jeudi 24 juillet 2014


DEVISE Magazine

On The Record: Projet Électro-Acrylique

photo : Jocelyn Guilloton
Projet Électro-Acrylique is an art and music project conceived by two artists living in Montreal – Frédéric Laurier and Alec Stephani. The two performed a few months ago at the 15th anniversary of Mutek and Elektra for EM15, two festivals organized for the promotion and combination of electronic music, digital arts, and technological innovation in Montreal. During a live performance by Projet Électro-

Acrylique, Alec paints and uses
charcoal to draw abstract art on a custom made canvas that has multiple contact microphones sitting behind it allowing any friction, movement, or stroke to be recorded at the smallest dynamic level. As each stroke of crayon or brush is recorded, Frédéric, a sound designer, transforms the vibrations of Alec’s brush and crayon strokes into dark, weird, and beautiful techno-based sounds. I had the opportunity to discuss the project through a Q&A session with them.

How do you guys create songs? Can you talk through the process a little bit? I’m kind of mind blown by the process and still trying to wrap my head around it.

Alec : We start from scratch. No sound and nothing on the canvas. At first, I start to paint. The sound of the brushes on the canvas goes through the contact microphones behind the canvas and is immediately diffused live. Frederic (sound designer) filters and transforms the sound to create textures. Then he records some of the sounds to sequence them back or sample them and play them back. Eventually, a soundscape and a rhythm is created. With my brushes on the canvas, I paint in a rhythmic way so I make and add some groove elements. For example, I can hit the canvas with a brush and Frederic captures it and tweaks it to make a kick drums sound.

photo : Éric Simoneau

The way I paint influences the way Frederic creates the music and the soundscape that he creates influences the way I paint. [Because of this connection] We make a live creative feedback on each other. Movement comes to life. The canvas becomes an instrument.

Were there any major hurdles when you transformed your project from a concept to an actual performance?

Alec : No, because the concept originates from a living painting performance I did in 2008. This is precisely where and when I got the idea. I was painting with energy. This created noise. The drummer who accompanied me took his brushes and begun to follow me recreating the sounds and movements I was doing. I noticed. We then began to play together. At the end of the performance, I thought it was necessary to go further. I needed to add microphones and sensors behind the canvas to accentuate sounds and movements.

In fact, the basic concept is an observation of the relationship between the “low tech” and “hight tech” as sources of contemporary influences. We are confronted daily with this relationship without realizing it. Technology surrounds us and invades us. When we returning to the base, we perceive that the “low tech” is a way to refocus. I then asked how the “low tech” could influencing the “high tech” and vice versa. Fred and his devices is the “high tech”. He magnifies sound and movement that I created. Canvas, brushes and color pigments represent the “low tech”. How, then, “low tech” influences “high tech”? How “high tech” stimulates “low tech”? This is also applicable to the design, the music, the contemporary art, and other creative forms.

Fred : I always produced my own music in the studio and my only public performances were as a DJ. I had very little experience of live music project before. So when Alec explained the project to me, I thought he had a great idea and I really wanted to find a solution and help him make it happen. There are many possible ways to sample and playback live. But the question is “How to record and playback immediately the sounds of the brushes ?” But further…. We wanted to be musical and not only percussive. We wanted to create melodies too. But we wanted to do it without the help of pre-recorded sequences coming from external gear like synthesizers. I had to find a way to transform the sound of the brushes into melodies on the fly. A lot of research led me to find some ways I could filter the sound of the brushes to turn them into different frequencies and resonances so I could be able to play them back live.

photo : Pierre Cloutier

What equipment and hardware do you use for a live performance?

Fred : Alec uses a special easel he designed and built. It holds contact microphones behind the canvas, a sound mixer and an electronic drum module. The wires from his sound module sends me the audio signal of the contact microphones. I use a sound interface, a computer with a sequencer. I use all sorts of audio plugins and gizmos to filter, loop, sequence and playback. I use some MIDI controllers for ultimate control.

How did you design the canvas for the project? Did you work on it by yourself, with help from Frederic, or have to bring in outside specialists to get it acoustically set up?

Alec : I designed it myself. It was a “Work in progress”. I had to improve some technical aspects before obtaining the most effective “canvas-instrument” for this project. I started by simply putting sensor stuck behind the canvas. The result was already good, but it was not enough. Today, it has become a real board, a real instrument.

I know that you are a multi-disciplinary artist. What other projects are you currently working on?

Alec : Yes, I have other projects. I was bicycle designer for many years. Currently, I design carbon wheelchairs for active people. I still paint different stuff. I’m particularly interested these days with super heroes. Especially Batman. The dark side of the character and its image is a source of inspiration. It is the iconographic images of American comic books of the 50s that inspires me the most. I also continue to write books. After writing several novels, I wrote a children’s book.

How did you and Frederic go about practicing for the EM15 gig? Did you treat it like any other performance?

Fred : We jammed and we recorded in the atelier. Since I record multiple tracks in the sequencer, when I go back in my studio, I can play with those raw sounds and do some research to find different possibilities to tweak those sounds (the brushes on the canvas). How to make interesting melodies with those raw sounds ? This was one of my main concerns. There are so many nice audio developers out there and so many possibilities, but I have to find which of them works the best with that kind of raw audio material. This is really where the Low-Tech meets the Hi-Tech!

How would you describe your experience of performing at EM15?

First, we did not expect to participate in Mutek festival for at least another year. But our previous participation in the show “La Nuit Blanche (“White Night” in French)”, organized by Mutek, gave us the opportunity to present our project out in public. To be part of the Elektra festival “Mutek EM15″ was an honour for us. This confirmed that our project has a great potential. To test this concept in a prestigious environment (Montreal Contemporary Art Museum), adding video projection, has been an extraordinary experience. It was truly great!

Written by Patrick O’Keefe