Technology is not a style: An interview with Fraction

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Fraction (Eric Raynaud) is a French musician, composer and producer of experimental electronic music whose work explores the boundaries of spatial sound composition within the design of metaphysical immersive experiences. After the release of his first EP Superposition on the French label Infine Music, Raynaud moved away from traditional music fields to focus on digital arts, working on complex stage designs and hybrid writings that combine visual, sound and physical media. In 2013, he developed DROMOS for Mutek Festival in Montreal, an impressive immersive performance that resonated with the blogosphere and subsequently had its OST released on InFiné. Since then, he has kept on merging 3D immersive sound with contemporary art and architecture, incorporating his questioning of themes that combine science and contemporary sociology. In collaboration with Louis Philippe St Arnault, he recently designed Entropia, a unique A/V performance involving a led sphere and ambisonics sound. With Planète Humaine, his last release on Infine (Oct 2016), he questions both the relation between physics and space, and the place of humanity in a human shaped environment. 

Can you talk about your background? How and why did you become interested in digital art?

I had a winding journey towards “digital art”. I’m actually still not sure if I’m really so much into the so-called ‘digital art’ field.

To me, a field that would only focus on a conceptual idea of being ‘digital’ would become quickly obsolete, whereas art is eternal (as long humanity exists). Although, I admire some artists who are expressly focused on using digital matter as it is (generative code art, net art etc) – maybe we could call them digital artists! – but this is not really what I’m doing.

Basically, I started as a regular musician twenty years ago. Music has always been the vector of my work. But I was also really interested by art that tells different stories using different and original formats as new tools to express deeper feelings. So naturally when I shifted to computer music ten years ago, I immediately started to think about how to feature these ideas myself. Again, what you call digital, I only call art that uses technology. But technology is not a style. Technology is an instrument to reach a goal. I don’t focus so much on the tools, but much more on the goal itself.

You explore the boundaries of spatial sound composition with design of metaphysical immersive experiences. Can you talk about these immersive experiences?

In 2012, I got an opportunity to work on an immersive experience called Dromos that I wrote as a tribute to the French thinker and urbanist Paul Virilio who I was obsessed with at that time. The piece was eventually featured at Mutek in 2013.

Generally, I enjoy deep metaphysical ideas and concepts that surpass the immediate perception of what we usually feel. It’s not new. I’ve never really found a format that would translate this inner feeling into a creative process. And suddenly it became obvious. Working in an immersive environment resonates perfectly with that. In that context, you have this feeling of being overwhelmed by media, as I love to be by a strong idea. But, technically, this required me to rethink all the steps of creation, the format, and its content, and to develop new skills, as the aesthetic story had to be written in a multidimensional form. It was challenging, but exciting.

I had to create new performing tools and a max patch for the music and the sound, and adapt the sound matter to be performed in advance. When an achievement perspective influences the tool you need, I believe it is the right direction. These immersive experiences are the result of this experimental work. It’s an ongoing journey, with a lot of mistakes and some successful attempts. The last one, Entropia, is a good example of what can be done if you challenge the format of all the dimensions of creative matter that we possibly have: scenography, light, sound etc. I’m really happy with that piece, because it’s not only a live performance. It has to do with a ritualistic momentum that, I hope, throw a specific energy into people’s heart.

How do you incorporate architecture and stage design into your installations – how do you build up your audiovisual worlds?

Scenographic architecture is now a dimension that I always incorporate into the thinking process behind a piece. It’s an aesthetic parameter which is quite relevant to me. I’m thinking about it almost as much as I’m thinking about the music production. It’s part of a more global writing. All the dimensions are connected. From that perspective, stage design shouldn’t be generic. It should be appropriate to an aesthetic intention, therefore built in that spirit.

