François Donato: “The way we perceive sounds in space, is particularly meaningful to the listener”   

– Your one-month stay in Ljubljana was densely filled and busy with various projects and collaborations with local art organizations. What experience did you gather working in Slovenia during these last four weeks?

François Donato: “We had a very good time in Ljubljana, working hard but also enjoying the city and the kindness and welcome of people, especially the organizers’. It was cool to share some moments, in a very simple and friendly atmosphere. We had a very good support from the Lighting Gverila and KUD Mreža teams to organize both technical and artistic aspects of our installation and performance. Moreover, working and living at Metelkova was a good experience because it is an inspiring place at several levels: the creative people working there, the singularity of the place itself, all the events taking place in the different venues and also the diversity of the people visiting the place.”

– Your audio-visual performance ElectroAnima Experiment with visual artist Golnaz Behrouznia at Kino Šiška was one of the most spectacular shows I have ever witnessed. What is the conceptual idea behind the performance? How the audio and visual elements interconnected and responded to each other conceptually and technically?

François Donato: “The initial project of the performance has been conceived by Golnaz Behrouznia as a journey in the history of the living. It was in summer 2017 after we worked together on Lumina Fiction #2, the interactive installation. So basically, the main concept is to explore different steps and evolutions of the matter from the initial light emerging from the void to the complex organizations of living organic creatures. We worked out the concept together and tried to embody its different aspects firstly in a scenario giving its structure to the performance and then in the visual and sound domains, each of us producing respectively specific elements for the sequences. We wanted also to create a real link during the performance between us, not only because of the complicity playing together, but a physical link that could produce concrete interactions between images and sounds based on our gestures and the on the fly choices we make improvising together. So our respective computers are connected with an audio channel that we decide to open and modulate depending on the sequences of the performance. It produces specific effects on the images and represents a third dimension in the project. But there is also a kind of distance between images and sounds. We seek mainly a synchronization between us to follow the planned scenario but each of our media deals with time in its own way. That means that some sound structure or musical intention for example has to emerge, evolve and disappear in a specific time and it is the same with the visual. Each nourishes the other but keeps a relative independence. Of course, we have some very precise marks that trigger changes for both of us. But we did not want to write a completely fixed piece. The way Golnaz plays the video sequences, the effects she applies change each time we play and the same for me with sounds.”

François Donato and Golnaz Behrouznia in front of Studio Asylum. “We wanted to create a real link during the performance between us, not only because of the complicity playing together, but a physical link that could produce concrete interactions between images and sounds based on our gestures and the on the fly choices we make improvising together.” Photo: Nataša Serec

– In the second part of your performance at Kino Šiška you presented audio works by five contemporary composers. What methods and criteria did you use for the selection, realization and presentation of these compositions?

François Donato: “Well, when I initiated this project in Ljubljana, it was clear for me that it has to be linked in a way or another to the local scene. It was not a question of coming with our performance and installation and that is it. Because I have a very good friend of mine living here, Marina Žlender, who is a talented music critic and knows very well what is going on artistically speaking in the city. I made very good contact with Mauricio Valdés San Emeterio, a Mexican composer and guitarist living also in Ljubljana. We had several talks the three of us as I came two times in February and November in 2018, exchanging ideas and putting names on the table. I wanted to setup an acousmatic concert and I wanted also to have women composers in the program, so I finally chose Bojana Šaljič and Nina Dragičević plus of course a piece by Mauricio. I wanted also to present a French composer, a close friend with whom I’ve worked on different projects, and who is an expert in multi-channel composition, Hervé Birolini. On the musical level, it was important for me to present different aesthetic approaches. I didn’t want a specific theme for the concert, but mainly emphasize the diversity of acousmatic music production at an international level. It was the case also about the spacial dimension of the pieces. Hervé’s piece and mine are 5.1 pieces written for a typical surround system, the one by Bojana is a four-channel piece. Those ones imply mainly to adapt the distribution of the channels to the way speakers are disposed in the venue and then to ‘follow’, to accompany the global balance doing some slight tweaks on the levels of the different channels. Mauricio’s and Nina’s are stereo pieces which allow a more versatile approach of space in the venue, because it is possible to choose in real time, following the structure of the music, between several combinations of speakers: fronts, sides, rears and all the mixes possible between them.”

– Bojana Šaljič and Nina Dragičević are among the most remarkable Slovenian composers. How did you come across their works? Did they propose which particular compositions of theirs got to be performed, or you chose specific works by them?

François Donato: “As I said, it was on the advices of Marina Žlender and Mauricio Valdés San Emeterio that I contacted Bojana and Nina. I explained to them the global project and just proposed them to participate with an acousmatic piece of theirs. I had previously listen some tracks available on the internet as I did not know any of their works before. I was really happy to discover their respective production and present them to the audience. They propose to me to choose between several pieces and in addition to the musical interest of each, I also respected a length criteria in order to have a balanced program. As it was not possible to invite them to play their piece on the acousmonium we setup in the venue, I played myself with a big pleasure.”

