Lauren: Anna, you describe yourself as a plural artist: visual artist, composer, singer and sound poet. Rather than embracing the totality of the issues and territories that you are interested in, I propose that we focus our discussion on the sensitive experiences you create from the vibratory phenomena produced by the voice.
During our last discussion in October, you referred to your own voice as a tool: the voice as a tool for driving sound. The use of this term caught my attention. I was reminded of the book On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects by philosopher Gilbert Simondon(1). He defines the tool as a technical object detached from the human, that can be manipulated thanks to the forces of the body. An object that arms a body, that increases its strength tenfold, for the purposes of accomplishing an action. The voice, a tool? And so I imagined you holding it in your hand, outside of yourself, your voice, or rather your breathing apparatus. I saw you holding it at a distance—able to observe it to better use it—but without knowing what it would increase tenfold. Can you tell us a little about this relationship you weave between your voice and technicality?
Anna: The voice is multiple and accessible, and within my reach. It is, as always, ready to be activated by the body: through its muscles, its cords, its cavities, its pumps... The voice that interests me in particular is the one that starts from the inside and that becomes autonomous once it passes the border of the mouth. Outside, it becomes a vibration like any other, a sound that travels through an environment, bumping up against the walls and sometimes modifying its texture or structure. Outside of the body, it is projected and able to explore. During rehearsals for collective performances, this is how I suggest that the performers start: not holding back the sound of the voice, but rather letting it out, offering it to the space.
If the voice is a tool then I can seize it and arm myself with it. I do use its technicality as a feature. The voice has the capacity to be "placed" and its sound qualities vary depending on the place where it is located—in the nose, at the top of the skull, in the rib cage or within the breath for example. It can be nasal, haughty, airy, saturated, settled... It is because it becomes plural that I can choose, just like a tool, the voice that suits me. The sound of each of these voices will have its own way of spreading within the space, allowing me to aim for different corners, to summon different tempos or dynamics and to call upon different images. For example, by holding the sound of their voice as close to their face as possible, in the sinuses, the performers of En une expiration create a sense of urgency. Hurried words and sounds rush out and saturate the space in a sudden and instantaneous way. Or again, in the collective performance Frigidaire, the voice, which here is a tool of sound reproduction, spreads slowly and diffusely around the performers. Each one of them has its own note, its own texture, its own timbre, its own placement. They try to imitate the sonic complexity and harmonic richness of the sound of my fridge as faithfully as possible, while seeking the stability of a continuous and collective sound. They are arranged in the space as speakers would be for a multi-broadcast, each voice diffusing a part of the sound. For me the voice is a tool of a great plasticity.
Lauren: Could we say that your voice is a tool that multiplies your presence or that of your performers with the intention of sculpting the sound space?
Anna: As a tool, it allows me to question and explore the space through sound impulses that are reflected, that come back to me like an echo. The voice in Variations pour souterrains asks "Hey oh?", addressing itself along with a possible presence. The voice listens to what the space sends back to it and thus tries to identify and reveal the contours of the underground cavities. This reminds me of something that I read recently in a text by Marianne Massin about the phenomenon of the echo, she describes the metamorphosis of the nymph: "Progressive transformation and the slow dissociation of the voice and the body […] The singularity of a subject is erased, the proper noun nymph becomes a common noun."(2) When my voice is a tool, it becomes detached, disassociated and perhaps even desingularized.
The voice then becomes a tool that I use to increase the presence of a body with the intention of interacting with the space and shaping it. The body is often static in my work. Only the face, led by the mouth, is active. It is the voice that moves and drives the movement. It sculpts the sound environment, sometimes moving with it by harmonizing (in Variations pour souterrains, the more the voice places itself in tune with the space, the further its vibrations travel through the conduits) sometimes by creating resistance to generate dissonance (in En une expiration, the saturated and hurried speech creates dynamic forms which pierce the silence and model the sound space).
Lauren: What’s more, you have chosen to let us hear, but also to see, these sound experiences through the medium of video. I'm thinking of Concerto pour un hall d’entrée (2015), Paysage sonore (2015) and Variations pour souterrains (2017). These proposals are all what you call "video-performances": videos that present you in a public or semi-public space performing a vocal action. They are based on a rather systemic operating mode: modest staging, static body presence, a fixed sequence shot, wide framing, a single point of view for the viewer. Can you tell me more about the status of these videos? How do you consider them? Are they traces of a performance, an action, a happening, or something else?
