The young sound artist, Pierre-Laurent Cassière (*1982, France), considers sound, acoustic fields and vibrations, as a medium relating bodies and space through dynamic relationships. Out of a musical approach, his sound installations, performances or devices deal with perception limits and aim to offer very specific ways of listening.
In his creative game, theoretically and practically related to the history of the media, analogue or digital audio-visual technologies become a matter to understand, reorganize and reinterpret. Along with his sound research, Cassière develops expanded cinema installations in which the

deconstruction of cinematic systems and their placement in-situ offer abstract and poetical experiences based on noise and light motion. For the group exhibition, Dynasty, in Musée d’art moderne and Palais de Tokyo (11.06.2010 – 05.09.2010), he presents two works, Mag-Net (2007) and Pulse (2010). The interview was conducted in June 2010.

The artist will have his first Parisian solo show, Corpusculi Apparatus – Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, from 6 Nov 2010 to 15 Jan 2011 in Galerie Frederic Giroux.
Selina Ting, Paris, Nov 2010

PLC – Pierre-Laurent Cassière
ST – Selina Ting for initiArt Magazine

Sound, Perception, Space

ST: When you were a kid, were you interested in dismantling electronic appliances, etc.?

PLC: No. My background is not at all from electronics. Before studying fine art, I was interested in making musical instruments. I was fascinated with the quality and the high level of handwork of this traditional craft. I love wood, I like touching wood. But I gave up because I don’t have the required self-discipline. Then I started to learn computer programming, so I focused on creating systems rather than physical objects.

ST: But you don’t have much high-tech thing in your work.

PLC: I attended the media art school in Cologne in 2006. It helped me to understand the idea of media and technology, and how to use it in different ways. Then, as I developed a specific approach towards technology, I understood that I was building media works without using computers or sophisticated tools. Somehow, I’m more interested in simple reality than high technologies which are just tools for me.

ST: Before the media art school in Cologne, you were already making art and your former training in France was more in the Fine Art. How did you come all the way to sound installation that you are doing today?

PLC: My first interest in Art was related to abstract art, land art and arte povera. At the beginning, I was more attracted to wood sculpture. Then I discovered minimalism and conceptual art, so at a certain point, I decided not to produce objects but to focus on very minimal, conceptual installations and systems. I think the interesting thing with sound is that you can occupy a vast space without any object. I love the idea of sculpting the space with emptiness.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Vent Tendu 2005, Dispositif sonore installé, dimension variable. Câble acier inoxidable, ordinateur, programme MAX/MSP, amplificateur 100W, transducteurs electro-mécaniques.

ST: I was very impressed by your works the first time I saw them in Fort du Bruissin last year (2009). What really draws me to your work is the powerful simplicity in the structure of the work, sometimes even invisible, but it’s at the same time almost omnipresent in the space.

PLC: Yes, the materials I use are often quite simple… they are minimal to allow imagination. I am interested in simple systems and how things work. Usually, when I understand a technique, I can relate it to the history of media, sound or image. Then I try to build something wider out of it through a deconstruction principle and explode it in the space to create an installation in line with the architecture.

ST: Yes the materials are minimalist but not that simple to me. Because when you read the captions on the wall with all the objects for a physics or mechanical engineering experiments, then you realize it’s not that simple.

PLC: I hope there are different levels of reading the work. For example, a sound engineer that I worked with told me that what I was doing was useless, that there was no interest in the way I use the technology or the materials. But eventually when he saw the final work, he said, “Hey, it’s funny to see what you got by changing the usual way people use it”.  

ST: What surprises the engineer can also be the new dimension you brought in which normally belongs to art, and make the result far more imaginative and subtle than what it used to be.

