Foundation for Emerging Technologies and Arts

Interview with

Patrick Saint-Dennis and Jean Piché

winners of the 2017 FETA Prize in Sound Art 

In anticipation of the encroaching deadline for the 2018 FETA Prize in Sound Art (apply here before November 15) we are showcasing last year’s recipients Patrick Saint-Dennis and Jean Piché and their works and thoughts on Sound Art in an interview with Catalina von Wrangell.

Who are Patrick Saint-Denis and Jean Piché?

Patrick Saint-Denis is a composer working mainly in sound art and interactive scenography. His works range from video installation to large scale robotized machinery. He performs regularly in Montreal and abroad either in concert, exhibition or dance format. He his course lecturer of audiovisual composition and physical computing at University of Montreal since 2010.

Jean Piché is a composer, visual artist, software designer and professor from Montréal. His current practice meshes moving images and music in a hybrid form often dubbed video music. Beginning in the early 1970s, he was one of the first Canadians to explore emerging digital audio technologies. He has produced works in every genre of electroacoustics, from mixed-instrumental and acousmatic to live-electronics and sound installations. His work aims for poetic expression beyond any avowed formalism and has been described as confounding, colourful and virtuosic.

A discussion with Patrick Saint-Dennis and Jean Piche:

Catalina von Wrangell: Who is your ideal listener/viewer?

Patrick Saint-Dennis:

Honestly, I don’t have one. Anyone with a heart who is able to listen and hear.

Jean Piche:

I think my ideal listener would be myself. This appears self referential, but I say this from a humble position. I cannot presume what others will understand or not understand in what I am proposing to them. That being said and within those limits, I hope I can take an audience along with me and have them smile, be puzzled, surprised, pleased, frightened, illuminated, angered or appeased. It requires an availability of spirit and an acceptance that art can expand in unforeseen directions. Basically, my favorite audience will want to be moved. I will find my audience amongst all age groups and cultural backgrounds and I never take for granted what it will take away from my work. Expression without preaching or proselytizing is a delicate balance I strive for.

CVW: What is your performance/installation environment?

JP: In general, concert halls, cinemas, galleries, parks, streets, anything that is called for by the work itself.

PSD: For Vertex, the performance environment is mostly gallery even tough in the end it's a performance. Somehow there is usually too much pressure on “stage time” for this to happen in a standard performance setup. It takes over three days to install for a 40 minutes performance. Took us 3 years to make it happen. It is almost impossible to travel with due to size at our level of production. It’s a bit crazy.

CVW: What is the role of sound art in a culture that is primarily visually oriented?

PSD: hmmm.. I would say that we live in a world primarily oriented towards meaning. Since image is a better support for meaning than sound, it has a certain advantage. While for some this can be seen as problematic, I think it’s actually a rare opportunity. Listening enables us to escape language and develop a sensibility to the world that stands outside of the scope of reason. 

JP: There are a number of answers to this question, from the point of view of music and the point of view of the visual arts. Having trained as a musician, I have an ambivalent relation with the term "sound art". When the label is applied to a sonic work that is willfully "not music", I sometimes feel the relevance of the work is diminished and compromised, given that what we think of as "music" has evolved so much in the last decade that, in my view, it should now encompass all practices, including sound-based practices. Sound art, for me, is music by extended means. 

Music is organized time. In my view, the expressive power of music resides in dynamically pulling an audience along a timewire, using directionality and circuitous detours through surprises, tensions, and resolutions.  I came to visuals (mostly video) from music and with a musician's understanding of time. Therefore, I compose time with sounds and light.

Visual artists often turn to sound as an adjunct to their visual expression. In these cases, music/sound is often instrumentalized as a background to visual information. More often than not, unfortunately, it is to the disservice of the music.

CVW: How do you think about the time and space interaction in sound art?

JP: Sound and image inhabit two different perceptual realms. Hence, the spatiality of both is expressed differently. I am interested in space as a situational indicator of locale, i.e.: "where things happen" and "how things more there." This is more easily achieved with sound since it can technologically be projected independently of the physical performance space whereas physical objects and projected images are more difficult to deploy in a volume. The interaction of sound and image is important mainly in terms of believability. Are the sounds and the images behaving in a coherent fashion? As I was asking above, do they live in the same time space and is their relationship credible? 

CVW: What is the place of sound art in your own musical trajectory? Could you give an example of upcoming projects?

PSD: There's a short and a long answer here. The short one is that I don’t do sound art, what I do is basically music. The long answer depends on the definition of sound art one agrees with. On wikipedia, sound art is defined as basically any kind of art that deals with sound. Anything from gallery sound installation, audio multidisciplinary performance, electroacoustic, audio robotics and electronic music amongst others would fall under that category. Somehow I think this definition is too wide. For me, sound art is any art that involves sound and is also primarily driven towards conceptual reception. This is where I draw the line between music and sound art. Sound art is conceptual and music is about perception and of course I know that very few art comes in such binary formats... :-)

So, despite the various epithets I often surround my creative output with what I do is basically just music. For some reason, it ended up being quite a journey to figure this out! I came into music in the mid 1990’s, got into computer music and interactive AV in early 2000s, then quickly moved to physical computing and instrument design after. In a certain way, I’m a product of the computer music democratization process that has been happening over the web since the late 90s. That being said, I have found in sound art a place to develop my practice that I couldn’t find in music circles. Somehow the way production is happening in music is unfit for what I want to bring as an artist. This is why I have recently created fullSD Productions (fullSD.org), an independent artistic structure to enable me to go further in this direction, somewhere between concert, dance, robotic art and physical theatre.

