With the development of Sound Studies during the 1990s, the question has been raised of radical change in the way of conceiving, working and perceiving sound. A sensitive territory and field of research, sound will be the prism from which to establish any object to be studied. From the visible to the audible sphere, this shift in speed makes it possible to reconsider the nature of sound by focusing both on its physical and sensitive character, but also on the figure of the listener and the listening point. From this perspective, it is about rethinking the way we approach the sound and sensory environment, while affecting ourselves and in turn affecting it. It is thus fundamental for researchers, but also for composers, sound artists, etc., to start from a double questioning: on the one hand, how we approach reality, that is to say, the way in which we make the world out of sound and, on the other hand, how we grasp the sound sensitive to produce new meanings.
Affiliated to the electronic and electro-acoustic music, composers Okto and Clément Édouard share a performative and sensitive approach to sound and voice. Starting from an interrogation on the perception of reality and its representation, they use a mix of sound universes launching new senses and sensations.
On the one hand, Okto, a young composer based in Paris, is carrying out an investigation of the “minor” sound universes resulting from the transfer of symbols of our time. His research results in sound images, namely mental images that are both sound, visual and bodily between reality and fiction.
In this perspective, Okto designs spaces-times from common and audible imaginaries as a reminder of the relational modes and rhythms of society. Then, he delivers the listener to an off-camera where a whole rhizomatic system of sensitive and sound dialectical images is deployed. In his music, this translates into suspended moments during the piece that can be re-appropriated and affected by the audition.
On the other hand, Clément Édouard, musician, sound artist and composer living between Lyon and Ardèche, wonders about the nature of sound, namely its sensitive power acting on the territory of perception and on the nature of listening in all its forms (imaginary, physical, internal). Clément takes a path allowing him to grasp all the sound matter referring to the organic substance of things to make soundscapes of them. Thus, he uses the symbolic and intersemiotic universe to reflect on the way in which the individual relates to his environment. By rewriting these elements in the sound weaving, they reach a new geography by the deterritorialization and decentralization of the experience for the benefit of a new sensitive anchorage.
with Clément Édouard
Coral Nieto Garcia: Taking as an example Soudain Toujours (work in progress), Partir (2019), could you tell us about your intermedial work with people from other creative fields, whether in the visual, sound, cinematographic domain, etc., and therefore of the transfer of supports and mixing of writing that this implies?
Clément Édouard : I have worked exclusively with musicians for a long time, and I have actually worked with artists from different backgrounds for a few years. These meetings are very enriching because they allow me to shift my relationship to sound. Associated with another media, it enters into a dynamic relationship with it, possibly opening up dimensions from within which new relationships to time, memories and senses are perceived and deepened. So, I like to delve into with the associated artist these interconnections to feel what they can reveal, move …
In the theatrical piece Partir, the director Jean Daniel Piguet has a very sensitive and attentive relationship to the presence of bodies on the set, and the way in which one presence can influence another. I transfer this vision to the sound, wondering how such a type of texture modifies the environment, and disrupts the reading we can have of a scene and its actors. For the monumental installation Soudain Toujours, the sound system is made up of 8 tubes 2 m high, its pillars diffusing the sound upwards, resonating the architecture of the place. With this piece, the builder Guillaume Cousin offers a sort of smoke choreography revealing the vacuum in motion. The sound is composed of a frequency beat inviting the audience more or less explicitly to a kind of hypnotic state, significantly modifying the relationship to space and time, opening up a different perceptual space. The viewer does not just observe, but he enters into a relationship and dives into the movements of the smoke. The sound participates in the immersive phenomenon, it creates the dispositions of the narrative as of the contemplative.
These encounters and experience lead me to rethink the notion of diffusion, abandoning the frontal relationship that we have most often in theaters or concert halls. This question has become central in my current work, I constantly wonder: Where does sound come from? By what material, surface is it transmitted and colored? In which direction is it going? Who does it meet? What nourishes and transforms it on its way? Or does it die?
(And, of course, when it is faced with another artistic proposition, silence is an activating force.)
