Space is a place to question listening: An interview with Oï les Ox
Aude Van Wyller, born in 1991, is a visual artist and composer from Paris. She is interested in poetry and music and its dispersion in a variety of spaces, such as stairs, amphitheatres, concert rooms, gardens… After creating multi-channel installations, performing readings with actors and making recordings, she worked on a single project involving sound poetry and electronic music, under the moniker Oï les Ox, called ‘Crooner qui coule sous les clous’ (A crooner who sinks under nails).
Can you talk about how you entered the world of music? Do you remember that moment when you decided to pursue it actively?
I learned the Celtic harp as a child. I remember that my teacher at the time recorded a tune we had learned onto a mini-disc. A friend of mine made me a compilation with no track ID when I was 13, and I found Devo on it and plenty of nice things, like the Nuggets compilations. The iPod came out and I discovered I could rip off CDs from the public library. I recorded covers with the mic of the computer on Audacity. I was still training in music (theory, harp and choir). Then I decided that art school was the place where I would play with sound and maybe meet other strange music enthusiasts. During art school, at the Villa Arson in Nice, I focused more on installations and speaking, writing. But I started to improvise music with other students and to organise concerts and workshops.
Out of school, we built a collective under the name Outreglot and organised the Missing Numéro festival. We gathered foreign and closer artists we really enjoyed (Seth Graham from Orange Milk records, GS Sultan, Bruno Spoerri, Francesco Cavaliere) and we did a floating multi-channel sound system with the Liquid Test Press collective. Somehow, all this growing and experimental internet scene was a great motivation to start composing my own project. It took me a long time to finish my debut. I was lucky that two imprints I requested, The Death of Rave (UK) and Primordial Void (US), agreed to release it.
You are also a visual artist. Can you talk about that aspect of your work?
I am more into composing music, but I test different ways to do it in space with a narrative aspect, by reading or broadcasting. I use Bluetooth speakers and mobile amplifiers, I hang speakers, when there is electricity available, for imaging the route. Since you can turn everything into a speaker with exciters, or create inputs with contact mics, for instance, there is a way to add sound to objects. At the moment, I am playing more on music stages with a stereo sound system and an acoustic made for concerts. But I think public space is an interesting playground because that’s where you can maybe create chance meetings with people and architecture. I like to work on attention and simultaneity by playing recordings in different directions and at the same time. So, the visual aspect for me is to gather different mediums and a way to think about the space as an open and specific area to write and compose for, taking all situations into consideration. I don’t really like to perform myself (except for singing) so I want to work more with other performers.
I still draw and make objects; I hope to include this soon in the music.
The worlds of text (poetry) and sound also collide in your sound poetry work. How important are words and ideas for you? Which ideas and worlds inspire you in your creative work?
I think the text helps in structuring the music. It can decide the order of the tracks, or lead me to create new tracks if the text needs it. It also, of course, gives a meaning to the music. But the meaning does not necessarily have to be narrative; it is nice that it could pretend to be one. I mean, interpretation and various directions in the meaning (as well as the direction in space; in French “sens” means both direction and meaning) are something you can play with in poetry. So, to say it succinctly, as space is a place to question listening, poetry is a place to question language, and it shares with music the exploration of the rhythm and the melody of speech or thoughts.
I discovered some authors who were more experimental about music in the text, like James Joyce, André Martel, Armand Robin, and a book by Jean Paulhan who gathered hain-tenys from Madagascar. I was also a bit disappointed by the music sung in French I knew as it was determined by the form of the songs (verse/chorus). What I found in poetry is that it can give a new rhythm to the music itself, a free prosody. Also, the problem of the standardisation of the language, how you repeat sentences you have heard from your family, neighbours, the news, your workspace, is an aspect I like to quote, especially now that you can generate all those strange texts by e-translation and IA. Mechanical voices are something I like to bring into the texts. I think these concerns came with Phillip K. Dick and JG. Ballard. I am dreaming and projecting a lot. So ideas, or maybe being idealistic is a big part of my work, even if it is not always good because you often misjudge what you can actually do.
