In 2015 I participated in a series of seminars where architects were invited to confront their practices and reflections along with other artistic researchers.[1] In the course of the presentations and discussions, a specific and productive affinity emerged between their work and the performance of written music, in that architects also make a use of a notation – the plan – that retains only an aprioristic and symbolic relationship with the inconsistency and affective potentiality of the building’s physical space.


During these seminars, I decided to collaborate for a small project with architect Johan Liekens, whose research presented significant points of contact with my own. His work on design and architecture investigates the relation between architectural plans and their physical enactment, and how such physicality affects the relationality between the building and its users. Similar to me, he is also in search of a different form of “of” between structure and materiality, one that takes place through the immanent act of building (where part of the project is his own engagement in the physical construction of a house). Through our dialogue, we both expressed an interest in a phantasmic image of the “work”, whose exposition would not present the viewer/listener with a finished holistic composition, but with a series of partial “views”. Inspired by notions of fragmentation, of simulacrum, and of point of view, we decided to produce two series of “glances”, each upon one single object. In my case, this became a prelude for baroque guitar (1686) by Robert de Visée (1655-~1733); while in his, a house under construction. The fragments I worked on were constituted by six soundtracks, each isolating a single “trait” of the prelude, and designed to be played back automatically in a loop. In parallel, Liekens produced a series of miniature models from iron wire, with each presenting a “trait” of the building, and that focuses on the relation that such a trait has engendered between the space and its user (fig. 9). The idea was to invite the viewer/listener to reconstruct an imaginary vision of the finished house, as well as an imaginary aural experience of the preexisting piece of music. Our aim might be described as the production of a “reverse memory”: an evocation, a feeble impression, like the one that happens in remembering. Except that, in this case, there is nothing to be remembered. The “original” experience is obliterated by its dissolution into fragments.


Liekens, in dialogue with myself, also designed a physical installation for the exposition of a double series of fragments (aural and visual). The result was a cabinet with eight small fissures, through which it was possible for the visitors to see one of the models and/or to listen to one of the sonic tracks (fig. 10). The cabinet materialised the conceptual approach of the musical piece and of the building. Its spatial construction would invite listeners and viewers to re-enact, together with the musician and the architect, a process of de-composition of the previously composed work, the missing “original”.


Whereas my previous performances had been enacted only in concert situations (with the inevitable consequence of fixed temporal linearity and relative spatial stasis), here the physical interaction between the listener and the sound could make more explicit, both for myself and for the audience, the processes of decomposition and isolation operated on the primary work. An alternative to pre-established occasions for music fruition (e.g. at a concert, or on a home audio system) and the frontal and detached scenery of the listening experience they generate (e.g. the stage, the recording), the cabinet shaped the act of listening in the form of a tangible, and at the same time imaginative, pathway. The possibility of experiencing the piece in its integrity, as a work of art that recalls the consistency of a living organism and invites listeners to a sense of identity, however ambiguous, was broken up through an engagement with space as a route into the de-construction and re-construction of the musical piece. The re-constructional moment, the mental image that listeners retain of the piece, would generate a phantasmic dimension, inconsistent, totally subjective and irreducible to a tangible and fixed actualisation. Impossible to catch in its integral wholeness, the piece of music exposes itself as simulacrum, as an object exceeding its own extensive limitations as inscription – on the phonographic medium, on  memory and perception – to inhabit a locus of forgetfulness. The piece of music, far from being re-membered, is dis-membered in such a way that one cannot but forget it, and to retain of it only its imaginative ghost or shadow. In this way, the relationship between the listening subject and the musical object has to be broken. The first will experience the second only under the conditions of a series of points of view – in this case, points of hearing – where the subject, occupying such changing spots, becomes as much part of the work of art as the object itself, which results in the two being in anamorphic relationship with one another. The musical experience, far from relying on the fixed and established midpoints of musical communication (e.g. the composer/work, the performer, the listener), rearranges itself in a continuous intermingling of the roles. The performer therefore is also both a listener of the primary work and its de-composer, the listener performs his or her own pathway of re-composing the primary work in its phantasmic image, and the work acts as an affecter on the performer and listener, per-forming their perception and reaction.