C.N.G. When I listen to Dix Ailes (2018) or Des choses, des ondes, des bois (working title, work in progress), I wonder about your fragmented perception of the environment through the prism of sound. Could you tell us about it?
C.É. I like to use different sources, to create multi-dimensional soundscapes, kinds of cosmogonies where sounds from the living environment interact and come to be juxtaposed with electronic materials, fragments of voices, whispered words. I often associate each of these elements with a time relationship that is unique to them, they then follow their path while meeting more or less randomly, evoking the principle of “synchronicity” mentioned by C.G Jung. It is by staying for a long time in observation in the forests that this relation to action and time came to me, by observing the course of a bird which crosses another, an ant which meets another insect, branches that fall to the ground for no apparent reason, and the interconnection of all its actions.
These fractal arrangements allow me to destabilize our senses and make them (at best) more available, enroll us in a broad presence, in a state of reciprocity with sounds and their environment. It is also for these reasons that I mix my compositions myself, so that the dosage between each source, the space it generates, their duration of action is as close as possible to what I want to offer. Then, these re-assembled fragments make it possible to establish a multiplicity of specific relationships, to offer unexpected encounters, establishing a dialogue with our imaginations.
The project I am currently working on (Des ondes, des choses, des bois) plays with just that, by a sound device of several speakers where there are in each of them vegetable matter, mineral, collected in the surroundings… They are both independent and linked to others by principles of composition influenced by algorithmic music, giving the impression of an organization, even chaotic, like the multiplicity of sounds in a forest, and the feeling that together they form the voice of this one.
C.N.G. How do you consider the phenomenon of listening, and therefore the listener’s state of readiness to be pierced by sound? What is the relationship between listening and meaning? Is it a listening which goes through the sensation and / or the touch?
C.É. I have always loved spending time in designated places of worship. I often find special listening. People are attentive to their movement, to the sounds they cause, all this gives a feeling of great listening, which I find again quite rarely in other spaces. It is for these reasons that the project Dix Ailes plays exclusively in places with great reverberation. The place then plays the role of an amplifier of the sound sources emitted, but above all an amplifier of the public’s attention to things. The sound no longer comes only from the musicians, but from the place, as if the instruments became its vocal cords. This habitat then gives things to hear, offering a sound reading of its architecture and its history.
We all react differently to sounds, the auditory sense has been very important for our species to be able to protect itself, to feed itself, to survive… Today this role hardly exists any more. We live in a society which favors the visual sense until saturating it. So, I like to think that attentive listening allows us to rediscover an ancestral, inaugural dialogue with the surrounding environment.
Once the question of aesthetics and its judgment is gone, we can assume that sound is a language made up of a complex arrangement of frequencies causing resonance and vibrations. He would then address itself directly to our sensitive bodies, going beyond the mind and its reasoned analysis, then summoning the physical, emotional and spiritual spheres, which can all also refer in their own way to the notion of touch, to through the expression “Being touched by” a hand, an attention, grace.
C.N.G. Are your sound proposals more on the transitive side (that shows) or intransitive (that tells)?
C.É. I do not wish to prove or to show (“(dé)montrer”) anything in my proposals, just to try to offer stories, in a humble way, echoing the disorders that cross our societies, the changes of reference and relationship to the world that it will be important to establish and to work to live with a larger “Us”; to overcome the multiple crises that are before us.
I use a fragile language, composed of several voices, everyone is free to hear and interpret my proposals in their own way. I just want to participate at my level in shaping the conditions for the development of inter-species relations, with the idea of enlarging the frontiers to include the other forces, the other kingdoms around us.
C.N.G. As a composer and sound artist, the sound writing you propose is almost a scenic writing (a kind of “scénephonie”) borrowed as much from literary sources as from life itself (in the natural and urban environment). This refers to pieces like Sédiments (2019). How do you organize and dispose of these plural sources in order to relate to the listener the objects and atmospheres that inspire you?
