The Shape-Shifting World of ‘Do-It-Yourself’ with Archil
Despite the negative connotations associated with social media, it still continues to score points for introducing refreshing things that life has to offer. Archil is a prime example of that, when he first caught our attention with his self-made instrument called “Roulettophone.”
Aside from being an instrument maker that goes with the moniker Archil Lab, this French talent is also a sound artist, producer, and one-half of the electronic music duo, Archil & Leon. Famed for their ecletic approach to music, these two use Instagram as their publicist, in hopes that their striking creations would intrigue the insta-friendly audience – and like for many, it did for us.
Since we discovered Archil through Instagram last year, he has made two new fascinating instruments featured on the Apple Watch Series 6 ad, wrote music and designed sound for Vogue Russia – plus, landed a new recording deal with Kompakt Records for Archil & Leon. Clearly, ‘up’ is where Archil is heading and surely, stamping his super unique mark on the entertainment arena. And, no label is needed for his work, as it transcends beyond genres.
He is breaking new grounds and serving as one of the many incredible sound artists globally, with additional DIY skills. Some may even call him a mad scientist to come up with these out-of-the-box ideas. With Archil’s awe-inspiring artistry evolving immensely, we had to get a peek into his bold and beautiful mind, and perhaps learn how to be comfortable at being more inventive.
How’s 2021 been treating you so far?
I’ve been lucky that these past two years, I had no live project planned. I was focused on studio work with my mate Leon and building new instruments, so the pandemic did not cancel any projects. We recently signed with the German label Kompakt to release our first EP. And I recently released my new instrument, the Poet Pilot. So a pretty intense but, exciting year so far!
Tell the good folks a little bit more about yourself.
I grew up in the South of France. I spent a lot of my childhood outside or in my basement tinkering stuff: skateboards, bikes, push cars, or trying to build a parachute. I started music pretty early with a few piano lessons, then the drums for several years. I only really got passionate about music when a few friends and I started a band in middle school. After some time, I wanted to compose music too, so I taught myself the guitar and later dived into DAWs, synths, and electronic music.
After high school, I thought I needed to get a “real” job, so I studied Economics and Geography in London for three years while managing to keep our band going in France, playing a few gigs there and in the UK. During the last year there, I also designed and built a prototype for a nice pair of wooden headphones. We started co-developing it with a brand, so I moved to Paris to work on that and join the rest of my band.
We quickly gave up on the headphones project, which was too time-consuming and costly, and I focused on music. I played a few more years with my band before starting a solo project as Archil, and then in 2018 started composing with Leon as Archil & Leon. I also started to make instruments that same year.
What do you remember most about discovering music in your younger days?
I remember when I was about seven, I was fascinated by the drums. We went to someone’s house where there was that big drum kit, and I was astonished. I asked my mom if I could start drum lessons right away. I also have great memories of falling asleep on the sofa while my mom was playing the piano. She’s a great classical pianist! That was such a pleasant feeling.
Were there any particular moments that made you realise that music was your calling?
After my studies in London, most of my friends went into more traditional jobs. Of course, going into music was a bit riskier, and people asked me, “Are you not afraid to choose music?” I was only afraid of not really trying, not giving it my best shot, and later reaching a point where I’d have to give up on music because I wouldn’t be able to make a living off it. Honestly, at that point, it was not about being brave; it’s just that I knew creating music was all I wanted to do. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else! Making music and especially when you do it with others, is so fulfilling.
How did you get into music with Leon?
We met eight years ago. Leon was the drummer in my former band. We were looking for a new drummer at some point in Paris and found his ad on a website. I remember calling him with one of the bandmates I used to live with. After the call, we looked at each other like, “Damn, this guy seems good - we can’t let him go!” And he was! We had a gig only a few days after he joined the band, and he played all his parts perfectly, and we were the ones messing up our own songs.
When I started my solo project, I asked him to join me for the live sets. He then started composing music for dancers, and about three years ago, we composed a track together for a dancer. It felt very natural, we completed each other very well, so it became obvious we should make music as a duo. Archil & Leon was born. Because we’re both drummers originally, we have a very similar way of feeling and building music. Making music together is so much better. It’s one of the best decisions I made.
We took our time to experiment in the studio, to find our direction, and to learn how to compose and produce music with these new instruments I was making. So we have released very few songs until now but taking this time was very beneficial. Now we know each other perfectly, and we’ve grown as artists.
Enlighten us about your interest in creating musical instruments?
