Someone says that silence is an impossible condition. A confirmation could come by the renowned talent of French multidisciplinary artist Julien Bayle, who decided to isolate himself in the very quiet Mechanical & Acoustic Research Lab LMA-CNRS’ anechoic room during the summer of 2016 with the intent to explore his own inner silence during a difficult moment of his life. In this laboratory-like room, sounds don’t reverberate, as they get absorbed by the geometry of walls and their repetitive structures. Let’s see by Julien’s replies how the result of such a fascinating residency in this seemingly silent place turned into a very interesting release, Violent Grains of Silence (coming out of the Elli Records catalog), which can present possible evidence of what was stated in the beginning of this introduction.
Chain DLK: Hi, Julien! How are you?
Julien Bayle: I’m pretty fine and busy. Excited by this upcoming release on Elli Records and these pretty thick months I had from presenting my new 3D sound installation at the MIRA festival Spain, giving a couple of lectures and performing FRGMENTS in Buenos Aires, thanks to Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, Institut Français and Leandro Frias + Jorge Haro.
Chain DLK: The very first introductory lines about your recent Violent Grains of Silence says that the first grains were born after a fugue from personal issues in an anechoic room during the summer of 2016… first of all, I hope those troubles (I don’t want to know which one(s)) are gone…but I’m more interested in knowing if you think sound art is effective…if so, how?
Julien Bayle: Well. It was a very hard time for me. I had already planned a couple of projects running at this time in the famous Laboratoire de Mécanique et Acoustique CNRS (Mechanic & Acoustic Research Lab, abbreviated LMA-CNRS) in Marseille, which was one of my main partners & collaborators at the time. I couldn’t cancel these projects and I decided to feed them with my darkest feelings at the moment. Like…for converting them into another matter, into another matter I could control and handle, from all my feelings to sound matter. The conversion worked well. I really felt and still feel this idea of being an artist is like being a collector, an antenna collecting and converting the load of spaces, of people.
Planned projects are still unreleased, by the way. One of them was the sound recording of very high acoustic pressure audio feedback loops with systematic variation studies between microphone & speakers. Larsen effects were recorded automatically with no one inside the room, in the dark, too, thanks to a Max MSP patch I programmed. It still has that HUGE sound bank of real physical audio feedback loops. I want to use them. This was the yelling part of the work at this special moment of my life. The noisy one. The howling part. Violent Grains of Silence is something else. It howls but with a very different raw matter. In a way, yes, sound art every time helps me to convert more or less personal and internal feelings, ideas, concepts into another material I can twist, tear up, stretch or shrink, cut or smooth. It is a way to retrieve a part of control, for sure.
Chain DLK: Can you tell us more about this (17dB!) anechoic room and its specs where Violent Grains of Silence was recorded?
Julien Bayle: Anechoic conditions are often required by scientists for measuring how a piece of material reacts to vibrations, for instance. A space’s walls absorb mechanical vibrations in quite a wide bandwidth range.
If you are placed in the middle of the room and you speak or shout, you can hear your voice from inside your head, a bit through your ears as well, as the sound is traveling all along your face, but the sound doesn’t reflect in any way because it is absorbed by the walls. We are absolutely not used to hearing sounds in such conditions. Even in our kitchen, at the terrace of a bar, our voice is reverberating a bit, also providing us information about our immediate environment.
Specifications of this particular one in the LMA-CNRS space are very interesting and rare in the way that they’re very isolated, very absorbing. Thanks to Patrick Sanchez & Christophe Vergez from this prestigious lab, I could enter and work in this unique room. For the record, I consider an LMA as one of the most advanced places for artists to partner and work with.
This is the former research lab of emeritus professor Jean-Claude Risset, who I had the chance to meet when he visited one of my sound installations in Marseille, done with some students through a workshop I led in GMEM CNCM. Jean-Claude Risset combined both a conservatory & acoustic doctorate cursus. He was and still is very inspiring for one who believes that science and art are linked forever as a same way for describing the world. One way is just a bit more poetic than the other, but that’s the very same goal, in my humble opinion.
Chain DLK: Why did you release VGoS on Elli instead of your own imprnt VØID? Any words about it?
Julien Bayle: I wanted to make it living outside of me. VØID (http://void-label.net) is still currently my very own place. I haven’t released or produced anything from someone else. That could change in the near future, but at the moment, that’s it. I wanted to make VGoS as a kind of output. Something that could be from me but spreading outside; I cannot explain it differently.
