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Watching her scratch and break several wine glasses was shocking, poetic, fun, cathartic, and even uncomfortable at some point. Some people enjoyed it, some didn’t understand it, and some others didn’t know how to feel about it. But one thing is clear: Myriam Bleau left her mark amongst the attendees of her performance at the last A Taste of Sónar+D by Mazda Rebels in Barcelona. The Canadian artist started studying guitar as a hobby, but has ended up becoming a pioneer in media art, travelling around the world while showcasing her edgy and innovative works. To deepen inside the mind of such a creative force, we interviewed her a few hours before her performance, which was a very contemporary and relevant experience that left us thirsty for more.

You are a composer, a digital artist, a performer and you also play several instruments. How and where did you learn to do all this?
I don’t play several instruments; that’s a lie that people like to say. I was serious about playing guitar, and I did my undergrad in jazz guitar. But other than that, it was more like a hobby… And the thing is that now, since I’m doing more media art performance, I rarely have time to play it. But I always studied music and did a lot of electronic, which I learned both on my own and with friends. We helped each other and started doing stuff.
How did you know you wanted to become an artist? Did you start by more traditional disciplines and then discovered the possibilities of technology?
I suppose playing guitar was a more traditional discipline, if you think about it. I always liked to do music and was very inspired to do more the kind of stuff that I’m doing now. Through going to festivals and seeing what was exhibited there, I always thought: “I want to do projects like that!” And, eventually, I found a way to have my own take in that world.
How does your creative process work? What steps do you take when creating a new performance?
I always start with a strong idea or concept. I rarely start by working with the materials, somehow. Maybe this is not the best way to do it, but I generally start with a final idea of what I want; I just have the picture in my head and, once it’s there, I start working on it. I try to figure out how to do it technically, and what to do to compose music from that idea. Of course, the first concept that I have rarely stays the same. But still, the core idea, concept and feeling that I want to go through with a particular performance are still there.
By working with different multimedia devices, gadgets and software, you must have a strong technological knowledge. Do technical issues overshadow the artistic ones when you are thinking and creating a new piece?
Sometimes, it depends. I need to stay focused, but there are always technical problems (laughs). But I guess the difficult part is to understand how to do something that is streamlined with the technologies that I know; to use simple technologies in order to make things I usually wouldn’t expect to do with them. During this project,, I’ve had to learn a lot of new things and, sometimes, I’ve had to ask for help because I was doing things I never did before and I didn’t want to lose time on the artistic side just to figure out a new technology every day. It’s always a balance: I like understanding how everything works and I like to learn new things, of course, but I don’t want to spend all of my time just doing deep-bugging.

You developed during your residency at LABoral Centro de Arte in Spain. Tell us a bit more about the artwork and its story. 
This one comes from working under the idea of tension and performance. For example, when you play an instrument, there’s a natural tension that comes from what you need to do to activate it. Or when I play the guitar, there’s a concentration and a risk, which make it more exciting. So I was going with that idea and trying to find ways to bring that tension to the stage. Working with that kind of risk has been done before in performance, as well as breaking things on stage because it’s liberating and it’s also very cathartic, but that’s what I wanted. The very first performance that I did of was in May 2015 – a long time ago – and it didn’t have anything to do with the one I do now. It was more like a robotic thing, where I had lots of different little machines and I would tap the glass. But it didn’t have the performative aspect that I wanted to; I was trying to create more of an instrument that I could play with, and I didn’t feel like that avenue of research allowed me to do that. In the end, I wanted to do something more uniform because it’s a performance that ends up having different sections, so I tried to tie them together and make it more coherent, as it is now.
The sound of glass being broken is not the most pleasant one to listen to. What drew your attention to it on the first place? What reasons made you choose the glass of wine as a material?
I guess that it doesn’t leave you indifferent. There’s a part of the performance where I have a camera zoomed in in one of the glasses, which I break slowly with scissors; you can really see how it breaks, how it goes off chip by chip – and, if I’m lucky, maybe you can see the dust from the glass. So it’s surprising because you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to break as it does. And there’s also a lot of detail; it’s very rich, and there are a lot of subtleties in the sounds you can get from it.
Do you ever get tired of the sound of it while experimenting and creating the performance?
I wouldn’t say that I get tired of the sound, but it is physically tiring. Making sure everything is fine and doing the sound check – some things I have to do twice every time – can be exhausting.
And how do you overcome that?
I don’t know, you just close your eyes! (laughs)
In addition to exploring the sonic potential of glass, you also explore its visual and symbolic possibilities. What are the results?
I asked myself the questions “What is a wine glass? What does it look like? What can I do with it?” And I started working on them. I really like the visual aspect of this performance because there’s a dynamic light set up, so I present the glass from a different angle and perspective; I make it very theatrical. And for the performance itself, sometimes it’s more rhythmical, and sometimes it’s more resonating. At first sight, when you look at it, maybe I give you the false impression that I’m going to do the glass-organ-thing; you wouldn’t expect that I’m going to break a lot of the glasses there, so I also play with the different meanings this set up could have for people.

Another theme you explore with is the tension associated with anticipated destruction. Do you like to make the audience tense, uncomfortable, or even worried? Do you enjoy it?
Sure, it’s fun! (laughs). But I guess that, more important than making them feel worried, is to just engage them physically. For example, I feel that when you look at someone playing an instrument, your body naturally projects itself onto the person doing the action; however, with electronic music, this is not always the case. There’s a disconnection. Sometimes, through performances like, you have this grey zone about authenticity: does it feel like the person is actually playing? Does it feel real? To me, this is really important. I try to understand what the limits are, because I still feel like I’m playing an instrument during this performance, even though it’s not as immediate as other ones that I did.
It’s the second time you perform at Sónar +D (both of them in Barcelona), and you’re showcasing Soft Revolvers also at Sónar Hong Kong. What does it mean for you, as an artist, to receive the support of a festival like this?
It’s so great! I’m still early in my career and it’s really nice to have such an opportunity to present my work to a lot of people at Sónar, and it’s such a good platform; it’s really awesome! It’s also nice to share it with that Sónar+D facet, which links technology and art and looks for the relationship between the two, instead of focusing on just one.
Do audiences react differently depending on the country you perform?
Let me think about it… I don’t know, Spanish people always react good! And I’m not saying this because I’m in Spain right now (laughs). But it’s interesting to see how different people react to different parts of the performance. Some really like it when I break glasses in a deliberate way, and some others think it’s more interesting when I manipulate them delicately. But I was surprised last summer when I did the performance in a very small town outside Montreal, in Quebec. It was for a classical music audience; they had just one electro-acoustic-experimental concert in it, which was mine. So I explained what I was about to do before doing it and, after I finished the show, they thought it was fun. It was just a matter of communication, of explaining them that I was doing something more than just breaking a bunch of glasses; they had a way to relate to it, so they enjoyed it. Sometimes you get surprised by the responses of different audiences.
In what projects are you currently working on? How does 2017 look like?
It’s a strange year. I’m trying a lot of new things, actually. I’ve been working on a small installation that I think is really fun, it’s called Stories of mechanical music, and it’s a little project that looks like a music box (but it has a really strange look). Although it’s a real life object, it looks digital, as if you were looking at a 3-D sketch on a computer. I’m also doing a lot of music for ensembles, and writing scores. We’ll see how that goes, but I guess most ensembles that approach me to write pieces don’t expect traditional stuff, so I’m always trying to find things that will be conceptual and related to what instrumentation they want to work with.

Arnau Salvadó
Alba Rupérez & Andrea Val

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