France Jobin: “I do think sound is physical”


France Jobin is a sound / installation / artist, composer, and curator residing in Montreal. She has released 12 albums under her own name and a further 11 albums under the alias i8u. France has collaborated with Stephan Mathieu, Richard Chartier, Fabio Perletta, Andrew Duke, Thomas Phillips among others. Her releases have been on Line, Baskarau, Room  40, SIlent, Murmer, Editions Mego, Dragons Eye Recordings and many others. The latest album is Death is Perfection, everything else is relative on Editons Mego.

Innerversitysound: Hi France. Lets start with your new album: Death is perfection, everything else is relative. You are going to have to unpack the title for me. Does it come from somewhere? How is death perfection?

France Jobin: It comes from personal experience of having gone through a difficult time following the loss of three people who were very close to me. Parallely, I was reading The nature of reality by David Deutsch and in a strange way, this was emotionally very difficult but the book helped me understand certain things and come to the conclusion that death is perfection and everything else is relative.

In this life, the only certainty is death, in this respect, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, therein lies the perfection, death just happens. In all three different cases I experienced, each death was very unique in how it manifested itself, so this is how I came up with the album title.

Innerversitysound: How do other things relate to death in that manner? The relational aspect of it, you have said that ”everything else is possible to mutate, or to construct it in a different way” but this is the one thing that you can’t take perspectives on.

France Jobin: I think human beings strive for certainty and truth in life. Be it religion, spirituality, relationships, marriage etc…The one thing we do not look at is death, which is the one thing we can be sure of. In other words, when we are born the only certainty we have is that we will die. Anything in between, we are partly responsible for, or maybe we are not (depending on one’s philosophy) but the point I am trying to make is that it is futile to look for certainties. It is better to flow with the wave and learn to ride the chaos.

Innerversitysound: Moving away from that, just thinking about your studio and your instrumentation can you tell our readers what your studio setup looks like and differs and how you translate it to live venues and how you negotiate those different setups.

France Jobin: This is interesting because my studio setup and my live setup differ in my approach. In my studio where I spend most of my time processing sounds and composing it is basically laptop, midi-controller, modular synths, and software. I have old laptops that I use to run software that did not upgrade with the OS renewals such as Cconfin as well as old proteus and morpheus modules. In the studio I spend most of my time doing a lot of sound processing from the field recordings that I have recorded. How this translates to live venues is with regards to the architecture of the space which is extremely important to me. While my actual live set-up is minimal (laptop, sound card and midi-controller), my approach is focused on the the room I will play in, what are the materials it is made of, how high is the ceiling, is there glass, where are the speakers, can I move them… Sounds will react differently to any of these variables so I attempt to build a live set based on the architecture of the space and how sound will move in it, that is, If I am lucky to have enough time.

Innerversitysound: You had a residency at the EMS Elektronmusik studion in 2017 in Stockholm. Did this artist residency give you a degree of skill development that you did not already have?

France Jobin: EMS is very particular because they have a rare Buchla 200 modular synthesizer and in another studio they have a Serge modular synthesizer. Their studios are fantastic! A great example is Studio 3, where the speakers, built by the legendary Ingvar Öhman (Ino Audio.), have the following specs which Danial Araya (EMS Studio engineer) kindly shared with me: “the system in Studio 3 (the big stereo system) is Ino Audio r64s with six Profundus Y subwoofers.They have their -1db point at 16Hz, the point where the plot begins to fall and not be linear but they go much lower, 12Hz is no problem. They are also very loud, the data sheet says “15,5Hz: >124.”

This means that you could be mastering an album in this particular studio, based on a low level frequency that you will not hear anywhere else, it is an interesting premise.

From my personal experience in 2017 I really wanted to spend time with both modular synthesisers, particularly the Serge because it is one of my favourites, it has a little bit of a punk nature to it. My level of understanding modulars definitely benefited from this residency and it helped sharpen my skills which has translated to a different approach with composition.

Innerversitysound: On this point do you have albums where your technical skill and mastery has increased dramatically during the process and can you point them out to us? The turning points specifically and why they occurred.

France Jobin: Probably the Room40 album, 10-33cm (i8u) released digitally in 2009. This was a real turning point towards minimalism, which was about both approach and technical skills. Before that I was doing a lot of very droney, heavy, dark stuff while becoming very interested in String Theory. This really fascinated me because I wondered how I could record a field recording and then process in peeling away superfluous layers in order to get to the essence of this sound. This is how 10−33 cm, which is the theoretical size of the string, took form.