JP: Music is sound is music is sound. My musical practice is rooted in musique concrete, where parametric values extend to include everything that happens outside fixed pitches. However, Pythagorean harmony still applies as a musical engine, so all this is music in the end. Up coming projects include revisiting an older work, which is an audio-visual object with projected abstract visuals onto a twisted screen suspended in a large volume. The audience can walk around the object. The music is projected over a large number of small loudspeaker organized in such a way that what is seen from a particular angle is congruent with what is heard at this same point.

Thank you Patrick and Jean for letting us check in with you. It was a pleasure. We hope to see you soon!

The FETA Team

 For additional information about Vertex, please visit: http://www.patricksaintdenis.com/past/vertex

Jean Piché and Patrick Saint-Denis: Vertex

Jean Piché and Patrick Saint-Denis: Vertex


Interview with Michael Boyd, the winner of 2016 FETA Prize in Sound Art.

The FETA Prize in Sound Art was established in 2013 to promote a broad range of contemporary American sound and Installation arts. Artists working within the sonic arts such as sound installation, sound sculpture, sound poetry, soundscape, robotics, net art and similar may submit one work each for consideration. The prize is open to any individual of any age who is a permanent resident or citizen of any North, Central and South American country. The prize will include $1,000 USD and showing at the Emerson-Dorsch Gallery in Miami, FL.

In anticipation of the encroaching deadline for the 2017 FETA Prize in Sound Art (extended November 20: APPLY here) we are showcasing last year’s recipient Michael Boyd, and his works and thoughts on Sound Art in an interview with Catalina von Wrangell.

Who is Michael Boyd?
Assistant Professor of Music at Chatham University, Michael Boyd, is a composer, scholar, and experimental improviser. His music embraces experimental practices such as installation, multimedia, and performance art, and has been performed in a variety of venues throughout the United States and abroad.  Boyd has published articles in Perspectives of New Music, Tempo, and Notes . An active cyclist, Boyd often bikes to work and periodically competes in mountain bike races (and has the scars to prove the latter…).

A discussion with Composer Michael Boyd

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking Mike, which gave us a chance to catch up and see how he is doing since being named the 2016 FETA Prize in Sound Art recipient. Here is a glimpse of our conversation:

Catalina von Wrangell: Can you describe your creative process?

Michael Boyd: My pieces tend to involve performers as well as usually using some type of graphic or text notation. My work can involve electronics, but does not always do so. Regarding graphic notation…I believe its use can immediately she many conventions of Western art music including the primacy of pitch and roughly one-to-one correspondence between score input and sonic out. In addition to enabling non-specialists and musicians with lesser technical facility to offer viable or “accurate” performances, graphic scores provide greater creative agency to performers essentially resulting in an equal partnership between composer and performer(s). This configuration also involves audience members in new way, often presenting an experience that is both engaging and challenging.

CVW: Who is your ideal viewer/listener?

MB: This is really a difficult question, but as discussed, my work is concerned with engaging audience members in new ways. I would have to say, my “ideal” viewer/listener must be open-minded, and should be interested in new experiences.

CVW: What is the role of sound art in a culture that is primarily visually oriented?

MB: I believe sound art can have the power to act as a refuge from the hyper media environment society is constantly exposed to. As a society, I think it is important to be critical about the manner in which we engage with technology, and as a musician who frequently works with technology this notion becomes more necessary, and brings about other ideas and questions concerning the definition of technology, as well as the human-machine interactions.

CVW: It has been almost a year since receiving the FETA Prize, how would you describe the impact it’s had on you, or your career?

MB: There are not as many opportunities to have this type of work featured, as there are other contemporary music genres, so I would say the biggest impact the FETA Prize had was in the additional exposure the piece received as a result of being selected. 

CVW: What projects are on your horizons? And how did they come to fruition?

MB: Some projects have come about based on external factors such as collaborations with colleagues or the community. Currently, I am working on a brass quintet for Anima Brass to be programmed in the near future. I am also hoping to resume soon to a work for mountain bike and contact microphone, on hold at the moment due to injury. I would like to continue exploring different types of participatory works including game inspired pieces.   

CVW: Any last thoughts? Advice? Fun fact?

MB: I always encourage students to be proactive in their communities and to step beyond the halls of academia. We can communicate through our art form, but we can also widen our exposure and our thoughts by sharing our thoughts through discourse with people in our community. Composers tend to be good communicators and have a facility to multitask, two skillsets a community would find invaluable. I myself am politically active and am currently serving my second term as Township Commissioner.

Thank you Michael for letting us check in with you, it was a pleasure. We hope to see you soon!

~ The FETA Team

Confessional, winning piece of the 2016 FETA Prize in Sound Art, is a user-driven installation that provides the opportunity for composers to briefly take pleasure in and then (symbolically) destroy one of their dubious creations.  This process is accomplished with a computer (running Max or Max Runtime) and a recording provided by the user that is processed live.  The audio processing unfolds in stages and mirrors the phases of animal decomposition: fresh, bloat, active decay, advanced decay, and dry remains.  Through this series of transformations, the user’s piece transitions from its original state to nearly imperceptible bits of noise.  Users may also log this activity into an official registration book, and they may create and take home a frameable certificate commemorating the destruction.  Any other way(s) that a user wishes to document the event are encouraged (“selfies,” social media announcements, etc.), and a Facebook page is provided to collect such documentation.  For score-based works, implements will be provided to facilitate the physical destruction of scores: paper shredder or scissors for indoor venues, a fire pit or barbecue grill for outdoor venues (if allowed).” ~MB




designed by PZRM 2016