Philippe Parreno: Thenabouts

A cinema experience unlike any other, Phillippe Parreno’s free exhibition takes visitors through ACMI’s huge basement gallery, full of sound and inflatable fish, leading to a single screen displaying a retrospective of 30 short filmic works by the French artist and filmmaker. We speak with the exhibition’s sound designer, Nicolas Becker.

From Marilyn Monroe’s ghost to a free source Anime character, each film plays with the notion of time and space, and is presented live by a projectionist who sits in plain view inside a glass cube within the gallery, and introduces each work making sure no two visits are ever the same.
Nicolas Becker sees the world in sound, embracing everything around him as a chance for a new idea, a new thought process and a new composition. An internationally renowned sound designer and Foley artist, Becker represents the underdogs of the cinematic world, and the creatives that make movies resonate with an audience for a lifetime.
Becker’s body of work is expansive, ranging from independent productions like Ex Machina to Hollywood blockbusters Gravity and 127 Hours. Now, Becker is the glue that bonds the work of artist Philippe Parreno, designing the sound for the entire exhibition.
“The beginning was when I was 13 years old and understood that sounds would be my world,” he says.
“The second beginning was when I met Philippe Parreno. He was able to put words on my sonic intuitions. Since then, it has been perpetual motion, a continual process, and our common field of work is naturally getting more and more consistent, and more precise at the same time. Each new project is a new point of view. The content might change, the rules as well, but the goal is to try and understand how it will evolve.”
Drawing inspiration from science fiction, cybernetics and the avant-garde, Parreno dabbles among sound, image, lighting and programming to construct a proliferation of ghosts, absences and phantasmagoria, challenging audiences to re-evaluate the relationship between reality and fiction.
“When we started, Philippe expressed some precise conceptual ideas and explained to us which kind of sensations he wanted to immerse the public into,” Becker says. “Then I evaluate all the possibilities I can think of, and selected them according to the context, the technology and the economy of the project.”
With both Becker and Parreno working in the industry as two distinctive creatives, change and experimentation is often vital in order to achieve a collective goal.
“Philippe likes to be free, so my work is also to anticipate all his potential demands, by building elements and tools for him to play with,” he says.
“They are all supposed to be coherent with his ideas and his sensitivity. It is always possible that at the last minute Philippe will say, ‘This is great, let’s do the opposite.’ My work is to make this possible.”
Becker describes the most exciting aspect of his work as spontaneity. In the face of adversity, the creative process is often what allows his compositions to fall into place.
“What is unique is the unpredictability,” he says.
“For example, Philippe got bored with the music of God Speed on his film, Invisible Boy. As the film was edited on a very strong piece of God Speed, so it was extremely complicated to do something not like the original piece. It was a dead end. So, I decided to do something totally weird - I asked my friend Agoria to give me some unfinished musical projects, and then I rooted these tracks with a sound kit we did with for Philippe’s 2015 exhibition H {N)YP N(Y} OSIS at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Then the magic came.”
Working beyond the realm of his professional world, Becker transcends the sonic palette he is acquainted with, and actively seeks inspiration from the unconventional to make ideas fall into place.
“If you can shake the content, then many unexpected interesting things happen,” he says.“What is also unique is the idea of transversality. I try to integrate a contextual approach, and feed it with a lot of different input to get the largest overview possible. This means I work with scientists, composers, performers, and sociologists. I’m also working a lot to bring organic structures into my sonic world. To do a mix between created rhythmic or harmonic patterns, and organic forms.”
It isn’t something often thought about in a production, but proves to be one of the most defining elements. Soundscaping and the sound landscape is an ever-evolving and constant practice for Becker, fuelled by a drive to create and expand his unique and highly sought after body of work.
“I hope that by sharing my experiences of work in different fields, I can show that being in a state of mind of experimentation is a fantastic thing if you are able to create processes which are dedicated to each project. You must learn to take risks.”
By Julia Sansone

Phillippe Parreno: Thenabouts will run at ACMI until Monday March 13.