INTERVIEW: LOREN CHASSE, PHOTOGRAPHING ACOUSTIC SPACES, by Luca Bergero

This text is republished in collaboration with Digicult.it. It was released on March 2006, and has been edited for republication.

Read this article in Italian.

The American Loren Chasse is one of the most important international artists working in the areas of environment and sound. His ability to listen and to transform an object into “musical instrument” is the most identifying feature of his work.

If field recordings are more and more common in “experimental” music, then Loren Chasse does not only have a different way of using sound, but he manages to “photograph” with his microphone the acoustic spaces in which he works.

Chasse shifts the traditional frontier of art by blurring the differences between music and sound art, if it can even be assumed that they exist. Beyond his activities as a musician and his several collaborations, he is a teacher in the San Francisco School District where he organizes workshops on skilled and creative listening.

Luca Bergero (LB): In 2004 I was in a concert of yours– I really liked your plunging into the public, and the way you cancelled the distance between you and the listeners. Can you just tell us about the way you develop your live performances? How flexible are you in your relationship with the public?

Loren Chasse (LC): My performances are thoroughly connected to the use of space as an “instrument”. Usually, there is little distance between the listener and me because the sounds I like are generated by delicate physical gestures, which have to be observed from close up. Often, the sounds are acoustically amplified from the same room and are relatively calm. The sounds of the room and of the public are always included in the “mix”. I work near each listener’s ears in such a way to obtain a sort of intimacy, something individual, maybe private too, for each ear in the room.

I am aware I cannot really “compose” a performance before it happens. I can at most “choreography” my movements in space, considering this path as a stereophonic space I want to investigate within. I try at least to identify a set of chances for space and the situation of the performance: I want some of them to happen. In the live performance you attended, I noticed some children in the theatre following me while I was moving among several things on the floor. They looked at me from close up, with the fascinating inattention peculiar to children, and wanted to imitate my gestures and touch the things when I had finished using them. As they felt at their ease, they joined me as I was shaking the gravel or contorting some wood.

LB: I read a lot about your idea of the microphone as the ears’ extension. Since you started working with field recordings how has your everyday listening changed? Do you manage to separate each moment completely? Do you have the chance to seize the sounds from others?

LC: I use the microphone a lot and I take inspiration from certain pointlessness in sound recording. The moment does not sound so good once it is recorded. This is why during my performances I like to create a natural listening experience and not a technologically mediated one. I usually use a microphone to record the sound of my actions so that after the performance my public can listen to a recorded version of what they experienced. In my recorded works I like to get the sounds they way they are transformed and overemphasized by the environment; maybe giving a physical quality implying something on the situation and on the circumstances they were achieved or found.

LB: Each environment has peculiar sound aspects. How do you relate or modify the audio to the space in which you are presenting Do the works you create for art galleries require a different approach?

LC: I do not really know whether I really make a distinction between works for art galleries and the others. It is always related to a specific space. Are there stairs? Balconies? Windows? Railings? Wood? Stone? Fitted carpet? Metal? Is there an access to the adjoining rooms? Are there fixed chairs? Can the spectators move freely around the room? Definitely, the venue might influence my approach in that I “hope for” or anticipate that a particular kind of public may attend the event. Yet, there are plenty of “subcultures” where my works are presented and I must say that some spectators are more ”innocent” than others, or some have more experience, or at least, some have different experiences.

LB: Part of your works involves children. What kind of reactions do they have towards the projects that you present to them? How does your relationship with those “pure” listeners influence your work?

LC: Working with children gives me the freedom to profit from more possibilities. They are not self-aware, and so I realize that I in turn become less self-aware. Children do not look for or listen to a “personality” within the work; rather they need an immediate fulfillment of their senses. So, I tend to be rather physical in my approach and to create my sound I try to use things that are far more fascinating. And I try tailor sounds so they are not too “violent” or strong for children’s ears.

LB: How important are collaborations on your artistic path? How does the comparison with other musicians/artists interfere with the growth and realization of new projects?

LC: Collaborations can be very fulfilling. It is a relationship imposing some limits that can be either exciting or frustrating. To me collaborations are successful when I have a friendship or at least a personal relationship which goes beyond the sound art subculture. Lately, I am more interested in working with people from other fields, whose motivations can be slightly different from mine’s.

At present time, I am involved in a project with an organization of London named Proboscis. I am interested in the “practice “of free distribution which can lead to perspectives-often through creativity-to work in new fields. Proboscis usually gathers artists and people concerned with different fields, such as economy, neurology, education, cartography, communication, etc., with the hope that two fields might be mutually inspired to innovative new practices and develop new decision criteria.

My project involves working with a state school to map the neighborhood according to the sound experiences of the students. Moreover, we are analyzing some “typologies” of sound spaces in London. And exploring the way people listen to their environment in everyday life.

LB: What is, (if it exists), the limit between music and “sound art”?

LC: I think the imaginary limit changes continuously. My activities in groups such as “Thuja,” “The Child Readers,” “The Blithe Sons and Of,” (also called Jeweled Antler music), are not much different from my solo activities. The division seems to be, rather, one between the culture of “sound art” and the culture of alternative/experimental/psychedelic. (So may names!) But, now there are festivals and events, (even in big museums), inviting artists from both “fields”. So, actually, this border is vanishing and the two worlds, listening and recognizing themselves “in the other”, are starting to mingle.

LB: What are your current engagements? Do you have plans to come back to Italy?

LC: Each summer I go where I am invited. I have some good friends in Turin, (a group called “My Cat is An Alien”), and I hope I will meet them again and collaborate. I would also like to visit some friends in Milan and Udine. Those meetings might also lead to some collaboration.

Next summer I imagine I will have some opportunities in Estonia and in Latvia; I am going to work with some friends in Switzerland and in Spain. I suppose I will go where the wind is blowing!

www.23five.org/lchasse/