The practical construction of the installation faced some problems (limits of budget, limits of practical knowledge, limits of space), which made the experience more valid as a work-in-progress than as a finished output. Each of the seven fragments was projected through a mono speaker positioned right above one of the fissures through which the architectural model could be seen. The models were not visible directly through the fissures, but through their images that were reflected onto small mirrors, adding ambiguity and intangibility to the viewing experience. One problematic feature of the installation was that whereas it was possible to gain a totally fragmentary experience of the visual aspect, for the aural part this did not happen, as it being impossible to reduce sound projection to a singular site in space. The aural experience therefore was that of a blurred and very soft background sound as the speakers were within the wooden frame of the cabinet and projecting at a very low volume. The visitors were thus only able to sort out each singular fragment by placing their ear close to the fissure, so as to listen to it clearly and almost without the interference of the other speakers. In addition to this problem was the fact that the spatial and visual aspect of the installation invited the viewers to look through the fissure, but not to place their ear towards it in order to listen. For that reason, the fragments were not perceived as clearly distinct singular moments. Such problem might have been solved by the introduction of a second fissure, situated in such a spot that, through the act of looking, the ears of the visitors would be automatically placed automatically very close to the projection point of the speaker.

In conclusion, integrating the musical composition with an installation proved to be very promising, especially because it enhanced the fragmentariness of the listening experience and allowed one to think differently about how to structure the new performance. Yet, to function effectively, it would require further work on the technical issues of the audio projection and on the relationship between the visitors and the visual and physical space.

[1] The Joint Doctoral Seminar was a series of doctoral seminars jointly organised by the Department of Architecture, Campus Sint-Lucas (KU Leuven) and LUCA Faculty of the Arts (LUCA School of Arts).


P O W E R S   O F   D I V E R G E N C E

S T O P / P L A Y   A U D I O

T H E   P H A N T A S M I C   I M A G E   O F   T H E   M U S I C A L   W O R K

c a s e   s t u d y :   r o b e r t   d e   v i s é e

The Cabinet of Sonic Gazes, after Robert de Visée’s Prelude from the Suite in D minor for guitar

Composer: Robert de Visée (~1650-1725)

Primary work: Prelude from the Suite in D minor
Published in Livre de Pieces pour la Guitarre (1686)

Preparatory phase: performing my own version of the piece on classical guitar and chitarra battente (a folk instrument with the same tuning and string system as baroque guitar), from both original French tablature and transcriptions in modern notation (Karl Scheit, Universal Editions; Jean-François Delcamp); listening to recordings (Karl Scheit).
Compositional phase (generating the sonic image): recording and electronic editing of seven soundtracks produced using voice, chitarra battente played with cello bow and mallet, fretless electric bass.
Semiotic and performative phase (designing the live performance): designing an installation in collaboration with an architect; designing a live performance with midi interface Korg Nanokontrol 2 and Ableton Live Software.


Differently from other examples in my practice, the Prelude from the Suite in D minor by Visée has been written for an instrument very close to my own: the baroque guitar. Therefore, in the preparatory phase, it was possible for me to perform it both on classical guitar and on an instrument that has the same string system, tuning, and fretboard of the one used by Visée, namely chitarra battente. This had an incidence on the relationship between the score and performer (myself), since the instrumental idiomatic gestural elements came to the fore much more than in other examples.

Being initally thought of for an ongoing audio installation, this divergent performance was organised in seven fragments, each constituted by an electronic soundtrack played in a loop with variable volume envelopes. Each fragment can be regarded as one single “trait” of the primary work. This divergent performance does not entail a temporal continuity, since the fragments were played back as independently automated soundtracks. Thus, the temporal succession was not pre-decided, but was determined by the autonomous conduct of the fragments (live version) and by their spatial disposition in relation to the position of the listeners (in the case of the installation).

The first fragment refers to the dotted articulation (typical of French music in the late 17th century – early 18th century when Visée operated as a composer and performer), assigning it to a percussive pattern (gum mallet on the body of the chitarra battente).

The second fragment follows the same pattern, adding to it some traces of melody, played by hitting the strings of the chitarra battente with a cello bow.

The third fragment isolates the melody through a whistling tone.

The fourth fragment deterritorialises the harmonic progression: the pitches of the chord progression in bars 5-6 are prolonged and superimposed to each other.

The fifth fragment isolates and reiterates ornaments.

The sixth fragment condensates the initial harmonic progression into two descending lines (fretless bass guitar) that are bent and “liquefied”.

The seventh fragment isolates the bass line and transposes it to a lower register.

Video simulation of the viewer's experience. The audio installation is not running in this video.

Score of the primary work