– Acousmatic concerts are known from the mid-fifties, primarily connected to musique concrète, but they are still rare to experience in Slovenia – especially as opposed to the regular live performance format. What are the most ideal conditions for an acousmatic music presentation?

François Donato: “This is a very difficult question, because precisely it is not a regular format. And I would say that this is not a single format, but a variety of possible formats. Basically, the principle is to put several speakers around the audience, a bit like in a movie venue for surround soundtracks of the films. So depending on the number of speakers you can use, you may have a simple 8 independent channels system as we used for the concert at Kino Šiška (like two fronts left-right, one center front, two sides left-right and two rears left-right plus a subwoofer for low frequencies) or a very complex one with 64 speakers, mainly independent channels, disposed around, above and under the audience if the venue allows it. Of course you may not use all the channels for one piece but make specific choices to emphasize the music you have to play on specific speakers disposed in specific areas of the venue. The way we perceive sounds in space is particularly meaningful to the listener of such a concert, even if he or she is not aware of that. Spacial information in the sound perception are crucial to help us to understand our surroundings. At a primary level, the reptilian brain as it is called, it helps to determine if there is a danger coming and adapt our behavior consequently. On an artistic and thus more sophisticated level, it produces hierarchical relationships between sound elements because even if human hearing system can perceive sounds at 360°, the position and shape of our ears, plus the acoustic disturbances produced by the head itself, imply a better reception of sources coming from front than sources coming from one side or from the rear. So ideally, a good sound system for acousmatic music would be a system with a number of speakers that covers quite well the space around the audience with good technical specs associated to a mixing desk, either analog or digital, that offers a single independent output for each speaker or group of speakers. Venue with no fixed seats are great also because you can organize the speakers disposal exactly as you want. There are several venues in the world that are specialized in complex multi-channel rendering. It started historically with the sound system designed and used by Iannis Xenakis at the Brussels World Exhibition in 1958. Karlheinz Stockhausen also has been a pioneer in that field among others with the sphere of speakers he used at the Osaka World Exhibition in 1970. But the very beginning of real time sound spatialization standed in 1951 for a concert of the just born musique concrète.”

François Donato: “I was welcome at GRM studios for a professional training on digital sound, and they kept me 16 years. I was a studio assistant at the beginning, helping invited composers to deal with studio technologies and to realize their works.” Photo: Golnaz Behrouznia

– GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) brought many things to music, from musique concrète to acousmatic music, and you are closely connected to the legendary French studio and research institution. How did you get involved in their activity, and what parts you took in the organization’s work?

François Donato: “I discovered musique concrète during my chaotic musical studies in the eighties and it was obvious for me that it was the direction I had to follow. Then I was focused on learning and practicing more and more to improve my skills. At that time a production studio was very expensive, because tape machine, mixing desk and good speakers were expensive. So it was only a few places where it was possible to work. And also you know that France is a very centralized country and as a young artist living in the South-West of France, a pleasant region to chill and enjoy life but a dead-end at that time for experimental arts, I wanted to settle in Paris to be nourished by the intense artistic life going on there. So I fixed to myself a simple goal: moving to Paris and create links with the GRM in any way. It finally happened one year later when I won a composition prize with jury ruled by the GRM director at that time, François Bayle. I was then welcome at GRM studios for a professional training on digital sound, and they kept me 16 years. I was a studio assistant at the beginning, helping invited composers to deal with studio technologies and to realize their works. It was really informative for me, more than classes at conservatory. And with the evolution of the GRM itself, I became responsible of the global music production, managing studio works and events organization with other assistants. I finally quit in 2005, because I wanted to live other experiences with other people in another place and I moved to Toulouse. And met Golnaz Behrouznia there three years later.”

– We cannot end this talk without asking you: how did you find your stay at KUD Mreža’s Studio Asylum? The always vibrant environment of Metelkova with all its venues, galleries, organizations, artists, activists, visitors and tourists can provide a stimulating and highly inspiring creative environment, but staying here also requires a certain measure of patience. To put it simply: do you recommend Studio Asylum to artists who are working with sound?

François Donato: “Totally. As I said at the beginning of this talk, it was a vivid stay we had at Metelkova. Hope to come back sometime for another project. The issue with working as a sound artist is to be able to have a quiet place from time to time in order to listen carefully what we are working on with good speakers. But we can work efficiently with headphones. And by the way, the place is mainly noisy during evenings because of the concerts and parties in the venues around. But the two rooms flat is quite well isolated and it’s fine to go downstairs for a break and enjoy the lively atmosphere of Metelkova. So, a message for KUD Mreža team: I have an idea for a new multi-channel composition that may interest you, so do you think…?”

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