AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE
From whence comes this adorable zebra that has graced the cover of many a CD booklet over the last fifteen years? It is the trademark of Zig-Zag Territoires, a record label founded in 1997 by Franck Jaffrès and Sylvie Brély and bought by the Belgian record company Outhere in 2010.
Zig-Zag Territories was born because Jaffrès and Brély, both in their early thirties at the time, hungered to produce music differently. Jaffrès began his career as a sound engineer; he then began to notice that album production times kept getting shorter and shorter and that the technical aspects of production were completely relegated to the sidelines. The label was thus conceived from a desire to turn away from these sorts of practices and to devote more time to production: more time is spent with the artists and invested in finessing the sound signature of each project as much as possible.
During a mixing session this week, I had the pleasure of meeting Franck Jaffrès. We got to discuss this post-recording phase that the general public knows little about but that is a crucial part of producing an album. He welcomed me into his office, under the eaves of Paris, not very far from the city’s grands boulevards. I came face-to-face with his two computer monitors and a large room divider covered in notes; just in front of us was a beautiful pair of monitor speakers made by Genelec (a Finnish manufacturer).
We went straight to the heart of the matter by discussing his current project: the editing of an album by pianist Yury Martynov (BeethovenSymphonies transcribed by Liszt No. 3), which was recorded in a church in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands (also check out this video on Yuri Martynov and this particular recording). Jaffrès explained that the goal of this painstaking work is to select the best “takes”, a bit like a filmmaker does when editing a film. From the 20 or so hours of recordings, only 80 minutes will be included in the final version of the album.
Jaffrès explained the editing process: “Thanks to digital technology, we have a lot of freedom. I can select the tiniest bit of a recording, picking a note or a passage from the take that I find to be the best. The goal is also to ensure that there are no deviations from the orchestral arrangement; each note should clearly be in its place. The ultimate objective of the editing process is to respect the musician and allow for the purest expression of his or her musical touch : everything you do should work towards yielding the best possible rendering of the music. For instance, you sort through the differently accented, tied, and held notes and select those that allow the entire piece to flow perfectly. The first step in the process is to do some light “cleaning”; then you can assemble the best takes. Within each of those takes, sometimes it is necessary to replace a movement or a note; this is a sort of patching job that may involve the tiniest of time periods, on the order of a millisecond. I know that cutting music in this almost surgical way may seem surprising to some, but it is important to note that the musician’s rendering of the music remains at the core of our work; without it, we could do nothing. Indeed, the editing process is exclusively dedicated to generating the best possible version of the artist’s musical interpretation.”
This part of the editing process takes about 2 to 3 days, but working with the musician to make the final revisions takes 5 days. The finalized master recording will then be sent to a CD manufacturer for pressing or will be made available via on-demand music providers such as Qobuz, as either a CD- or Studio Master-quality file.
In the course of our conversation, we naturally came to the topic of the music market and the precarious situation of independent record labels. Jaffrès attributed some of the difficulties being faced by the market to choices made by the big box music retailers; for instance, their lack of informed customer service has discouraged customers from buying music. “Even if dematerialized musical offerings have become hard to resist, they are still only one part of the market at present. CDs continue to coexist alongside vinyl records and dematerialized music. I, for one, remain convinced that a share of the population will not want to entirely give up physical music media. It is therefore rather unlikely that CDs will completely disappear. It is possible that, as they become more and more rare, they may also become more precious,” he ventured to say.
To date, Zig-Zag Territories has produced more than 200 albums. Although most of its works are classical, the company has sought to diversify its musical offerings since 2006 and is exploring new territory, such as jazz and world music. All these music labels seem rather obsolete given that the company’s artistry imparts a rare vitality to the music it produces, whether from yesteryear or the present. The record label’s sound aesthetics are keenly developed and demonstrate a rarely observed attention to detail. Zig-Zag Territories offers unique albums that are partnered with original designs and visuals, captivating pictures of the musicians, and frequently engaging booklets.
The label’s creative spirit adds extraordinary value to its recordings, which makes a very large number of the works produced by competitors seem extremely boring by comparison.