Anna: Video has several functions in my work. Its different statuses, which remain porous, are determined as I go along. Quite simply, it first has the status of documentation of performance when it allows me to keep a trace of an ephemeral moment. It is not a piece in itself and cannot be exhibited. For the collective performances, the video as a document also acts as a protocol because it helps me to transmit the finesse of the attitudes, the vocal qualities and the qualities of listening to the performers during the different events.
From this status of documentation, another one emerged: that of video-performance. In Concerto pour un hall d'entrée, in the beginning my only intention was to use the camera in order to keep the trace of an in situ performance. I wanted to perform for passers-by in the lobby of a shopping center chosen for its spatial properties. By singing over the muzak present in this place, I sought to engage in a struggle with the space in order to interrupt the flow of movements. I realized while performing that this space with its very blatant function, was winning the fight over and over. In reality, I was practically invisible. In spite of my efforts, the passers-by do not become spectators: the public does not see me in terms of an image, or hardly takes notice of my presence. I felt both immersed in an environment and removed from it. I then began to perform for an audience located behind the camera, in a sort of deferred live performance, using video as a medium to increase my performative capacities in the real world, hence the term video-performance.
Other relationships to video exist in my work. Even if it is also the capture of a moment in real time, the piece Feedback is in my opinion a video and not a video-performance. The space is not a character. The close-up framing, the work on sharpness linked to the depth of field, the double camera and the field/counter-field editing refer to a format that is more connected to cinema than to documentary. Quio quio (Le dialogue) is a video and sound installation. The qualification of its status, here linked to its display system, is also related to what it is attempting to explore. I think that only the idea of video-performance addresses the idea of series.
Lauren: Pursuing Simondon's thinking, if the tool amplifies the human body, the instrument amplifies perception. A technical object which allows one to extend the body to collect information on the world, to obtain a better perception of it. I would like to go back to the technical devices of recording that you deploy in your "video-performances". I am thinking in particular of Sonde (2020)(3), a video that depicts an action you carried out in Thiers from a bridge overlooking a waterfall. We see you in the image, positioned on the bridge, held back by the parapet, your arm stretching beyond this physical limit holding a cable over the void. A cable to which a hydrophone is attached: a microphone that captures sound vibrations spreading within a liquid medium. We understand that this long cable that you are holding becomes an extension of your own body. The hydrophone suspended from this cable, submerged in the water, allows you to collect the vibratory activity of the waterfall. Not its activity audible by air transmission but the one that from your listening point, without an instrument, was out of your physical reach and inaudible to the naked ear. Can you tell us more about this piece and the sound recording device you deployed?
Anna: When arriving at the Creux de l'enfer art center in Thiers, the white noise of the waterfall jumps out at one’s ears. This sound that is full, saturated, stable and swarming at the same time, is quite sharp. Looking at this waterfall I immediately wanted to hear its opposite. Though the torrential noise jumps out at one’s ears, the hydrophone helps me to stretch my ear, to stretch it by extending it to go and seek the moving, dark, low and inaudible sounds of the waterfall. "En 1985, I made footbridges so that people could be close to the river, at the centre of its soul, to feel the Durolle in our guts." writes George Trakas(4), responsible for the architecture of the Sword Bridge. With my microphone I search for the low, intestinal frequencies of the waterfall, its belly. This hydrophone allows me to submerge my ear within a different environment from the one in which my body moves. The microphone crosses a border, almost in the continuation of the movement of the microphone of Variations pour souterrains. This time the spectator's ear is not only accompanied in an hors-champ, it is launched, thrown overboard and submerged under the surface.
I capture the sounds of the waterfall and the noises of the microphone, the air bubbles and the eddies that explode against its membrane. All of these sounds come up almost simultaneously along the cable and agitate the membranes of my eardrums as well as, in a delayed way, those of the viewer. I called this video La Sonde. This reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche's text How to Philosophize with a Hammer. Nietzsche uses this hammer to probe and shock the idols. How do they sound? With his tool, he questions densities. The sounds produced by his hand come back to his ears, his hammer increases his ability to hear tenfold. What also interests me in the hydrophone's recording mechanism is that it does not record sound variations in the air. A slight white noise specific to its construction acts as silence. The waterfall is silent when the microphone is not submerged. In these suspended moments of sound, the image of the waterfall bursting forth—an overwhelming amount of water—produces a sound in the head.
