An Introduction To:

Pablo’s Eye

by Liero Plantir

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Pablo’s Eye is a Belgian collective that was formed over three decades ago. Combining sounds, texts, cultures and ideas they build worlds that hover on the edge of their own reality. After a prolific period of releases during the 90’s, they would enter a two-decade long hiatus where their records would sit beneath the surface of a vast musical landscape.

Years later, they returned in 2018 with a set of three compilations on STROOM. These albums reassembled much of their previous work, giving it a new identity and introducing them to a wider audience.

I had an in-depth conversation with Axel Libeert who has been the foundation of Pablo’s Eye since its inception. We spoke about the early years, various collaborators, recent releases, and general reflections on the life of Pablo’s Eye over the many seasons that have passed…

Hey Axel, how are you?

I’m good, thank you. I was very excited about your blog. There are so many great sections. Your selection of books read and recommended is excellent. I thought D.M. Thomas, Milton Friedman and Rick Owens, that’s a very interesting mix!

Well, one of the reasons I wanted to speak to you was because I recently read a book by Maria Fusco called ‘Legend of the Necessary Dreamer’. It was published by Vanguard Editions run by Richard Skinner, who you’ve worked with for decades. I kept returning to Pablo’s Eye through different mediums which made me feel like I had to speak to you.

This alluring nature comes centrally from your sound which feels very secure yet mysterious. I find it an odd sensation as a listener to trust a sound subconsciously, so I’m intrigued as to some of the origins of this. What was your early relationship to music like?

My father loved music and was a jazz fanatic and my mother was a pianist. Music was always around and when I showed interest in it my parents had no resistance. Though I learned piano with my mother, I never studied music.

When I was 18 I went to film school. I was known by other students for making music and when we had to do assignments they would ask me to compose music for their work.

From then on I never stopped. I’ve done a lot of commissioned work and Pablo’s Eye was something on the side where I would often produce something that couldn’t be developed within the commission. Pablo’s Eye became a place where these extracts would exist.

I started releasing records during the CD era with Pablo’s Eye. Though we also had a vinyl release previously with Nightfall In Camp, with our ‘cult’ track Cada Día.

I was going to ask about Nightfall In Camp. How was that band formed?

It was basically me with my college friend Ludwig Lapauw. We met Marie Mandi who later became the voice of Pablo’s Eye and something magical operated. These were pre-internet, pre-Bandcamp days so the only way to exist was to release a record.

I felt I needed to release a record before my 30’s, which was kind of stupid because when I think about it many of my heroes released their work later on. William Burroughs was 40 when he released his first book and Jon Hassell was also 40 when he released his first album on Lovely Music.

Did you put a lot of pressure on yourself?

My 30’s were coming and after my studies I lived in New York for a year in the early 80’s which may have contributed to it. So much was going on in the arts in general and I wanted to be part of it.

What made you go to New York, was there an intention or did you just want to experience it?

I really wanted to stay there and I was lucky I could share a place with my friend Fred Frith, the English composer and guitar player. I admired his band Henry Cow. Fred did a lot of productions with great bands from New York such as Material. A funny anecdote: an unknown Whitney Houston at that time was actually a vocalist on one of Material’s tracks, together with the jazz legend Archie Shepp!

This period has been a very important part of my life, so inspiring and stimulating. I lived on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side. Tony Conrad lived there and The Velvet Underground had their rehearsal studio there years before.

Given that it was a very formative time for you, how did you feel when you returned to Brussels?

I knew that I had to be ambitious. Knowing what you want and having a vision for what you want to say is important.

What made you move on from Nightfall In Camp and create Pablo’s Eye?

I think I always had a problem of choosing between traditional pop or experimental work. In that period of time the production of someone like Stevie Wonder was more inventive, complex and interesting sound wise than contemporary electronic/experimental music. I was very attracted by the production of pop music in general, and I wanted to create a hybrid form of music using the best of both worlds.

Was that the mindset going into your first self-titled release in 1989?

We struggled a bit to choose between songs and sounds. This probably contributed to the difficulties to categorise a band like Pablo’s Eye. In record shops they didn’t know where to place us, which was a problem for many years. Maybe it’s a sign of the times but the STROOM reissues gave more clarity to our identity. People are now used to jumping from one genre to another without any problems.

Is that the reason you created the label Celsius Blanco to put out your early releases? Was it a result of not being able to find a label, or just wanting to do all the elements of the release yourself?

It was very hard to find the right label for us. We’d been working with larger companies but for many reasons it didn’t get through. We’ve worked for CBS and in London for ZTT Records.

