Part 1

Name: Christof Migone
Occupation: Sound artist, composer, author, teacher
Nationality: Canadian
Recent release: Christof Migone's Wet Water (Let’s Dance) is out via Futura Resistenza.

If you enjoyed this Christof Migone interview and would like to stay up to date with his music, visit his official homepage. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening? Do you listen with your eyes open or closed?

You must be synesthetic; unfortunately, I’m not. But sounds do sometimes tap into my body in ways that are visceral—gut vibrations. It doesn't always happen, thankfully, because if it did it'd be too intense all the time. It's the occasionality and unpredictability of it that pricks up your ears. It's the whole body that listens—it receives, filters, churns it all.

I listen with eyes both open and closed. Sometimes I listen while doing something else (reading, driving), sometimes I listen just to listen.

I find closing my eyes to be a step towards headphone listening (I'm anticipating your next question).

How do listening with headphones and listening through a stereo system change your experience of sound and music?

I rarely listen to headphones willingly. In long transit situations when it's the only real option, then yes. But when walking in the city, or on the subway or bus I prefer to be as fully aware of my environment as possible.

I love to eavesdrop. When I'm working on a sound work there's a moment where I'll listen to the work on headphones, usually toward the end stage when I'm putting together the pre-master. And then again when the mastered version is being finalized. My home studio is not acoustically treated but my monitors are placed near-field and I know them quite well, so I trust what I hear with them.

But listening through a good pair of headphones at those couple of key stages is beneficial. They can reveal things that hadn't come to the fore before. I position my monitors quite close to me on either side of my desk, I find that they provide an immersive intensity akin to headphone listening but without the discomfort of headphones (I'm referring especially to the physical discomfort that happens if they are worn during a long session).

My ear canals are abnormally small, so I have yet to find earbuds that fit me properly, I'm kind of thankful for that physical constraint that impedes me the convenience of the ubiquitous in-ear headphones.

My piece Auditorium is based on a collective headphone listening experience.

The experiment consisted of gathering some friends to the Hotel2Tango studio in Montreal to record them as I listened to a piece of mine on headphones. I was interested in the leakage from the headphones, the sounds of breathing, the shuffling of bodies.

I'm skipping over some details on how the sessions were structured, but I mention it because I revisited the material from 2005-2006 last year (2023) and the result is a publication (CD + 12-page booklet) is coming out this year (eta May 2024), see here.

Sound, song, and rhythm are all around us, from animal noises to the waves of the ocean. What, if any, are some of the most moving experiences you've had with these non-human-made sounds?
All the elements (fire, air, water, earth—well, perhaps earth sounds are less commonly discernable on their own than the others, but the earth is embedded in the other three) possess a potential energy, and when it shifts from potential to kinetic often one of the byproducts is sound. I find the most moving ones to be the ones that are at the extremes of the scale in terms of our perception: from the microsonic to the macrosonic.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint specific memories, I do regularly find myself focusing on sounds that I encounter in my everyday environment. Sometimes I have the time and presence of mind to record them, most of the time I don’t.

I don’t think I particularly discern between human and non-human sounds when I go about my day. In other words, I don't privilege one because it's not the other.

Many animals communicate through sound. Based either on experience or intuition, do you feel as though interspecies communication is possible and important? Is there a creative element to it, would you say?  

Is the existence of interspecies communication even a question? There’s no doubt that it’s all around us. Anyone who has a pet or lives on a farm can attest to that I’m sure.

As for the creative part, perhaps it's not just an element, but elemental in the sense that it's always there, at least potentially. If one frames the translation that brings the potential to the actual as an exploitative or extractive practice, then ethics must be considered. Another way to put it is that if the 'creative' involves someone or something other than you, tagging it as 'creative' does not automatically grant license.

That being said, collaborations and dialogues, be they explicit or tacit, are key in how a creative project takes form, so it's not about hampering or curtailing that, it's about awareness, respect, responsibility.

One of my video performances pieces, Poker (2001) was criticized by Brian Marley in The Wire (March 2007) precisely along these lines:

"aspects of his work reduces people to the status of things to which things may be done. It hardly matters whether his subjects have agreed to be treated in this way: the result is dehumanising, which I suspect is not what Migone wishes to convey."

Surely consent matters, no? I realize this question was about animals communicating and in the example I'm using, Poker, one could say that I'm using humans as objects. I find that the two are connected insofar as the problematics of collaboration (power dynamics, informed consent, etc.), whether it is in a creative context or not, always require pause, consideration, sensitivity.

Do you experience strong emotional responses towards certain sounds? If so, what are examples for this – and do you feel there is a systematic or logic behind these?

See discussion on tinnitus and hyperacusis below. Generally, I'd say that emotional responses are largely antithetical to system or logic. As Samuel Beckett puts it in The Unnamable: “The thing to avoid, I don’t know why, is the spirit of system.”

It's not that emotional responses don't merit discussion or theorization, or even measure, but I think that those are worthy only if they are acknowledged to be mere attempts. Or, as Fred Moten puts it: "words don't go there." (Actually, that's the title of an interview of Moten by Charles Henry Rowell, and Rowell attributes the phrase to jazz musician Charles Lloyd.)

There can be sounds which feel highly irritating to us and then there are others we could gladly listen to for hours. Do you have examples for either one or both of these?

Of course, in listening subjectivity is at play. Unsurprisingly, it applies from one person to the next, but it also applies to the same person from one moment to the next—I can think of instances where I have found a sound irritating one day and captivating the next. Perhaps I'm a different person from one day to the next. Noise, as a genre of music, rides with relish on this tension.

I'm sure I listen to a lot of music that most would find irritating. And I'm sure a lot of the music that I produce grates on most ears ... even grates on mine at times to be honest.

I suppose part of the question is to what degree irritation can be an activator, an exciter, a generative force. I like to be challenged in my listening just as much as I like to be lulled (the two are not mutually exclusive). A specific example of a personal irritant comes to mind: the flute, it's rare that I'll find the sound of one tolerable, I wish it was otherwise, exceptions are when Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Alvin Lucier, Ka Baird, or Phill Niblock have a go at that instrument.

If we can correlate irritation with disgust, my project Crackers (2000-2006) and South Winds (2002) have often caused listeners to recoil. But interestingly, the reactions were not due to the sounds but occurred only once they learnt that the sounds were produced exclusively by joints of the body cracking in the case of the former and flatulence in the latter.

Being duped (sort of) into listening to something visceral provokes reactions in kind. They echo the material. The body speaks.

Are there everyday places, spaces, or devices which intrigue you by the way they sound? Which are these?

Sinks and drains (in kitchens and bathrooms, public or private) and how water activates them sonically often captivate me. The readymade sculptures that dirty dishes produce can sometimes also become kinetic sound art.

I have a project in homage to The Kitchen Tapes (1983) by The Raincoats that I hope to get off the ground soon. It will involve these accidental kitchen compositions.

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