C.É. My work is joyfully linked to a current of thought opened by Philippe Descola who criticizes the dualistic vision of Nature / Culture. And many thinkers who echo this idea and extend it, among others the philosophers Baptiste Morizot and Vinciane Despret or the biologist and feminist Donna Haraway. Their vision of the world connects me to my deep feelings, speaks to both my head and my heart. They also connect me to the experiences I had as a child in the Cévennes forests. They offer in a singular way another non-fatalistic account of ecological collapse, by maintaining the idea of working a sensitive listening to living things to profoundly change our relationship to the world.
From his visions, my way of arranging different sound sources proceeds from both reflection and intuition. I certainly make choices, but I do not think of myself as a creator of the demiurge type. I feed on literary sources, sensations, encounters, and I let it all happen. I explore the creation space a bit like a “cauldron”, in which things with multiple specificities are slowly transformed.
I work more and more with organic materials that I put in motion thanks to the physics of sound. These materials are collected during long walks, in the vicinity of restitution places, in parks, borders, gardens, and help in a non-direct way to offer a scenography or more precisely as you quite rightly suggest: a “scénophonie”. These harvests establish a direct relationship with living things, the seasons, the peculiarities of the territories explored… They allow to replace the space of exhibition in its extended environment and to link interior / exterior.
In the audiovisual piece Sédiments and with the installation Flux (2 projects in collaboration with the artist Pierce Warnecke), we focus on the mineral, by exploring its strata as so many dimensions of our universe; by placing our Anthropocene epoch in a geological time on a larger scale; by asking what trace would this era of destruction of the living environment carried out in an unprecedented way by a single species leave in the larger scale of geological time.
C.N.G. The voice element takes on great importance in your work for its sensitive and physical abilities; as a place of dialectic between sound and semantics. Could you tell us about the way you work on its sound texture? Why this interest in mantra chanting (Sieste ambiant, Des choses, des ondes, des bois)?
C.É. The voice has undoubtedly always been the means both to express our emotions, and to come into contact with the surroundings and other species. It deeply connects us to our human history and our habitat, the land we share with countless other species. It has capacities within it that cannot be measured, it is a high-tech instrument that is constantly renewing itself, singling out each Being. It also offers direct access to the power of sound. It is for all its reasons that I have started with “Dix Ailes” a work of vocal research with Swedish singers Linda Oláh and Isabel Sörling.
In the rest of this work, I recently needed to turn to semantics, to open up to a new palette of texture and meaning. The idea was to make it malfunction so that the words and their evocations could get lost in order to better reinvent themselves, reorganize themselves, and propose that language not only bind humans, but also birds, rocks, trees… So, during the first confinement, I proposed to singers and poets’ friends to send me precise cutouts of words, to then compose, with its phonic textures, new pieces. During this confinement, the lucky ones had time to listen to the birds, to observe the flowers appearing, our leaders then spoke of “the world after”, more attentive to human and non-human. With its phonic materials, I then had the idea of proposing kinds of mantra: repetition of the phonetic formula which would suppose that the vibration of the sound would have the power to modify its environment. Considering the crisis in which we were all immersed, I liked this idea!
For some of my work, I also make the choice that he can transmit softness, often considered in our societies as softness and lukewarmness, I am referring here to gentleness as a radical power. It was with this in mind that I composed a playlist, Sieste ambiant, by searching and unearthing the work that I have been carrying out on this subject for the past 5 years, broadcast on radio Station Station. https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?hide_cover=1&light=1&feed=%2FStation_Station_radio%2Fsieste-ambient-21-w-cl%C3%A9ment-edouard%2F
C.N.G. Your approach is completely different when it comes to a solo or collaborative production during artistic residencies such as Attrape Rêve (2019) or Résonne moi dans les yeux (2020). Could you tell us about this intermedial work with people from other fields, be it plastic, sound, photographic as opposed to your individual work?
O. My solo productions mostly start from an improvisation based on samples and synthesizers. I let myself be transported, test and resume, and I respond to mental images in order to create a sound and temporal space oscillating between narration and abstraction.
