APO33 - NANTES - 2018
I have spent this past academic year looking for collaborations, expanding my portfolio and immersing myself in new music, audio-visual art and performance. However, this past April, I got the unique opportunity to go to Nantes (France) to complete an internship at Apo33 which is best described on their website as: "an interdisciplinary artistic, theoretical and technological laboratory that develops various collective projects combining research, experimentation and intervention in the social space." This is very much in the area I have become fascinated with over the past couple of years and it was an experience that I certainly wasn't going to be able to get staying in the UK. So, I packed my bags, sorted out my accommodation via Airbnb and headed off to Nantes.
I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. It was the first time I'd travelled abroad on my own and although I knew a little about Apo, I didn't really know that much about the people that worked there or about what my role would be. Also, my French is... Well, as the French might say "comme ci comme ça!"
In any case, when I arrived at Apo for my first day, there wasn't an awful lot of time to be apprehensive as I was instantly plunged into the deep end. My very first task at Apo was to help with the construction and programming of a custom audio controller for French Composer Benoit Granier. I spent the morning learning the precise intricacies of 3D printing and then in the afternoon; I was learning how to use Pure Data (an open source visual programming language for multimedia) in order to add reverb and filtering functionality to the controller. On the next day, I moved onto something more complex; I was co-programming a function for the controller that would allow it to analyse and unpack the frequencies of a sound into bands, and then indiscriminately select a random number of them to let though the system at randomised velocities. The picture to the right shows part of the patch that we wrote.
The team at apo33 had already been working on this project for Benoit and part of that involved a system where Pure data would analyse an input from a microphone and then generate a response on Musescore, an open source notation software. I spent the weekend testing this system, and that's where I found out we were off to Bordeaux on Monday! Benoit had composed a piece for a group of musicians there involving the electronic systems we had been working on, so we went down for the first live test. It was a long day; we started at 6 am and finished at 11:30 pm, but it was a fantastic thing to be a part of. One of the key things we learnt from this was that it is easy for electronic music to feel like it is using technology for the sake of the technology rather than for the sake of the music, and there were many aspects we noted could be improved upon that would help inject the piece with a more natural sense of musicality.
After Bordeaux and my intense introduction to Apo33, I got my chance to slow down and explore Nantes and the nearby castle town of Clisson. An important part of this internship for me was the chance to get immersed in French culture: the art, the history and, of course, the food. The local speciality in this region of France is the Galette Bretonne, a savoury pancake made from buckwheat and then served with a choice of fillings. I found a fantastic, small creperie in the centre of town - Creperie Ker Breizh- that served simple yet delicious pancakes with fresh and local ingredients. This inspired me (as an amateur cook) to try making my own, the result of which you can see in the far right picture below.
Over the course of the next three weeks, I got the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of tasks at Apo, including setting up for installations and concerts; acting as a PA for Japanese musicians Taku Sugimoto and Minami Saeki and helping to test the radio set up at Prun 92 FM amongst other things. The final project that I was involved in was an installation based around 'the corruption of the algorithm' which was interpreted by seven artists and shown in a single space. It was the culmination of all the skills and ideas that I had picked up on over the course of my time at Apo and served as a nice way to round out my internship.
All of these things were initially beyond my comfort zone and yet for each task that I accomplished, I was able to build up my confidence and both my technical and social skills. That was the thing that I appreciated most about my time at Apo33; I was always just treated as another member of the team, which meant that no-one ever assumed that a job was 'too difficult' for me. This often meant that I would find myself involved in a task that was far above my skill level, but in the end, I would always find a way to overcome it.
For the last few days, before my flight home, I had some time to reflect on my time and experiences at Apo33. It was incredibly stimulating and fascinating to be able to work in close proximity to so many different composers and audio visualartists from across the world. I was able to ascertain a better understanding of the current experimental music scene in order to be able to better reflect on my own work.
I decided that I would create my own composition in response to my experiences in Nantes using, mostly unedited, audio records from different locations around the area. Once I had gathered my sounds, I sat down and created a list of thoughts and ideas that would form the basis of my piece, which I was able to condense down into three main areas
Process vs product
The role of technology in music
The application of form and rhythm
The biggest question that was raised from these four weeks for me was one of process vs product. This question is especially relevant when it comes to modern experimental music, where music that is too process orientated can feel devoid of musicality. Likewise, music that has little to no discernible mechanisms, can seem too abstract to be able to distinguish itself. Therefore, I wanted to explore where the balance lay on this matter in my own piece, using aleatoric composition in conjunction with audible rhythmic processes.
My second point, on technology, directly relates to my first. Electronic music can often give the impression that the technology and equipment are just as, if not more, important that the finished article. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; it can quite easily be paralleled with the style over substance argument in the visual art world, where a case can be made that style can also be substance (I often think of film director Edgar Wright as a good example of this point). However, I believe that it is necessary to be aware of this when using technology in music.
Finally, my last point, ties in to both of the previous. In my piece, form is the main crutch that I lean on in order to try and avoid the problems of process vs product. A few of the composers and artists that we worked with at Apo, also used form and structure in order to rationalise their ideas. For example Stockholm based musician, Lars Åkerlund followed a simple textural based structure of 'simple -> complex -> simple' that transitioned smoothly between sections. In my piece, I follow the simple A B A structure that can be found in many pieces of classical music, however I use it to move between two contrasting sections illustrating random chance in the A section and more rhythmic and more tangible elements in the B section.
Here is the resulting product, I hope you enjoy.