Integral transcript :
Composer, sound and digital media artist, Stephane Bissieres' work rejects any conventional classifications: his pieces are marked with freedom as well as rigorous formalism, when encapsulating a careful attention to composition and balance. In an age in which globalisation and commodification impinge on every aspect of our lives, he uses his kaleidoscopic approach to investigate about environment and transformation. One of the most convincing aspects of Bissieres' practice is the way he establishes an area of intellectual interplay between memory and perception, condensing the permanent flow of the perception of the reality we inhabit in. We are very pleased to introduce our readers to his refined and multifaceted artistic production.
1) Hello Stephane and welcome to LandEscape. To start this interview, would you like to tell us something about your background? Are there any experiences that have particularly influenced the way you currently relate to composition and art making in general? And in particular, how does your cultural substratum inform the way you relate yourself to art making?
As a child I learned piano and guitar. I stopped my studies of mathematics to play in jazz bands as guitar and trumpet player. I composed a lot at that time, and started using computers to make music. I was very focused on improvisation and making programs to use live on stage with others musicians. Later I started composing concrete and electroacoustic music to design texture of sounds, and work more on timbers and noises. I didn’t like the idea of determining music by recording it, and I was looking for making a piece defined but not definitive. I was looking for a way to make it different each time, but also very identifiable.
I found the outline of a solution by observing Nature, especially in the way evolution tend to make everything coexist in harmony. When listening the nature outside during a summer night there are a lot of sound sources, the insects, birds, wind in the trees, etc. It should be very chaotic because there is no « thinking » behind it, no conductor nor composer. But everything is perfectly balanced, like an ever evolving beautiful music. I see it like a system where each bird, each insect, each element is playing his exact role: looking for food, attracting females, calling and answering, etc. Every sound has a logic, adapted along the evolution to be heard among the others. It inspires me as an autonomous system that make self evolving, « generative » art and music.
So I started to build dynamic system around a kind of artificial genetic code, able to generate endless variations of unpredictable events but all with a recognizable common character. As a composer the idea here is to design elements and functions to define that character instead of choosing harmony, rhythm and notes. To make generative music I think algorithm rather than partition. Instead of reading notes, the computer follows instructions. An algorithm is a set of instructions, and it can generate datas that can be used to modify itself. Working on a generative system is for me a bit like looking for a kind of artificial life formula.
2) You are a versatile artist and over these years you have gained the ability to cross from one media to another: your approach reveals an incessant search of an organic symbiosis between a variety of viewpoints. The results convey together a coherent sense of unity, that rejects any conventional classification. Before starting to elaborate about your production, we would suggest to our readers to visit http://www.stephanebissieres.com in order to get a synoptic view of your multifaceted artistic production: while walking our readers through your process, we would like to ask you if you have you ever happened to realize that such multidisciplinary approach is the only way to express and convey the idea you explore.
I like to look at something from different angles, different perspectives. When I started to build forms in the visual space it gave me a new look to the sound space, geometry and placement. Working with datas offers the possibility to « translate » from one discipline to another and to see how a concept can cross borders, somehow like a reversed synesthesia. It is a way to expand perception, especially the perception of time, as we can feel different velocities depending on which sense is stimulated.
3) We would start to focus on your artistic production beginning from Human Likes ???an interesting multichannel piece entirely based on a specific landscape in the Arctic region of Svalbard???. What most impressed us of this project is the way you have created a point of convergence between a functional analysis of the context you examine and autonomous aesthetics. When walking our readers through the genesis of Human Likes would you shed light on your usual process and set up? In particular, do you conceive your works on an instinctive way or do you rather structure your process in order to reach the right balance? And what is the role of chance in your process: how much improvisation is important for you?
Human Likes is a digital art interactive installation that came unexpectedly. At first I was looking for an interactive mechanism to make a sound installation and I was experimenting with face detection. The system worked well, detection was ok and musical program was fine, but having no haptic feedback wasn’t satisfying as an interface to make music.
So instead I tried to use these datas to make a video synthesizer in real time. There was something fun and a bit strange at the same time to feel the tracking of computer. I liked this ambiguity and the idea of seeing the « computer vision ».
All this « connecting people », « social media », etc. trying to make you think mass surveillance is fun, but in reality it is about collecting personal datas. I made a visual « web » that interconnects the spectators, following their position in real time by collecting some of these datas and making it visible. That was the beginning of Human Likes. A person who look at the screen is instantly connected to the network and becomes not only a participant of the installation, but an actor, choreographer, etc.
I like to think a system so it allows the most improvisation and freedom during play, to be more sensitive and expressive in the « cold » context of digital art, and it is even better if it can stimulate real interaction between peoples.
4) We appreciate the way Human Likes probes the potential of the mediums, involving a relevant use of modern technology to provide the viewers with an extension of their perceptual parameters. This captivating work provides the viewers with an immersive experience: how do you see the relationship between public sphere and the role of art in public space? In particular, how much do you consider the immersive nature of the viewing experience in your process?
Every collective experience has impact on our confidence and how we interact with each others. Our notion of existence would be very different if we were alone, and if we couldn’t see ourselves through the eyes of our peers. As I work more on the notion of artificial life, I question more the idea of relationship between an audience and a system, and what kind of feedback and interaction do I look for. I used to work on immersive sensation so we forget the dispositive, but now the dispositive itself is always part of that necessary feedback.
