Zimoun (b Switzerland, 1977) is an artist whose sound sculptures and installations are graceful, mechanized works that investigate resonance, space, movement, simplicity, materials and generative systems. He has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows in addition to performances throughout Europe, Asia, North and South America. He has also been recognised for various distinguished awards including a recent Honorary Mention in Digital Musics & Sound Art category (Ars Electronica 2010) for the work '216 prepared dc-motors / filler wire 1.0mm, 2009'. For comprehensive information please visit www.zimoun.ch
Video: Selected Works from Zimoun
Ear Room (ER). Can you recollect where your interest for sound sculptures came from?
Zimoun (Z). Since a little kid I have been interested in exploring sound, playing instruments and creating compositions in addition to visual arts such as paintings, cartoons, photographs and so on. So, from a very early age I was fascinated and somehow obsessed by being active in the all these fields; sound, music and visually realised projects. Now, through my sound sculptures and installations many of these interests are coming together.
ER. There’s a fantastic mix in your works between highly systemised automata and the overarching element of chance. Can you elaborate on this collision and apparent tension?
Z. I’m very interested in a mix of living structures on the one hand, and control about decisions and details on the other. A combination of structures continuously generating or evolving by chance, chain reactions or other generative systems, and a specifically delimited and contained space in which these events are allowed to happen. The compositional intentions are manifesting themselves through my deliberate containment and cautious monitoring. So I’m not using chance to discover unexpected results, but to elevate the works to a higher level of vitality. I’m intrigued in simple systems to generate and study complex behaviours in sound and motion – the generation and degeneration of patterns. Moreover, in defining and exploring space, simplicity, raw and reduced aesthetics, staging and architectonical elements.
ER. Your works, although large in scale clearly have a minimal aesthetic, even down to each piece being called ‘untitled’. Can you explain where this aesthetic comes from and what you hope it provides for a listener/viewer?
Z. Through my interest in simplicity, repetitive and reductive principles, raw materials and the properties related to sound and motion my works turn out in some kind of minimal aesthetic. It’s a careful but radical use of materials and space I’m looking for. I work with many small elements, small sounds and small mechanical systems, small motors, small materials, even when presented finally in large scale. I pay attention to the tiny things and I’m trying to shell the materials and concepts to their essential elements. Through this reduction the works can stay abstract – more like some kind of a code or system behind something – but they also open a large field of connections, views, associations and interpretations. From nature to artificiality, individualism to humour and absurdity to activism, science, technology, space, physics, perception, aesthetics, and so on… so in answer to your question: there’s not one specific hope from my side of how to look at it. I see it in many different ways and I create it based on many different interests coming together. Let’s say I hope the listener/viewer is able to get inspired – somehow activated – by the works and to make his/her own connections, associations and discoveries on different, individual levels.
ER. There’s a striking physicality to the work visually. In terms of the sound in space, this too must be a dense sonic atmosphere for a listener?
Z. I’m trying to bring visual, sonic and spatial elements together into one essence with my installation work. Direct, simple and reductive. What you hear is what you see. It’s often about creating space, playing with the atmosphere or space and its impact relating to the staging and architecture – a spatial perception of sound. The compositional aspects of my installations are less focused on getting from A to B but rather to create static sound architectures, which can be entered and explored acoustically like a building. The compositional focus lies on the altercation between void, density, space, structure, interfacing, static and balance.
ER. Your installations are presented in very stark space with the use of machines and automata exemplifying a sense of isolation, of a world void of humans; where do you position yourself in the work in relation to your aesthetics? Do you think humans are necessary in relation to art and performance?
Z. In relation to art humans seem to be necessary somehow since we (the humans) create, explore and consume it. To create a new work many decisions must be made, many details must be worked out. That’s the artist’s job and he/she is responsible for it and all its details. Even if an artist decides to let others make that decision it’s important for the piece. So yes, inside the world of art, humans seem to be necessary to me. But in relation to the universe, its balance and beauty that’s another question. In general I don’t think we are important or necessary at all, but an interesting species for sure.
ER. Do you ever physically perform an installation?
