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Vertex (2013–15), a collaboration of Patrick Saint-Denis and Jean Piché

robotic installation

Vertex is an audio-robotic performance created in 2013–15 in collaboration with Jean Piché. The project is based on an electromechanical device consisting of an array of 16 robotic loudspeakers, based on the principle of the Leslie speaker. Each speaker has a drive system to move it up, down and rotate along a vertical axis of around 3 metres high. The device is manipulated live through an assembly of custom software components. Both kinetic sculpture and musical interface, this augmented acousmonium directly influences the audio composition. The matrix aspect of the device favours mass movements and textures, and highlights a set of symbolic resonances close to mass phenomena observed in nature. The movement of bird murmurations and fish schools, or the complex behaviour of mechanical energy dissipating in various media such as surface tension, for example, are among the almost inherent evocations due to the device’s physical appearance.

What were your motivations for moving toward working with light?

For Vertex, light is somehow secondary. It is used to highlight the physical movement of the motorized speakers on which the performance rests.

In what way(s) do you approach and articulate the relationship between sound and light in your work?

Patrick Saint-Denis and Jean Piché — Vertex (2013–15), robotic installation. [Click image to enlarge]

The relationship between sound and light is articulated through a sequence of interactions. There are 16 motorized loudspeakers with directional lights. The positioning of each loudspeaker (height and azimuth) controls the parameters of an oscillator. The amount of movement of the loudspeakers controls the amplitude of the oscillators, while the intensity of the lights is determined by amplitude tracking. The whole thing is controlled by a flight simulator-type interface that allows the control of a virtual loudspeaker. The actual speakers somehow follow the virtual speaker in order to create a mass movement that resembles a cloud of birds. 1[1. See “vertex-model” [Vimeo video] for a visual demonstration from a 3D model. In this simulation, the virtual speaker (red) can be seen being “chased” by the physical (yellow) speakers.]

How do you feel that you, with your multidisciplinary experiences, enrich the language of light and sound-based practices compared with, for example, a lighting artist who has dedicated an entire career to a single discipline?

Vertex is an audiovisual instrument designed to be played in concert just like a musical instrument. Light is part of the instrument, it is one of the internal components of its “lutherie”. Consequently, the use of light that follows from this approach is different from that of a lighting designer. Lighting is not used here to dress up the performance of a visual environment, it is rather a manifestation of the instrument itself.

Excerpt of a performance of Patrick Saint-Denis and Jean Piché’s robotic installation Vertex (2013–15) from 18 December 2015. Vimeo video “VERTEX” (4:27) posted by “Patrick Saint-Denis” on 6 March 2016.

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