The American Loren Chasse is one of the most important international artists, connected to the environment/sound relation. His abilities to listen and to transform the object in “musical instrument” are some of the most identifying features of his work.
If field recordings are more and more common in “experimental” music, Loren Chasse does not only have a different way of using sound, but he manages, with his microphone, to photograph in a representative way the acoustic spaces in which he works.
Chasse can shift the “traditional” frontier of art, making the differences between music and sound art not very crystalline, if they exist. Beyond his activity as a musician and his several collaborations, he is a teacher at the San Francisco School District where he organises workshops on the listening ability and on creativity connected to it.
Luca Bergero: 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 the relationship with the public?
Loren Chasse: My performances are thoroughly connected to the use of space as an “instrument”. Usually, there is little distance between me and the listener 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 can not 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 you attended, I noticed some children in the theatre following 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 to use them. As they felt at their ease, they joined me as I was shaking the gravel or contorting some wood.
Luca Bergero: I read a lot about your idea of microphone as ears’ extension. Since you started working with field recordings how has your every- day listening changed? Do you manage to separate each moment completely you have the chance to seize the sounds from others?
Loren Chasse: I use the microphone a lot and I take inspiration from a 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 technology- 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 listened to or of what they saw me doing. In my recorded works I like to get the sounds they way they are transformed and overemphasized from the environment, maybe giving a physical quality implying something on the situation and on the circumstances they were achieved or found.
Luca Bergero: Each environment has peculiar sound aspects. How do you relate or modify the audio to the space you have the chance to present your works in? Do the works you create for art galleries require a different approach?
Loren Chasse: 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 they 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, a type of place which might influence my approach could be a sort of “hope” that a particular kind of public may attend the event. There are plenty of “subcultures” where my works are presented and I must say that some spectators are more “innocent” then others, or they have more experience or at least a different experience
Luca Bergero: Part of your works involves children. Which kind of reaction do they have towards the projects you present to them? How does the relationship with those “pure” listeners influence your work?
Loren Chasse: Working with children gives me the freedom to profit from more possibilities. They are not self-aware and so I realize I am becoming in my turn less self-aware. Children do not look for or listen to a “personality” within the work, they need an immediate fulfilment of their senses; so I tend to be rather physical in my approach and to create my sound I try to use things, which are far more fascinating. I take into account that sounds were not too “violent” or strong for children’s ears.
Luca Bergero: How important are collaborations in your artistic path? How does the comparison with other musicians/artists interfere in the growth and realisation of new projects?
Loren Chasse: Collaborations can be very fulfilling. It is a relationship imposing some limits which 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 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 organisation of London named Proboscis. I am interested in the “practise “of free distribution which can lead to perspectives-often through creativity-to work in new fields.
Proboscis usually gathers artists and people concerned in different fields, such as economy, neurology, education, cartography, communication, etc with the hope that two fields might be mutually inspired in innovating new practices and in developing new decision criteria. My project involves the work with a state school, consisting in mapping the neighbourhood according to the sound experiences of the students. Moreover, we are analysing some “typologies” of sound spaces in London and the way people listen to their environment in every- day life.
Luca Bergero: Which is, whether it exists, the limit between music and “sound art”?
Loren Chasse: I think the imaginary limit changes continuously. My activities in groups such as Thuja, The Child Readers, The Blithe Sons and Of (also called Jewelled Antler music) are no more such separated from the activities carried out in my name. It is rather a division between culture of “sound art” and culture of alternative/experimental/psychedelic (how may names!), but now there are festivals and events (in big museums too) inviting artists from both “fields”. So, actually this border vanishes and the two worlds, listening and recognizing themselves “in the other”, start to mingle.
Luca Bergero: Which are your current engagements? Do you have plans to come back in Italy ?
Loren Chasse: 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 I will collaborate with them. I would like to visit some friends in Milan and Udine . Those meetings might lead to some collaboration Next summer I imagine I will have some chances 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!.