It was a lot of work but no records came out. Therefore, we began to start releasing records by ourselves which was not such a bad choice after all. This was a good learning process.

A lot of those first releases were based on commissions, but then Extreme was the first label you worked with for Pablo’s Eye with the release of ‘You Love Chinese Food’. As they’d released music from a lot of prominent experimental artists at the time, such as Muslimgauze and Merzbow, did you feel in tune with what they released?

I’m not so sure about that but it’s a great label and I have to say that Roger Richards did a lot of work, because it was basically a one-man operation from Australia! It was a very good move to have a release on Extreme, as everything changed from then on.

They were selling and distributing worldwide, but that was all pre-internet. A lot of records went everywhere and we had a lot of good reviews in the classic music magazines. But because we didn’t do any live gigs in the 90’s we didn’t know who bought our records. Today it’s fabulous thanks to social media, we know the people who listen to our music. That’s nice because we don’t do a lot of live gigs.

What’s behind the name ‘You Love Chinese Food’? It seems quite different from the titles of other albums?

It’s based on a fortune cookie and the idea of chance as well. We were very interested in John Cage’s work and other composers. We use collage as our main tool. Putting things together that don’t fit at first and by mixing them you end up creating something that you couldn’t have imagined before…

A lot of your work across different mediums is conceptual and you have a lot of commissioned work where you are given a concept. For music that’s not commissioned, do you tend to start with a concept or does it find itself along the way?

I would say it's a technique that comes with time. We are always interested in creating something beautiful and warm.

I noticed on your blog that you mentioned artists like Dean Blunt and Space Afrika who tend towards darker parts of life. I love those artists and I’m attracted to their sound, however Pablo’s Eye was always something softer, emotional and even sentimental.

Yeah I find that I can be drawn to darker music though I do feel like I seek out warmth in music which can come in many forms. I think warmth is something I value in many aspects of my life as well from relationships, my environment and other mediums of art.

I feel that those artists you mentioned, despite their music touching on some darker elements, contain a lot of warmth, emotion and sentimentality. I find these elements can manifest differently depending on the artist.

Following on from those early releases, ‘all she wants grows blue’ was released in 1998 on swim~, how did that relationship with Colin and Malka come around?

Colin [Newman] and Malka [Spigel] lived in Brussels for many years and knew the Belgian scene. They had a dance oriented project as a duo called Immersion and Pablo’s Eye made two remixes of their tracks. They were so excited they asked us to do an album. The album ‘all she wants grows blue’ wasn’t a dance album, maybe they were slightly disappointed but we had good reviews and I still love that album.

Yeah I really love it as well.

It was also a fantastic collaboration with Richard Skinner.

That was your first collaboration with him?


I’m interested in your relationship with Richard as I read somewhere that you initially requested texts from him. Was there work of his that made you want to work with him?

Richard Skinner is a genius and a brilliant writer. He heard ‘You Love Chinese Food’ and had been intrigued by the album and the texts. He’d just graduated from university and thought that our use of texts with the music was very different to most of the work he’d come across before. That’s how he got in touch with us.

We initially met in London and felt right away that we were on the same wavelength.

After your final release in the 90’s, Realismo, you had a two-decade long hiatus from releasing music. What prompted that period?

One word. Napster. I was very excited by the peer-2-peer thing, however a lot of record companies that I worked for just didn’t get it. I knew it was all over. Even in 2000 producing CDs felt like something of the past.

So, I wanted something else in my life and there were other things during that time that prompted it, such as my parents passing away in that period very quickly one after the other.

It’s not that Pablo’s Eye had a marvellous career, but it satisfied me. I was still busy making music but for me Pablo’s Eye was over.

Were you working in London? How long did you stay for?

I stayed in London for several years, living in the Barbican. There was a lot of reflection as well during that time. When you’re a Barbican resident you can go to the theatre, listen to music and watch cinema everyday.

As someone who creates music himself, when you’re in London, especially living in the Barbican you consume too much culture and that’s not how I wanted to live.

What music were you making during those years?

I still went on doing commissioned work. I moved back to Brussels where there are also a lot of ways to consume art as well, given how small the country is. We have such a large influx from France, Germany and Holland. Every band and theatre company stops in Belgium on their way from France to Germany. It’s really too much sometimes.

After London I said to myself if I can go to a concert once a year it’s perfect. I can’t stop reading books but I did want another type of life.

