Locus Sonus is a France-based research network that mainly focuses on the relationship between sound and space. The Centre’s first inception and early projects date back to 2005, and during this ten-year activity Locus Sonus has collaborated with several international research labs, such as the sociology lab CNRS, LAMES in Aix en Provence, the CRESSON, the architecture lab CNRS in Grenoble, the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC) and other partners worldwide.
At the heart of Locus Sonus there is a strong interest in the multidisciplinary nature of audio art forms within the framework of networked/multiuser sonic spaces. Peter Sinclair – together with Jérôme Joy, is Locus Sonus research director. Peter is a digital media and sound artist, professor and supervisor of the sound department at the École Supérieure d’Art in Aix en Provence, and member of the French Ministry of Culture’s scientific council for research studies at the Fine Arts Department.
Elena Biserna is an Italian researcher (she is also part of the Digicult team of authors http://www.digicult.it/authors/elena-biserna/) whose interests primarily focus on the interdisciplinary areas of aesthetic research, concentrating particular attention on expanded sounds and contextual, urban, ephemeral and participatory practices. Elena has recently joined the Locus Sonus lab team and has been working on the construction of a chronology and a catalogue of artistic projects using mobile media (Walkman, MP3 players, portable radios, sensor based computing, mobile phones, applications, locative media and GPS) from the 1980s to now.
In addition, Elena has recently taken part to the broadcasting event Radiofonica http://radiofonica.org/ (Milan, 6 – 9 November), a three-day happening organised by O’ and curated by Alessandro Bosetti and Anna Raimondo in collaboration with Goethe-Institut Mailand. For those interested in this event please visit this link to the article by Marco Mancuso and an interview with the curators http://www.digicult.it/news/italiano-radiofonica-la-radio-arte-milano-per-3-giorni-di-incontri-e-ascolto/
What follows is the outcome of an exchange of ideas with both Peter and Elena, which opens up new insights on the marvellous world of audio streaming, mobile sound practices and human networks.
Donata Marletta – Can you tell us about the genesis and major projects of Locus Sonus?
Peter Sinclair – Locus Sonus was founded in 2005 in response to the French Ministry for Culture’s call for research projects coming out of art Schools. For Jérôme Joy, then based at the Art School in Nice (Villa Arson) and myself (École Supérieure d’Art d’Aix-en-Provence), both of us running the sound studios in our respective establishments, this provided an opportunity to create an experimental context within which it was possible to investigate the nascent domain of sound art from an angle other than that implied by the visual art orientated curriculum. Jean Paul Ponthot, director of ESAAix, was very supportive of this initiative and so, from the outset, it was conceived of as a research unit or lab accommodating post-masters level researchers and artists.
The labs’ main axis is sound in its relation to space. Within this context we are particularly concerned with the way in which technologies of audio transmission, diffusion and generation can modify this relationship and the artistic potential to be found therein. We have found it useful to define two poles to this axis. The first is auditoriums (understood by Locus Sonus as ways in which audiences collectively share a listening experience, for example streaming, file-sharing etc.). The second, which we have been working on intensely since last year is audio mobility,whichconsidersan auditor’s displacements as a factor that can generate or modify his/her audio experience.
Donata Marletta – What kind of methodologies and technologies does the Centre apply as operating principles?
Peter Sinclair – Locus Sonus puts artistic practice and experimentation at the center of its research. This is accompanied and nourished by multidisciplinary theoretical research involving philosophers, sociologists and art theoreticians as well as researchers from the domains of acoustics, perceptual psychology and digital audio. Locus Sonus regularly organizes symposiums which have the particularity of being both very specific, since the thematic of each issue is defined by the needs of the lab’s evolving practical experimentation, and multidisciplinary, since we invite researchers from different domains and artists with different practices to provide their insight into the given thematic.
Donata Marletta – Generally speaking, what’s the main focus of the exhibitions curated by the Centre? Can you give us a few examples of the most significant exhibitions shown by Locus Sonus?
Peter Sinclair – The most significant works presented to date have focused on the use of networked audio and, more specifically, the Locus Sonus Stream Project, which is a network of open microphones that stream the captured audio environment live from widespread locations around the world to our server. We provide the technology and support for this project and the microphones are maintained by a network of sound artists and musicians (or simply people who are interested in the project) that we call “streamers”. There is permanent public access to the Locustream microphones via the Locustream map, an online Google map where the user can click on any microphone’s location and listen to the captured “soundscape” in real-time.