ELLI is one of the most interesting labels today. They are both interested in algorithms / processes and results, too. Even if some people won’t know the underlying processes related to the EP, the label will talk about them, and consider them as a part of the piece. According to me, conceptual art is not the best way for creating a link, a communication with others. The artist is alone, with her/his concept. We can do lectures or meet people for discussion sharing, and it can help, but regarding a release, it’s often hard to do that.
In my case, I’m often alone with my concepts, ideas and feelings in my studio, but I more & more want and need to create links, share, discuss with people and connect with the audience. With that way of thinking, I felt very comfortable with ELLI releasing this piece because I know that the process won’t be ignored. It’s up to the audience to dig it or not, but the process will be like embedded. That means a lot to me.
Chain DLK: I heard all the stuff you dropped on VØID…very interesting! Some questions about some of them… Unpredictable (VØID0001) focuses on the concept behind a quote (‘no center in the middle, but the center is everywhere’) by one of your artists…who? How does it relate to the sound you explored in that output?
Julien Bayle: [off the record] There is some confusion, as this descriptive text has been written for me by a friend, and the author of the album is myself. This album, silently released with absolutely no promotion or high exposure, is a collection of tracks done with my modular synthesizers & triggering systems only. In our very computer-centric environnement, I wanted to put some distances between myself and my previous creative practices. Indeed, until around 2015, I didn’t record any sound outside of my computer. Nothing was coming from outside. I wanted the sound to be completely synthesized and created bits per bits by my algorithms and software (i.e Max MSP’s patches).
This is a weird and harsh process. I wanted to have a global control over the whole synthesis, over the whole process. Even if I used a lot of modulations & interferences between signals to other signals, all was under control; my control. It was very related to my own personal life. I wanted to be sure, to be safe, to control. I was seduced by interferences between different elements in my music, but I didn’t want to let the system go by itself.
Then, 2016 changed a lot of things in my life, and I started to inject elements from the physical world, from my life, into the computer. I opened it up. I started to record sound outside, and also to record sounds and reuse them into other compositions. When students question me about that, they are often surprised by my answer, as I started field recording practice very late.
Chain DLK: The ninth track of Unpredictable was titled ‘anti anti 4’ 33″‘…should we consider and anti John Cage or an anti anti John Cage? 🙂
Julien Bayle: Maybe. It is interesting to see how 4.33 triggers “Cage”, btw.
Chain DLK: Both Unpredictable and CNTAMNT were made with machines; no computers, only machines. Such a choice has been described as a “specific radical dogma”… Could you explain such a statement/dogma? Are computers evil entities or what? 🙂
Julien Bayle: Dogma is not only related to sorting things as good on one side and bad on the other side. In this case, it was only related to the fact that I created a specific constraint to trigger new ideas & new creative processes.
I wanted to play with this idea of choosing radically to use only machines.
It was an experiment, as I would choose to use only this type of sound for making a track or this technique instead of the others. I never felt computers as evil. They are tools and should only be used as this. As any tools, they should be considered only as an extension of the hand, a new help, and a very powerful one. Granular synthesis and sound analysis are now so easy with a machine like a computer.
However, with the computer, you are in world where you cannot lose anything. That is good and bad, but this is exactly the same debate as writing with a pencil & paper versus typing with a text editor. We have backups, we can keep everything, all steps of a work, all elements, everything, even if it takes a lot of space on the drive. It is up to us, of course, to not keep anything, but computers make us feel sometimes uncomfortable if we don’t do that, and we are like trapped in a never forgetting anything loop.
Sometimes, I want to forget. I need it. Mark Fisher wrote a lot about that. I don’t want to keep everything. I think that concept will be present more in my creative processes. For instance, I can record a sound that I want to use as raw matter and I can start to modify it again and again, and I can keep each version related to each modification, but why? Just in case? Just in case what? I want to reverse the process?
This is a very engineering and scientific approach which, because of my background, I could like, but I won’t keep that one. Using machines could also be a way of not being able to save everything. Some machines have limited memories, or then, it is just a pain in the ass to retrieve parameters. I like that because it forces me to work on the machine itself, record sound and forget about the machine. This is what a machine can bring to me.