Then my first release on LINE, Valence, in which I continued exploring minimalism, and technically, I became more familiar with various softwares that helped me to process field recordings.

Innerversitysound: I noticed also in one of your releases you had something about infinitesimals, which is a term I think introduced by Leibniz, so looking down to the smallest aspects of atoms. I would like to put it in terms of sound, these sorts of questions, foundational questions, if you want to look at sound, can you get to the foundations. Are we just looking at sound as a social phenomena or can we look at sound as a physical phenomena and say we can break it down to the smallest components of that idea and that was the job of experimental musicians?   How would you see your job as a musician? Are you trying to answer those kinds of questions? What are you trying to do?

France Jobin: Laughs… There are many, many questions here. Let me try to address a few points.

I believe each artist has a unique sensitivity, it is an artist’s job to find it and refine it. This is the work of a lifetime, it is not just, “ok lets go there!”.

For instance, what has been happening with me is the endless quest to express myself, find a way to communicate what I hear in my head as clearly as possible. Sometimes what I hear is more visceral, emotional like “Death is Perfection”. In that regard I think the job of an artist is to refine their sensitivity, however it presents itself. This, I believe is the job of an experimental musician.

When this unique identity is defined, it is detectable, you can certainly think of any musician that you write about and you know who it is the moment you hear them, think of Richard Chartier, William Basinski or Lawrence English, each of these artists have managed to express their identity and refine it.This is the task that I have given myself.

Another aspect of my work is that I have been inspired by science for many years, quantum physics specifically and I have now decided to take the plunge and dive in.

My knowledge is very superficial and consequently, I was starting to get on my nerves!  I decided delve deeper and find out what I am really inspired by. That process is having a profound influence on my output as a musician.

As a result, my personal views on life are changing and I find myself extremely lucky to be in this situation, being involved in the field of experiment music for so many years and to still be excited about something! I find the deeper I go into physics, it influences my perception of the world, for example, when I am close to a lake, I no longer see water but I see molecules. I have never looked at life this way and it is having an profound effect on my output. One example of this is how in quantum physics, the flow of time does not exist, but in my work music does flow, how do I reconcile this? How do I peel away the layers of a sound and discover it’s essence? Is it a listening or technical process? These are some of the questions I am exploring, it’s fascinating!

You asked if sound was physical. I do think sound is physical, I feel music is social. I was classically trained as a child (piano) and I found it really challenging to be interpreting works of classical musicians I could never meet and have a coffee with in order to try and understand where they were coming from. How could I interpret a piece without that understanding? I found it really frustrating. It took me a long time to discover experimental music and once I did, there was no turning back.

I went into a three year period of unlearning everything that I had learnt as a child, forgetting about structure, scales, chords, form, tempo, staff… and start from nothing, truly a difficult but fascinating three years!

One evening, while re-listening to one of my favourite albums, Miles Davis, “Kind of Blue”, I started hearing it very differently and wondered if, maybe, I was thinking about music all wrong? In the sense that “Kind of Blue” is so perfect. I realized that being classically trained I was looking at the staff and looking at the notes thinking, “this is music” but, at that moment, I felt that it was all wrong, i thought: “reverse it, don’t look at the notes, look at the space between the notes, that’s the music.” This drastically changed my approach to sound. Realizing that the space in between notes is as important as the notes themselves and I needed to be aware and to respect that.

In the context of live experience, sound becomes very physical, which is a phenomenon I love to explore “live”.

Innerversitysound: Your commitment to the concept of immersion in sound art is shown not only in your body of work but also your creation of Immersound concert events. Even though immersion is a stream of electro-acoustic music, why did you make this specific commitment?

France Jobin: Immersound was born out of frustration. I found that minimal music was not properly represented or accessible with regards to context, it was often so willy-nilly, inadequate sound systems, rooms and seating for the audience. I felt that immersound could educate the audience and help them understand that they can require a good sound system and seating for an event, they should not just walk in and say, “hey this is great!” when it’s not.

Some festivals book three, four or five acts in one evening. When each artist is required to play for 45 minutes, the issue is that after three acts you have reached a saturation point, you can no longer take in the other two. It is a disservice to the artists. As curator, I felt my role was to present artists in the best possible conditions and give them a proper context for their work.