The audio streams have been used for a variety of artistic projects, some of which, such as Locustream Promenade, are developed within the lab. Locustream Promenade is a sound art installation composed of sonic beams (parabolic dishes equipped with sound speakers and small computers). The parabolas are suspended in the venue in such a way that a visitor only hears the sound from the beam when he or she is directly underneath it. Each beam plays a different stream from the Locustream Project. The live-streamed sounds are soundscapes coming from remote locations through the Internet. The space where the parabolas are hung is virtually connected to geo-distant spaces. By moving from one beam to another the audience walks through audio windows opening out onto a worldwide soundscape. Invited to take part in this experience the listener becomes conscious of his or her immediate surroundings in a new way, perception of the local audio environment is modified.
Other projects are produced by associated artists. A recent example is Grant Smith’s Reveil, a live 24-hour radio broadcast of the sounds of daybreak, relayed by a network of audio streamers around the world. The first soundCamp/REVEIL took place on the weekend of 3-4 May 2014 at Stave Hill Ecological Park in Rotherhithe. (http://self-noise.net/soundcamp/)
Another important project, but which has had less public exposure, is the creation of an online, multi-user, virtual world or game environment called New Atlantis (after the 17th century novel by utopian philosopher Francis Bacon). The world which is being developed in partnership with SAIC (School of the Arts Institute Chicago) and ENSCI (École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle) places sound as its main focus – objects are audio (before being visual), virtual architecture resonates and interaction is audified. It is a place to create virtual sound walks, to organize online performances and importantly, for media students to experiment with possible relationships between 3D animation and sound. There are also numerous public presentations of projects developed by individual members of the lab.
Donata Marletta – As a research centre, what research fields and what kind of artists interests you the most?
Peter Sinclair – I think I responded to the first part of the question already. Concerning the kind of artists we are interested in – there is no specific profile; in fact we tend to look for a variety of approaches when we recruit resident artists or researchers. On the other hand, we tend to choose artist/researchers whose project specifically relates to the current state of our research and with whom, we feel, we will move that research forward.
Donata Marletta – What kind of educational and professional background has brought you to work with Locus Sonus?
Elena Biserna – From a certain point of view, my route has not been linear. I studied Humanities and then Contemporary Art History at the University of Bologna, but my interests soon turned to sound and listening. My MA thesis sought to create a dialogue between architectural, artistic and musical practice and theory, in order to explore the relationship between sound and space in contemporary art and architecture. I was seeking to map this wide and hybrid field by elaborating some “constellations,” or recurring research themes.
I would say that this first “incursion” into the universe of sound paved the way for my subsequent research. I immediately started a PhD in Audiovisual Studies at the University of Udine focusing, more specifically, on walking in urban space and on sound and audio-walks. Although I completed it in 2012, I have never really abandoned this theme and, after an “escapade” to London and a teaching experience at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, I felt the need to return to studying and writing, and to start over from where I had left off.
Thus I started to reflect on listening as a mobile epistemological strategy and to articulate my current research project that explores the relationships between walking, listening and producing sounds in urban space by following a post disciplinary approach, drawing on various fields of inquiry. When Locus Sonus launched a call for a research residency on the topic of “Audio Mobility” of course I applied… And one year later I’m still here!
Donata Marletta – What’s your role within the Locus Sonus group?
Elena Biserna – I arrived in Aix-en-Provence last January for a 3-month long residency with three artists: Marie Muller, Laurent Di Biase and Fabrice Metais. During the residency, we worked on our personal projects but also on the organization of the Audio Mobility Symposium, the latest of a longer series of international meetings that Locus Sonus has been organizing since 2005 (http://locusonus.org/w/?page=Symposium8).
Now I am post-doc researcher here and I continue to collaborate on Locus Sonus’ scientific and curatorial activities around this axis of research. We are currently working in two directions that are strictly complementary. Firstly, we are editing a publication starting from the talks and projects presented at the Symposium last April. Secondly, we are planning a new, less academic, event focused on the production and presentation of artistic projects, that will take place next October in the context of e-topie, a new international biennale in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence (we have recently launched a call for projects, open until December 7: http://locusonus.org/w/index.php?page=MAF2015).