I still don’t understand people that want to remove the computer from the equation with no clear reasons and who often tend to reproduce exactly the same computer workflow with machines. This is nonsense, according to me.
Chain DLK: The previous question and maybe the previous answer could collide with your appreciated activity as a programmer…is/was there any algorithm that keeps/kept you truly engaged for a long time?
Julien Bayle: Programming is only knowledge that helps me to do what I do. This is my tool. Obviously, all tools can be inspiring, in the way that they can provide new ideas, new concepts to be applied and thought, but these are tools. We are the thinking part, humans, artists. I used to build all what I’m doing myself. That’s a piece of work, but this is so specific that I cannot even use a program for doing that out-of-the-box.
For the FRGMENTS visuals system, I built the system with a Max/MSP framework. The patch I built is very flexible for what I need to do on stage, and it has some room for chance; I call that “constrained chance” (I let the program go to territories by itself, but I’m defining the outline). The design of the system took several weeks in my studio and it has been done during the sound composition process. It is a usual process in my audiovisual live performance creation. I have strong ideas in mind, I have prototypes and I have schematics on my sketchbooks. I start to design a sound piece. Progressively, parts, sounds themselves are recorded or sequences are written, and then I need to watch and see how the sound I started to spread could alter visuals, could influence and contaminate the visible generated matter. So, I need to go further with the visual system. I stop sound composition and I go further. Then, when it can react more than I’d expected, I challenge it by playing my sounds, altering them live exactly as I’d do on stage… Refining the visuals system, changing some sounds. And I’m doing that for each part, for each moment/context of my live performance.
Here is how I would explain a piece of my work. Diving deeply into the creative process. Of course, if I had a whiteboard, I’d draw some schematics for you now !
Chain DLK: Let’s go back to Violent Grains of Silence… is there something that makes this output authentically different from all your previous releases?
Julien Bayle: I think there are many things. The nature of the sound itself. Sounds have been produced using different kind of synthesis, sampling/resampling, and each channel was influencing other channels. This is very new to me, especially by using only machines. This makes the output quite unique. But that’s not the only thing. This is the first one in which I used floating tempos. I love to call it floating time. Music, every time, relates to time. We are fixing ideas on a time line, we are writing the story on a page. In this case, I used accelerations, decelerations. I like the idea of compressing / expanding the time itself. I’m about to work on a series of releases following these ideas.
Chain DLK: Do you remember any moment of those two hours of recording during which you had the impression/illusion of having reached silence?
Julien Bayle: This is an interesting question. Reaching the silence. Actually, even if I was in the room while the recording was running, even if I had been there completely silent my self, I wouldn’t have reached the silence myself.
The sound recording could approach this, as it doesn’t think. But me…?! If I think, I know. If I know, I know that silence can’t be reached, end of story.
It reminds me of Vercors’ Le silence de la mer. The silence of the sea. If the surface seems silent, the depth are full of moving and sounding creatures. If you know it, then the sea is not silent. In that case, I knew I have absolutely no silence in me, so the silence can’t exist. Our emotions are loading things. My emotions loaded this moment of silence as absolutely deafening and yelling.
Chain DLK: Would you say that this apparent refusal of algorithm and computational process in your current compositional strategy is a sort of refactoring (to use a term inherited from programming)? Should we expect some forthcoming changes of your sound toward something supposedly more “organic”?
Julien Bayle: We are refactoring and rebuilding every time. At each step of our lives. I feel a refactoring each time I start a new big project. When a project comes to my mind, this is because I made some radical decisions in a part of my global creative processes. So, basically, there is a more or less important refactoring. But I don’t think computational means not organic.
There is not a straight line for producing sounds with computer, or with any tool. Some very sharp mechanical riffs in Catch 33 Meshuggah’ album, for instance, sound like very algorithmic (especially because of poly rhythmic and poly-metres), but these are guitar riffs played by a human.
But if the underlying question was about my new sounds, I think my sound is going to more industrial and electric than before. This is also why I feel close to metal, in a way. If I had to oppose organic to industrial, I’d say that organic side, in my creation, comes from field recording. Field recording is a recording of reality, compared to pure synthesis, which is the less organic source. But for instance, my piece STRUCTURE presented at the MIRA Festival includes a lot of both techniques. Generative and self-evolving synthesis, merged with field recording of metal crackling, Chicago’s metro rails squeaking, some brutalist building’s big metal door slamming, etc.
