Real-time memories: An interview with 9th cloud & PRISM

PRISM - Press picture 4 - Copyright C. Meroni

PRISM is a musical and visual creation, a mix of live electro and cine-concert which is spatialised and edited in real time. A hexagonal screen is set up on stage around artist 9th cloud, shutting him in as well as opening him up to his own inspirations. He interacts with these screens in order to change the projection order, distance and appearance, such that the music influences the images, and vice versa. PRISM’s focus is on the creative pulse and the random endurance of memories, and the project attempts to dramatise causal links between these two themes. Listeners are placed between reality and imagination, between live and projected action. A creative dialectic establishes itself between image, light and sound, leading to an illusion or blur for the viewer. We have caught up with Fabien Fabri (aka 9th cloud) and producer Merryl Messaoudi to talk about the project.

Can you talk about the basics of the project?

Fabien Fabre: In 2011 Cyril (Meroni) and I collaborated on a one-off show and we always wanted to work together again. When I create sound/music I really don’t have any intention, I just do it based on my feelings. I started to ask myself about the source and influence of our creativity.

The basic underlying motif are memories.

FF: Yes, it’s about memories and how we use this experience to create something new.

How does it work in practice? You have this specific stage setup.

FF: The stage design aims to show how the brain works. Cyril wanted to have 6 screens on stage that would focus on transparency. Some of the images blend together, split apart and come together again. One of the first steps was to create a stage design that would be able to show several images at the same time. We decided I should be in the centre of the stage because the screens show what’s happening in my brain.

How is this portrayed? Are these memories and experience you tell Cyril about?

FF: It’s a two-way process. In fact we work as if we were writing a movie. We talked about some emotions and feelings, sometimes I propose sounds or ideas for a video footage, and sometimes it’s Cyril who proposes them my sound. It’s about memories – also false ones. It’s like a film though. We don’t show real experiences, but present sound and images that can explain or mediate emotions to the audience.

So you try to conjure symbols and more abstract representations?

FF: Yes. There are also some realistic parts with some characters that are there to represent and symbolise certain themes for parts of the show.

Merryl Messaoudi: They had these huge conversations about what kind of emotions/images they wanted to show. The combination of realistic pictures with characters and some more geometrical forms – and eventually moving from one to the other – reminds of breathing. The shooting itself took one year. On stage, during the live set, they both basically know what they are going to do in terms of the music and the video, but they will create it live. Cyril creates spatial effects live completely, and Fabien also has a possibility to improvise.

Can you talk about the special screen setup that you have on stage?

FF: The screens aim to present different ideas and memories that enter the brain at the same time. The screens are on stage creating a hexagon. The three screens in the back are non-transparent and I’m positioned in front of them as if I was a character in a movie. The front of the stage is translucid, so Cyril can blend some images from the three different parts: the back screens, the front screens, and me. There are also lights that he can switch on and off, so I can appear and disappear.

I guess it’s also like a protective shield.

FF: In fact it permits me to be in a very particular state of mind. It’s the same feeling as if I was alone in my studio – kind of like in a bubble. The fact that the front screens are translucid enables me to see the audience and their reactions. I can decide whether to look at them or not, whether to listen to their questions – quite often they ask for more dance-oriented music. It’s a very specific place to be – you can be present or absent.

MM: It’s a real conversation between real memories that are projected on Fabien because he’s stuck inside it, and when Cyril decides to play a certain video, Fabien doesn’t have a choice. Sometimes it’s only the memory appearing on stage, sometimes with Fabien is in it. Sometimes Cyril would stop the video and you can only see the musician.

FF: The videos are being imposed on me, but sometimes I try to make them follow a certain direction.

Are the sounds synthetic or do you also use concrete ones?

FF: The sound is a combination of synthetic sounds and granular synthesis, which is a synthesis that uses some concrete sounds to resynthesize a new melody.

One of the projections had a figure of a female person in it. Can you talk about the concrete tropes and narratives?

FF: The girl is a symbol of a memory that we want to reach, but it’s fleeting, and it comes back when we are not ready to face it. It’s like a game with a lost memory. In fact, it’s not a real memory, but something we would like to have. Someone we would like to have known, but it’s only an idea.

Do you have a set performance or do you also improvise?

FF: The main part is prepared, but each part can be played live as much as we want. For instance, there is a moment when the main character is playing with some pieces of paper and this part can be played smoothly in a melancholic way, or in a very intense and aggressive way.

So it’s also cinematic, like film direction.

FF: Yes, but we are editing the movie and the sounds in real time. We have the same movie, but it’s always a different cut at every show.

Is it more a cerebral or an emotional performance?

FF: It can be really emotional, but there’s also a narrative, which is really vague. Everyone can recreate their own movie after seeing the show. There are some key points that can provide clues about the movie. We interpret memories differently each time.

How do you see it developing?

FF: We are pretty amazed that we are able to play it in a really different way each and every time with the same subject and material. Last time we played it was at a pretty big outdoor festival and people were almost dancing, the show before that was in a theatre with a seated audience. We are really happy with the performance as it is now.

MM: There’s also an intention to develop it into an installation.