Residency with Espaces Sonores of the Haute École des Arts du Rhin, Mulhouse and Strasbourg, France
Mulhouse: 10th January - 4th February 2022
Another year, another opportunity to finally participate in another renowned residency programme, this time to work with the research collective Espaces Sonores, situated in both the Mulhouse and Strasbourg campuses of the Haute École des Arts du Rhin and the Conservatoire in Strasbourg. After many postponements, date changes, site order changes and discussions I arrived in Mulhouse and was kindly greeted by Brice Jeannin. An additional issue regarding very limited travel from UK to France meant I was shown around the town a little and then had to stay in the accommodation for two days, when I would hopefully test negative for COVID-19 and be able to start working at the school.
In brief, the activities I indulged in during the four weeks I was in Mulhouse:
* An artist talk/presentation where I explained (maybe for a little too long!) the reasons and processes behind my current work with salvaged mechanical
devices that are triggered by sound impulses.
* Developing possible DIY sound-making devices triggered by both Arduino programming and sound impulses for workshop sessions.
* Exploring Mulhouse for characteristic sounds to add to the project.
* Investigating ways in which brushless motors of hard disk drives and some CD-ROM players can be triggered using amplified environmental sounds.
* A visit to Espace Multimedia Gantner in Bourgogne.
* A live-to-air performance for the show Perfuzz for the station p-node.org in the artist complex Motoco.
* Visits to HEAR Strasbourg.
Please click on the underlined links to see more details
Presentation of Projects
Once I was out of the short quarantine we made plans for me to present my work to the students and also the staff of La Kunsthalle, the main gallery space in Mulhouse who also support the residency. I gave what I hoped was a short but informative presentation of the timeline of my more kinetic works, but have realised that even showing videos and making silly jokes is not enough to keep an audience engaged after a long day. At the end I demonstrated sounds being played through a speaker and some motors, and that clearly was more engaging as I was surrounded by the students, who also then asked many more questions. As I know, but often forget, you're never too old to learn something!
One thing I wanted to do during the residency was to give a new type of workshop. I still enjoy giving sound awareness and recording workshops, as well as ones in constructing various types of microphones, but as my practice is now more focused on the use and reuse of discarded products and technology, I really want to share these ideas with other people, so they can take this and develop work in their own way.
I made some tests to make simple sound-making devices that use found and everyday objects as you see in the first video.
I'm thinking that for workshops it would be nice to conceal what is happening inside the box, so at the end of the sessions we will gather them together and these seemingly uniform objects will all have a different characteristic 'voice', and with simple gestures we can also alter the sound.
As I mention later, I am much more interested in the process, and sometimes challenge, of activating the motors with sound recordings. So the first prototype (not shown) uses Arduino inside the box to activate the motor. I can of course give a workshop in this method, but feel all the participants will do is learn some programming and electronics, sit soldering for possibly a whole day and finally have a sound making device, but in the end what's the point of that...? I think it will be more fun to use sound impulses, with examples of my own from a supplied library, and then for participants to experiment with their own, discovering which work best for them and their device. This way I can share my recording experience with more studio-based device construction.
I hope to have the chance to develop this further in Strasbourg in March and April.
The Sounds of Mulhouse
For these "Channelling" projects I am recording what many people who make field recordings will find mundane and boring. But I am finding that these sounds are often very effective in activating motor devices in unpredictable and erratic ways (as you will see below...)
Activating Brushless Motors
Since beginning to work more with motor devices in 2018 (while developing Made to Malfunction) I have encountered a number of different types. On eI could not activate, even through watching countless YouTube tutorials, was the brushless type. I did find that I could make them move to a certain degree using the same driver and software as I would to activate a stepper motor with Arduino, but my focus is more on motors being 'powered' by sound impulses.
For this stage of the residency at HEAR I shipped all the mechanical, moving and sounding parts I extracted from a computer tower left in the street right outside my apartment building in Marseille. I could use most, but the CD-ROM drive and the hard disk drive use the brushless motor, which has three (or sometimes four) terminals. No simple +/- connections available, and the tests I found online to try were only somewhat successful. So I simply attached the ground cables from both left and right channels from an amplifier to one terminal and the signal cables from each channel to the other terminals. At first (again) little or no movement. But when I shifted the right channel out of sync with left very slightly, suddenly it was a whole different story, as the videos below show...
Both devices above need more considering and refining to generate sounds that will work within the setup of Channelling for a new live presentation.
