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"Projectors" Turns 8mm Cameras Into An Industrial Symphony

Martin Messier uses both analog and digital projection technologies to make an unconventional orchestra.

by Benoit Palop
28 March 2014, 3:50pm

A few months ago, we showed you Sewing Machine Orchestra (SMO), an unconventional musical ensemble imagined and created by Montreal-based new media artist and electroacoustic composer, Martin Messier. For SMO—which is still touring internationally—Messier's technological wizardry induced eight sewing machines into offering up an electrifying audiovisual performance.

This Sunday, March 30th, for the 2014 edition of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester, Messier will push the limits of sonic exploration with Projectors, a captivating, performative A/V installation that echoes SMO. Presented as a world premiere, Projectors is the newest phase in Messier's lineup of research geared towards redefining the functions of the “everyday object” by imbuing upon it sonic potential.   

This time, the work is an ensemble made up of a trio of 8mm projectors and two digital projectors Messier uses to immerse the viewer in a hypnotic audiovisual experience. The analog projectors' sounds are synthesized, while the digital projectors produce images and the lights that animate the piece. The viewer is thrown into a complex universe, wherein an entire dialogue between sounds and objects takes place. 

Projectors breaks the barriers down between analog and digital technology, to create a mechanical audiovisual installation. The projectors thus diverted from their primary functions and, in turn, offer us an industrial symphony. Below, Projectors in action: 

Since Messier has already landed in Europe to prep for Projectors' festival debut, we figured there was no better time to get in touch and ask him about his new project.

The Creators Project: According to my research, you put this piece aside for quite some time. What were you missing? What elements allowed you to finish it?

Martin Messier: I have been slowing down in the last three years for many reasons, but I'm finally sure it's been positive. With Projectors, there are some similarities to my Sewing Machine Orchestra project: I was once again working in an environment wherein black objects appear on a white background. In terms of form, and in the ways in which I approach it, the technologies involved make it very different. In this piece, I tried to create a non-linear piece with more than one or two dimensions.

Why do you prefer improvised instruments over more conventional technical and technological processes?

These old objects constrain me, which is quite important when we live in a time with all these tools accessible to everyone. These objects give me the framework that I need; they become my instruments, my inspiration, and my conceptual guide. The whole idea is to give ordinary, everyday objects a second life so they become magical. Traditional tools (musical instruments, for example) are instruments leading you to a musical way of thinking, that take you somewhere else completely.

Specifically, what are some of the answers that Projectors brings to your research?

This project has been around for many years now and many scenarios have been in my mind. I decided to approach this project using various angles:  8mm projectors vs digital projectors, sound from an 8mm projector versus synthetic sound, digital projectors projecting on 8mm projectors…

Generally, time has given me the opportunity to see different perspectives, and finally, I had decided that I had too many ideas to create only one project. What I will be presenting in Manchester will be the first part of a cycle.

Could you give us some details on the technical processes behind Projectors? How does it work, and what are the tools/softwares used for the projection and the sonic synthesis?

I am hesitant to give you the ingredients of my sauce… I essentially use dimmers to control machines and LEDs installed on my 8mm projectors. I use a digital projector on the side to light and constrain space, and another digital projector for the background. 

Sounds and effects used in this performance are all triggered when I start the 8mm projector. I could be processing sound, or resynthetizing sound using Max (for example).

The “everyday objects” that you use to refer to the mechanical era, today, are essentially digital. If you decided to use contemporary objects, how would you apply your techniques to their electronic components? And do you think the result would still be interesting?

In my last projects, I have mostly used mechanical systems. I have chosen to use objects with one specific quality: they were possible to manipulate with my hands-- this specificity was what I was looking for. Tactile interfaces have always been an important element in my personal performative projects. Essentially, what I look for is the gesture, and electronic and digital technologies often offer the opposite (microscopic interactivity). Of course I use and am interested in these technologies, but I don't put them in the front row. 

So after sewing machines 8mm projectors, what can we expect for your next piece ?

At this point, and my mind is not made up, but I'm thinking more about a system that I could put an object into than one that just uses the object in and of itself. I don't think I will put an object in the front row, as I did in my last pieces. There might be some objects, around but I think that it might be the end of a cycle with Projectors

Photos by Maxine Bouchard

For more on Messier, check out past coverage below:

How Sewing Machines Were Transformed Into An Orchestra