Composition, a brand new creation by Vincent Morisset, founder of studio AATOAA, is a score that was written on the blank page of an exploratory residency with PHI Studio. Having more than a year to work on it, the process was able to unfold itself within our walls organically.
Vincent Morisset has been working on interactive projects for the last twenty years. His most recent creation was designed and developed during an exploratory residency (from 2019 to 2021) with Caroline Robert, Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit and Louis-Nicolas Imbeau, alias Vlooper. "The beauty of this type of residency is that you can get started without having all the answers. You can move forward with an iterative, experimental approach and create meaning while keeping propositions open."
The final result, Composition, is a synthesized work in which several of Vincent Morisset's major career projects seem to be distilled:
- The lighting work in Just a Reflektor and INNI, which he created for Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós, respectively;
- The choreography in the installation Vast Body, with Louise Lecavalier;
- The moving illustrations in BLA BLA;
- The miniature world of Habitat, presented last year at the Quartier des spectacles.
An encounter between the real and the imagined world
"Composition becomes what you imagine. It can remind someone of a musical instrument, a beatmaking software, a musical score through its sound. Through its scenography, one can imagine a maquette or a miniature theatre. It is also an animated film and a choreographic and sculptural work — the hands manipulating the cubes dancing a kind of ballet with the work that comes to life."
Vincent Morisset is driven by the idea of building bridges between the virtual and the real. This residency at PHI was an opportunity for the creator to push this premise even further in physicality and sensoriality with object manipulation. After months of research and experimentation, this object finally took the form of wooden cubes. These cubes are the essence of the work, it is through them that the public comes into contact with it and it is by manipulating them that they are immersed. "Gathering around a table to create, destroy and rebuild with the wooden cubes is reminiscent of a kind of ritual. It takes us back to childhood. There is something very satisfying and magical in this tangible interaction. The way the cubes are arranged on the table transforms the visual tableaus we see and the musical structure. The cubes are characters, landscapes... they are whatever we want them to be."
A vocabulary developed by four minds
"The genesis of the cubes was somewhat accidental. At the very beginning of the residency, Caroline, Édouard and I experimented with manipulating small objects on the table. I brought various things from home, including a collection of wooden cubes. When friends came over to my place with their children, I would give them one and ask them to draw a face on all six sides. Over the years, I accumulated a collection of quirky cubes."
Founder of AATOAA, Vincent Morisset created Composition with his long-time collaborators Caroline Robert and Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit. The Montreal studio trio was joined by Louis-Nicolas Imbeau, alias Vlooper, of Alaclair Ensemble, to develop a new vocabulary that permeates the work. "We soon invited Vlooper to join us in experimenting with sound, and this forged what would become Composition. For me, it's important that this horizontal collaboration takes place early on so that each person can enrich the practice of the others.”
Caroline Robert has shaped the entire aesthetic of the work through a variety of techniques, combining digital and artisanal. Drawings from the imagination of children inspired her to design the faces engraved on the cubes. The play of light and shadows, giving effects of relief and trompe l'oeil to the tableaus that come alive on the table, were drawn by hand. Using ink on paper, she created a universe that conjures up a cellular and galactic world.
Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit developed a complex program that bridges the gap between manipulating the cubes and the dynamic creation of visuals and music. Composition works in a web browser combined with a computer vision system and a virtual instrument platform. These systems had to consider many parameters and faced several challenges (the accuracy of detection, the complexity of interactions between several participants simultaneously, a multitude of interactive mechanics). Moreover, it was important that this technology almost disappeared to give way to "an enigmatic experience and game of prestidigitation."
Louis-Nicolas Imbeau created the twenty-minute soundtrack, which is both varied and coherent. "I wanted to work with Louis-Nicolas in particular because I wanted to approach this project with someone who has a thorough knowledge of rhythm and sound. He's a beatmaker, he has a deep understanding of the structure and construction of a universe of sound. He had to think about the cause and effect of actions on the music. It was his first venture into this world of interactive music scoring and it was a fascinating laboratory for him and for us, because we delved into a very wide range of sound, including hip-hop culture, experimental music and cinematic soundtracks. We wanted to imagine an experience where we could transform the music through touch."
In this ballet dance of visual and sound research and technology, the contribution of Greg Sadetsky, whose explorations in the fields of robotics and the intelligent object fuelled various iterations of the project that led to its current form, must be mentioned.
PHI Studio’s expertise is also behind Composition: "We are very lucky because this residency was an invitation to explore possibilities. It was an ideal collaboration: we were very close to the PHI Centre and were given both privacy as creators and access to the entire PHI Studio team — including Isabelle Brodeur, production director, and Marc-André Nadeau, technology director — who would cross the street to come support us, discuss technological challenges and think up ideas for the scenography. It turned out to be a great exchange. There was a good balance between being present and stepping back — giving us freedom in our research.”
Immerse yourself in Composition at the PHI Centre, and elsewhere
When you've worked on a piece for a long time and have re-imagined it hundreds of times, right down to the very last detail, what are you hoping for when you finally get to present it to the public? "The beauty of a project like Composition is that the work is an ecosystem that takes shape when it is in contact with the public. It reveals itself according to the different personalities. It's very special to participate in such an encounter."
The public will be able to experience Composition at the PHI Centre starting March 31st, as part of the Three movements exhibition, alongside the works Breathe, by Brazilian artist Diego Galafassi — also developed during a residency supported by PHI — and Asteria, featuring Alexandra Stréliski, Dominique Fils-Aimé, Vincent Vallières, Daniel Bélanger and FouKi.
In keeping with its mission to create and foster encounters between artists and audiences, PHI has designed a self-supporting structure for Composition: in the universal language of music and ritual, the work can go on to amaze audiences outside of Montreal.
Text and interview by Stéphanie Girouard
Created by Vincent Morisset, Caroline Robert and Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit of studio AATOAA in collaboration with Vlooper as part of a residency with PHI Studio
Duration: 6 minutes