A visit to Espace Multimédia Gantner
The space was mentioned in passing by Yvan Etienne one Sunday afternoon early in the residency as we walked around the more green parts of Mulhouse, but Stéphanie Fischer of La Kunsthalle introduced me to Valérie Perrin, the director of Espace Multimédia Gantner in Bourogne.
I was visited by Valérie one evening in my makeshift studio in my accommodation and she showed some interest in hosting the work in some way in the future. We spoke about the centre as they can host exhibitions and live shows. Intrigued I invited myself to visit the next week!
I was kindly collected from Belfort by Joël, one of the staff of the centre, and in 20 minutes we were in the small village of Bourogne. The centre is in a renovated farm building that combines original features with more contemporary finishes. I was shown the library, which is focused on more on media and digital art, but also contains texts on many areas of art, psychology and culture, plus an amazing collection of music and sound works on CD and vinyl. I also saw the presentation spaces and would love to show some work there. Thank you Valérie and the other staff of the centre for hosting me and giving me your time and attention.
A live-to-air performance for Perfuzz show of Carl-Y for p-node.org
I was aware of the radio station p-node.org (or πNode) through fellow artists such as Pali Meursault presenting work with them. Stéphanie informed me that they are based in Mulhouse as well as Paris, and that I should meet Charly. She sent some links and his contact and as soon as I saw some of his work I knew we would connect well! Check out some here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP9JshjnTwA&ab_channel=PocPoc
I had been a little distracted from preparing a live presentation as I didn't think I would get the chance so I selected the more recent developments (CD-ROM and HDD) plus some older ones to present. We were joined in the studio by Valérie and also a musician I know from Marseille but hadn't seen since before lockdowns, Lucien Gaudion. Charly interviewed me for some time and we played some examples of both composed works and documentation of installations, then while he interviewed Lucien I prepared to present the devices live for broadcast.
Photo credits: Charly left, Lucien right
Aside from a couple of mic bumps the presentation went pretty well. The approach is much more to present each device or situation as a separate installation, but to link one to the next. I already know how to improve this setup, and need to add some more erratic and surprising moments (even for myself)...
To hear the interviews and the performance please listen to the soundcloud link below.
Thank you so much Charly, Valérie and Lucien for a very pleasant evening! And Stéphanie for all the introductions!
Visits to HEAR Strasbourg
During my residency, artist and musician Rie Nakajima gave a workshop at the Haute École des Arts du Rhin in Strasbourg, where I will be from mid-March until mid-April for the second stage. I wanted to visit and say hi, but also to see the school and meet other members of Espace Sonores. Unfortunately none of them were available the day I visited but I was met by Antoine Lejolivet and Gerard Starck, who warmly greeted me and showed me to the space Rie was working in. The exhibition space La Chaufferie is nice and blank, reverberative without being overbearing, and the floor was strewn with parts of toys and other objects that various students had been working with. We were given a tour of the school, which was fantastic to see all the different spaces and facilities they have - kind of wish I'd gone there as a student!!
And on the Thursday of my final week in Mulhouse, Rie had an exhibition opening that I visited. The two videos below are probably my favourite pieces from the show, the first being a true response to the space with the huge nail clanging on the metal handrail which resonated around the space and from the wall.
It was good to see Rie's work in-situ and in the flesh finally. And I am well aware of some similarities between my work and hers, but also know there are huge differences in both the aesthetic and conceptual considerations. My thanks once again to everyone I met and spent time with, and thanks for a delicious dinner!
A mini-workshop session
One student, Juliette Kulimoetoke, remained after all the others following my presentation in the second week. She had an idea for a drawing machine but wanted to learn some Arduino in order to make it. I showed her some of my Traceable Echoes works, especially the most recent one with Binaural Nodar in Portugal, explaining that there can be more direct, somewhat more simple and less-technical ways to achieve something similar.
I met with Juliette and another student, Eloïse Vargoz, in the final week of the residency and we talked about what she wanted to achieve, but also why... and the idea she had was very similar to a plotter project that I had seen by Sébastien Robert. Brice also showed them kits that are available to make exactly the type of machine she had in mind.
She also had brought parts of a musical toy and a motor gleaned from the workshop with Rie that she wanted to use (photo to the right). So after some attempts to make the motor move by activating the sounds of the toy, we actually succeeded! From using an amplifier to boost the signal and a diode to ensure the signal only travelled in one direction, we had motor movement. Brice then gave us all a demonstration of the Field Kit by Koma Elektronik which is an incredible little unit that among other things can amplify a contact microphone input to activate a motor.
At the end of the session I apologised for not teaching the student any Arduino programming and she said she didn't expect to leave having made something that worked! A great session and one I could not have done without Brice - thank you once again sir!