5) We like the way you capture non-sharpness with an universal kind of language, capable of bringing to a new level of significance the elusive still ubiquitous relationship between experience and memory. So we would take this occasion to ask you if in your opinion personal experience is an absolutely indispensable part of a creative process... Do you think that a creative process could be disconnected from direct experience? By the way, you allow an open reading, a great multiplicity of meanings: associative possibilities seems to play a crucial role in your pieces. How important is this degree of openness?
I have a notebook where I write simple ideas, as they come to me. I use them like a raw material, I combine them, associate them, translate one into another, often by doing experimentation in real life. It’s like pulling a thread, sometimes it is too short, and sometimes it leads to a real project.
6) The hybrid feature that marks out your works, and especially Chronométries allows you to accomplish the difficult task of balancing rhyhtm and evokative reminders: this aspect of your practice seems to reflect your fascination for continuous transformation processes and draws the readers into a multilayered experience. Do you think that the harmonic fusion between different media could be a crossidisciplinary artist's goal? Or is the goal to make people look at the sphere of experience in a different way?
I created the project Chronométries with the violin and kemençe player Raphaël Sibertin-Blanc. The idea was to have musicians playing repetitive music while machine is organic, as a form of human hybridization with the machine. Artificial life facing biological mechanic. We defined a simple set of instruction (an algorithm) for the musicians to make it musical with the fewest instructions possible, and I developed a system to generate organic and unpredictable electronics, like a machine improvisation. The autonomous process of the machines would allow me to play piano, but at any time I could take over and improvise live electronics if wanted.
Because we, the musicians, were embodied on stage, I also made a « body » for the electronic abstraction in the form of a video synthesis where every moves reflects a variation in the sound. The goal here was less about transdisciplinarity than about embodying abstraction and give individuality to a machine.
7) Another interesting project from your current artistic production that has particularly impressed us and on which we would like to spend some words is entitled "Hard Drive Music", and it's the first part of a series of sound art installations about obsolescence in digital technical equipment. How do you consider the relationship between technology and your work? In particular, why did you choose to inquire the topic of obsolescence in our everchanging and technology-drive age?
"Hard Drives Music" is a suite of sound art installations. The hard drives are the only acoustic sound sources. They are dismounted to expose a structure which may recall a clock system, made with great precision and complexity.
We are made of thoughts, dreams and ideas, but it is our body which reveals us to the world. In the area of digital arts where everything is virtual and abstract I like to see those obsolete things as old shells of an ever mutating entity. It talks about death, therefore about identity of an abstraction.
I am convinced that at some point in the future the frontier between humanity and « machinity » will be blurred. We already have the technology to augment our muscles, it is a matter of years for being able to augment our memory, our skills and intelligence.
To me, starting today a reflection about the identity of machines is also a reflection about our evolution.
8) Multidisciplinary artist Angela Bulloch once remarked "that works of art often continue to evolve after they have been realised, simply by the fact that they are conceived with an element of change, or an inherent potential for some kind of shift to occur". Technology can be used to create innovative works, but innovation means not only to create works that haven't been seen before, but especially to recontextualize what already exists. Do you think that the role of the artist has changed these days with the new global communications and the new sensibility created by new media?
I think a big part of creation is being sensitive enough to see things in his own way, trying to choose influences, and shedding light on aspects that may otherwise be missed. The role of an artist may be to reflect himself and his surroundings and be a witness of his time in society. It is part of this role to adapt and evolve with the characteristics of the era the artist lives in. The changes we are feeling now are probably little in comparison to what is to come with IA in the short future.
9) According to media theorist Marshall McLuhan, there is a 'sense bias' that affects Western societies favoring visual logic, a shift that occurred with the advent of the alphabet as the eye became more essential than the ear. How do you see the relationship between sound and images?
When using a computer for sound or visual programming, the process of generating sound or pictures is usually disconnected to what actually generate sound or picture. For example when playing guitar, the energy from movement is directly transferred to the string, which oscillations generate acoustic sound. In contrast, you could easily play a giant bell with a little button as soon as the information is sent to an actuator powerful enough to ring the bell. This offers great possibilities but also induces latency, less immediate and less instinctive action. On a more abstract level, I see relationship between sound and images in terms of transfers of energy. Because my sound and image creation are always in real time, I try to be less influenced by aesthetics than by the design of correlations between sound and video, so they could be perceived as a whole.
10) Before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
I tend to be influenced by how the audience receive a proposition, but I also feel that when a concept gets enough autonomy and inertia it doesn’t belong to me anymore, and so I shouldn’t be affected by positives or negatives feedbacks.
11) Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Stephane. Finally, do you have anything else coming out in the near future our readers should look out for? How do you see your work evolving?
Thank you very much, Hard Drives Music will be presented this year in Paris at Gallery Plateforme and at Le Cube, center of digital creation. A tour is planned for the end of 2017 in Asia for dance performance SURU, and I am working with electronic music producer Vadim Svoboda on the creation of a music label. I will have also some great collaborations to come this year : A beautiful new audiovisual creation called ASKJA with video artist Barthelemy Antoine Loeff, and a techno performance called JOENSUU with electronic musician Mathias Delplanque. The first of JOENSUU is planned in May in Bruxelles.