Nina Queissner
Channeling the sonic exterior-to-me into the own interior corporeality

Interview with curator Anne-Laure Chamboissier on the occasion of the group exhibition Encounter in resonance.

ALC: What was your background before joining EPAS? Was sound practice something you were used to before? What has this postgraduate program brought to the development of your artistic work?

NQ: I was working and studying in the field of sound and experimental music and sound design—I studied percussion in the conservatory, and electro-acoustic music and fine arts in the academy of arts in Bourges. The working sessions provided by EPAS have helped me to deepen my understanding of sound against the backdrop of music. I was able to refine not only my theoretical approach but also my abilities to use recording technology in the process of composition, and I have started to carry my practice outside a controlled studio environment into the field. Thanks to the meaningful exchanges within the group, my artistic practice has become more consequential.

ALC: As you know this exhibition is focused on the question of listening. What is your personal definition of listening?

NQ: Unfortunately the notion of listening is often presented in a very biased way, based on the assumption of an ideal listening subject and unimpaired hearing abilities. In my practice what I define as listening bears a certain openness allowing for a connectedness with the material surroundings and entities I encounter through sound. When I listen, I like to use technology to amplify the soundscape. It is a way of making space and channeling the sonic exterior-to-me into my own interior corporeality. I thus see listening mostly as a relational and composite process that recalibrates my relations with what might be other, exterior, or surrounding. Under certain circumstances listening can be a powerful means of getting (re)situated, repositioned, and rewired within the tissue of the spaces and orders we navigate.

ALC: How did you conceive of your installation? How do you invest in the relationship between the sound and KIOSK, the space of diffusion of your piece?

NQ: My installation directly relates to fieldwork and the collecting of all sorts of samples in a former diorite quarry, abandoned in 1979. The encircled area of the huge basin that was blasted into the mountain functions as an amplifier, and transforms the gestalt of the sounds that appear and are reflected back and forth around the cliffs. In consequence, when you enter the location you are confronted with a very particular impression of temporality, width, and ambiance. And something similar happens in the dome of KIOSK.

As I have already worked in KIOSK, before conceiving of this installation I was already aware of the acoustic uniqueness of the former anatomical theater. It is incredibly reverberative due to the smooth and solid surfaces of the building materials. You can almost visualize the sound following its secret trajectory across the vast space. The increased duration and the amplification of even the slightest sound have a strong impact on the impression of corporeality and on how we perceive our own voices, proprioceptive sound, and bodies. On the other hand the space pulls exterior sounds inside and physical barriers become porous. In many ways KIOSK and the geological site of the quarry have revealed themselves to me in a similar manner. The installation has been crafted in relation to these sonic particularities and their consequences for disembodiment, corporeality, presence, and most of all the experience of time. I immediately thought that the dome of KIOSK would be an excellent space to host the presence of the quarry.

ALC: What are the parameters you consider when discovering a place where you have been invited to create a piece in situ? For this installation, how did you think about temporality in relation to this space?

NQ: I pay attention to how the space resonates with the work. With most media, but especially with sound, the work is mediated by the relationship between the space and the work. The space always changes the listening experience and the sound’s expression. In KIOSK, because of its exceptional reverb and because of its shape and its width, the attention immediately expands so that the brain can calculate an idea of the space, and one’s position and trajectory in it, thanks to the presence of the auditory. In my experience there is an impression of disorientation as one quickly becomes aware of the fact that every sound one produces is audible nearly everywhere in the vast space, while speech quickly becomes incomprehensible, even at short distance. I guess these are factors that interfere with the perception of time. So for my installation I tried to feel out how sound develops and how it moves around in space. In a place like KIOSK where the acoustics are a discriminating and dominant trait, I would not be able to conceive of a sound installation that is not site-specific. In KIOSK you have no choice but to resonate within the space as soon as you enter.

ALC: Do you think it is possible to convey one's experience of a location through field recordings?

NQ: The field recording, like the photograph, reveals a sound that has already gone through several stages of transformation when played back—and let’s keep in mind that it has disappeared from its original topos. It is captured by a microphone whose positioning is arbitrary. When recorded digitally, it is encoded as samples and bits by the recorder, then decoded again when it is played back, affected by the speakers we choose, resonating in a totally different space with its own acoustic characteristics, in a different context and with a new situatedness. After these processes of translation, the listener does not hear an experience of the location, but a mediated version that is reinterpreted according to its own listening context and thus represents a wholly new experience. I believe that locations have no intrinsic meaning, and yet they become meaningful through their reception within a particular situatedness. So, to a certain extent yes, a field recording can give insight to the elements that have made one’s experience significant, but it will never convey the experience of the location itself—even if we can ascertain the location’s objective qualities.

ALC: What kind of listening experience do you invite the audience to?

NQ: I want to provide the possibility of alternating between future and past while being fully present in listening. The audience is invited to contemplate the atmosphere I created that relates to the diorite quarry—I hope to convey my own interpretation of the dynamics I discern there. I propose fragments of the spatiotemporal relations that became evident for me through my own listening in the field, so now they might give an affective understanding of the place, like topos, by engaging with its expressions in an interplay between expectation, prediction, strain, tension, resolution, and shifts in time. Perhaps one might be able to connect with different times, presences, and entities.