The imperceptible signals that surround us, resonate
in the sound art of Stephanie Castonguay

"To be engaged with the electronic medium is to engage with so much more, through which there is an uncanny relation to nature. We tend to forget that our daily electronics are composed of our earthly resources. Strangely, probing circuits was the closest way I have found to touching the stars from a distance."--Stephanie Castonguay

Capturing Light Frequencies (2021)

Modified scanner heads are used as experimental audiovisual devices to capture the reflection of artifacts, such as minerals and electronic residuals, embedded into bio-plastic materials. These objects become some sort of graphic notation, allowing the hacked scanners to translate through sound and moving images our analog world into their poetic machine-reality. In this process, magnification and temporal distortion decontextualize the physical matter, revealing an abstract landscape reminiscent of the visual aesthetics of spectral analysis.  Echoing the origin of technology, the re-appropriation of these devices evokes the concepts of time and memory through an archaeological approach to media.


Essay by Erin Gee, CAPTURING LIGHT FREQUENCIES: Towards sonic languages of electronic encounter.  Read it here
Commissioned by Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario  gn-o.org

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Nina/Streaming Museum:
Stephanie, I was happy to discover your sound art during the meetings I was invited to have with MUTEK 2021 Forum's featured artists. You're working with the elements of chemistry and physics of light and energy present in the earth and universe, and creating a poetic experience of them.

 

Stephanie:
Working with electronics as a medium has become an aesthetic and artistic language that is interwoven into my practice in so many ways. When we examine the lexical field used in electronics, we find that there is the usage of words such as "resistance", "current", or "tension" which are used to describe different states on a technical level. But these words could easily describe the social body or emotional states. In my definition, by extension, the usage of language can emphasize this idea of transformation, often in interrelation or in duality to something else.

 

In recent projects, I became increasingly curious in exploring multiple ways of transforming energy-matter in the most low-fi and doable way possible. For example, I often work with solar panels as a means of transposing the frequencies of visible light into audible signals, thus transforming a form of energy into a new expression of itself.

 

My use of luminous signals serves to highlight the interconnectivity of all things and our relation to what surrounds us: the visible and the imperceivable. By amplifying what is imperceptible to our senses through such low-fi techniques, I also reveal a gap in interpretation from which a poetic expression can emerge.

 

Poetry somehow escapes our perceptual limitations, and it is within this gap that I seek to capture a sense of awareness. For me, to be engaged with the electronic medium is to engage with so much more, through which there is an uncanny relation to nature. We tend to forget that our daily electronics are composed of our earthly resources. Strangely, probing circuits was the closest way I have found to touching the stars from a distance.

 

Light is a fascinating medium to work with, which recalls alchemy. Light is the fastest way to travel and in an expansive universe, this means that by the time it reaches our gaze, the object of our observation is long gone. To that extent, one can only conclude that we are living in the past, illuminated by the obsolete. The idea of disappearance can feel scary, yet, it is in this apparent darkness that holds infinite possibilities.

Sentient Beings (2021), 5 min 36 sec
The sounds and images of artists Stefan and Castonguay blend in a  common quest to transmit a sense of awareness of the interconnectedness between all beings. Sonya’s images zoom into miniature worlds as well as grandiose natural wonders in which manifest elements of the earth. During a daily walking practice, images of the shifting natural world are collected with both digital and 16mm apparatus and then composited to create meditative loops. Echoing Stefan’s universe, the disruptive sound from Castonguay seeks to play with sonic textures by blending sounds of nature with electrical impulses. Composed of errors, accidents and bugs induced by his own sound machines, such as a pirated CD player and a modified scanner head, Castonguay explores the interconnection between the sonic and tactile senses.

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N/SM:
How do you process the sounds of nature with technologies?

