The beautiful thing about performance life in the post-digital age is that it opens up what musical practice itself can be. It means an AV artist might draw as much on the tradition of painting or sculpture as on music. It might blur the boundaries in such a way that it’s hard to say which medium you’re looking at at all.
SONAR and MUTEK as festivals have grown in their brand to present AV work, but to me they’re at their best in those particular magical moments when you feel as if the performer has invented their own medium. By necessity, not all of us can reach that level all the time, but when it happens, you notice.
Myriam Bleau’s work for me is absolutely on that level. The Montreal-based artist is a regular on the digital art-y music circuit – I ran across her exquisite “Soft Revolvers” performance at both SONAR in June and MUTEK Mexico last month. But there’s a reason for that: her musical expression is as much about the objects as it is the sound. This isn’t just a way to externalize the noises she’s making or give people something to look at. To me, it’s fundamentally about those things she’s using, about their materiality.
It’s telling, actually, that Myriam makes her bio hard to find. Her work is really what you’re getting. (Her agent, too, is a gallerist.)
“Soft Revolvers,” now a couple of years old, abstracts the essence of a turntable and turntablism. But in these glowing, spinning discs, you get something that feels alien – turntablism that fell backwards from a couple of centuries in the future, perhaps.
The sounds have rough, digital edges. They’re as raw as the discs themselves are fragile, making its seem as if they’re playing the sound files themselves directly rather than being an interface. It’s playful, it’s kinetic. It even recalls those pull-string speak-the-alphabet toys of my youth, which is to say it seems direct and fun.
Soft Revolvers is a music performance for 4 spinning tops built with clear acrylic by the artist. Each spinning top, 10’ in diameter, is associated with an ‘instrument’ or part in an electronic music composition. The tops are equipped with gyroscopes and accelerometers that communicate wirelessly with a computer where the motion data collected (speed, unsteadiness at the end of a spin, acceleration spikes in case of collisions) informs musical algorithms designed in Pure Data. LEDs placed inside the tops illuminate the body of the objects in a precise counterpoint to the music. The positioning of the lights creates visually stunning halos around the tops, enhanced by POV effects (persistence of vision). A camera placed above the performance table provides video feed that will be subtly manipulated and projected back on the screen behind the artist, making the projections an integral part of the performance.
With their large circular spinning bodies and their role as music playing devices, the spinning top interfaces strongly evoke turntables and hip hop culture. Some of the mappings between gestures and sound have been borrowed directly from the bimodal behavior of turntables: at slow speed, the sounds produced can remind of scratch solos, with the characteristic unstable pitch variations. At full speed, the spinning tops act like normal turntables playing vinyls, in this case, playing pre-composed material
And of course it’s made in Pd. Anyone else in love with some of Pure Data’s more idiosyncratic sound quality? (I love that it can sound rough / bad – in some nice way.)
It’s worth watching the full-length here:
Soft Revolvers (long) from Myriam Bleau on Vimeo.
Then there’s her latest work, which takes that materiality to a new level. It’s maybe less of a crowd pleaser than “Soft Revolvers,” but to me it’s more arresting.
In her “autopsy.glass,” developed as well in a residency at Spain’s LABoral, she physically deconstructs a glass. Her fascination with monochromatic light-up clear objects continues, and the fragility of them becomes integral to the work. Blinking lights and single-sample cut-ups seem to be some kind of calling card for AV artists, but — see also this take on the concept:
autopsy.glass :: 1 from Myriam Bleau on Vimeo.
It’s sublime: the singing, ethereal quality of glass, but also its destruction. The entropy of breaking the thing then gets transmuted into something equally beautiful.
autopsy.glass is an audiovisual performance that explores the sonic, visual and symbolic potential of the wine glass. Through live manipulations, sometimes delicate, sometimes violent, the performer composes a musical and luminous scene made out of resonances and debris, catalyzing that peculiar tension associated with anticipated destruction.
I’d really love to see the glass series next live – so, festivals, get booking.
And thanks to MUTEK and MUTEK Mexico as well as SONAR for shining their light on these works.