After having heard and seen how Leo Hofmann composes with gestures such as sewing a sock and preparing tea in his “A. wie Albertine”, I interviewed another artist who uses gestures that are uncommon to music. Lilian Beidler is a performance and electronic music artist, who studied music and media arts and is working now since several years as a freelance artist, performing all over the world.
In her performance “running,” Lilian Beidler paces between different points on the wall of the performance space. Touching these points causes a sound to appear, and by walking from wall to wall she creates a denser and denser sound structure. After a specific amount of time she breaks the ritual ambulation to grasp one of the ceramic dishes placed on the floor. She lifts it very slowly, in a gesture that contrasts dramatically with the preceding fast footsteps. Eventually, she smashes the disk to the ground and the soundscape immediately stops. As Lilian repeats these same acts over and over, she run faster and faster to the point of exhaustion. Whereas these are evidently the kind of performances you have to attend to get the real experience, Lilian made a nice documentation video, so let’s first have a look at that before continuing with interview questions:
CvE: What was the first “inspirational spark” for this performance?
LB: Love, of course … and the fact that within the field of electronic music practice and performance I was – and still often am – missing an active, committed human body in an unalienable, well-defined, evident role in relation to its actions and interactions with sound. I am especially interested in how the human body is restricted by the infinity of technical possibilities and how it is able to interact with a computer system.
It is always startling to me that you can press the smallest button with your little finger and thus make a sound with the intensity to move sand dunes. I think that in “running” I wanted to make my body move with the same strength and power that the sound evokes – to kind of oppose and confront a strong and giant “sound body” with a strong action by the human body.When I performed electronic music, I often missed physical motion. So after all, there was also a personal interest when creating this piece: I love to exercise!
Furthermore, I am interested in how movement changes our perception of sound and vice versa, or, more precisely, how physical movement interacts with an electronic system. The piece “running” likely states the starting point to a research interest which I am right now trying to localise, and that is likely to keep me busy in the future: The idea of performance as artistic research.
And… Lilian smashes the plate.
CvE: How do the gestures used in “running” connect to your everyday life?
LB: I love to smash plates. However, in my everyday life I almost never do so – maybe with the exception of being in an emotionally overwhelming situation. The action of smashing plates is frightening and freeing at the same time. When I started smashing plates I was afraid to get hit by splinters, but after a while I found out that if I smash the plates with the right intense emotional state, it wouldn’t matter if I got hit.
After the performance in Ohio in 2013, a man came up to me and told me that he knew exactly how I was feeling when he saw the work. He started talking about anger and remorse, and that he himself had had to deal with such emotions in his past. This encounter left me quite surprised and a bit stunned. I had not been aware that my actions in the piece would evoke such connotations.
In “running”, there is actually no “real” physical need to run faster and faster. Certainly the harmonies get more and more detuned if I do not keep up a certain pace, but I am not working with physical feedback or distortion or even explosions of any material. The sound is composed entirely using electronics. It is simply the musical part that changes if I do not run fast enough. So the act of running to exhaustion has a quite comical aspect in itself in a way; there seems to be a certain disproportion of the actions. A mental construct affects my physical body and ropes me into a vicious circle that I can only try to escape by running faster and faster.
CvE: What about the relationship between your gestures and the sound of your performance? Could you tell how you composed these, focusing on how they musically connect to each other?
LB: The original idea was to compose a musical system that I control, but which gradually starts to control me. I, as the performer, trigger sounds that come out of loudspeakers by walking around and touching particular points in a room. This way I keep adding individual sounds to an ever-growing musical structure, a kind of floating soundscape. In the beginning of the piece, I seem to be playing; in both the sense of it being a playful act and in the sense of playing an instrument: by walking around, I compose a growing soundscape. Gradually, this sound sculpture becomes denser and eventually gets out of control. It threatens to go overboard and feed back. Henceforth I succumb to this “musical system”. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by the system, I must walk faster and faster, then start running between the individual points in the room, and try to bridle the sound by touching them.
By touching a point in the room, another sound is added to the sound structure.
CvE: And what about the technical side, how is the connection between gestures and sound achieved? (Please give us details possible about the technology you used, software… an “insider’s” view.)
LB: The “touch-down-points” with which I activate the sounds and start building the floating soundscape are simple piezo microphones. I receive their audio signal in the software MaxMSP and in the beginning use it to trigger sine waves with different envelopes and of different frequencies. In the beginning the five piezos trigger pitches of a major triad. As the performance goes on, the triad slowly starts to go out of tune, drifting away from the original frequencies. This is one of the musical tasks I have to complete during the piece: Run as fast as I can to prevent the music from detuning too quickly. Once the “musical system” is set off, it independently evolves and expands to a more complex musical structure, involving samples of voice and different sounds as well as sounds produced by physical models and filtered white noise.
One of the piezo microphones, which Lilian touches to trigger the sound.
While I am lifting the plates in slow motion, these sounds gradually change to a more intense and chaotic texture. As soon as I throw a plate on the floor, all sounds immediately stop. This is achieved by a sound sensor that measures sound across a wide range, with a frequency range of 100Hz to 8kHz and at a pressure level of 50dB to 100dB. This sensor is connected to my computer through a Phidgets board. As the sound of bursting porcelain is very loud, this works quite effectively. I can easily filter out other possible noise from the audience or traffic by setting a high threshold.
This is a screenshot of the MaxMSP patch Lilian Beidler uses.
CvE: Thank you, Lilian, for answering my questions!
If you are interested in more information on Lilian’s work, you can have a look at her website.