 

Stephanie:

The signals I work with come from light. By using reverse-engineered obsolete scanner heads for my performance Capturing Light Frequencies, I use the reflection of light to generate sound and visuals. When the light emanating from the scanner encounters a nearby physical object, its reflection bounces back into its sensor, in this case a CIS (contact image sensor). The hardware was re-designed to allow multiple functions to be pre-programmed and pre-selected on each device. Three modified scanners were created for this performance: a first which outputs digital sound synthesis, a second for pre-recorded playback and a last one to recreate visuals. Because the reading protocol was hacked, the exposed material can be read and translated freely, rather than being sent into a scanner’s utility application.

 

In the first device, I began the delicate and tedious work to shape the resulting signals using programming. I could have chosen multiple ways to convert this data into the sonic matter but decided to deviate towards a representation of materiality that doesn’t correspond visually or sonically to an exact representation of reality. By oversaturating the system, I was able to tease out, from my programmed synthesizers, an organic soundscape that arises and dissipates in unexpected ways. This echoes a process-driven approach, inspired by theories of noise, materiality, and glitch feminism. 

With the notion of process at heart, I was also interested in the concept of memory, echoing the original intention of the scanner design which allows the reproduction of information to be digitalized and archived. In this regard, in a second version of the scanner device, I’ve introduced pre-recorded sounds by using re-mediation techniques. My first step was to burn onto a compact disc sound samples of nature (water flowing, friction of soil, wind brushing the leaves). These sounds were then being disrupted using a hacked CD player, where touching the circuits could unveil the stuttering errors concealed in the buffer memory. The resulting pops, bursts, and glitches were resampled, or contained, into this second scanner. By engaging with this device, the sound medium became tangible: time, pitch and texture turned to clay with the motion of an object gliding over the sensors, altering the stored data, and introducing even more errors at playback.

 

This idea of material/immaterial memory finds itself to be reflected also into the latter device, but this time through visual representation. The technique is reminiscent of the slit-scan, a mechanical technique used in animation and photographic processes that consist of capturing a moving image through a vertical slit, making it possible to visualize the moving objects to create a temporal motion effect. This process of capture serves as a translation of this tangible reality while generating a temporal distortion, which de-contextualizes the reference to the original object. In doing so, it reveals, by stratification, a fragmented and abstract landscape, almost topographic, which reminds the visual aesthetics of a graphic representation of spectral analysis.

MUTEK, founded in 2000 in Montréal, is a worldwide expanding network of festivals for digital creation – from audiovisual performance to interactive installation, XR and AI – with annual editions in Canada, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, the USA, and Japan. MUTEK.org

 

Founded in 2013, MUTEK Forum, the professional component of the festival's Montréal edition, provides a joint platform for artists, companies, researchers and other industry players to explore the latest practices and tools, make new business connections, and nourish critical thinking with regards to technology and society.

Video produced by MUTEK for the 7th edition of MUTEK Forum

Direction and editing by Thish Para


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STEPHANIE CASTONGUAY 
Fueled by D.I.Y. culture, self-taught Stephanie Castonguay has become a master of her craft by fine-tuning her instruments, inviting us into her audiovisual universe. Her approach to sound and electronics is playful and organic: she disassembles and repurposes small, obsolete, barely audible machines to reveal the resonance, glitches and random sounds unexpectedly hidden within. Her work has been presented in Montreal and abroad, such as : Instruments Make Play, STEIM, Tsonami Sound Art Festival, Athens Digital Arts Festival, Musica Ex Machina Festival, Sight & Sound, Suoni Per il Popolo, Lux Magna, MUTEK and beyond. She is based and works in Montréal / Tiohtiá:ke and is an active member of the artist center perte de signal.  stephaniecastonguay.com

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
Capturing Light Frequencies
This capture was made possible thanks to perte de signal and Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario. The creation of instruments was supported by PIXFILM collective thanks to the Petman Foundation, with the technical assistance of Raphaël Demers. The performance was also supported by Fonds de Recherche du Québec Société et Culture.

Sentient Beings

Sonya Stefan: sonyastefan.com