How do you create a space within another space? Julien Bayle did it at the 3D Sound Room by SON Estrella Galicia at MIRA Festival in Barcelona by programming and using an involving sound system by Intorno labs. With his newest installation, Structure, the French artist made all the festivalgoers feel lost, wrapped, confused, comfortable, hugged and dazed with a combination of light, sound and smoke.
After studying engineering and focusing on developing his technical skills, Bayle soon realised it wasn’t technology that interested him the most. Instead, he felt it was creating that would fuel, enrich and drive his life. And he was right: after an impressive decades-long career, Julien keeps exploring and experimenting the creative possibilities of algorithms and equations.

With sound as his most reliable tool, he’s been creating immersive installations and performing live to make audiences worldwide feel the power of technology and experience how beautiful a mechanical sound can be. That’s precisely one of the things one can feel when listening to Violent Grains of Silence, his “most important album to date”, as he himself puts it. And with his impressive body of work, which he’s presented in multiple festivals and cities. We got the opportunity to chat with Julien during MIRA festival about the balance between creativity and technology, how does parametric design work, his installation Structure, and working with one of the best sound systems in the world.
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You’ve performed in so many festivals and venues, given so many lectures, and did so many things in general that I don’t even know where to start. So, let’s do it from the beginning: how did your career as a multidisciplinary artist start?
I started programming since I was a kid. I was interested in how I could create sounds directly from algorithms and equations, and I was also interested in science, so I studied network and communications engineering. After that, at some point, I wanted to change and start doing what I was doing during the night, but during the day – which was creating. I already had developed programming skills and I wanted to go further. I’ve kept this engineering background, of course, but I feel like I’m expressing myself more now.
Your practice is based on technology and requires some mathematics, engineering and coding background/knowledge. How do you balance the creative and the technical aspects when thinking of a piece? Do you start with a concept and look for the technology that can make it a reality, or do you discover new tools, gadgets and systems, and then think of the creative possibilities they may have?
I’m more interested in expressing ideas or illustrating concepts, so I usually just use technologies when I need them. The trigger, the driving force behind my artworks is what I want to express. How do I see the world? How do I share my vision with others? How do they see it? These are questions I want to explore, and then, I go to those technologies or techniques that will make it possible to do so. Sometimes, I’ll have an idea stored for a long time before I can make it a reality because of various reasons.
Of course, it can be really interesting to explore technology for itself and understand new ways or languages of programming, but in the end, this is not creative enough for me. It’s like when Sol LeWitt wanted to explore how to use the different edges of a cube; you have twelve edges and a lot of different combinations, which is really interesting, but it’s more related to mathematics than to feelings, it’s a systematic exploration. When I’m exploring visuals or sounds, I like to create some rules in my system and let it explore it for me and, sometimes, the result is a nice series of visuals or sounds. But this is just training for me, not creating. When I need to create, I already have ideas in my mind and just use the technologies I need.
I must say I’ve enjoyed Structure a lot, your installation for MIRA festival. When going in, one gets almost blinded by the smoke; it’s hard to see who’s around you unless they’re very near. At first, it’s sort of strange and even a little bit worrying (if you go in with people, you easily lose them and it’s difficult to find them again). But at the same time, it’s somehow enveloping, you can feel wrapped or hugged by the smoke and the darkness. Is this contradictory/dividing feeling something you were looking for? Feeling isolated but wrapped/enveloped at the same time?
Yes, they are consequences of what I first wanted to do. Through the sound of the installation, which modifies itself, I wanted to explore the relationship between order and chaos. Since both poles are paradoxical, in the end, they are the exact same thing. You can feel lost in this environment because it’s chaotic and you can’t retrieve your path and, at some point, you can feel comfortable and just stay where you are. This happens because you can really feel the space, it’s very dense. It’s not about just filling it with sound or light, it’s about creating a shield around you.
When I first got inside the installation, I could feel this too. I was fascinated because, as you said, I felt lost but comfortable at the same time. I went in with a friend and suddenly lost her, but it was ok. I think there is a sort of dialogue between the space and you. I think this is because the sound pushes you in different directions. I saw many people walking despite they couldn’t see anything as well as others just standing there, and even some that did seem more afraid.