Z. In terms of performance I do two types. One is based on physical objects, materials and mechanics (employing similar elements and systems I use for the installations and sculptures), and the other is multi channel sound performance in total darkness with constructed or pre-recorded sounds. The pre–recorded matter is also often based on recordings from prototypes and experiments related to the installations and sculptures. To work with recordings is an interesting way for me to study the sound structures I create physically. It’s another way for the recipient to enter and explore the structures and sound forms of the physical pieces, possibly on a more microscopic level. So far I have never performed an installation, the prepared motors already do that for me! (laughing).
ER. One of your latest works [186 prepared dc-motors, cardboard boxes 60x60x60cm] shows the scale, concept and level of detail we’ve been talking about previously. How do you practically start working on these things? Do you draw and design prior?
Z. Normally it’s a mix of different things. For example, the work often starts with a specific space that I am invited to present in. I think about the possibilities of how to work with the space, how to use it as a body and what kind of piece would make sense in relation to that particular space. At the same time there are always my own ideas waiting in the pipeline. For example, working with a specific material or a specific kind of prepared motor, or perhaps a physical movement, behaviour or sound. Many ideas often buzz around at the same time for me, from this I start to pick out small, single elements that seem to be most interesting in relation to the specific situation or space. I then begin making experiments and prototypes.
ER. And how does this process of prototyping influence the final piece?
Z. Through the process of physical tests things become more concrete and comprehensible, I start to see what could work and where the problems are hidden. Often many steps of prototyping are needed. Each step is vital in order to build the next one and to optimize performance along the way. Through prototyping sometimes totally unexpected results show up and can influence the whole process as well. But once a prototype satisfies my criteria I start to calculate how many elements I need to work with and I begin to refine and optimize all spatial aspects. Often at this stage the whole relationship with the actual space is conceptual, a vision and an imagination only. Sometimes it just works like I had it in mind but often I need again to react in, and to, the real space – the devil is always hidden in the details.
ER. Do you build everything yourself?
Z. Normally all the single elements (preparation of the motors etc…) are made by hand. Since I often work with a large number of the same prepared elements I have help from assistants in the studio to do these little “mass productions”, to produce the prepared elements. For larger pieces there’s often a need for helping hands (sometimes many of them) to install in the space and get everything wired and ready. This can also influence the development of a new piece for a specific space i.e. if I know the presenter/organizer of the show is able (and motivated) to get many assistants ready to help set up the piece in the space or not.
ER. How important is research in your practice? Do you see your work as an evolving body of research?
Z. Maybe we could call it ‘artistic research’. A playful examination of sound and motion, of chaotic principles and generative systems, structures and textures – the physical behaviours and sounds of materials, resonance properties as well as concepts of staging and spacialisation. It’s all based on practical tests, experiments and prototyping. Often I need to take many steps in my own research to develop and finish a piece, even if it is, and if it looks very simple at the end.
ER. Do you collaborate with various disciplines and how do you go about striking a dialogue with another artist/professional from another discipline?
Z. Yes I am interested in developing works in collaboration with various disciplines. From technical development to architecture, technology, industry, science and others. Building bridges and involving experts from other fields is very inspiring and I see big potential in this kind of collaboration. For example I have just started to develop a new piece in collaboration with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by the department of Informatics of the University of Zurich. They are one of the leading laboratories in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics worldwide. It’s super exciting and inspiring to be able to connect with the scientists and their huge internal knowledge and research. The great thing is, this kind of crossover is not only interesting for me, but for them as well. I am able to develop works and to involve technologies that are far removed from my own possibilities. For the AI Lab it’s interesting that their work and research is getting presented in new contexts and is being lighted from another perspective and focus.
ER. And finally as always, Ear Room asks; what does the term ‘Sound Art’ mean to you?
Z. Well, categories in art and culture, or even in general are not really something I’m interested in. Of course it does somehow help to order things a little bit. But on the other hand it’s always the single, individual piece, thing or human which/who makes the interesting difference or not. It’s not the category itself. For that reason ‘sound art’ does not really mean much to me. But to try a definition I’d say sound art could be; to wake up in the morning, move into the kitchen and sit for a while as you realize how beautiful the fridge is sounding that day.