Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Alexis Langevin-Tétrault is Montreal-based musician and digital artist presented as part of The Lowry’s digital programming strand. Montreal, we learn, has an unexpectedly rich and vibrant digital and visual arts scene, fuelled by the film and creative industries based there.
Langevin-Tétrault has designed and built a new electroacoustic instrument that is best-described as a large deconstructed guitar – he used to be a guitarist in rock bands. This gives a clue to how it works but not at all how it looks. The machine is basically, a large rectangular metal frame on a table, wired to a laptop and a unit that translates the sound generated into audio and light signals. During the performance he attaches cords across the frame, vertically and diagonally; longer cords stretch from the frame to anchors on the floor. Each cord has a sensor attached and every touch of the cord generates a sound and lights which fire bright, intense LEDs fixed to the frame.
With focused movement, which contains an element of choreography, Langevin-Tétrault caresses, plucks, twangs and hits the cords. At the same time he repositions the cords, attaches new ones, loosely cleats them to create rudimentary musical chords and using three, foot switches, selects micro samples that dictate the direction the sound may take. He creates an intense and shifting soundscape and interplay of light that veers towards and shudders way from music and melody: rhythms appear and retreat, sounds ping and judder and startle and linger, accompanied by short sharp bursts of bright light that colours and illuminates the small new universe of sounds he is generating. He judiciously allows silence and darkness to punctuate this new digital language. This is a digital sound sculpture as much as a musical performance. Although he is using a laptop he doesn’t refer it to at all through the performance, which is as a result much more unexpectedly visceral and emotional. He is battling and seducing the machine rather than playing it like a musical instrument: it’s a different kind of physical virtuosity
None of the sounds presented are prerecorded and there is no set pattern to what he is doing. The music is entirely produced by the in the moment interaction of the cords, the devices, the way it interacts with the space and Langevin-Tétrault’s physical relationship with the machine, which can be unpredictable as the cords are relatively loose and highly responsive to touch and his sample selections, which give the generated sound potential new directions rather than an instruction. This brings a warmly human element to what is essentially electronically generated sound: but it comes from a physical and organic place of texture and tension and creative intent.
The performance – which last twenty-five minutes or so – is followed by a short conversation between Langevin-Tétrault, the Lowry’s digital programmer, and the audience: which explains and contextualises what has just been experienced as well as telling us more about his personal journey to this place. Langevin-Tétrault is charming and eloquent and the audience appreciate the opportunity to unpick the technical and emotional content of the show.
Finally, the audience are invited onto the stage to examine the machine, which is no less fascinating in full light than it was flickering in the intense LEDs of the music. Langevin-Tétrault is happy to chat and explain in as much detail as required the ideas and technical set-up of the show.
Interferences looks like someone who has created a device to generate a time portal but is a powerfully compelling and highly-watchable exposure to a new digital language that is at once fleetingly familiar and alien.
Reviewed on 31st March 2018 | Image: Contributed