Structure is based on concepts of parametric design and architecture. Despite doing my research, I still don’t understand properly what it is exactly about. Could you tell me a little bit more about it, and what are the concepts/ideas from this type of design that we can find in the piece?
Basically, I used two different kinds of synthesizers for the sound. I also used oscillators, which are equations. There is nothing at the beginning, you just run the program I designed and it generates sound by itself in real time. I also injected some samples in the system, so it’s like injecting a part of the past in my installation. I used buff to represent basic shapes to move the sound around the space, so in a way, it’s like drawing. The sound’s path depends on an equation, which takes the source and makes it travel around the room. By creating parametric trajectories, I changed how sounds were moving.
Zaha Hadid was one of the first architects to work using these parametricism concepts. I was really fascinated by it because it’s based on a computer that helps you to create a structure. In the installation, that’s how it works. The core of the program I designed is able to change the path and make the sound travel and rotate – it can move in spirals or circles, and it can be at the bottom of the room or at the ceiling. Thanks to Intorno Labs I can do that – they help me to place my sound source virtually anywhere. My idea, in a way, was to design a space within a space.
The sound system is amazing: no matter where you are, the sound rumbles through your body. I know that’s in part thanks to Intorno Labs, who’s provided with the technology to do it. How important is having the latest or best technology for your works? Taking into account that your work is based on new technologies, do you feel you could achieve the same with less budget/resources?
This is a difficult question… I think I couldn’t have done that actually. I’ve been invited a couple of times to places where you can do 3D sound, but each time, I had to design my system from scratch. The problem is that I know how to do this but it takes a lot of time. I used to use ambisonic sound technology, with which I could use spatialization quite easily, but the problem is the system. Basically, if you have to perform the same piece in different venues, it means that you have to rebuild the system each time. So time-wise, it’s impossible for me to do it.
For example, I did a project at Société des Arts Technologiques de Montréal (SAT) named Sig.Int, which was a really nice experience. After that, I received some requests to do the same project in other places, but time-wise, I couldn’t do it, there was no time for all the production. And then, lately, I met Intorno Labs.
And collaborating with them has changed the way you work.
Yes, there is not a lot of discussion because we were already like… connected in some ways. Basically, they built a system that helps artists to think of their piece no matter the space where you want to play it. Thus, I created Structure for a 3D, real physical environment. The piece would be exactly the same somewhere else – be it bigger or smaller.
You have a source for the sound, and, for each source, you can control four spatial parameters (x, y, z and diffusion). So you only have to worry about these, it doesn’t matter if there are thirty speakers in the room or sixty-four. If you want your sound to be somewhere in particular, you can put it there. So from the artist’s point of view, it is very cool and relaxing, you only have to compose your piece and think about the 3D positioning of your sources.
Is there any downside to this?
Well, mixing sound in a real 3D sound system is harder because you have to separate some parameters. For example, for this piece, I chose to separate the frequency into low, medium, and high – so for one source, I have three different sounds. But it was really easy to just play that. I’d like to exhibit this exact same piece elsewhere, even if just for testing. Because of Intorno Labs’ technology, now it’s possible time-wise. They are experts in modelling space, so they would just have to build the system in another venue and I could play the same piece there. Without this sound system, it would be quite difficult for me to do it.
Despite being (and sounding) very mechanical and robotic, I heard something that reminded me of the rain, like a downpour. Would you say nature plays an important role in Structure in particular, or in your body of work in general?
I’m more interested in how humans can build things, so, I would say I’m interested in part of nature – as humans are part of it. Urban environments, cities and buildings. For Structure, I recorded a sound (which was certainly not the rain) and the system is able to cut it into very small particles. Maybe, what you heard were these. But it didn’t sound like rain in nature, it sounded like water falling on a metal plate or the roof of a building – I’m obsessed with architecture.
This particular part was like a metal rain, in a way. I like this idea of inverting the sound events: water falling on metal versus metal falling into water. I also recorded other urban sounds, like the one of Chicago’s metro, which was moving within a curve. It was a very loud and anxiety-provoking sound that was reverberating amongst Chicago’s buildings – anxiety because it was making me so tiny within this huge concrete and metal environment.
“I’m more interested in expressing ideas or illustrating concepts, so I usually just use technologies when I need them.”
