music: interview: Alexandre Decoupigny

Alexandre Decoupigny is one of the artists taking part in Bleepfest Berlin 3 at the Theatre Kapelle on the 11th and 12th April 2009. He has done a number of interesting installations and gave a talk at the recent Transmediale. Here he talks with us.

How did you get started with making music?

That must be in my mothers belly hearing the heartbeat... Consciously the first time i thought of actively making music was when i was around 7 years old.. it was about this girl who played the violin, who i fancied.. I wanted to learn to play the violin as well so i could be in her group lessons. you know, just to be close to her and impress her with my skills.. I guess its how I started...sad but true.. haha ! also the grand piano above my grannies bar and my first recordable tape player played a vital role in getting me started. Somehow youre always starting..

Were you inspired by anyone in particular during this process?

In that case it was this girl who i fancied i suppose..

Do you think the cultural environment of France influenced your direction? Or do you think the internationalism of the Web played a bigger part?

Really, I grew up in germany. The only cultural french environment that influenced me was getting plastered with my french mates in a very, very small place in the vosges as a teenager or in later years dancing passionate dances in an off-beat nightclub in paris, haha ! .....

On your webpages you ask the question 'If there is a connection between the domination of the visual images within a culture and its need to command and conquer, can aural culture form a counterweight ?'. Peace and Love from the aural side?

Haha.. that sounds funny.. I never looked at it from that angle..sounds like a radio-feature or an audio-play or a radio-documentary: "Peace and Love from the aural side.. .. TONIGHT at 8pm on BBC Radio 7 !"

Or less glibly, do you really think the visual dominates, or is there a possibility that the wholeness of the thing - visual + aural, is appreciated viscerally? That is that we might say one thing about our experience but what we say might often not be true because we haven't read our emotions carefully or skillfully enough.

Well, roughly spoken, in art and design it is stated academically, that 80 % of our perception is visual and 20 % is aural. If that is the given state of perception, a domination of visual images is inherent to this, no ? When Television was invented Radio lost huge amounts of their listeners to the TV-Programm.. When you mention that the visual and aural are viscerally appreciated, this appreciation is also based 80 % on visual and 20 % on aural perception according to academic research.. Consequently if i am curious about a counterweight, i have to read my emotions and sensations ultra-carefully and gradually shift my focus away from the status quo. Like many others, I am working on myself and with others on shifting this state of perception to a 50-50 relation and yes, since i started doing this, i became a much happier, fuller and, dont laugh now, also a more peaceful human being.. Im not interest in answering the question anyways... I am curious about it and so I ask and I do and I interrupt to get an idea. Not an answer. Answers are for politicians, not for artists.. hahaha! I could go on about this, but i stop here..

... continues below ...

I'm not sure I buy this. For sighted people going about their lives in normal circumstances it might be even higher for the visual - but focus shifts! Anyone doing field recordings notices how background sounds come into the foreground while they're doing this. The trick then is to get listeners to shift focus... or have a greater appreciation of the totality.

you already bought it, even though im not actually selling it .. because what you say is exactly what i am talking about: shifting focus. all my installations were about shifting the focus of the listener to listening itself and therefore gain a greater appreciation for listening as such...and possibly with it, gain a greater appreciation of the totality.  this altered sense of reality also offers a fresh and different approach to what you see in return.

so lets go back to the domination of the visual image, the need to command and conquer and its counterweight, since this was the starting point of this little exchange. yesterday i saw a documentary about nazi-germany and it made me realize that this highly aggressive and destructive political system is so closely associated with a strong visual image: the swastika. the whole nazi system was based on a highly symbolic visual language. this can also be said for many of today's corporate companies. doesnt that at least hint at that there is a connection between the dominating use of visual images in a culture and its need to command and conquer ? looking for me always goes outward. you send looks, you consume with your eyes. hearing to me has a more subtle quality.. it goes inward, you take a song/sound in.. you can close your eyes, but you hear even when youre sleeping.

i know it never is this simple but why not ? anyways, i am reading this great book right now. its called hearing cultures. its a collection of essays and one of them is a good example for what i mean. it shows how the work of an anthropologist changes , if he/she takes a different approach to his or her subject: instead of just looking at a culture, try hearing it... this approach totally changes the questions that arise in dealing with culture and therefore it naturally also leads to completely new insights about culture.

albert einstein once said that if you got yourself in trouble you have to change your set of thoughts, since it was this old set of thoughts that got you there in the first place. well, there certainly is a lot of trouble these days... i am curious that if we approached issues, subjects, problems etc. of today from a kind of "sound perspective" (for example, what if we listen to it ? what do we hear ? what does it sound like ? what would it sound like ? how can we hear this ?...) maybe it changes our perspective. i then go on and wonder, can this change be an alternative to an aggresive culture of command, consume and conquer... ?

