It is a frigid February afternoon. Yet here I am, nestled in the warmth of my snowsuit, scarf and “tuque”, paralyzed nevertheless by the cold as the temperature hovers around -20C. Such biting chill and immobility are familiar to me; both bring a stillness in which I find great refuge. I am not here for the car races; what captivates my attention is the sound. Every year, in Quebec City during the winter Carnaval, an annual car race is held on the icy, snowy sinuous roads of the Plains of Abraham. Winter willingly provides both a landscape and sketchpad of packed snow roads, over which the cars speed and skid. The result: a deep, buried, rhythmic sound. I still love the crackling of winter tires rolling over packed snow.
Across the Plains of Abraham is a swimming club to which I belong. I am enrolled in regular as well as synchronized swimming classes. The pool does not have built-in speakers (1970). Our teacher plays vinyls on an old turntable, tapping the time on the pool ladder with a metal hanger. There, I encountered another form of sound transformation. While running through the various synchronized swimming routines, I would often end up vertically upside down underwater as the music filled the echoed space above me. A new version of Maurice Béjart’s Messe pour un temps nouveau would play out, no longer set in time; it was stretched, it was floating, I loved it!
These two moments, imprinted in my being, were instrumental in shaping the way I relate to sound. They helped me to understand how sound is transformed by its environment. A discovery of new listening approaches. This adventure began at the age of 12.
These unexpected encounters initiated my lengthy search (20 years) for a form of music that could enable me to best express myself. The quest led me to explore the classical, blues, reggae, and other musical genres. Classical gave me the love of dynamics; blues, a more intuitive sense of dynamics, and reggae, the appreciation of complicated rhythm. It was while playing blues that I learned to program sounds on keyboards and rack mounts. But what blues really gave me was a first-hand experience of how sound behaves in a given room or space — from individual instruments to a full band as well as the balance between all these elements. Touring and playing in different venues every weekend was my “school of sound”. This experience translated into being able to trouble shoot any technical problem very quickly, but, most importantly, it taught me to know instinctively what a room would sound like, what would or would not work. Later, I incorporated this knowledge in my work by treating the room as an instrument, whether for a concert or an installation.
Still unsatisfied, still looking for the right “language” with which to communicate, I discovered electronic music. As I experimented, one thing became obvious to me: it flowed, it was effortless, I had finally found the language. Now, I had to become proficient. It became my new obsession. Taking what I had learned from programming sounds and applying it to my creative approach was my new focus, one that would later become a signature of sorts. Going from noise to drone, ambient to techno and experimental, I became bored. It had become too easy, and I was not achieving what I had set out to do. I realized I was looking at this all-wrong. My approach was influenced by the years spent with traditional music. My instrument, the keyboard, required that I read the following bar while playing the present one. This technique creates a state of knowing exactly what will come next with certain predictability, and I felt this was wrong for me.
The other elements I questioned were the staff and its musical notations. I came to the conclusion that I had learned to read music a certain way. I thought, “what if it’s not the notes that create music, but the spaces between the notes, all those empty spaces?” I applied this idea to my approach to programming sounds, and it led me to minimal sound art, which, in turn, led to a new-found interest in science, quantum physics, the elegant universe, and the tiny world of particle science.
“Often, my compositions start with a feeling or emotional state. There is a likelihood of finding a certain emotion in a piece, but neither is it guaranteed, nor do I know exactly when or where I will find it. The act of looking for that emotion in of itself will distort the process. Although one might think experimental music allows the artist complete freedom when composing, I feel constrained both by my mental state and the way I build the piece.
“I find an unlikely parallel in quantum theory and composing. The electron that can exist on a different orbital plane can never have its velocity measured or even its exact location known, due to the intimate connection between the particles and waves in the wacky world of subatomic dimensions.” Excerpt from the text on the album Valence LINE_054, February 2012
The focus of my work is replicating as accurately as I can what I hear in my head — an enormous undertaking I thoroughly enjoy that constantly challenges me. As I grew closer to reaching this goal, one problematic issue emerged: the context in which I was presenting my work, be it a live show or an installation. Logically, this new irritant became an ongoing preoccupation, parallel with my work. Concentrating on the context of presentation made it more difficult for me to disseminate my work the way I wanted it be presented in live venues. I also found it difficult to hear artists’ compositions, whose work I love, in contexts that did not do justice to their work.
The Listening Experience, The Context
I imagined a space where a recumbent position would afford greater physical comfort to the audience, freeing them of physical constraints enabling them to open themselves to listening wholly during a sound art event that could be intellectually demanding. The premise can be expressed thus: if people are physically uncomfortable, they are not in a state “to receive” challenging, minimal sound art; if the audiences are comfortable, they will be more receptive. I created immerson.
Although the principle seems limpid and almost self-evident, articulating this awareness was not. immerson emerged only after lengthy reflection on the listening process of audio art disseminated in public presentation venues. Thus immerson: a dedicated listening environment, focusing on the physical comfort of the audience in a specifically designed space. The premise for immerson is to seek out/explore new perceptions and experiences during the listening process by pushing the concept of “immersion” to its possible limits in order to maximize the experience for the public.
“Between notes and sounds lie rests and silence. I have come to regard these as the most fragile parts of music.” From the sound installation, Entre-Deux, part of the new media exhibit Data/Fields, curated by Richard Chartier in the Washington, DC area, along with Ryoji Ikeda, Mark Fell, Caleb Coppock, and Andy Graydon.
Written in 2013 by France Jobin, sound artist founder of immersound, a concert event/philosophy which proposes to create a dedicated listening environment by focusing on the physical comfort of the audience through a specifically designed space. The premise for immersound is to seek out/explore new perceptions and experiences of the listening process by pushing the notion of “immersion” to its possible limits.