Wanting to reverse this phenomenon, I limited the evenings to three artists and performances of twenty minutes each, the entire event was an hour. The conditions for immersound were that people would lie down on zafuttons I had specifically made for the event. My premise was simple, I could not ask people to be physically uncomfortable when I ask of them to be intellectually uncomfortable at the same time. They would not be as receptive.

immersound did require a little bit of discomfort because the event was limited to twenty-six people and they had to lie down next to each other, which would no longer be appropriate in the present pandemic reality.The ambisonic sound system was designed by Stéphane Claude at Oboro, we had six speakers that were inclined towards the audience, and a shower (ceiling speaker array) above so that people “felt” covered in a blanket of sound.

Once people lied down and relaxed, they naturally became more receptive to music and really interesting things happened; some people literally went to sleep, others experienced a half-awake, half-asleep kind of state, it was really fascinating to observe. Another thing I tried to address was with the artist themselves, I wanted to give them a challenge. Most often, performances are presented in stereo, so with this system of six speakers, which they could use individually as mono or three pairs of speakers, it gave the artists something interesting to play with and each invited artist had a full afternoon of sound check and, they could come back the next day and adjust. So these were the three main ideas that I was trying to implement to offer a proper context.

Innerversitysound: You have done work with Kim Cascone who was well known in his early days for immersion tanks, sensory deprivation and all forms of experiments with consciousness. This sort of thing in electronic music was very big but I think it came up with a lot of odd conclusions. I think Kim came up with a lot of the odd conclusions. I am thinking of immersion and the audience. Immersion takes over the sense of the audience and asks them to pay attention to the whole of their environment. For me it is like capturing the audience in such a complete way and I wonder about the responsibility of the artist towards the audience. To a certain sense you take them over, you take over their sensual apparatus. With what the artist is trying to convey to the audience how much of it is an enabling act and how much of it is lets control their sense for a short period of time and give them an experience.

France Jobin: Yes I think it is truly a collaboration and a matter of trust between the audience and the artist. The way I presented the event is that we had access the gallery at Oboro, there was an outside room and people would have to go through this really small hall to get into the room where immersound was happening. I already had the light dimmed in the small hall so people were aware that something special was going to happen on the other side.

As far as the invited artists and the audience, it was really fascinating because the artists really took to the concept in their own personal way and the audience did as well. The audience was willing let go, it was not something that was orchestrated, it just sort of happened naturally. If someone snored, I considered it a success, it meant that this person was so comfortable that they could completely let go!

Innerversitysound: So in sleep we are at the point where we are totally naturally ourselves.

France Jobin: Yes, in an unconscious sort of way.

Innerversitysound: And by giving that to people around you, we are showing them our true selves. It also suggest that our enculturation is a distancing from our true selves that we actually have. And that we are not a series of selves, who develop and change and mutate,  but that we still go back to that true self.

France Jobin: Correct, it is interesting in the sense immersound tried to educate people in terms of there being minimal music that is low volume and there is minimal music that is very extremely loud.I invited a varied group of artists such as John Duncan, the reaction to John Duncan was very different than say the reaction to Chesterfield (Burkhard Stangl and Angélica Castelló) or Richard Chartier for that matter.

It also provided the artists with a context in which they could be themselves because there are always constraints when you play live, the speakers cannot handle certain frequencies, one cannot play at really low volume or, at really loud volume.

In this particular context, it was opened to whatever the artists wanted. In the case of Richard Chartier, it became a situation where he could play as low volume as he had ever been able to play. When one is able to provide that context for an artist, it carries onto the audience. It is an incredibly generous experience, It is really magical in respect to what happens. My first event was on a Friday and Saturday nights, keep in mind that a lot of people who showed up for this were already opened to the idea, even if they did not know experimental music. But I received comments at the end like, ‘oh my god, can you do this every Friday night, this is the best way to end the week’. There is almost a ritual between workweek and weekend. So there were lots of different comments.

Innerversitysound: Immersion and surround sound and all those concepts have been easily translatable into film work because they quite suit the medium. You have done one film with Stephen Mathieu. Have you had the opportunity to do more film work.