The only problem is that it can be the most expensive part of a project. Frustratingly, you have to discard a very interesting idea. It’s something that really pisses me off, especially when these are the people who are supposed to be the most audacious with production, after artists themselves, who are telling you this. It might sound a little provocative, but when I see big festival lineups, I’m not seeing the best or the most innovative live acts anymore, just the ones which can either fit into the budget or make the most money, without involving too much different gear and set up shifts. When you take into consideration the average fee for a DJ who only brings a USB stick, it’s is really sad for overall creation. Some say, we are getting really lazy. Maybe.

Your work combines science and contemporary sociology. Can you elaborate?

I like, let’s say, a holistic idea. A complex system is considered an entity with characteristics related to its totality, and properties that are not deductible from those of its elements. So from that principle, I’m interested in big mechanisms from the quantum theory to the anthropic principle, towards civilisation collapse. I can spend days reading books about an idea. Then I’d continue with the next one that is connected to it. We live in a coherent puzzle, don’t we? From my perspective, we, artists, are like cultural messenger between humans. We are connectors, translators, popularizers similar to those who were painting caves. My role, even though it’s instinctive, is to help to deliver a message from a general interest to the individual thinker. So yes, well, I like to take a concept, translate it into my language and reach an audience with that message.

Should sound and digital art in general have a wider reach in terms of its use/value for the general public?

Should it mean “would deserve”? Or should it mean “it’s our duty”? In both cases, these are not appropriate answers. My feeling is that this shouldn’t just pertain sound and digital art. Art in general should get a wider reach. But what we see now is that the boundary between what we call digital art and new business models gets thinner and thinner. I think the main problem is that digital art became part of the new economy. We have tonnes of examples right under our eyes. That’s why I don’t put in the same bag the trend of bling-bling mapping and the work of someone like Casey Reas who makes algorithmic generative art. Unfortunately for us, mapping is reaching an increasingly wider public.  As always, right now most of the pertinent and unseen approaches are coming from the underground – now it’s hacking net art and stuff of this kind.

One of your projects, Planete Humaine, deals with humanity, physics and space. Can you talk about this project/the process behind it? Are you interested in neural networks (some of the images in this video reminded me of DeepDream’s neural network visualisations)

Funnily enough, my girlfriend (now wife) wrote her thesis about the use of neural networks in atmospheric science back in 2000/2003! This is not new at all. It’s only become popular among the artistic circles now. It’s funny to see how scientists are so fucking ahead of any artists in any technological field. That’s why I consider that us, artists, should only focus on an aesthetic idea, not making tool demonstrations. This is what we are good at. This example is also why I love scientists. These guys are the most talented people ever when it comes to thinking of a concept and developing a specific technology to make it happen. They just do it. They have the knowledge, and the method (and the funds ahah). They build a fucking underground device (LHC) just to track one particle! How sick is that?

So back to Planete Humaine – it’s actually my last release (2016). I’m really obsessed by what we are as a species, what we do, how we do it, and … how much time we have left to do it (not kidding). I do feel a certain drama in human civilisation. I’m probably influenced by my immediate surroundings – Paris, a really stressful city, which is also really polluted. But still, all the general parameters on Earth are getting worse. So I’m not sure where we’re going, but I don’t feel we are making it in an appropriate way. There’s a dichotomy between what we as humans are trying to achieve, and the environment that we are transforming which probably won’t allow this achievement to happen. It has something to do with surrealism. This was the conceptual context at the time I produced that record. Therefore I asked Beeple for artwork, and later made a music video with fractal artist Julius Horsthuis.

What are you currently working on?

I have a brand new project on the table named Vector Field.  It’s a new audiovisual performance using visual projection where I explore real-time manipulation of a vectorial stream created by sound as an ode to the art of Transformation. Aesthetically, it will look like a continuum made of a topological sound map. I’m pretty excited by this project, because for the first time, it’s a piece where I do both the sound and the visuals simultaneously. The visual support can change, and the scenography adapts.

I’m also preparing a vinyl release of the music used for Martin Baraga’s installation, Moonolith, on which I collaborated. We are working on a object that will fit nicely to the piece. There are a few other shows of Entropia on their way as well as some other great announcements to be made!

Photo: Albert Ruso/Mira Festival