Your work is dispersed in various places, such as stairs, amphitheatres, concert rooms, gardens. What is the importance of the environments in which your work is presented? How do you search for these?
I usually try to stay a long time in a place and adapt some work to it. It can be thinking about movement, the location of the speakers, where and when the audience will listen to it. The environment can also be very tricky. Like I said earlier, I like spaces that are sometimes not thought of as being suitable for music. Some elements could disturb it, or there is a complex, distant, or dispersed sound system that is not always very coherent for understanding the music. So I have to think how I want it to appear, knowing that you can’t predict every possible event, and that it is also your choices that can guide the listening. For instance, you can install the sound to play with verticality (i.e. make a sound rise up), or where you have to look for the source.
At Villa Arson, I did it in a tiny labyrinth, so I displayed a text in it with four narrators and four speakers imitating each other, to create an impression of having the same in different places (with tiny variations), not always speaking at the same time, and getting lost. The text was also mentioning the loss of individuality and “here” or “there” space indications. The shape of it and the text had a literal relationship; sometimes, it is more about analogy, sometimes, it is just a funny effect or a pretty place to stay and listen. So, how the place is built and also what it adds visually gives a symbolic resonance to the music.
Can you talk about your music-making – how you create the sound, the composition, the lyrics and voice?
I record all the time and I make sound libraries. I love to make montages with it and multi- track takes. Now I am trying more to make patches of external or electric, acoustic instruments and play with it for a long time.
Melodies sometimes come from everyday life, sometimes, I have to search a bit for chords and ways to tune them with a key or the harp. I like to make contrasts in the styles or the quality of the sound, to break transitions, to use more intuitive takes and, sometimes, protocols to generate sound (like turn audio to midi, change the instruments, learn it by heart before recording, try to take only first takes…). It is usually long tracks of collage and hybridised songs. The song is there, maybe, so as to have a figure (Michel Chion calls it the logo in « Le Son »), a thing to rely on while the rest is more something to get inside, listen to, that sometimes has a slow development. It can start from the background (a field-rec, a notification sound, a rumour of music behind a door) to reach a hum, or a chorus, which is more frontal. I think it is because I very much like the simple chants from punk and new wave while the structure of progressive music seems more free. Sometimes, it is just sadly complicated or elements just don’t fit together, but it is an interesting limit, created by the montage. There is a balance between being complicated and clear, and it again involves the question of how to play with attention. The CD format has a lot to do with it. Maybe we don’t listen like this now, it is more of a switching between tracks streamed (playlists, algorithmic recommendations).
You are originally from Paris, but based in Brussels. How is the scene there nowadays, and your involvement in it?
I live in Paris. I came back a year ago. Being in Belgium really helped me to be involved in the music scene. I was able to have a part-time job so I could work and live during the making of the first album, to have many friends making music, to go to concerts a lot and have residencies, and to play in venues like Beursschouwburg, Le Botanique, Het Bos…
Paris is a bit harsher, especially because spaces are small and expensive. It is not easy to find a rehearsal place. But I still think that there are a lot of people in Paris making very interesting music, even with the lack of space. To follow the experimental or club music scene, you have the Instants Chavirés, La Station – Gare des mines, La Bourse de Commerce, and the rest for me is led by itinerant series (like Promesses or Parkingstone, which can sometimes embrace big venues like Trabendo or La Gaité Lyrique).
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been nominated by the Paris-based festival Sonic Protest to share a performance after a residency at La Muse en Circuit, a centre for music founded by Luc Ferrari. I have just finished the soundtrack of a video by the visual artist Lennert Lefever from Ghent for the 25av platform. I am finishing my second album, called AI les Axes.
In the next months, I hope to make a score for ondes martenot and tap dance on a stair. I am making a radio piece commissioned by Jajaja Neeneenee from Amsterdam about inaudible songs and shred playing. I’d like to collect material via collaborative inquiry. If you have suggestions of inaudible songs (inaudible because the recording has a low fidelity or the singer is mumbling, for instance) would you like to share it?
The idea is to make a speech to text application analysis and see what lyrics come out.
Interview: Lucia Udvardyova