International sound artist Tarek Atoui is renowned for fusing imagination with technology to develop innovative ‘instruments’ that expand the boundaries of how we perceive sonic experiences. Although based in Paris, Atoui travels worldwide with his instruments, presenting interactive workshops and free-form improvisational concerts at museums and arts festivals. Most of his recent projects have utilized Meyer Sound loudspeakers exclusively, and he has collaborated with the company directly on new ways to apply advanced audio engineering to achieve his artistic goals.
Recently Atoui travelled to the minimalist art enclave of Marfa, Texas where he was the featured artist for Marfa Sounding, an adventurous exploration of art through music and dance. For this event, Atoui brought two instruments relying on Meyer Sound products and technologies: Zero Point Nine (0.9) and Sound Boxes.
Zero Point Nine was conceived by Atoui as an instrument for extending the perception of sound below the threshold of hearing. The complete instrument comprises nine Meyer Sound 500-HP subwoofers divided into three component instruments, each forming a symmetrical ‘Y’ shape. When the discrete inputs are controlled using hand gestures picked up by infrared sensors, the subwoofers respond with a rotating “Leslie speaker” effect that can be sensed corporeally, as well as heard.
During development of Zero Point Nine, Atoui consulted with Meyer sound director of emerging technologies Perrin Meyer. “When I first conceived of the idea I envisioned more of cubical shape,” he recalls, “but Perrin and his team took the original idea and expanded it. It was their idea to form the three legs inside an equilateral triangle, giving it an added spatial characteristic I had never before experienced.”
According to Atoui, one goal of Zero Point Nine was to open the experience to persons with extreme hearing impairments. “You can sense the vibrations in room resonances,” he says, “and you can feel the vibrations in your feet as you stand atop the instrument while playing it. I call it a subsonic theremin. You can use gestures with your fingers and palms to create unique subsonic sound patterns with a subtle but compelling psychoacoustic effect.”
The other instrument featured at the Marfa event was Sound Boxes, an instrument which allows a musician to create a unique sonic palette by triggering sound samples recorded by Atoui at harbours around the world. These sounds can be convolved with live sounds created by accompanying musicians, and at the Marfa performances, the combined output was reproduced by Meyer Sound UPJ-1P loudspeakers.
Atoui’s close relationship with Meyer Sound dates back to a 2015 project called WITHIN at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Through BAMPFA, curator Apsara DiQuninzio Atoui was introduced to U.C. Berkeley art professor Greg Niemeyer (who coined the Zero Point Nine designation) and co-collaborators Perrin Meyer and Jeffrey Lubow, a researcher at U.C. Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies.
Atoui finds that his relationship with Meyer Sound is of continuing benefit in his performances and interactive experiences around the world.
“The way I work I am rarely performing on stage,” he explains. “Rather I am working with sound in various spaces, whether in galleries or museum halls or outdoor settings. There is rarely a set loudspeaker configuration, so working with Meyer Sound gives me the flexibility to move them freely as needed for the situation. Of course, the quality is always excellent. The flatness of response is just amazing.”
Marfa Soundings was hosted by Marfa Live Arts in collaboration with Fieldwork: Marfa. Musicians participating in the 2018 program alongside Atoui included Amma Ateria, Jad Atoui, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and members of the Marfa community.