6th April 2012
Martin Messier: Making music with Singer sewing machines
By Nigel Brown

Martin Messier during a live performance with his Sewing Machine Orchestra.

Humans Invent just can’t get enough of this peculiar form of industrial music making. Last week we took a detailed look at Martin Messier’s and Nicolas Bernier’s Les Chambres Des Machines, and this week it is another machine led orchestra.

I want to turn things that surround us into music so all the things that surround us become magical!

Messier is currently touring Europe with his solo art-music piece, Sewing Machine Orchestra. All the sound is generated from a group of 1940s Singer sewing machines which are then amplified and processed through computers that makes for a rhythmical, percussive mix of twitching and groaning. There is also a light show element to the piece that works in tandem with the music.

Why a Sewing Machine Orchestra?

The line of 8 sewing machines are intended to evoke the industrial past and, as Messier says, the intention of the piece is, “to release, in some magical ways, the luminous and sonorous presence of the past. A dreamlike universe where each machine, as singular subject, is magnified. After years of silence, Sewing Machine Orchestra is giving speech to these surviving objects of the industrial era.”

The Canadian artist has worked on similar projects over the years. As well as Les Chambres Des Machines, he created an audio performance from old clocks called L’Horloger and, perhaps most intriguing of all, his Pencil Project which he collaborated on with Jacques Poulin-Denis. As the title indicates, music is created from the noises pencils make from scribbling to dotting to drawing as well as the incredibly satisfying sound of ripping paper. As with all his projects the microphones and digital technology are largely kept hidden so the focus remains on the objects generating the sound.

Messier told Bidolito, “I am attracted by the idea of doing music with functional objects, to turn things that surround us into music so all the things that surround us become magical! And I am really attracted by these old objects, by their aesthetic quality. In the past, I worked and made music with old alarm clocks, with pencils, with old machines and now I am building a whole new show with century automated machines. I really like memories and the history that came with these objects.”

I am really attracted by these old objects, by their aesthetic quality. In the past, I worked and made music with old alarm clocks

Musician or artist?

The orchestral performance is not open to improvisation as the performance itself  is pre-programmed, but at the same time the start is on Messier’s command: “It’s not improvised at all. I am triggering the machines but I always know when I have to do it during the piece. The piece is really set. Well, for technical reasons, it would be a big headache to improvise with the setup I am working with now.

“I really feel I am a musician when I am working. I have a music background, and my references come from music. At the same time, when I am going to a concert I realise I don’t have the same concerns musicians have. I never think about chords and melody at all. So yes, I guess I am a musician/artist.”

Messier is currently touring Europe with his Sewing Machine Orchestra, but he hopes to work with a variety of objects in the future: “There is no object I couldn’t use because there are all sorts of different way to amplify an object. It doesn’t mean I would use everything!”

Watch the Sewing Machine Orchestra in action:

Source: Bidolito.co.uk

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