Your return to music was with the album ‘southlite’. Given that it was recorded in 1999, what was the reason for releasing it in 2017?

Richard Skinner was working on a novel and he wanted to put a record in it.

Was there a film that was meant to accompany it? Who was making the film?

I didn’t mention it before because it was a project that I wanted to do myself but it was difficult. We went far in the production but at a certain point I didn’t have the finances to go on.

all she wants grows blue
Pablo’s Eye

Spring Break
Pablo’s Eye
Following on from this you had the three STROOM compilations. You mentioned earlier that the compilations were something that you didn’t want to do. I’m curious as to why you were so hesitant?

I was not hesitant at all. I just didn’t want to do it. Ziggy [Devriendt] only had a few records on his label at that time and presented STROOM more as an archival label. Getting music from the past and re-releasing it. I thought it was not for me. I like to keep things as they are and I didn’t want to relive my past.

What eventually won you over?

I got to know Ziggy better. He is an incredibly talented person and very driven. The way he saw and selected our music for the compilations was unbelievable. His choice was not chronological but related to seasons. Every track was selected by him according to the mood of the season. This was such a stimulating way of working. I learned so much about our music thanks to that.

He basically started STROOM from scratch and his artistic vision for his label is fantastic. Ziggy is also a very successful DJ working all over the world as Nosedrip.

Were you surprised by the reaction to those compilations?

It was a new audience. It was mostly younger people discovering it. My life changed again by releasing those records. We did live gigs for the first time, such as Berlin Atonal which was in front of thousands of people. That was fabulous!

How was the transition from the studio to those live performances?

You cannot believe how difficult it was. I wanted to create the sound of our records live which felt impossible, but we did it. I had to sample parts of my CDs and Marie and I had to find an additional musician who sang, played violin and the keyboard. We ended up finding such a person which was incredible.

Who was that person?

Hendrike Scharmann, a young very talented musician. 

For collaboration with the artwork, is that something you wanted to incorporate in there as well. You worked with Nana Esi for the STROOM releases but you worked with other studios like Casier/Fieuws and then v23 towards the end of the 90’s. Did you have an idea of what you wanted from that?

We’ve worked with graphic designers we admired. I was a fan of 4AD and I’m very happy to have worked with the late Vaughan Oliver and his partner Chris Bigg. Casier/Fieuws are based in Brussels and we did a lot of commissions together. Working with Nana for the STROOM releases was amazing. We’re so happy with the artworks she designed for us.

Now that you have interest from different labels, how do you try and filter through that and how did the relatively recent release on The Florist’s Mum come around?

It was the pandemic period, everyone was so isolated from each other. The Florist’s Mum asked us if we wanted to release an album.

Another collaboration I wanted to ask about was with the late President of France, François Mitterrand. I couldn’t find much about that project.

François Mitterrand in the early 90’s was an advocate of a bigger Europe. He wanted a better European collaboration on industrialisation, technology and the economy. Eureka was a large database that contained information provided by European countries.

Pablo’s Eye was commissioned to make Eureka’s music. It wasn’t easy because there were many restrictions. The music couldn’t be too electronic, it couldn’t be rock, it couldn’t have too many classical instruments. We had to find something in between all of this. But I do think limitations are good. One can so easily lose himself by the amount of possibilities.

How much has commissioned work helped you with Pablo’s Eye, do you find it easier to put limitations on your work by default?

I guess so. It’s easier for Pablo’s Eye because it’s our way of working. We’ve just finished our new album which will be released on STROOM next year. We’re really happy about that.

Now that you’ve had a renewed interest in your music do you think about that period of releases in the 90’s any differently?

I’m a nostalgic person but I love the period I’m in now. It was a very exciting time but so many things are also exciting now.

You mentioned before about feeling a lot of ambition during that period. Do you enjoy it more because you maybe have less of that ambition?

Even if the world feels like it’s going mad I can still remain calm and enjoy the things I’m doing. Of course there’s something exciting about people being interested in what you do. An artist needs that. I would say that my ambition now is more artistic and not about a career.

Beyond the upcoming album do you have anything else happening in the future with Pablo’s Eye?

We are working on creating a smaller set-up for our live performances with just Marie and I. Presenting our music in a more minimal way and using the texts of Richard and some visuals would be great.

What excites you about Pablo’s Eye now?

The most exciting thing about it is that I feel so peaceful.

That’s really nice.

Before I used to have a lot of questions about the creative aspects and the meaning of it all. Now I’m just doing it and I feel really peaceful about that.
A mountain is an idea
Pablo’s Eye