To describe the joint creative ventures of improvisation-minded composer Franck Vigroux, and installation artist Antoine Schmitt, as unnerving or startling, would be a gross understatement. They present Tempest as part of A/Visions 3, May 31st.
Michael-Oliver Harding - May 28, 2013
Built upon the initial spark of a shapeless, chaotic audiovisual universe hinting at the Big Bang, Tempest finds both performers weaving together strands of an entirely singular experience, best described as the sound - and the fury. One artist’s visual algorithms align with the other’s analog instruments to produce unexpected, powerful but also unstable forms. In the lead-up to Tempest’s North American premiere, MUTEK caught up with these highly skilled sculptors of sound and visual matter to trace the genesis of the project and get a better grasp on their structured, spontaneous and raw molecular universe.
Tempest marks your second joint undertaking, this one giving way to a deafening audiovisual affiliation. How would you describe the Vigroux-Schmitt universe?
FV: I had previously worked with Antoine on another project: a show with dance and scenography. I found that his video propositions really gelled with my music, so we started talking and we got to thinking about the idea of noise – visual noise, white noise, pink noise – basically, what constitutes any sonic frequency. We began to develop this idea further.
Once you had settled on the theme, how did you go about expanding it into this idea of a primal maelstrom, both sonically and visually?
FV: We did a lot of trial and error based on Antoine’s earliest visual proposals, which served as my foundation. Once we saw that it worked, we kept digging and developing it further. But it’s really a work in progress; even today, we’re still adjusting the music, and the project on a whole is continually evolving.
Antoine, you went as far as to create an instrument to render millions of floating particles visible, while also enhancing the rip-roaring ruckus orchestrated by Franck.
AS: Yes, as soon as we decided on the direction, I devised this instrument. I’ve been refining it ever since in order to achieve greater precision, depending on the direction we take. We launched the project last summer, had our first artists-in-residence session in September, and it’s been evolving steadily ever since. Each time we perform, I make slight tweaks to the instrument, and I discover new ways of playing it. It’s quite a complex instrument, and I add new components to it – for instance, a turbulence feature.
How crucial was it that Franck’s sonic tapestry prove to be a good fit for Antoine’s visual vocabulary? Did you adjust components along the way to ensure a certain consistency and structure within this system-universe of pure chaos?
AS: On my end, I had to make adjustments because my instrument is geared towards a slow evolution. At first, that’s the choice I had made, but then I realized that Franck composes all these pretty forceful moments of sound cuts. I therefore adjusted not my instrument, but my way of playing it to keep that in mind.
FV: For me, the sequencing of images has nothing to do with the sequencing of sound. If we do something completely literal and not figurative, where a certain sound triggers an image, for instance, then it’ll get redundant very quickly. The other approach is for sound and image to march to the beat of their own respective drum: sometimes they’ll cross paths, other times they’ll separate. With the freedom we’re granting ourselves, we’re focused on a project that really takes its time to unfold, both sonically and visually.
Would it be fair to say that each representation of Tempest is wholly different from the next?
FV: Musically speaking, I never play the same concert twice. I strictly use hardware, with synth machines, for instance, and everything is achieved through live manipulation. That’s what creates an element of surprise with each performance.
AS: It’s true that the improv element, even though it’s all quite planned, brings a certain energy to the show, allowing us not to fall into the formulaic trap.
FV: If this were a very literal show, something totally rehearsed, like we see quite a bit, I could simply send you my laptop by mail and all you’d have to do is plug it in and press play! But that’s really not the way I approach creative challenges.
You’ve both presented works at digital creativity festivals around the world. What are your firsthand impressions about the live audiovisual performances currently hitting it big on the festival circuit?
FV: I don’t want to be a party pooper, I think there are tons of interesting things, but… I sometimes find myself at video art festivals, where you’ll come across screenings of very techno-savvy films labelled “video art”. Ultimately, Apple’s logo could be splashed across the end credits and I wouldn’t even blink. I’d believe it because I’ve already seen tons of TV ads that take similar approaches, with the same types of images.
AS: I pretty much agree, but for different reasons. I feel as though a lot of what’s being explored has already been done. There’s a lot of razzle-dazzle, and I’m left mostly disappointed. The sound-image dynamic has existed for quite a long time, and these days, I find that projects are often very technologically advanced, but not really all that personal.
At the same time, there’s something exciting about everyone having access to the same tools – we have reason to be optimistic for the future. I think we’re currently in the midst of an era where we all experiment with the tools at our disposal. Afterwards, I imagine there’ll be more appropriation. It’s all very promising.
Antoine Schmitt & Franck Vigroux present Tempest as part of the A/Visions 3 showcase on May 31st at 8 p.m.