From a listener’s point of view, I think this is different; we can pay attention to the globality of a track and, in that case, it is not because you put a very organic sound merged with very cold, pure, synthesized sound that the whole result will sound organic, or not.
Chain DLK: Is there any track of Violent Grains of Silence that you liked more for some reason?
Julien Bayle: Satu is one I like particularly.
It starts slowly, with no space; noise is listenable and also resonates in the reverb space itself. The colorful reverb I used includes a resonators network that makes it very specific and very singular. Progressively, the sound is like propagating in the space. Space is a concept I cannot stop digging. From a real space propagation to reverb (which are simulating the space), I’m interested in the perceived effect. With earphones, or a very good sound system, we can really perceive space, distance and the environment surrounding us. This is a very nice tool, as a sound producer, to express the idea of a sound traveling from a point to another, often telling a story related to time as it starts to travel and is loading itself with the space; it comes to a destination and has changed.
It is a very raw metaphor of us, humans. Traveling through time, progressively evolving, loading ourselves with people’s emotions, our own emotions and more. It reminds me the release I had the chance to do on the ETER Lab label a couple of years ago. I used a weird concept of noise provoked by wire parasites, and I was resonating the same reverb. The whole EP is done only with that. No sound sources, except parasites. It is “void propagate” on the ETER Lab: https://eterlab.bandcamp.com/album/void-propagate
Chain DLK: Can you pick one track and (paradoxically?) explain it as if you were using it for one of your lessons as an Ableton trainer?
Julien Bayle: I would more explain that from the art & aesthetic point of view than technically only. I wouldn’t explain any track of this release from this point of view as I’m more like a guest art teacher than an Ableton Certified Trainer. Actually, when art & design schools or studios call me for me to teach a proper course, a masterclass or a workshop, this is because they want to understand two different things: what I use as triggers for my creative process and what the underlying technique is.
I cannot separate the technique from the creative process, and I don’t want to remove one of them. This is also, often, a test for me to challenge art school directors. I can see directly if they are repelled by technique or not, and it can drive to more collaboration or less. I’m not teaching pure thinking and I don’t want my students to only think about their project but to make it. Making it is important. I think we NEED the experience, the feelings. As soon as we think about the global outline of a project, I’m sure we need to start to build, test, trial, error, rebuild. From this point of view, I’m like an engineer, but I’m driven by the feelings and mood; these are my only measurements for evaluating and checking if my art coefficient is quite OK. If it is not, I have to refine, to recheck, to rebuild; which could mean more sound captures, less processing or whatever else.
Chain DLK: Any work in progress?
Julien Bayle: I’m currently working on a very new live performance. If I’m still touring ALPHA (very algorithmic from a synthesis and sequencing point of view) and FRGMENTS (very based on sound recording as raw matter, recombined and wrapped and processed live), I now want to merge both parts from pure algorithmic to pure reality recording (I mean sound capture, video capture).
I’m at a specific step at which I’m gathering all in the same place. ALPHA was me in 2014, FRGMENTS is still me in 2018 but I feel sparse if I don’t have my new projects including all parts. Probably the refactoring is that one now. I cannot say too much about the project but the name will be relative to STRUCTURE. This won’t be the live performance version of the installation I exhibited at MIRA. This will illustrate the idea of packing to the core, having the structure at the core of the piece. Gathering, aggregating, creating links between elements I felt were separated before.
This project’s aesthetic will have to express all these strong concepts of being exploded, destructed and refactoring, aggregating again, making the core infrastructure very solid. This is a big challenge. It will be audiovisual with a very strong link between sound & visuals. Sound will alter visuals, as in all my work. Visuals will be generated in real-time, and the system (the machine) will have room for random, which means it will “behave” as a partner, on stage. I will push it with the sound triggers and the sound nature itself. Depending on these, visuals will react. This is the room for uncertainty I inject in all my works: I have some parts I can control, some other parts are control by parts on which I think I have control and maybe there are differences between what I expected and the result; life runs like that, and this is why I design controls in my piece like that. Visuals will be a merging of 3D captures, models and visuals elements that will be rendered by the system.
This project will be very dark sounds, but probably more electronic music than pure experimental music. Besides this, I’d really like to produce & release a series of works relative to time, as I was writing before.
Visit Julien Bayle on the web here: www.julienbayle.net