Lauren: Two other videos attest to this same use of the "correct" sound recording device: Variation pour un souterrain (2017) and Feedback (2018). What devices did you choose for these videos? If the sound engineer cares about the microphone they are about to use to get this or that sound effect, how do you position yourself in this regard? When you make your choices, what are the expected effects? What dialogues do you try to establish between recording sound and recording visuals?
Anna: To answer this question, I think my video Feedback is a good example. It shows two men trying to sound voiceless, to vibrate like instrumental sounding boards. They punch each other. The punch of one feeds the energy of the next impact of the other. Little by little they get carried away. They are instructed to maintain a closed sound and energy loop: a feedback. On their backs, on the soft muscle between the shoulder blade and the neck, they have a contact microphone for double bass. This microphone has the particularity of recording the vibrations that propagate in a solid medium, in this case the bodies of the two men. Another passage particularly struck me in Michel Chion's Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen(5). He describes the punch as the "symbol of the point of synchronization in cinema".
This shot is the expression of a simultaneity between image and sound. However, in cinema, the shots are often synchronized in post-production and are the result of cheating: recorded live they would not live up to our sonic expectations because they are practically inaudible. With the contact mics, I record not only the instrumental resonant capacity of the body but also the reality of the internal sound of the power of a blow. The choice of microphone is therefore essential for me, it conditions a recording spectrum, takes a precise sample and extracts a harmonic line from "the ample melody"(6).
Lauren: A term often comes up when you talk about your work. It's called diegetic sound: this term is specific to cinema and is used to describe the audible sounds in the soundtrack that correspond to the action visible in the image, i.e. the sounds that result from an activity. With regard to this term, can you tell me more about your videos?
Anna: Yes indeed, video allows me to explore the notions of diegeticism and synchronicity between image and sound. A diegetic sound is a sound that comes from an action at the time of the filmed narration and that is heard by both the characters in the image and the spectators (for example, a character stops a record playing and thus abruptly cuts the soundtrack: we then realize that they were hearing, like us, this music that was thought to be outside the image). In Variations pour souterrains, the sound is diegetic—since I sing and capture the sound live in the image—at the same time as it raises the question of its synchronicity. Indeed, the medium of video allows me to spatially detach the sound from the image while maintaining their temporal alignment. The microphone passes the border of the manhole cover: sound and image are recorded simultaneously in two different spaces, connected by my action. My mouth is located at the border of the panel, at the border of the image and the sound. The microphone visible in the frame, accompanies the ear where the eye does not go.
Complicit with my voice, it makes the hors-champ appear. Michel Chion, once again, speaks to us about the unconscious microphone in cinema: "The camera, though excluded from the visual field, is nonetheless an active character in films, a character the spectator is aware of; but the mike must remain excluded not only from the visual and auditory field (microphone noises, etc.) but also from the spectator's very mental representation.” The appearance of this symbolic microphone accompanies my video practice: the notion of diegetic sound is central to it even though the image/sound synchronicity relationships are often, at first glance, distended. The revelation of sound devices (microphones, cables, sound engineers...) allows me to highlight the presence of the real in the image, to situate the listening point and to create a sound frame within the visual frame—to a certain extent, to place the ear.
(1).Simondon, Gilbert, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, translated by Cecile Malaspina, Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2016.
(2).Massin, Marianne, “L’art des réalités échoïques”, taken from L’écho du réel under the direction of Cyril Crignon, Wilfried Laforge and Pauline Nadrigny, Paris, Éditions Mimésis, 2021.
(3).Visible in the artist’s first solo exhibition Des fourmis aux lèvres, from November 2020 to February 2021 at the Creux de l’enfer—Centre d’art de Thiers.
(4).Interview with Georges Trakas in the newspaper La montagne from the 23rd July 2019.
(5).Chion, Michel, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, translated by Claudia Gorbman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2021.
(6).Rilke, Rainer Maria, Notes on the melody of things, The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams, translated by Damion Searls, Boston, Godine, 2009.
See also the interview by Sophie Lapalu in April 2021 in Revue Possible : To read it
For more informations: Anna Holveck
Anna Holveck and Lauren Tortil, 2021