Interview with iii resident Myriam Bleau for No Patent Pending
Montreal native Myriam Bleau is a composer, multimedia artist and performer who creates mesmerizing audiovisual systems that transcend the screen. Taking the shape of sound installations and performance specific musical interfaces, her works explore the limits between musical performance and digital arts, and are infused with a hybrid practice that integrates hip hop, techno and the more experimental fringe of electronic composition.
Artists: Myriam Bleau, Mariska de Groot (with Optical Sound Orchestra), Yann Leguay, Ilya Ziblat Shay and Roi Nachshon
The 32nd edition of iii’s No Patent Pending series presents a program of performances focusing on sound, vision, space and movement. The playful and compositional potential of both newly designed instruments and repurposed devices is explored within idiosyncratic rituals immersing the audience in transient sensory forms.
A bit in Montreal, a bit in Stockholm and a bit all over.
Cybil Scott- For the last few years I can see you’ve been touring around with your two works, autopsy.glas and soft revolvers. Are you working on anything new?
Myriam Bleau- I’ve got a installation called Stories of Mechanical Music that I’ve shown a couple of times and that I want to develop further, a little video installation that will be presented in a gallery in Montreal and two audiovisual performances in the making. The one I’m working on at iii, with pendulum motions, is one of them. An album should come out this year as well, and in general, I work on a lot of music these days – just music, without any crafted visual aspects. We’ll see if something comes out of it.
Stories of Mechanical Music
What do you have planned for your time at iii?
A lot of sound design. I’m working with new interfaces and I’m trying to imagine what they should sound like. The objects that I’m using are still prototypes, so there’s a bit of hardware tweaking as well, but that part is more convenient to do in my own studio in Montreal. I’m working on composition sketches, exploring with different gestures and using the wide iii space to experiment with different behaviours.
Can you describe some themes you try to bring out in your work?
I think music is usually fairly abstract. It’s about tension and release, about physicality and perception, about bodily reactions. There’s something very formal and plastic – in the sense of plasticity – about it. I come from a musician background, and in that sense I’ve mostly approached audiovisual works in that experiential, abstract, time-based perspective so far. A lot of my work comes from anger. But when I create I prefer ambiguity to any didactic attempt. I don’t need to make a point. I’m interested in mixing cultural references, in science fiction, in the future of human embodiment in a technological context, in cyborgs and the confrontation of the virtual and the real. I’m wondering if music has the means to genuinely address those themes.
What’s the perfect medium for you?
I don’t have a preferred medium. It will greatly change over the years; there’s a lot of ideas and materials I want to explore. Light allows to articulate the visual in a very abstract and dynamic way and in that sense it suited some of my projects.
Were you making artistic things when you were a child?
I always loved music, but I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. I wrote many short stories, longer ones, poems and plays. It’s all on a floppy disk somewhere. It was probably the most productive period of my life… Music-wise, I remember transcribing songs by ear and writing the notes down along with the best preset sound and backbeat for it on my tiny casio electronic toy keyboard.
Is tactility an important aspect for you in the finished works?
I’m not sure what you mean by tactility. I do want to articulate the visual and tangible aspects of my works as much as possible, but I’m still more interested in creating music performances rather than stand-alone beautiful interactive gadgets.
Do you research your artworks before you make them, or is it a more intuitive approach?
I do some research yes, I like to dream about a project for a while before confronting it with the reality of making. There’s a lot of influences, political or aesthetic concepts that drive each production. It’s not methodical research however, inspirations and solutions pop up at different moments and I try to follow the momentum. I let the ideas grow by themselves.
What other disciplines are you inspired by which exist outside of the art world?
Mechanical engineering, robotics, combat sports, demolition, astrophysics, translation
Are you more concerned with making new ways of presenting electronic music, or making the unique sounds themselves?
Both really, but it manifests differently depending on the projects. In a context where transparency is prioritized, gestural interfaces and physicality limit the level of musical intricacy that is possible. But in my opinion, the performance context and instrumentation are still inherently part of music and therefore are worth some experimentation. On the other hand, I want to push the sonic aspect further in my practice, but to do so I might not choose the same medium.
Your performances look highly produced, is theatricality important for you?
My actions are functional, absorbed in playing music, rather than acted out or artificially conducted. I am moving a lot in Soft Revolvers, but that’s mostly because the interfaces demand it (they’re quite heavy). Or maybe I’m getting loose and I dance a bit. In autopsy.glass, my body movements tend to be extremely minimal. There’s a bit of theatricality in all performances, superfluous gestures or exaggerations that reinforce the expression; think of DJs twisting knobs, for example. I don’t orchestrate every scenographic detail, every expression. It’s still only myself on a stage, playing music.
Do you think people can get a good idea of what your work is about by watching the recorded videos of your performances? Are they finished art forms by themselves? Or do you need a live audience?
I really don’t think videos give an honest rendition. The videos are definitely not finished artworks and I sometimes cringe to see the amount of weird non-curated short clips out there on the internet. The performances are supposed to be experienced live.
What do you struggle with?
Money, hypermobility, finding time to develop skills and practice, creating a balance between contemplative movement and structural highlighting, duration and motivic development, and mechanical design.
Whose work are you looking at, in the past or currently?
I’m listening a lot to Peder Mannerfelt and Arca these days. I like to live with a work for a while, to let it sink in rather than shifting attention constantly. Mark Fell has also had a big influence on me. On the more visual side: Wim Delvoye, Cod.act, Ralf Baecker… I saw an installation in 2015 that still troubles me: Sans objet by Aurélien Bory, though it seems like there’s not much documentation online. Niklas Roy’s project WIA < > WIA resurfaced recently in my thoughts. I also get a lot of inspiration from friends who make beautiful things and sounds.