Voice and technology, and more specifically encounters between them seem to be a constant within your practice. Where did this interest come from?
I studied at the academy for media arts in Cologne, so the use of new technologies for artistic purposes has been a constant factor in my work and something that influenced me a lot. Later on, I got interested in sound poetry with its use of new media for poetry and writing, as in Henri Chopin’s notion of poésie sonore as a genre that relies on technical media like tape-recorders as an instrument for artistic work and not only a means to record or document it.
And poets like Guillaume Apollinaire proposed the use of the turntable as an instrument for poetic production (and not only for recording recitations) about 100 years ago!
With my current work I am interested in a kind of dialogue between new media technologies and the human approach in producing art, and also to question the master-slave relationship between an assumed human creativity that uses media-technology only as a tool.
In my performances in Antwerp and Rotterdam I presented a new short piece – the first in which I also used my own voice by the way – that uses the dictation-function on my laptop in a very simple way, but I try to take the aesthetic potential of this media-technology seriously.
Your work often refers to the history of sound poetry (for example your use of the lettrist-alphabet, and your research on Henri Chopin). How important is this tradition to you?
Sometimes I wish it would be less important, but then again, as an artist / researcher I cannot help but being influenced by it. I am personally interested in THOSE historIES, but I always try to not only do research in the specific field of the sound poetry canon, but also check out earlier stuff or things that were happening parallel at the time, like linguistics with a focus on spoken language (Anthony Burgess and his Mouthful of Air) or psychoacoustic research about the intelligibility of speech (Diana Deutsch and her Phantom Words).
For my artistic work I try to let be influenced by approaches outside the sound poetry tradition, the more the better…
But I am curious in general to what extent the sound poetry tradition is a canonic form and in what ways it influences contemporary work.
And I am also happy to DISCOVER contemporary approaches in the field by people who have never heard about that sound poetry tradition.
In my curatorial work I try to feature those contemporary approaches actively – for example the cosmosmose festival and the edition that I founded together with Wantje Lichtenstein a few years ago.
A lot of sound poetry operates in-between the natural and the technological, often illustrating the arbitrariness of this opposition: “the humanization of the machine”, as Bob Cobbing once wrote. Is this something that informs your practice too?
I think technology should be taken seriously as an active communication partner, also in artistic / creative processes; not like Henri Chopin once wrote in OU revue that the human should still be in charge for the aesthetics and to use the technological apparatus as a mere tool (or slave) – he thought that technology itself can’t be creative. I find this an outdated view now that we have machine learning and AI kicking in.
It also has to do with my general interest in “non-intentional aesthetics”. This sounds a bit like trans humanism and in fact that’s something where “non-intentional aesthetics” play a role, as it doesn’t follow the paradigm that there has to be a human who wants to express something aesthetically and other humans then receive and decode those intentions or messages. I am more and more interested in the process of reception that is able to get an aesthetic value out of processes that have not been intended to be artistic in the first place – like when you overhear a conversation in the bus and think of it as a dialogue in a radioplay; so the aesthetic moment emerges in the listener without there being an aesthetic intention from the sender.
It seems to me as if a lot of your work has an investigative character to it. What are the main questions you try to address in your work, or don’t you see it as practical research at all?
Yes, yet some works more than others. And it’s true, I am more interested in general questions about language, speech, and communication – or the mere “rustle of language” how Roland Barthes once called it – than telling a story. Although I like the idea that people can project their own individual story into my work, which is mostly pretty abstract, somewhat conceptual and even brittle. I work a lot with found-speech, sampling from media sources (radio, TV, records, internet) and then re-contextualizing this material to see what happens with it during that process. For a duo performance that I am preparing with a German experimental poet (Andreas Bülhoff), we are trying to implement the structure of a dialogue as a starting point, so in that case we investigate the possibilities of this specific form of communication – to find out to what extent we can tweak the idea of a dialogue.
For your new project, you submit synthetic babbling to your computer’s dictation-function, the results of which you recite as poems. Do you see this merely as a new and innocent way of creating unexpected poetry, or rather as a critical (ab)use of technologies that become increasingly ubiquitous in our everyday lives?
My approach is rather playful, although in this specific case there is a kind of critical thought to it, as speech-synthesis and machine-processing of language has turned into an extremely important and powerful tool that even seems capable of shaping people’s opinions. Taking this into consideration, I respect those artists a lot who are successful in formulating a specific and precise critical agenda like Lawrence Abu Hamdan for example.
What I find intriguing about the ‘synthetic babbling’ project is that it somehow reverses the method of the likes of Dufrêne and Chopin. Instead of taking poetry beyond the page and exploring the sounding dimension of language, you start from sonic chunks to arrive at a written poem. Is this an explicit ambition of the project?
Yes, it’s quite an explicit ambition to start with parasemantic material and then try to generate a more or less semantic text out of that. Crossing that border from the other side.
Knowing you have been working with language for quite some time, it is certainly remarkable that you’ve never used your own voice before. Why is that? Do you experience the project as being more personal now that your own voice is present?
No, I just like to use found-sound, found-speech for my work in general. There is so much material out there, and I also like the additional layers of signification, references and associations that come with it. Media-art in the better sense...
Could you dwell a bit on the generation of this synthetic nonsense? Is it randomly generated or do you compose this material to personal taste?
I am only starting to work with this material, trying to find ways to more or less compose the material with my sampler due to the specific implications of the material itself. In this case, the raw material that I used was actually produced by a speech-synthesis company who used this semantic babbling of computer voices as a gimmick to promote their research. My next step is then to deconstruct it by editing and playing with the snippets on my sampler-keyboard. Right now, I am working on ways to implement a rather compositional structure. It would be great to sharpen my skills for playing the sampler and enable myself to systematically create phantom-words or even phantom-texts out of that material.
Because I come from a musical / sound-artistic background where improvisation was the way to go, I have been especially interested in compositional and also conceptual approaches in the last few years.
Related to this, how do you see your own agency within the project? Does the computer transcend its role as a mere tool in your work? Or is a medium always already more than just a tool?
As mentioned earlier, my goal is to create a dialogue-situation between myself and the media-technology I use, at least as an ideal aim or as a distant goal that directs my use of those machines, be it the laptop or the sampler or the turntable. I believe that a medium is always more than just a tool, but to what extent it can be an active agent in an aesthetic process, that’s something i am very interested in.
The different stages of the project are shown to the audience. Do you consider the process, more so than a fixed outcome, to be the essence of your work?
I think the process is an important thing in this piece in general, that’s why it is important to tell the audience the general set-up of the piece beforehand. But the outcome of the piece, the text that I read as the third and last movement, could also stand for itself and I am thinking about using it as raw-material to compose new texts which will then be read by either a trained speaker or – even better – a custom-made synthetic voice, something that I have been dreaming about for a long time but which still seems pretty tricky to come up with. You would have to engage a whole team of software-developers for quite some time to come up with that. But who knows, maybe someday…