Seulement Mathieu Arsenault Mothland

The world according to SEULEMENT: Transfigured voices, electronic feedback

An interview with the Montreal artist who’s launching his debut LP EX PO at the M for Montreal festival this week.

Advertisements, toys, television screens, music playing on the radio — from the moment that we as infants obtain object permanence, we are forcibly influenced by popular culture. This notion is something that Montreal’s Mathieu Arsenault aka, SEULEMENT, has pondered for many years of his adult life, and during his debut album EX PO, he both reconciles and manipulates this belief. 

Using and array of decaying FM transmitter frequencies (mainly radio jingles and audio stamps), various pre-recorded samples and cut-ups of his passionate and raw voice, Arsenault has created a personal and experimental, hallucinatory sonic voyage for his listeners to get lost in. 

As we sit in the the bright meeting room of his label, Mothland, Arsenault, sporting of dark peacoat and long, straight brown hair, tells me in a soft-toned voice that his fascination with the influence of pop culture started more than a decade ago when he was creating music with his past band, Technical Kidman. 

“I started to notice how emotional of a connection I had to these publicities and advertisements and now I use it more freely as a pop culture that you don’t choose to hear, but you hear all the time,” he says. “So using samples is a way to give it a new meaning.”

SEULEMENT launches EX PO on Friday as part of the M for Montreal music festival.

Arsenault’s voice is the one constant on EX PO. As he sings in a somewhat free-form phonetic French, each song builds layer upon layer of feedback, droning noise and bass, and other computerized sounds. It’s also the first time he has written lyrics in his mother tongue.

“I loop and I transform, and make the arrangements with my voice,” he says. “I was trying to use my voice as an imperfect material that is very personal and trying to find something that I can really call my own as a sound signature.”

This gives the whole flow of EX PO a very organic feel rather than a synthetic one, despite the fact the this is music created on a computer. Every song feels very alive with its own unique energy. “EXCEPTÉ 1,” has a bouncy nature to it, almost like a more futuristic game of Pong. The title track “EX PO” is equal parts ecstacy, with its angelic vocal looping, and nightmare with its intense ringing and oscillating feedback. “GRAND ANGLE” gives a feeling of nostalgia for an unknown place or time. Either way, it’s Arsenault’s voice that makes the LP an accessible journey for well-versed electronic fans and listeners completely new to the genre.

“Hopefully it feels intimate. Using my voice was an attempt to make something deeply personal and not too affected by the outside world,” he says. “But the radio and samples are very crisp and super aggressive. So I wanted that contrast from the very beginning.”

“EX PO,” a video for the title track from the new album by SEULEMENT, directed by Charles-Andre Coderre

The video visualizers, created by Myriam Bleau, Véro Marengère and Charles-André Coderre — all very accomplished visual artists whose work has been presented at MUTEK, ACOUSMA and other events — adds another audiovisual interpretation to SEULEMENT’s sonic madness. Arsenault also gave no clear guidelines for the videos and let every artist do what they do best.

“I had no doubts that what they were gonna do was going to be amazing. And I was not disappointed at all. Myriam, Véro, Charles are three very good friends and they all have very different colourful aesthetics to their work, almost a sort of romanticism, and I think fits what I do very well.”

As SEULEMENT, Arsenault is playing during M for Montreal at the M for Mothland event and has a few other projects he is working on that he’d rather not disclose.

“Nothing is far enough in those projects to say, but I will be writing some new music as SEULEMENT this winter.” ■

SEULEMENT performs at the M for Montreal event M for Mothland at la Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent) on Friday, Nov. 19, 9 p.m., $23.08

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.