I have been lucky to be able to work on the music by confronting it with other mediums. It is like a desire for new experimentation, to search for accidents that lead to the unexpected. Recently, with the two artists Clément Bellanger and Sven Ronceray, we were able to create a performance where music and painting meet during the opening “Résonne moi dans les yeux” (2020, Paris). This is a very powerful way to confront ideas (images-sounds) and make creation less rigid.
Many of my artistic meetings have been in the world of images. Some of these even pushed us to organize ourselves around the music / image relationship and to create a collective called “Kill the Visual”. You can find visual artists like Rapheal Pelloille or even others from the digital world like Charlie Noirmain. The objective is to bring together our creative forces which combine music, image and events.
C.N.G. In some of your plays, sounds relate the listener to factual sources. Could you tell us about your inspirations in this field of research? Do you have a particular interest in noise culture or Glitch aesthetics, in the way in which you work expressively and rhythmically the sound material?
O. To tell you the truth, I am far from the theoretical questions around music, but the work of composers of the experimental music scene like John Cage calls into question not only the notion of sound but its relation to auditing, exploring unexpected sounds. The separation between noise and sound becomes less and less visible as one approaches it analytically. In this conception, anything can become sound. Taking this into account, each sound “object” is potentially rich to work with and to appropriate.
I am close to a conception of sound coming from pop culture or the underground world. I was particularly influenced by the Bristol trip-hop of the 90s, filled with effects of distortions, delays, raw or saturated samples, on a heady beat. A vibrant space was born where image and sound are mixed, becoming almost cinematographic and which takes us into imaginary and emotional worlds, even nostalgic, activating specific psychic spheres in the listener. It is on this associative character of sound that I like to rely on.
C.N.G. There is a sustained effort in your work to perform sound, like a handyman who begins to strip everything around him, whether by using tools like the contact-microphone (like Résonne, 2020) or the direct construction of new sounds by hand. Could you tell me about that way?
O. Today information travels at breakneck speed and this acceleration is also applicable to the musical world. A computer by itself can be an imitation of all kinds of machines. But more than with the arrival of the 16-track recorder when Pink Floyd was recording Dark Side of the Moon, the danger is the proliferation of information that we are able to integrate into a song, never stop in juxtaposition and trap yourself in an impersonal world.
It is about using the power of digital while staying in touch with the reality that surrounds me. So, I came to turn more and more to microphones to make this connection between real / digital and allow me to listen to my environment in a different way. Recently, contact-microphone has allowed me to re-listen to the vibrations of everyday objects that I handle, sending singular sounds to the ear that I have fun fiddling with. By these means, I try to be able to explore the outside world to express an interior world, plural and changeable.
C.N.G. There is more and more vocal attention in your production. Are you more interested in its sensitive or sound qualities? Does it act as a concrete or abstract material with the other sound elements?
O. The voice is a material directly related to language and therefore with “meaning”, which makes it a very particular tool for musical exploration. It is interesting to seek to manipulate it like a raw material, sensitive and acoustic, to the point of making it unintelligible and playing with its phonic tessitura. But also, its evocative power is such that a simple musical theme could last for a long time if a voice accompanies it.
The ear forces itself to make sense of the sounds of speech by associating supposedly recognized ideas and creates these “ghost words”. It is in this capacity to “occupy” the sound space and to give it a linguistic dimension, therefore both concrete and abstract, that the voice is a matter that has become increasingly present in my productions.
C.N.G. What is your approach to sound? How do you let the sound pass you by?
O. When we approach music, we have the feeling of being captivated by a universal, natural and deep language dialoguing with our inner being. I plan to make my own language through a sound construction capable of challenging multiple subjectivities. It is the cathartic place of thoughts, leaving the listener to his reveries guided by sound waves.
The power of iconographic symbols and the way they evolve in human minds have always fascinated me, especially through my reading of C. G. Jung. I will thus explore the links that exist between sounds and symbols. Today’s technology allows us to combine ideas in a ready-made or surrealistic way, making eclectic and heterogeneous elements react together in an irrational manner. It is this open path to intuition that is very close to my heart.