France Jobin: Yes I am working on a film at the moment titled ”Ouroboros” a  20 minutes  sci-fi with no dialog. It is the directorial debut of Maxime LeFlaguais, a highly respected Quebec actor. It is a huge responsibility to communicate the director’s vision in this film and I am honoured to work with such talented people as Maxime and Alexis Pilon Gladu (sound supervisor).

Innerversitysound: You have worked with a number of producers, you mentioned Room 40 and you have worked with Lawrence English a number of times, as well as Stephen Mathieu.  Can you tell me about your experiences with going into other people sound worlds?

France Jobin: When I am approached by a label I definitely look at the catalogue and listen to what the label has produced. I have done a lot of work with Lawrence English and Richard Chartier. I finished the third iteration of #synthporn for September. I know you are familiar of course with MESS foundation in Melbourne. I was extremely lucky to attend a ten day residency there organized by Robin Fox and Lawrence two years ago. The three Ep’s are a result of this residency. In this particular case, working with Lawrence has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. We were talking about albums and I suggested that since he had organized this residency, I would like to give him albums from the sessions at MESS and keep it in the family :-)

This was a huge challenge as I was no longer approaching the albums from a composer’s point of view, I was approaching this from the identity of each synthesizer. The tracks are all edits from my live improvisations. The first iteration was the Prophet and the Mellotron mini. I composed from the premise of the actual instrument while trying two remain true its identity. for the third instalment, I worked on the GRP synthesizer, which was designed by Paolo Groppioni, the eurorack and the EMS Synthi A. It is very particular because those  pieces are not very long, which is different than my regular output.

When one walks into MESS you are basically privy to the entire history of electronic music. You have the MOOG from the east coast and the Buchla from the west coast, it’s incredible! The variety of electronic equipment they have there causes a problem when someone like me walks in and has only ten days. Of course there was a lot of equipment I recognized but I decided to experiment with instruments that I don’t know.

Stagnation being my biggest fear, learning new synths seemed the way to go. This is one example of a collaboration with one producer.

With Richard Chartier it is a very different form of collaboration as LINE has been a pillar for minimal music in the last 20 years. There is a certain aesthetics, a certain identity to his label, it’s challenging in a different way, this is where I need to peel away the layers and get to the essences of things, both with sound and composition. I am also working with Richard in an artistic collaboration, DUO, released on the label mAtter in Japan.  This is a wonderful experience where the two of us took on the challenge of creating a work remotely Richard is in LA, I am in Montreal. We added a visual component and invited Markus Heckmann to create visuals for it which we premiered at Mutek Montreal in 2019 as well as in South Korea, at PRECTXE: Digital Art Festival / B39. This is a very gratifying experience and the most easy going collaboration I have been involved with  :-)

Innerversitysound: You have separated your output into two separate monikers, your own name release and i8u. Besides the joke of a name, I am not too sure if it is a joke or not, how would you describe to people who haven’t listened to you what is the difference between the beasts of those different aliases.

France Jobin: The i8u moniker was at the beginning of my career because I didn’t want my work to be gendered. I wanted my work to be assessed from the work and nothing else. So the moniker came about for that reason, I believe a work must stand on its own merit.

Innerversitysound: Was the effective as a strategy?

France Jobin: Yes it was, I have now gone under my own name since Valence was released on LINE.

Innerversitysound: A lot of minimal electronic music has for a long time been drone music and some of it what people would call dark ambient. Of course these things are psychological evaluations rather than indications of the inner lives of the artists. You can ascribe whatever psychological state to whatever musical form you like. If we are considering music at it’s fundamental state as a physical state then to ascribe any psychological description to it is a bit arbitrary. It just depends on how you feel and if it’s the weekend or not as you were talking about before. How would you describe how you have mutated from that earlier droney state and how you are now? What is the difference is your development and how you are representing music now?

France Jobin: It has changed as mentioned earlier, at the critical moment while re- listening to Miles Davis. When I realized that in traditional music I was looking at a staff which is read from left to right and, as a pianist I would play a bar but I was already reading the next bar, hearing what was coming next, expectations come into play. Now the difference is that my vision is that instead of going left to right, I see sound and soundscapes on a vertical.axis, I am aware of my use of time, space and silence and how I want to “slice” through it.

France Jobin’s Death is Perfection is now available through Editions Mego

France Jobins Even More Synth Porn is now available through Room40


About Author