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Interview: Nicolas Bernier - Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival

Interview: Nicolas Bernier - Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival

Chris Cudby / Wednesday 26th September, 2018 2:36PM

Montreal-based artist Nicolas Bernier is visiting Wellington this week for the debut Aotearoa Audio Arts festival, showcasing three days of experimental live performances, audio-visual works and sound installations. The first festival of its kind in New Zealand will feature works by international artists Richard Chartier (US), Myriam Bleau (Canada), Ted Apel (US), Anne La Berge (US/ Netherlands) and Bernier, alongside a raft of innovative locals including Rob Thorne and Flo Wilson. Renowned across the globe for his conceptually-focussed, senses-dazzling intermedia installations and live events, festival-goers can treat their eyes and ears to a performance by Bernier this Friday 28th September at City Gallery Adam Auditorium. The visiting artist generously took time out to answer a few questions via email about his creative practice and what attendees can look forward to this week - check out the event details and read his words below...

Aotearoa Audio Arts

Thursday 27th September - Potocki Paterson Gallery, Exhibition Opening (three day exhibition)
Friday 28th September - City Gallery Adam Auditorium, Mo H Zareei + Jim Murphy (Technical Earth), Myriam Bleau, Nicolas Bernier*
Saturday 29th September - City Gallery Adam Auditorium, Dugal McKinnon + Rob Thorne + Thomas Voyce, Anne La Berge, Richard Chartier*

Festival passes (waged + unwaged) available HERE via UTR*

Hi Nicolas! Can you please give readers a hint of what your performance at the City Gallery Adam Auditorium will involve this week?

Hello Chris, thanks for your interest! It's a sound and light performance where I am using tuning forks as the main sound source. While we are in the age of revival of super complex analogue synthesis, I am especially interested the opposite direction: basic sounds like the sinewave. The idea of the project is that the tuning forks are producing what sounds like pure electronic sounds while they are actually acoustic sounds.

What kind of work is involved with staging your performances? Will your work be installed as part of the aaa exhibition too?

It is a bit of a modest take on "gasame kunstwerk" (total art): it is a mix of musical interpretation where the tuning forks are the instruments, some theatricality, electronics used to trig the tuning forks with mechanical components (solenoids), light design even a bit of stage design even though we are not in a spectacular setup, rather in a minimalist one.

While the work has been exhibited in installation mode, here it will just be presented as a performance.

I saw an excerpt of your recent work 'transfert (299 792 458 m/s)', which reportedly marks a turn from the "white scientific background" towards sci-fi and the 80s pop associations. The video looks and sounds amazing - what prompted this shift in tone?

The frequencies series (including the performance I am presenting at Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival) was also a shift from a noisier aesthetic to a purer one. For me, the most important quality of an artist, or a human being actually, is its propensity to try something else, to change, to adapt, to get interested in what he his not primarily interested in. This is how we grow I think. So this is what is explaining this shift, I felt that it was time to try something else and to go from the pure to the «kitsch» of 80s science-fiction movies which serves as the inspiration for this new cycle of works.

Are your sound works always designed to feature a visual element?

They have been for the last decade or so. At one point, I was even more interested to work the visual than the sound. The thing is that I am really attached to physical matter, counterbalancing with the abstraction of the sound. So if a sound artist wants to work in the tangible world, it is difficult to avoid the visual.

What kind of process / development is involved with your works before they are made?

I am a bit of an obsessive-compulsive when it comes to art. All my projects start from an obsession whether it's the mechanical / digital machine relationship, the sine wave or science fiction. So before any concrete work, there is usually a long phase of absorbing a maximum of information on my current obsession and this is for me a crucial part. I will read all the books, watch all the films, read all the magazines and so forth. This is what will help to shape the actual projects, mixing all those ideas together to find what I think is an interesting approach to the topic.

How did you come to choose 'sound' as your focus as an artist? Were there any formative influences that led you along that path?

My background is mainly from music, even though I worked as a programmer and designer for years which is also seriously informing my work. As a musician with curiosity, I've always been trying to see where is the further sounds could go. It didn't take long for me to accept all the sounds (not just the common instrumental ones) as being musical. But then when I got back to school to study electroacoustic composition, this experience for sure made me think even further and that was quite influential.

Whereabouts do you generally perform your works - do you mainly perform in gallery contexts, or do you play in a range of spaces / venues?

Most of the time I perform in digital arts festivals. They are especially abundant in Europe. I am rarely performing in galleries where I am rather showing installations, closer to a visual arts practice.

Are there any specific performances / works at the aaa festival you're keen to experience?

I only heard Richard Chartier once live. I was a bit dubious before the performance because his music is so subtle I thought it would be difficult to render this subtlety in concert, but then, it was one of the most touching pieces of music I've heard in concert so I can't wait to have another experience. I am also looking forward to discover the artists from New Zealand. We are so far, man! This is such a chance for us of being here and share our music together.


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Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival
Thu 27th Sep 6:00pm
Potocki Paterson Art Gallery, Wellington
Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival
Fri 28th Sep 5:30pm
City Gallery, Wellington
Aotearoa Audio Arts Festival
Sat 29th Sep 5:30pm
City Gallery, Wellington