I try to be a Membrane from Head to Foot [a portait of Benoît Gilg]

“When you are asked what a body is, you will answer that it is an extended, impenetrable, figurative, colorful and mobile substance.” 1

« I’ve been playing and listening to music since I was 4 years old. When I was a teenager I discovered sound technology by recording my own compositions. Then I moved on to sound editing and sound mixing for film and recorded music, to ultimately focus on mixing live music. I love acoustic music because that’s my background, but I’m incapable of saying whether I prefer a particular style of music — perhaps because I’ve met musicians with such diverse styles and cultures. Above all I’m interested in the way people engage with the live context.

When I work for a festival I begin by listening to the bands on my portable player and then I go on stage to feel what’s going on. I also observe the band making its way to the dressing rooms, and I talk with the band members. These data feed all the actions I’ll go on to perform. But above all I wait to hear what the music will sound like on stage and then I try to find a way of bringing each element to “full expression” — separately and together — in accordance with what I know about the band’s esthetic. I try to link up all the data I’ve memorized about the band with what I’m hearing at the sound desk.

I’m very driven by my experience of vibration fields — I use my whole body a great deal; I try to be a membrane from head to foot, a sensor for everything that’s involved in the listening experience. It’s hard to describe… Imagine a snow leopard crouching, looking for something to eat: it’s immobile, its sense of smell tells it there is food nearby, its fur senses the direction of the wind, its hearing might also signal a presence going against the wind, its eyes enable it to see what might have produced the sound. The leopard listens with all its senses.
For instance, touch plays an important part in my listening. Depending on its level, each frequency resounds in a different part of my body — the outer lower arms, certain parts of the head, the fingers, the shins. I try to connect with a precise state of openness, the fullest possible, a listening stance disconnected from any form of judgment. If I’m listening to a big bass, I don’t try to hear the big bass the way I’d like it to be; I try to hear it as it is, to reveal its uniqueness.

I still can’t explain these other dimensions of listening. Its easier for me to discuss it with musicians than with other sound engineers. I try out some exercises with my team — for example, we try to feel the energy of a space when we position the mics. We observe the stage for a long time to see how the scenography takes shape. We try to locate the air on which all these vibration fields travel. This goes beyond the way in which spaces are organized. I like to think that what’s beautiful also sounds good.

One’s listening experience also evolves along with the technology. Editing always starts with a diagram in which the colors represent the connections between the equipment — technical synoptics. Drawing these diagrams by hand, I realized how similar they are to the kinds used in molecular biology and astrophysics. The two most commonly used forms are the analog loop diagram, where you have to define the source and destination of a data element, and the digital star diagram, which allows you to see that a data element can radiate and be accessible infinitely.
Our Yasta configurations are based on this principle: an Optocore loop is linked to a lawo star-structured system. Around this system, which enables you to pool the mic signals, the synoptics take the form of several interlinked loops that stars can be attached to if required. HD Cores multiply and small Ethersound appendices travel through a quarter loop.
After switching between these two forms so much and creating hybrids, the diversity of Nature imposed itself to me in all its vertiginous reality — a whole from which we cannot withdraw ourselves and which infinitely radiates particles, rather than a system made up of input and output variables, however complex it might be. I can’t help seeing in these diagrams what connects the solar system to the electrons circling around a core, and what connects the vibrations that traverse my body to the stars that I can gaze upon at night.

I’ve talked with deaf people before. We very quickly get on to talking about music rather than sound, so more about a way of organizing sounds than about listening per se. Concentrating on sounds would enable us to imagine shared languages. We would learn much from vibration fields, beyond what we know about music and hearing culture. »

This text was established from a written interview. It is presented as a first-person testimony even though, as Benoît states, the experiences and experimentations he describes are often collective ones that have been carried out with his company team over the last five years.

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  • Benoît Gilg interviewed by Grégory Castéra
1. Denis Diderot, The Letter on the Deaf and the Dumb for the Use of those who Hear and Speak, 1751
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