In addition to light, sound and space, which are recurring themes you explore in your work, there’s another one: in-time performance, meaning that many of your pieces react to the present moment and are not ‘just’ recorded videos or visuals. Structure is one of many examples. What is it that interests you about artworks that react to the audience and the environment? What layer of meaning do you think it adds?
In the beginning, I was using algorithms only, there were no pre-recorded sounds. It’s weird because I have a lot of sound artist friends who’re recording all the time, but I just didn’t. In my personal life, many things changed and evolved, and I think I didn’t want to record sounds because I didn’t want to record the past. I didn’t want to assume it. I wasn’t even recording albums – I started doing so just two years ago!
I wanted things to be able to change every time, so I was using only a generative algorithm. I wanted to keep the maximum level of omnipotence for each system I was designing for creating. If I wanted someone to listen to my music, I just had to run my own designed program – not play a file. I think I progressively understood that I couldn’t change everything. It came late, but it did.
So you’re recording sounds now.
I began to record sound to use it as a starting point. I cannot change the base, it’s raw material. I can process it a lot and make a lot of things with it (like using granular-synthesis techniques, which is like a micro-time scale cutup concept), but the base is the same. For example, I recorded a sound on a specific day and it means something to me now. I’ve been recording a lot lately.
What else have you been up to, lately?
I released my most important album to date, Violent Grains of Silence. I launched some others before but in smaller labels – or in my own, but it’s very confidential. So the one I released now, I recorded it two years ago during a very important moment of my life. I collaborated a lot with a research lab in Marseille named Laboratoire de Mécanique et Acoustique (LMA-CNRS), which provided me with an anechoic room, which means there’s no reverberation. It was like recording the silence – it was a bit crazy.
The only source of sound is that small two-hours piece I recorded there in that room, which was later injected into my modules and synthesizers. It talks about the impossibility of recording silence and the fact that there is no silence as soon as you start to chase it. It reminds me of the quantum mechanics uncertainty principle: if you start to observe something, you modify the result of your observations.
“Before, I was more interested in the intersection between me and my system, and now, I’m more interested in the interaction between me, the audience, and the system.”
In addition to installations, you also perform in front of audiences. How different is the creative process when thinking of a live act?
It’s a bit the same process. I have some ideas and goals to achieve, but the exploration is different. The main difference is that my installations are a continuum and the performances have a beginning and an end. To me, an installation is an autonomous being that could run forever, whereas a performance is more disrupting. I think of it more like a story.
But programming things is the same, just that for the performance, it is more prepared. Some parts are written, although I always leave room for improvisation. For example, I inject probabilities to the system to create more instability in certain parts because, even if I don’t know the exact path of the sound, I know the global area in which the curve is going.
How do you face or approach a performance? Is it more exciting or thrilling than doing an installation?
I think it is more exciting because I feel very connected to the system and to the public. It’s very energizing. I see how the audience reacts to the sound so I can change it according to that. For example, using very high-pitch sound as a counterpoint to the low-end part of the spectrum. I felt this sort of connection less when I toured with Alpha, my first performance, but now, I feel it more and more. Before, I was more interested in the intersection between me and my system, and now, I’m more interested in the interaction between me, the audience, and the system.
With Frgments live performance, that’s also the case. This is a more intimate project using video capture raw material and sound have been recorded too. This is a project in which I finally achieved to assume the past, to start from a point I couldn’t even change but to start from it and move on further.
You premiered Structure at MIRA festival. Do you have plans to move it around the world? What other projects are you currently working on?
I would like to do that because I think the installation could be pushed a bit further. I can’t speak for Intorno Labs, but I believe they’ll like the idea. There are some things we could explore more, like the light aspect. It could be interesting to use lasers to create a volumetric grid, for example. Also, I started to work on a live version of Structure. It won’t use the same system nor the same type of sounds. But the Structure concepts will remain the same.
How will it be then?
It will be a direct collision between my two inner worlds: the cold one of equations, and the warm one of humans. Indeed, I will use 3D volumetric filming for my visuals. In a few weeks, I’ll start to capture faces and bodies (static or moving), and people slowly moving or dancing. This project is related to my inner and outside worlds collapsing into a dense and heavy (metal) matter. With my production manager, we are aiming at pushing it far and have a big world premiere live performance during the summer. I’ll keep you updated about this for sure on my Facebook and website!
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