Interviewing an artist who can’t converse is an uncommon, virtually meditative expertise. I’m in a small city exterior Toulouse in south-western France to satisfy Pone, a beatmaker who helped form the sound of French hip-hop within the 1990s. As a part of Marseille’s seminal group Fonky Family, he produced hits akin to Art De Rue, Sans Rémission and the hair-raising Mystère et Suspense, in addition to 113’s hypnotic single Hold Up. However we’re right here to debate Kate & Me, an instrumental beat album created as an ode to Kate Bush, and the primary album in historical past to be fully produced by way of an eye-tracking gadget.
The silence in Pone’s bed room is punctuated by the amplified sound of a respiratory machine, his torso slowly shifting up and down below a blanket, and the playful mewing of his daughters downstairs. Every now and then, his spouse, Wahiba, stands up from the sofa on the sound of her husband’s computerised voice. “Eyes, please,” is a request to assuage his eyes with sterilised pads.
Pone, whose actual identify is Guilhem Gallart, resides with motor neurone illness, often known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the devastating and incurable sickness that disrupts the management of all of the physique’s muscular tissues. Pone is irreversibly paralysed, confined to mattress and unable to maneuver something however his eyes, his hyperlink to others solely made attainable by way of expertise. However his thoughts, trapped inside his unresponsive physique, capabilities because it at all times used to: bursting with concepts. His state of affairs evokes that of Jean Dominique-Bauby, the style editor who lived with locked-in syndrome following a significant stroke and wrote the memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly utilizing expertise managed by the actions of his eyes.
Pone’s survivor spirit doesn’t do self-pity. In addition to Kate & Me, he just lately created ALS for Dummies, a self-published guide that collects his articles about this unjustly under-represented situation, geared toward sharing very important data with different individuals who have motor neurone illness. (The ice-bucket problem of 2014 was supposed to boost consciousness of the situation.)
The guide is written with urgency and humour. Pone mockingly refers to 2016 because the yr he “gained the Mannequin Challenge”; the next yr, earlier than a gastrostomy operation – which launched a gap in his stomach to enabled him eat – Pone instructed his physician: “I’m Muslim, so no pork within the tube feeding, proper?” In a current Fb submit, he thanked his sickness for his current interval of creativity. “I’d by no means have completed all this if I didn’t get sick,” he wrote. “Thanks ALS, you woke me up!”
To discuss with his pre-motor neurone life as sleepy is attribute of Pone’s humility; his profession was removed from slumbering. Fonky Household rose to fame in 1994 after they featured on the music Bad Boys de Marseille, by Akhenaton of the group IAM. With its superb Eddie Kendricks bassline, the voluble MCs’ distinctive Mediterranean accents and the video’s nod to the French Connection drug commerce, the music grew to become a summer time hit and catapulted the group into the limelight.
Three albums and sold-out excursions later, the Fonky Household referred to as it quits. Pone and Wahiba married and moved out of Marseille with their two daughters. In 2014, Pone started to expertise bother strolling, and shortly discovered he had motor neurone illness. The information dropped like a bomb in his household life: nothing may put together them for the rapidity with which he would turn out to be tetraplegic. The worst half was turning into mute. For some time, he may solely talk by way of a spelling card. Wahiba would patiently run her fingers over the letters, stopping when Pone would blink. Collectively, they’d slowly kind sentences. “It was horrible,” Pone remembers.
After watching a documentary on Stephen Hawking, who additionally had motor neurone illness, Pone’s household had been impressed to analysis speech-generating units. They tracked down the software program Hawking himself had created, and shortly Pone had a display screen completely positioned in entrance of him, below which a small gadget mapped his gaze exactly. This eye-tracking expertise, Wahiba says, is “open to anybody; some geeks use it only for the hell of it”. Because of this device, Pone may begin to write sentences that his pc would learn out loud. His melodious southern French accent was misplaced within the course of, nevertheless it was sufficient to translate his ideas to the outer world.
The reduction Pone felt was large, nevertheless it was bittersweet. French state healthcare doesn’t make details about eye-tracking expertise available, nor does it cowl the prices, a incontrovertible fact that he and Wahiba vehemently criticise. State-funded centres for motor neurone illness, he says, “are completely out of the loop”, forcing many involved households to search out makeshift options. My family skilled this actuality first-hand; my mother was locked-in on account of a number of sclerosis. A web site akin to ALS for Dummies, written by sufferers for sufferers, may have modified her life.
By early 2019, Pone had acclimatised to his new life and felt the urge to make music once more. With Ableton Live put in on his pc, he started to make use of his eyes to function like a mouse: he may do all the things he used to, simply at a slower tempo. He was so energised by this new risk that he determined to work with materials by Kate Bush, an artist he first heard on samples within the late 90s and had lengthy worshipped for her “singular originality and personal sampling work with Peter Gabriel”, he says. “And her voice, in fact.”
Pone launched into creating Kate & Me from his mattress. Patiently working along with his cat on his lap, he distorted and prolonged Bush’s vocal in Wuthering Heights for his opening monitor. He recorded the sound of his personal respiratory machine and interlaced it with the melody and powerfully symbolic lyrics of her music Breathing. He weaved piano samples from Bush’s again catalogue with echo-drenched rap vocals, placing her in eerie conversations with artists akin to Jay-Z, Kinds P and Biggie Smalls.
The result’s an emotional, spacious document with a sci-fi high quality. With trademark optimism, Pone says he “wasn’t restricted” whereas producing it. “Relatively the alternative. I used to be in a position to strive new strategies. Earlier than, it was far more instant; now the method is basically gradual, however I exploit this time to correctly take into consideration the music.” I’m intrigued by the ultimate music, the 30-minute Loin de Tout ça: an icy, cavernous and seemingly limitless vocal taken from Under the Ivy, the B-side to Bush’s 1985 single Operating Up That Hill: “After we work, us beatmakers, we frequently hear the identical loop for hours,” says Pone. “It actually transforms our notion of sound, it immerses you in a distinct world. Because of this I prolonged the monitor a lot. That is the expertise I needed to share.”
In August final yr, Pone completed Kate & Me and launched it on-line at no cost (a bodily model is now out there in France). When he’s not imparting his encyclopaedic information of soul, US and French rap in fastidiously written blogposts, he’s actively selling Kate & Me on social media – to an awestruck response.
If the actual success of Kate & Me is the way it represents the probabilities for folks residing with motor neurone illness, the popularity additionally has fuelled Pone’s ambition to work with MCs once more. Once I ask him if he has any tasks on the go, his smiling eyes verify my guess. “I’ve a ardour venture with one other previous fart like me,” he says. He goals of collaborating with Drake or A$AP Rocky. What about Bush herself? He hopes she isn’t too upset that he took liberties along with her work, however he doubts whether or not she has listened to the album. “It looks like she’s untraceable. She’s most likely making marmalade within the depths of the Scottish Highlands.” Pone, in the meantime, is making lemonade from life’s lemons.