Presque Tout launched in 2019 as a Bandcamp page, a humble ongoing digital archive of field recordings from around the world. Anyone can participate, and the parameters for inclusion are very straightforward: Make a recording from an open window, with no editing and minimal signal processing, and then email it to them. Submissions took off during the pandemic, while so many of us found ourselves stuck at home, listening to the quotidien with a newfound attention, and the archive now includes over 100 recordings.
I learned of the project through Joe McKay, founder of Dinzu Artefacts, who contributed Los Angeles (CA), 03/21/2021, 7 pm. My own submission, Montreal (QC) – 04/07/2021, 3:54 pm, was posted just a few weeks later, and I’ve been an avid listener ever since.
Presque Tout released their first physical editions, a batch of three cassettes, in the fall of 2021. A second batch followed in May 2023, consisting of side-length recordings from Pablo Diserens, Marc Namblard, Jana Winderen, Hubert Michel, Mélia Roger, and Grégoire Chauvot. While the tapes quickly sold out, everything is still available for download or streaming, and all proceeds from digital sales go to “les Soulèvements de la Terre,” a French organization that fights for ecological causes.
Having passed the milestone of 100 recordings, I took this opportunity to speak with the founders of Presque Tout about their project and what they’ve learned so far, as well as talking a bit about what to expect in the future. I also encourage everyone to consider submitting recordings of your own! Whether you have fancy microphones or just the voice memo app on your phone, all it takes is “a mic at a window” and the openness to listen. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Please introduce yourselves, and PRESQUE TOUT.
Hello, I am Nicolas Cueille, I’m a musician/composer and field recording enthusiast.
And I’m JB Geoffroy, and it seems that I do share the same specificities as Nicolas.
In the spring of 2019, we were playing music at JB’s place and had placed a mic at a window, as an extra sound source to play with—we ended up listening to this outside mic on its own for a little while. I’m not exactly sure how but this turned into the idea of gathering recordings of this nature from all around the world and publish them online.
At first we asked friends to participate, and after some time, we started receiving submissions from people we did not know in the first place. The constraints are very simple: recordings have to be made with a mic placed at a window, in one take—unedited, with very minimal sound treatment.
Participation in PRESQUE TOUT is open to all. Can you discuss the significance of this aspect of the project?
In the beginning it wasn’t really something we had thought of—we asked friends who were not necessarily field-recordists or anything – the idea was to share soundscapes and moments of listening.
Now that we have gathered quite a lot of submissions, we have pristine sounding recordings made with professional equipment, next to very lo-fi recordings made with phones or cassette players. This makes for a wide palette of sounds, and also tries to present field-recording as a welcoming and accessible practice that does not necessarily have to be a hi-fi, audiophile niche. The intention behind the recording is what prevails, not necessarily the means to do it.
The name is of course an allusion to the famous works by Luc Ferrari. Can you explain the significance of the change in emphasis from ‘nothing’ to ‘everything’ in the context of this project?
We indeed chose the name as a nod to Ferrari’s Presque Rien n°1, le lever du jour au bord de la mer—which is based on a soundscape he recorded from a window. While Ferrari reworked his recordings in the studio to make it “truer than true,” we wanted to explore what the initial gesture of putting mics at a window had to offer in its purest form.
Some recordings we published present soundscapes that are quite still from beginning to end, busy or very quiet—others may have very narrative forms, with clearly identifiable parts and lots of dynamics.
Initially PRESQUE TOUT was an ongoing series of digital releases, very simple field recordings (no editing, minimal mixing) outside our windows, and while it started in 2019, most of the submissions came during the pandemic. Would you agree the experience of sheltering in place during the pandemic changed the context of these recordings somehow?
When the pandemic hit, we had started the label for about a year and not much was happening with it at the time. Now the whole world was experiencing this weird moment and we had a lot of time on our hands all of a sudden. Since most of us were in lockdown, sharing soundscapes sounded like a nice way to escape a bit from this bleak situation, so we reached to people asking them to participate, and it worked quite well since everybody now had the time to sit back and record/listen. The recordings we gathered at this period feel quite special now, as they’re documenting this very odd moment of human history where everything pretty much stood still for a while
You have just released your second batch of three tapes. Were you always intending to do a series of tapes as well? How do these differ from the digital only installments?
The idea of releasing tapes wasn’t in our minds at the beginning, but after a while we wanted to try something different and have the label transform a little.
For these physical recordings, the process is quite different, because rather than releasing things we receive, we act a bit more as curators here and ask people we’d like to have involved if they’d be up for record something for us. The constraints are exactly the same, except that here we ask for a specific time for the recordings (20 to 30mn usually).Physical releases are also a lot more fun to design than digital ones, from the layout to the sleeves, etc…It is a part of the process that we really enjoy, we wanted to make nice little objects.
You put out a call late last year for New Year’s Eve recordings, all taken just around midnight. What are the plans for those recordings? Anything you can share yet?
To celebrate our 100th digital release we wanted to do something a little special – so we asked our contributors to make a short recording (2mn) on new year’s eve at midnight this year. These recordings will be on a little compilation that should be out quite soon now! That is a fun little project to celebrate.
The series currently has 95 digital editions and six tapes (12 recordings). That’s a lot of recordings! If we understand this practice as a kind of “research,” what might you two say you’ve learned throughout this project?
We see Presque Tout more like a “collection” than a research project. The amount of recordings we gathered this far can indeed be thought of as an archive that could be explored and questioned – and maybe turn out to be useful in some kind of research ? As of ourselves, I guess we kinda learned to (poorly) manage a label and connected with really nice people, making our own perspective and practice of field-recording flourish along the way.
Merci, Nicolas et JB!