We always ask our artists a few questions in regards to their shows with us and their practices. Here is our dialogue with Stephan
1. What ideas are you examining though your exhibition at RAYGUN?
I am interested in systems that we take for granted until they stop working, so I am interested in attention and its management. This piece speaks to how the systems we have created to transmit information emulate human attention, “multi-tasking”, and have the potential to destroy the messages they convey through their inattention/split attention. I am interested in the value we place on attention. I am also interested in the artifacts created by the destruction of messages, and how these artifacts can accrue their own meaning and value. The sounds produced in the gallery, in the room that contains and shapes the sounds, take on a special quality simply by their status of occupying a gallery. The intelligibility of the original signal, and the intelligibility of the damage the signal has suffered, become the objects of our attention as we listen. We try to discern what is going on. I am interested in failure and in incomprehension, but I am most interested in creating a space for exploring the assembly or reassembly of ideas in the sonic sphere — how sound delivers information in real time, and the rhythm of how meaning is received. I usually find myself pursuing the activation of what Chris Mann calls “machines for making sense”, i.e. the conscious mind of each listener, and providing rich, raw material for these “Machines” to work on, puzzle out, extract information from, and assemble an understanding of. International politics and surveillance culture are also in here, somewhere. Or maybe these issues are now identical.
2. What are the ideas that surround your work/your practice?
I think a lot through listening, and I find that my experience of aural perception, of being a human with the capacity to sense sound, informs the path I take more than any other factor. I became an artist because I believe in the transformational power of concentrated perception. I feel a responsibility to both sharpen my own awareness, and to create works that invite others to do the same.
I’m fascinated with simple systems that exhibit unpredictable behavior when brought into contact with the material world. Whether through faulty mechanics, human error, or chaotic acoustics, the emergent traits exhibited by these systems afford their audience (including myself) opportunities to experience strange beauty and stumble upon unplanned insights. In such systems, a failure to behave “properly” is the starting point for experimentation and exploration.
As a social animal, I greatly value the collaborative process and the capacity of artwork to create and sustain community. The majority of my larger projects have been undertaken in a collaborative context because I find solitary art-making lonely and long-term friendships and collaborations to be nourishing and productive. When my work begins as a conversation between myself and other minds, I find it retains a greater capacity for continuing that conversation with its audience.
3. What are your influences/other interests?
My work with Pauline Oliveros, and her concept of Deep Listening, had a profound effect on me at a critical moment in my development, when I was trying to figure out how to transition from being a singer and a composer of fixed scores to being an electronics improvisor and a sound artist making more open-ended works. She had a talent for saying something simple and profound at exactly the moment when I needed to hear it, exposing and disrupting my most unhelpful mental routines and helping me to think about my practice differently.
At the same time I began working with Pauline, I came across an article by Katharine Norman, a composer celebrated in the field of Acoustic Ecology. She writes: “Our ordinary listening is itself a complex, multi-layered activity of which hearing is but a part. In going about our everyday listening lives we take – I suggest – several different, but interdependent, stances, which amount to a dynamic construct. References, memories, associations, symbols – all contribute to our understanding of sonic meaning. Rather than deprive us of this activity, the real-world composer can treat it as a creative force, one which may be influenced, changed or subtlely directed to give us an enriched understanding of real-world sounds : listening is as much a ‘material’ for the composer as the sounds themselves.” I owe a lot of inspiration to the field of Acoustic Ecology and the work and teachings of its luminaries, but this idea of listening as a compositional domain remains most profound and instructive for me.
My six years working for the choreographer Merce Cunningham, and with the amazing musicians who surrounded him, proved to me the benefits of letting go of parts of my process and turning some of the work over to the winds of chance that are blowing all around me. I learned to trust that a touch of indeterminacy often grants access to experiences outside of the realm of my imagination, which I’ve come to regard as a preferable terrain to explore… the air is fresher there.
Finally, I am constantly inspired by my peers, by the artists I collaborate with and who share their practice with me. The choreographer and artist Yanira Castro I have worked with for over 10 years at this point, and my friendship and collaboration with sound artist Scott Smallwood is nearing two decades, just to mention two among many. I am moved by their brilliance and humanity and generosity — my best qualities as an artist and a human are things I have learned by observing them.