Hémisphère son – Voler le silence avec Félix Blume
Trained as a sound engineer, Felix Blume shapes sound as a material to create his sound pieces, videos and installations. His work, centered on listening, invites us to transform our perception of the environment. The Sonic Protest festival presents Voler le Silence, a first monographic exhibition in the Ancienne Halle Bouchoule in Montreuil from March 19th to April 2nd 2023.
Felix, this is the first time you are presenting such a comprehensive exhibition of your work in France. What guided the choice of some pieces more than others?
At the beginning of my artistic career in 2015, Sonic Protest had invited me to a collaboration with Jérôme Fino, and then afterwards, they presented some of my films and sound projects during specific events. To build this exhibition, we started from the desire to present the sound installation Swarm. It is composed of 250 suspended loudspeakers, each reproducing the sound of a bee in flight (recorded individually). This aerial choir invites us to listen to these small beings, to this infinitely small, but also to listen to the singularity within the multitude, to the individual within the group. Presented a dozen times since its creation, this will be a first in the Paris region.
Then other pieces around these themes came to be grafted around this one. Los Grillos del Sueño (The Crickets of the Dream), the project that preceded theSwarm, was realized in a collective way with children in La Ligua, a small town in Chile. For a few weeks, each child raised a pair of crickets that they cared for, fed, named, studied, drew, photographed and above all listened to. A composition was made from the sound of these crickets, which is accompanied by the projection of a short video made with cricket speakers, each reproducing the sound of a cricket.
In another room, plunged into darkness, the piece Cello Suites is presented for the first time. Completed just a few weeks ago, it is an audiovisual piece composed of several screens that present ephemeral, in-situ sound installations in the Arizona desert, on the border with Mexico. I placed cellos on old windmills, most of which are in disuse. The central mast that used to drive a water pump is equipped with an archer that rubs the strings of the cello. A second life is thus given to these windmills and creates a sound and musical cartography of this immensity.
Moreover, echoing this border and American dreams, the piece Fuga gives voice to those who try to cross it.
Recorded in the suburbs of Mexico City, this creation presents, in the form of a fugue, the journeys of these migrants from Central America and Mexico in search of a better life in the North. Produced at the invitation of Phaune Radio, this piece has recently become part of the collection of the CNAP –Centre National des Arts Plastiques.
The center of Mexico City is also present with other voices, that of the street vendors of Coro Informal (Informal choir). A series of small sound boxes are installed to compose and decompose a soundscape of the busy streets of the shopping districts. Another polyphonic choir is created.
Finally, the series of very short videos Son-Seul / Wildtrack (which will also be broadcast on Arte in the program Hypernuit on April 7, 2023) makes the link between these different places, retracing a decade of sound recording with a touch of humor and an offbeat, sometimes burlesque side; an invitation to listen to the sounds that surround us.
Your work, as we have just seen, is multiple. What induces the choice of such or such form more specifically?
In my practice, I use sound as a material that I collect through sound recording, or simply through listening, and that I will then use as an element of creation. The process can be very different depending on the project, but the form is generally defined during the realization. The forms are often multiple, the same project can lead to a sound piece, a video installation or a film. I like to keep a certain freedom and not be bound by a final form of presentation, or even by a production obligation. This freedom is necessary.
For the film Curupira, beast of the woods which I made in the Amazonian forest (and which is currently presented at the Maif Social Club until July 22, 2023) I knew only very late that it would become a film. I shared the daily life of the inhabitants of the small village of Tauary to record sounds, in order to complete my personal sound library and to meet them. On the spot, listening to the sounds of the forest, I also captured their presence, their relationship to the forest that surrounds them. Very quickly, they told me about other creatures that inhabit it, so I recorded these stories and filmed the people who accompanied me during the daily sound recordings. A few months later, while trying to assemble what I imagined to be a sound piece, the filmed images were invited into the editing and it became a film, presented in film festivals or as an installation. The form somehow imposed itself.
The trip is ‘You have been travelling for a long time, visiting countries such as Mexico and Brazil.‘Is this an “anthropological” approach?