Of course, I am extremely interested in both aspects, because they allow me to continue my research and, at the same time, to “practice it”. Although I have an academic background, my research has always been nourished by a very close dialogue with artists, through often long term collaborations and exchanges. In turn, most of my projects are fed by research or are the result of theoretical or historiographical reflections. So I totally share Locus Sonus’ predilection for cross-pollination between theoretical and practical approaches.
Donata Marletta – According to your experience what’s the function of Radio/Audio Art in the age of the digital revolution?
Elena Biserna – I could spend the rest of my days attempting to answer to this question (and I would certainly fail!) because the issue of the function of art is a very tricky one and, then, I tend to think of art starting from the practices, themes, concepts and processes that it activates, rather than from the point of view of the media it uses (or, to put it another way, I prefer to consider media in terms of dispositifs). In general, I like to reflect on listening in its relationships with cultural practices, the everyday and specific contexts and situations.
So, turning your question around, I’d like to use three different quotes on listening, which, in my opinion, tell us a lot about its potential.
First of all, listening is an opening to “the other”. It “is a permanent attitude on the part of the subject who is listening, of being open to the word of the other, to the gesture of the other, to the differences of the other,” as the pedagogue Paulo Freire wrote. Then, listening creates permeability, it puts the subject in vibration with his/her context and other subjects: for Steven Connor, “The self defined in terms of hearing rather than sight is a self imagined not as a point, but as a membrane; not as a picture, but as a channel through which voices, noises and musics travel.” Jean-Luc Nancy suggests that listening puts us in resonance with each other and with the rest of the world: “The subject of listening or the subject who is listening […] is not a phenomenological subject. This means that he is not a philosophical subject, and, finally, he is perhaps no subject at all, except as the place of resonance, of its infinite tension and rebound, the amplitude of sonorous deployment and the slightness of its simultaneous redeployment.”
Openness to the other, permeability, relationality and resonance are only some of the conditions that listening creates, but their potential already seems so huge to me…
Donata Marletta – Can you give us an overview of the event Radiofonica that took place at Spazio O’ in Milan last November? What was your contribution?
Elena Biserna – For me Radiofonica it was a unique opportunity to exchange with an all-Italian panorama of research concerning radio space. From artists whose practice actually focusses on radio such as Anna, Alessandro, Stefano Perna and Stefano Giannotti, to artists who have worked more episodically with radio (or who consider radio as one means among many) such as Davide Tidoni, Attila Faravelli, Zimmerfrei, Riccardo Fazi and Laura Malacart.
Moreover, there were presentations by radio producers, curators, theorists: Tiziano Bonini‘s investigations on media, experiences such as AudioDoc or Ad Alta Voce on Radio Rai 3, Radio Papesse’s productions in the field of radio and contemporary arts, Rodolfo Sacchettini’s curatorial projects between radio and performing arts, Lucia Farinati and Leandro Pisano‘ theoretical reflections, Pinotto Fava‘s account on his legendary program Audiobox… Overall, It was a radio marathon, a convivial meeting, a way to meet each other again (or for the first time) and to reflect together around a table. Moreover, Radiofonica also included some international contributions, such as the listening sessions curated by Marcus Gammel and Irene Revell‘s research-based projects on Her Noise Archive and on the Danish radio composer Else Marie Pade.
Coming back to me, I presented bip bop, a monthly radio program conceived of as an exhibition space that I curated with Rita Correddu and Alice Militello from January to June 2013 on Radio Città Fujiko 103.1 Mhz in Fm | Bologna (http://bipbop.org/). It was a short experience, but nevertheless it generated a whole series of reflections on the spatiality and temporality of the radio transmission, on radio as a display apparatus, on the ability of radio to be present in the here and now and to actively intervene in a situation and condition it. What struck me most during bip bop was precisely this porosity, this mutual relationship between the radio space and the outside (at a basic level, the simple fact that radio allows you to enter into peoples’ homes and cars, to reach the listener).
So my talk at Radiofonica was a reflection on these aspects and introduced some historical examples such as Close Radio (a series of experimental radio shows curated by John Duncan and Paul McCarthy from 1976 to 1979 on KPFK radio in Los Angeles) and some artistic projects amplifying the interferences between the radio studio and the outside, such as Max Neuhaus‘ Public Supply (1966), Willelm de Ridder’s De Grote Oto Derby (1978) or the works by the German collective Ligna.