I used to love tinkering and DIY stuff, but it’s not really something you naturally do when you live in a tiny apartment in a big city. So apart from the headphones, I had not done much DIY in my adult life. At one point, I felt the need to get back to it. I ordered a reverb pedal DIY kit online and built it. Back then, I lived in a small flat with a convertible sofa I had to open every night and close every morning, and the long springs in its mechanism would make crazy “ziiiooonnngggg” sounds a bit like in reverb tanks.
I loved it, and I thought, “I should make an instrument out of springs.” I looked a little bit at what had been done with springs music-wise. I saw a lot of cool spring boxes, but none of them were tuned, so I tried hard to tune the springs. I didn’t manage to on my prototype but later succeeded by making my own springs.
Bridging my love for DIY and music now seems obvious. I don’t know why I never thought of it before. Now that I’m part of that ecosystem, my Instagram feed is full of amazing instrument makers, and it feels like the world is filled with them. But I guess for those who are not into it, DIY instruments are still a very niche field, and we rarely see them in mainstream media. It would be great if kids had more access to the world of DIY instruments.
Which instrument are you most proud of so far?
I have made four main instruments so far: the Springophone, the Springophone Verticalis, the Roulettophone, and the Poet Pilot. There were several prototypes for each instrument and different versions I built for other artists. I would say my last one, the Poet Pilot, is the one I’m most proud of because it was quite a challenge.
I dived deeper into product design and learned a lot of new techniques, software, PCB design, capacitive touch, woodworking concepts, 3D design, SMD soldering, and a lot more geeky stuff. It came out better than I could have imagined!
We love the setup of your studio. How long did it take you to put everything together?
Thanks! It is a bat cave turned into a music studio. It’s quite a small place, but luckily some of my best friends are architects, and they gave me amazing ideas to arrange it, especially that long curved peg wall. The wood adds warmth to the place, and the modularity of the peg wall allows me to rearrange it when I add new instruments to my studio. They are all displayed and plugged, ready to play. It’s perfect! I think making this peg wall, the custom wood desk and racks, the floor, and LED lighting took me about a week of intense and dusty work.
Has your perspective on sound changed from when you started until now?
Definitely! When I started music, I had a pretty conventional approach to sound. I would use drums, guitars, bass and not really look further. Now I realise that music is everywhere, that any sound is musical, that you can make music with anything. I also find it way more interesting to try and use these uncommon sounds to make music! I think I’m listening more to my surroundings now, and the boundary between music and sounds or noises has faded a bit in me. I’m always impressed by my girlfriend as very often when she hears sounds, she picks up the melody in them and imitates them. It can be the melody in someone’s sentence, car horns on the streets, a creaking door, or birds singing.
What have been some of your most memorable moments as an artist so far?
Probably when I started building instruments and realised they worked and sounded good. When I started posting videos of them and saw so much interest in the things, I had made and built in my bedroom. It was a surprise! Those homemade instruments gave our music a distinctive sound and opened a lot of doors for us.
Another memorable moment was meeting the directors of the Bardos and shooting the video for “Voodoo Dance” together. We met quite randomly and instantly connected, then we shot that crazy 10-minute-long short film for my first single. I had an important choreography in the video, and I’m not so much of a dancer, so they made me dance those hectic moves on the streets every day for a few weeks before the shooting to get me prepared. It was an amazing experience. I felt shy before dancing alone on the street, but I felt so good afterward. The Bardos are very talented, and we’ve become very good friends since then and have done many projects together.
Who are some of the sound artists or musicians that you look up to?
Ei Wada, Meng Qi, Jacob Collier, James Blake, Sarah Belle Reid, Nicolas Jaar, Moritz Simon Geist.
What can we expect from Archil Lab for the rest of 2021?
I am currently working on a set of strikers and custom stands for the Poet Pilot’s motors. I’m also finishing two instruments I have been working on for a while but never found time to finish: one works with water, and the other is a mechanical sequencer. I can’t promise they will be finished by this year, though! There might be surprises too.
Tell us about this playlist you have curated for Sound of Life.
I guess there is usually a direction or general mood when making a playlist. Well, this one is going in all directions! Just a lot of stuff that I love, and that influence me: afro-funk, hip hop, electronic music, musique concrete, gypsy jazz, and film scores.
On that note, do enjoy this mixed bag of fresh and fascinating tunes by Archil.
Cover Credit: Etienne Boulanger
Writer | CK Yeoh
CK is a writer from Malaysia who is in a serious relationship with music and YouTube. He is also casually dating Kindle and having a fling with podcasts.