The sound recording was initially mainly related to my work as a sound engineer for film and documentary. By starting to work in 2015 with a first shooting in Mali, I discovered the possibility of traveling, of discovering cultures that are foreign to me and of meeting the other, the one who is unknown to me. I come from a small village in the South of France, near Narbonne and travel was not a necessity in my youth, nor a desire in itself. The pace gradually quickened with more or less distant film shoots, opportunities to travel to places I knew nothing about. Without it being premeditated, the trips turned into returns. Since then, a certain nomadic life has settled in, with places that come back and others where I have been able to set up a sort of living base.
My approach is sometimes associated with anthropology, but I have no training as an anthropologist.
I think that I share a certain common interest in the other, in meeting and listening to those who are different. I don’t have any “subjects of study” when I work on a project and even if research is active in my home, I don’t usually know what I’m looking for… it’s by exploring that it is defined.
One axis of your approach is ‘The collective is important to you; you develop participatory projects that give rise to works. Why this choice?
Listening has become a central axis in my work. While I thought that the sound recording was the basis of the creation, I gradually realized that it was played elsewhere, through listening. In a way, I managed to free myself from my training as a sound engineer. Indeed, if the microphones and the recorders make it possible to listen, they are not finally necessary. In this encounter with the other, my equipment is often the pretext that justifies my presence in a place that is often unknown to me. It also allows me to try to understand how the other listens. When he/she recommends me the recording of certain sounds of his/her daily life, it is a certain sound identity of his/her territory which is shared with me from his/her perception. We all have a singular listening, and in spite of the presence of ears which can be similar, our brain spends its time to focus on certain sounds and to eliminate others. It is this singular and subjective listening that I try to capture, then to transmit to the possible visitors, spectators or listeners.
During these shared listenings and by the use of the sound as medium, the participative projects imposed themselves since the beginning of my artistic approach. I try to share my technical knowledge of sound recording devices to create a common project together. The processes are then multiple; I realized projects with blind people in Chile, in Mexico or in Haiti by starting from the specificity of the listening when one does not use the sight. Several projects were done with children, with the great part of imagination that they can bring, as it is the case of Rumors from the Sea (made for the Biennial in Thailand, or Los Grillos del Sueño which I mentioned earlier. In the same way that the form is defined along the process, the collective and the participation of people can be imposed in some projects, as it was the case for Lluvias de Mayo (Rains of May) realized in the square of a small village of Mexico, integrating little by little the inhabitants of the village in the sound project.
In films, as a rule, sound is there to accompany the‘image. Your approach is the opposite: the‘image invites us to listen. How do you proceed?
My work starts with sound, but I also have a link with image because of my training in film school and my career as a sound recordist for documentaries. In order to listen better, we often tend to abstract ourselves from the visual, by closing our eyes, by proposing neutral spaces or free of any interference. Of course I make purely sound pieces, but I often try to play with visual elements that can become supports for listening.
When the sound is linked to the video, as is the case in many of my projects, the sound comes before the image and the image reinforces the sound. This is quite rare in audiovisual production. The work of the sound is generally done in a second time, after that of the image, in the shooting as in the editing. In my case, I reverse the roles, I start by editing the sound, then gradually adding images. During the shooting, I first take out my microphones, and then the camera in a second time, when I feel that it becomes necessary.
In my film Luces del Desierto (Lights of the Desert), screened on April 1st, 2023 at 6:30 pm at Instants Chavirés, I edited the image on my sound software. The possibilities are obviously limited, but this allows me to put videos end to end while leaving me a great deal of freedom for the sound work (much more complex than what I could do in an image editing software). I can thus work in parallel the different materials of the story, the sounds and the images, without having to dissociate the working times as it is the case in most films. This is obviously possible because I do most of my projects alone, without an external person in charge of the editing. My latest sound and visual projects are in a way in the continuity of the first videos of Son Seul / Wildtrack where the image also invited us to listen.
Interview by Anne-Laure Chamboissier