You've done a number of installations. How do you approach designing the sound for such projects?

I approach it with much patience, I guess.. Really, i cannot say this in general.. It totally depends on the project. For example in forest 2, which essentially is the project of media artist chris ziegler, the framework was already given. It was partly dictated by technology since the installation works with a sophisticated video tracking system. It was also dicated by the story of the piece itself..a forest and a organism that dwells within this forest.. The challenge was to combine both frameworks.. Luckily it was not hard to be inspired for the piece: i took a break in Norway during the project (my girlfriend is from there). So I had a lot of research done by simply going into the forest and listen.. The other part was also done fairly painless: Since I had to divide space sonically, I needed the sound to be very well locateable. I decided to use the human voice as raw material because of this. I learned this from a group exhibition I did in Liverpool in 2006 with Imogen Stidworthy, amongst other great artists.. We were given a 10.2 Surround System to work with Sound horizontally and vertically. Imogens Piece was highly directional, because she had used human voices.. Very often i try to imagine what do i want to hear and what do i want to say.. The technological framework and the basic idea of the work come into play and i let them interact and grow together... In many cases i go on and record a lot of material and then select what seems appropriate to me and I work until the piece says what i wanted it to say. And then nobody else gets it like i do and that is very good, because how boring would that be..

What tools do you use?

My main tools are my ears.... then i guess it is my imagination, my sense of humour, my great taste ..haha.. Physically I use a lot of digital tools: Laptop with different kinds of software, two small digital audio recorders, a variety of midi controllers.. Also a microphone and a fantastic western guitar play a huge role in my musical life these days..

How do you judge the success of the thing - mostly intuitively?

There is different indicators for this.. When we showed forest 2 in eindhoven holland, there was a baby visting the installation on his/her parents arms. When he/she left the installation he/she had picked up one of the sounds in the installation and kept repeating it. I knew i had done something right then..

At Bleepfest Berlin 3 you'll be doing pure music and there are some nice examples on your website which are easily approachable. Is the intellectual framework important here do you think?

I don't decide this. That is up to each listener.. If you want to want/need/like an intellectual framework, there is one. I can give it to you or you can find out about it on the web or by talking to me.However, i dont think it is essential to this piece of work.

What plans do you have for things coming up beyond Bleepfest?

Hmm. I want to play, play, play a lot... I am writing completely different music these days. Its some kind of urban country folk songs..It will be a live-show for now but i dont know when it its going to be ready... last year i met this totally awesome musician from canada. We learned a lot from each other. We even changed guitars: he took my electric guitar and i took his western guitar. He is coming over soon and i am totally excited about it, since we will be making music together again.. We will also be performing at a mini festival at antje öklesung on the 28th of April, not as a duo though.. well..maybe on one or two pieces..

Im also working on a residency for the apartment project at the soundroom in istanbul for late autumn this year. Here in Berlin i work a lot with young people and sound and music. For example at the Jugendkulturzentrum Pumpe in Mitte or the FEZ. You can actually book me for workshops too.. Im quite good at this.. More and more I work on working with a lot of different people so the work comes to live through their input.. Like i did this project in Weimar, where i produced some kind of documentary feature like CD about a neighbourhood, that is rather excluded from the high-cultural ongoings of the monocultural capital of german classicism. I did it with a group of young people as part of the practical project in their last year at school and also with people from an old-people's home. It was ace, man ! Kristin Lucas called it "Sound & Social Practice.." I want to develop this idea more in the future and bring it together with maybe, say my installation work.. and myths and legends.. im totally getting into these these days..

thanks for listening, see you !


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