PLC: For the engineer, his goal is to avoid noise, to refine the sound quality. My objective is exactly the opposite, i.e. to find as much noise as possible. I am not a composer. I don’t want to compose nice music. What I want is to build up a system that produces noise and sound in the effective time and space without any recording, because it proposes a specific situation for the perception. Somehow, what really surprised the engineers is how something happened without applying the technique in the usual way they learnt. But, probably, it’s easier for me because I never learnt those applications…
But this is not so important, this is the technical level which I don’t really want people to understand. The first important level speaks to the senses – the view, the body, the vibration, the sound intensity, etc. Then there are other levels related to concepts, to art history, to the relationship between time, space, body and technology.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Vent Tendu 2005, Dispositif sonore installé, dimension variable. Câble acier inoxidable, ordinateur, programme MAX/MSP, amplificateur 100W, transducteurs electro-mécaniques. Installation view in Fort du Bruissin.

Sound Work: Installations and Videos

ST: That’s how you started your first piece?

PLC: I think the first work I produced and I still consider today is the installation Vent Tendu (2005). It’s one of the installations shown for my graduation in Villa Arson in Nice. You saw it in Fort du Bruissin in Lyon. I tried not to produce music or image, but just a sound phenomenon and a typical way for listening, so as to propose a specific sensible experience and a specific attitude in space. Somehow, my works are often related to the idea of abstraction because there is no representation. I try to avoid representation. But, at the same time, it’s very concrete, because the audible phenomenon is produced by the technique and the process of the work itself.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Mimnémésis, 2006, Vidéo sonore, 4’50’’. Courtesy of the artist.

ST: The video that you presented in Fort du Bruissin, Mimnemesis (2006), is also about the phenomenon of sound. In this work, it’s less focused on hearing but perceiving the vibration itself.

PLC: Yes, a physical vibration is not necessarily audible. I am looking for the limits of perception. Mimnemesis is about echo as a strong example of sound motion, but you’re right, it’s also about the power of acoustics related to the body more than the ear. An acoustic kick can be felt more than heard and I like to work with extreme part of the audible spectrum. For example, the work in Palais de Tokyo is about low frequencies whereas the one in Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris deals with high frequencies some people can’t hear. There is this idea of something there that you don’t necessarily notice. Almost a ghostly existence.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Pulse (2010). Installation view at Palais de Tokyp, Paris, exhibition Dynasty June – Sept 2010.

ST: You told me that it took you a whole year to work on the Palais de Tokyo piece, Pulse (2010). How did you first get inspired to create the work?

PLC: For this work, the beginning is the discovery of the object called radiometer, which is a 19th Century invention by William Crookes (1832-1919) for scientific purpose, such as radio-magnetic. This object illustrates how you can use light energy to produce motion. It is also funny because he used it to illustrate his theories on physics, which were partially wrong ! It has nothing to do with art but I found the object’s aspect closely related to the aesthetics of Marcel Duchamp, something in between Air de Paris (1919) and La Broyeuse de chocolat (1914). And most importantly, I think the primitive idea of light projection and motion on which a radiometer is based is directly related to the animation of cinema. So, I wanted to do something with this object. I expanded it using cinema’s optical sound technique which was invented to reproduce sound and music synchronously with images. Then the idea came to build a highly paradoxical machine capable of producing powerful sound that could almost break the architecture but through a very silent and fragile movement. It’s a principle of amplification, something very small, invisible but having a very powerful, significant consequence. It’s like the “butterfly effect”.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Pulse (2010).

ST: And the piece in Musée d’art moderne, Mag-Net (2007), is reversing the whole system. It gathers all the noise from the whole space and nutshells it in a tiny black box for people to listen to at a specific spot. When you listen to it, it’s not noise but sort of melodic frequency. Are you trying to convert noise into music?

PLC: I am not interested in producing music. You know, John Cage said that you can listen to everything as music. You can find music everywhere because it’s the way you listen that produces music more than the sound itself. What he said somehow is true. I can listen to the sound of my installation during hours and it’s a pleasure for me, but I don’t have the feeling that I am listening to music and I don’t want people to perceive my installations as musical instruments neither. They can listen to it the way they want, I don’t really care. What I really look for is to produce a situation of attention. Actually, I build systems producing specific noise, sort of noise machines. I am looking for systems which reveal our surrounding in a different way. It is more about process than production. I am not a video artist or a sound recorder. I want to focus on the phenomena themselves, the question of vibration, perception, techniques, the relationship of sound with real the space and from an archeological approach to the medium itself, and archeology of sound machines.

