Publication Auditorium (Chaos, Quiet, Fail), CD (6-panel digipak + 12-page booklet) published by The Dim Coast in 2024.

A piece documenting the customarily solitary act of listening by rendering it plural. It takes the moment of reception and reinjects it in the work as source material.

I have a tendency to concoct impossible projects, in reference to sound this translates into projects which are presumed to be inherently silent or mute, it can also mean projects which bypass language and the usual circuitry of communication.

To explore the sonic possibilities of sites and behaviors heretofore presumed silent is one of the aims for this project. Another is to produce a sound portrait of listening, and to conceive it as a collective and dialogical act.

Participants heard a piece I never wanted the wider public to hear in their headphones. It is a failed piece. I was only interested in documenting the listening of the listening of it.

On July 29, 2005, I set up a recording session at the Hotel2Tango in Montreal. Sixteen friends were invited and were given no instructions. Each person wore a pair of headphones through which the fifteen minute-long failed piece was played back.

Wine, beer, and food were provided. The lubricants aided in creating a boisterous atmosphere; they chatted, played the instruments that happened to be there, burped, uncorked bottles, and tripped over each other. This listening is animated, plural, and unabashedly raucous.

Participants in the chaos session (recorded at the Hotel2Tango, Montréal, by Howard Bilerman, July 29 2005): Magali Babin, Steve Bates, Dave Bryant, Michel F. Côté, Tammy Forsythe, Fabrizio Gilardino, Andrea Martignoni, Terence McGee, jake moore, Jonathan Parant, Sam Shalabi, James Schidlowsky, Alexandre St-Onge, Catherine Tardiff, Graham van Pelt, Roger Tellier-Craig.

On May 2, 2006, I scheduled another session at the same recording studio. This time, it was a smaller group. They sat on the couch together and were instructed to be as quiet as possible. The prescriptive quietude produced a certain kind of emptiness, but was not devoid of presence. The abundance of quiet allowed both the sounds of the traffic outside and of the photographer documenting the session inside to seep into the soundscape.

For both sessions we recorded four takes. In the first, they heard only the recording of the failed piece. In the second, they heard a mix of that with themselves from take one. In the third, they heard the failed piece plus themselves from takes one and two. In the fourth, they only heard a mix of themselves from the past three takes plus themselves live.

Participants in the quiet session (recorded at the Hotel2Tango, Montréal, by Howard Bilerman, May 2 2006): Clank, Charles Stankievech, Mia MacSween, Candice Tarnowski, Nancy Tobin.

An installation version was developed for Manif d’Art 4 (Québec City Biennial, 2008). In order to convey the layers of listening at play, the installation utilized a simple mechanical device to thwart the visitors’ attempts to view the audio and visual components simultaneously. Upon entering the space, the viewer heard the failed piece from a speaker on the floor and could watch video from the quiet session.

If the visitor opted to pick up the headphones installed on the wall opposite the projection, an electro-mechanical system built into the headphone stand triggered three actions: a light above the visitor turned on; a pillow descended to muffle the sound from the floor speaker; and a piece of paper was lowered in front of the projector which entirely covered the image. The result was that the visitor now heard the ambient sound of the recording studio on the headphones, but could no longer see the video of the listeners sitting together on the couch.

Auditorium se penche sur l’écoute, acte qui se veut autant privé que public, intime et collectif, isolant et rassembleur. Auditorium est à la quête du son de l’écoute, chose paradoxal puisque l’écoute est un acte qui porte au son mais qui est lui même silencieux. L’écoute marque l’ouverture, l’attente, l’attention. Auditorium veut amplifié cette (in)activité en créant un scénario où un groupe de personnes sont réunis dans un studio d’enregistrement pour une session d’écoute. Leur écoute est documentée (en son, image, et vidéo). Comment est-ce qu’on se comporte quand on est dans une situation d’écoute ? Où va le regard ? Comment se place-t-on par rapport à son voisin ?

Presentation History

– 2024 Saskatoon (publication, The Dim Coast, Auditorium (Chaos, Quiet, Fail), CD (6-panel digipak + 12-page booklet)

– 2010 Aberystwyth (audio and print publication, Performance Research, Taylor & Francis)

– 2008 Québec (installation, MANIF D’ART 4, May 1-June 15)

Image credits: Paul Litherland (recording sessions), cm (installation). Thanks: Canada Council for the Arts, Catherine Béchard & Sabin Hudon (device for installation).