drums that I wanted to explore a little bit and there’s something that can be a little bit rebellious, but still very soft and distant at moments. With “High & Choking”, I wanted to write a song about this period of my life: I had a lover in a city that was not my hometown, and I used to go there all the time. We would just bathe on top of buildings in hotels. And it was just like that – being obsessed by them, but also knowing that it would never go any further than this. So I just wanted to make a track about it. I wanted to link also sonically – have different types of drums. They’re kind of in the same spirit but it’s still different. So, on “High & Choking” it’s really a drum machine, on “Chains” it’s really playing with drum machines a lot, and on “Ossature”, it’s more brakes and heavy, distorted sounds, which I really love. I think it’s really something I want to do more, more and more. And on “Ossature”, too, it’s really a story of duality and admiration, but also when you don’t need someone else, but they’re here and they’re doing everything and it doesn’t fit.
I find it interesting that with these three tracks, you’re starting to go back to electronic music. I know you’ve said you have a love-hate relationship with the genre. Why do you think you started your career with electronic music?
Well, I think it’s that electronic music was the opposite of the conservatory for me and I was really trying to emancipate myself. I wanted to do a style of music that I loved. I love electronic music. I love listening to it. Sometimes while doing it, there’s the barrier of the feeling of a machine – you can make electronic music that is really alive but sometimes it goes into a category very easily. I really wanted to start in electronic music because I wanted to be a little bit more anonymous. When you’re playing an instrument, it’s really connected to your body and I wanted to just dive into the mental construction of music and composition, play with elements. I found it so intuitive on software to see the blocks and sculpt sounds. I think it’s really fun to do and I loved it. And there was this kind of distance. Right now, I really want to be more incarnated in a way.
Why do you think you started to work with more classical sounds for “Shape of It”, “Felicity” and “Truly”?
Because I wanted to bring them back – it’s how I started music. So I wanted to bring that back and this album is really a spectrum of all the songs that interest me in a way. I wanted to just break this with something that was maybe a bit less predictable or expected, and then build this kind of fusion sound.
You got into underground music when you moved to Montreal in 2016. Was that move important to your career?
When I arrived in Montreal I was 16 years old, and I really wanted to party a lot. I started to discover these places – illegal raves and weird basements where people would play music that was so exciting. I just fell in love with it. When I was in France, I couldn’t go out to clubs, I could not discover the underground culture for some reason. And now I am discovering that finally. I’m in touch with French producers that I adore and people that I really like. This kind of free scene in Paris, the first one I discovered when I was young and I was going everywhere and I was out every night – it was really in Montreal. So, it’s really what informed my love for experimentation. I was listening to a bit of experimental music when I arrived in Montreal, but seeing it live, seeing people actually do it and not being this anonymous producer that you never meet, it was something different.
And where are you based at the moment? Where are you making music from now?
Right now, I’m in Montreal, and I have a studio with my band-mate from Paradis Artificiel – it’s another band that I’m part of. And I haven’t been making music outside of Montreal for a long time but I can’t wait to travel.
I guess now that the pandemic is coming to an end maybe it will be easier to travel! So, you mentioned that you wanted to be anonymous when you started out. Why do you think it took a while before you used your own vocals in your music?
I think it was really I wish I was stronger at that moment but I was not. I just started music and it was just men – just boys – around me most of the time. And when people knew that I was making music, they would always assume that I was a vocalist because I was a woman. I was so pissed off – I would collaborate on tracks on the production and people would write my name as if I was a vocalist. It was as if I couldn’t be part of this structure, I had to be just part of some sort of flow that is manipulated by someone who really works the structure of the track. So, I was stepping away – saying I’m not a vocalist – so people would understand that I was really just composing and producing and all of that. At some point, I realised that I was putting myself in this kind of prison alone and that I didn’t need to do things for people to understand me. Even if they miscredit me, I could still do whatever I wanted to do and I decided to do it all, to bring back the instruments, bring back the voice, and just go with the flow. And there are so many types of voices – mine has a place too.
I know you’ve mentioned that struggle of not wanting people to interpret your music as feminine. How do you deal with that now?
Oh, no, it has changed so much. I don’t really care if people say that my music is feminine or masculine. They’re trying to understand if I’m gender fluid or not – and I don’t really care. I remember that when I started playing the harp when I was seven years old, I was obsessed with being extremely feminine in my music, and I don’t understand why I became so ashamed of it. Now, I’m proud of doing feminine music, and that’s it.
That leads nicely on to what I wanted to ask about the Hildegard project. You’ve previously talked about a feminist approach to music and I wondered if you could explain a bit more what you mean by that.