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Mag-Net, 2007, Installation sonore, 150 m de fil de cuivre, subwoofer, haut-parleurs amplifiés. Sous-Station Lebon, Nice, 2007.

Archeology of Sound

ST: What do you mean by archeology of sound machine?

PLC: History of sound techniques is a great inspiring influence.For example, there is something really fascinating in sound technology – the gramophone, which was invented in the late 19th century. You know, actually you can fabricate a gramophone with a needle, some leaves and clays. These simple materials are technically enough to produce sound, to record sound in a lo-fi way. It’s very simple, very primitive. We can imagine that sound machine could have been invented thousands of years ago but it’s not the fact. Because human beings didn’t understand how sound works. It’s actually much easier to record sound than to record image because no chemicals are needed. But, paradoxically, men found ways to record pictures before sound: photography was invented before gramophone.

ST: Sound is too abstract. We have this long tradition of representation, of painting and sculpture, photography comes pretty naturally. For music, you have to experience it at the first person, and the traces are the music score that left. Then, you lost the fantasy of recording it.

PLC: But a score is a recording as it allows reproduction of music. You’re right, sculpture, painting and photography are created for the purpose of representing the world. Music is different because it directly produces sensations. But the world of sound is complicated… On the other hand, communication is firstly oral; the invention of writing came lately…

ST: Music is sensual, it’s phenomenal. Do we really need to record the sound? If so, what for? Even today, when we have all the technology to have perfect sound recording, we don’t use it the way we use cameras, for example.

PLC: It’s very difficult to compare the sound and the visual. But I think we always needed to record the sound, just that we didn’t find the way. For example, listening the voice of somebody dead is much more impressive and effective than looking at his/her portrait. Today our communication system is based on visual, because it’s faster. Sound needs time… and time is money. But on a living level, men always tried to reproduce the sounds, just like primitive hunters tried to imitate animal sounds.

ST: But why we’ve invented all kinds of musical instruments and never thought of inventing a machine to capture the music?

PLC: Yeah, it’s very strange… But I guess it’s simply because human beings couldn’t even consider it was possible before the scientific discovery of acoustic basics. When you speak about sound, it’s always related to a code. It can be about language, which is a highly specific organization of sound, and it is the same with music and sound signals. The rest is noise, all the sound you don’t want to hear, that you ignored… the ones out of a coded system and that’s what I am working on. I think there is a whole world of impressions, sensations and poetry in noise because there is a lack of figure, a lack of shape and a lack of code.

ST: And it’s also the most natural thing, it’s not mediated, not manipulated, and it’s everywhere.

PLC: Yes, it’s just open. It has no meaning, no purpose: just vibration and its perception. And I try to place my work in between; somehow it is just about finding different ways of mediating sound.

ST: Thank you.

Pierre-Laurent Cassière

©Pierre-Laurent Cassiere, Autoportrait au Schizophone 2006. Tirage lambda N&B plexicollé sur aluminium, 55 x 73 cm, edition of 5. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Frederic Giroux.

After studies in the Villa Arson national art school, Nice, France, and time spent in the Icelandic Academy of the Arts’ sound studio, Reykjavik, Pierre-Laurent Cassière graduated in 2005 obtaining a Master in fine Arts. Guest student in the Cologne Media Art School (KHM) the next year he graduated from a Master 2 in contemporary art theory between Liege and Brussels Universities. Then his research was based on the social potential of sound art practices.

Since 2006, his work had been exhibited in several art institutions such as SMAK, Gent, Belgium, TENT, Rotterdam, the Nederlands, Thurn & Taxis Palace, Bregenz, Austria, Palais de Tokyo and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France, Paco das Artes, São Paulo, Brazil, or the Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany. He also took part to different film or media art festivals such as WRO Biennal, Wroclaw, Poland, the Darklight Film Festival, Dublin, Ireland, the IFFR Roterdam, the Netherlands, or more recently to the Microwave festival, Hong Kong, China. He is represented by Frédéric Giroux Gallery, Paris.

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