I don’t know if it’s a feminist approach, but it was really natural – we never tried to only work with women. We just wanted to be extremely free. We were supporting each other and I guess that’s feminism in a way, but that’s just humanist also. But it was the first time that it was just me and another woman creating music, and I think it was the first time for her too. We did it all together until the end. We were just riding all the waves together. It was just amazing. It was so unexpected too – we never planned anything, we never structured the way we created music for the first time. We had a great reward after this – this project has really helped us move on and get more confident in both our careers and everything, so it was really cool.
Yeah, it was so interesting. Are you going to do more projects like that?
Oh, yeah, I’m collaborating all the time. I just haven’t released a lot of collaborations, but I’m collaborating with, I don’t know, five or six different projects right now. I’m working on things that are a bit more instrumental and classical, or some things that are a bit more pop, some things that are heavier, aggressive, and also supporting people, supporting workers, and really working on just production. So it’s nice.
It sounds busy as well! So, nature and ecology seem to be a kind of theme in your work recently. Is that something you’re interested in?
Well, I’m definitely making a lot of decisions to nurture the environment in my life. I’ve never tried to put it in my songs, but I realize sometimes I talk about music, or I want to have a feeling that nature is present. I’m not going to write a song about the ocean – maybe one day! – but I haven’t felt this. But maybe my instrumental songs are a bit more about the feeling of the environment.
I’ve noticed lots of birdsong in your music in the background. And sometimes you have nature in the title, like “Fonction Naturelle”.
I feel like I’m really obsessed with the notion of control, because it’s how we relate to nature in a way – we use it, we control it. I really want to have a fluid energy, I don’t want to always be in a control perspective. So, I don’t know, it applies to the environment. It applies to so many things – to the creation, to living.
I know you’ve said that you really love reading. You mentioned Audre Lorde was an inspiration in your approach to music. Does reading influence you in your creative process?
Yeah, definitely. It always helps because it slows the time down and you really dive into the environment that the author has created, and you notice all the details. I feel like it helps me notice all the details and the environment that I’m trying to create in music. So, I really think it shapes my attitude in general, when you become too stressed and too superficial and then you just slow down, you read and you dive into these worlds. It really helps. And also it helps imagination.
At what point does the experimentation tend to happen in your music?
I guess I’m really experimenting with sounds. I love to compose or have like parts, and I’m never trying to follow above structure, but maybe I am sometimes – I don’t really know. I’m not trying to do anything but I’m really trying to experiment with sonic aspects and not sound like a classical record of any music in general. Even with my cello, which is one of my favourite instruments, I have never tried to sound like a perfect back recording. I’m really trying to find a sound that represents my emotions in a way. So, I have to experiment and find the dissonance but place them in ways that make sense. I don’t want to be only disruptive. I’m trying to find some harmony in the experimentations as well.
I feel a lot of your sound is quite nostalgic and reminds me of drum and bass from the late nineties or early noughties. Is music from that time an inspiration for you?
It’s definitely an inspiration. I’ve been listening to a lot of that music. I have so many different inspirations, and I never know when they’re going to come out in a way. I have little obsessions, but left for a moment and am trying to create a bridge to the next one.
So what are you obsessed with at the moment, musically?
At the moment, I’m really obsessed with repetition. I feel like I’m always trying to create something that is changing, you know, but I would love to find the perfect way to repeat a lot of something and still have it make sense. Also, I’m doing this with piano – I did a bunch of recordings with the pianist and now I’m manipulating this sound and trying to like create something alive, but very repetitive. I want to make outstanding background music. I would love for my next project to be something like that. Just for the challenge.
You’re making me think of elevator music, which people always say just blends into the background!
But I feel like it’s really changing the ambience of public spaces in a way that – it would be nice to have different types of background music!
You tend to create music in quite intense environments, especially with Hildegard. What’s been your favourite recording process so far?
This one was really fun -we had an amazing studio, an amazing year, it was hidden in Montreal, no one could know that we were there. And we had a little terrace so we could take breaks, but we were in this huge loft and that was really amazing, and quite stable. I feel like sometimes intense means that I go to different studios all the time and I don’t have this kind of routine, so it can be a little bit exhausting. I also did another kind of retreat in my apartment with a singer. For two weeks, maybe, we recorded every day from 5am to 8pm. It was not the most professional recording environment, but the emotion – we were just really trying to shape a strong emotion and help each other do that. That was actually a very beautiful experience. It was a bit ghetto, but very profound in a way.
It sounds amazing. What your vision for your upcoming music?
So, I want to do slightly ambient music. What I want to do is have the next album or next EP with a very focused duration. I feel like I’m always trying to show a spectrum and show all that I can do. I would love to choose one instrument, like the piano, and then do something with it – or just the harp and have something a bit more focused, so I can really dive into into one thing at a time. That’s my goal for the future.