Through sculpture, installation and sound, Jules Gimbrone’s work engages in questions around power structures and gender. Currently based in New York, after over a decade in California, their practice pulls together academic experience in both musical and visual arts. Through in the following conversation, we explore the interplay between these creative disciplines.
Has sound always been a central part of your practice? I started playing violin when I was three years old, I was in bands, and after I graduated from college I started composing for my own ensemble. I learned recording and engineering techniques based on need, trying to capture some quality from my studio that I was interested in replicating.
“I find sound really interesting because it is immaterial but it still has certain physical properties, on an experiential level and on a metaphorical level, so it’s just a very rich, very dynamic and juicy form for me to be exploring ideas inside of.“
Why do you find that sound is an interesting medium to explore ideas? For a long time, I struggled to figure out if i just wanted to play and engage in music in more traditional, historic categories, or engage in visual art. It took me a while to figure out what was interesting about both histories, and what was available in those histories for me to pull from.
At Cal Arts, I was in the music composition programme and the visual arts programme. They’ve very different histories and questions and philosophies and different ways of thinking about what content is and what it can be.
I find sound really interesting because it is immaterial but it still has certain physical properties, on an experiential level and on a metaphorical level, so it’s just a very rich, very dynamic and juicy form for me to be exploring ideas inside of.
What are the advantages of exploring sound through art, rather than exploring sound through music? The kind of attention that people bring to these different forms. If I have to present my work in a gallery there’s a different framing around time than in a theatre or a music space.
I think there’s different questions being asked, one of the beautiful things about sound is that it can be interpreted in very abstract ways; it can be dislodged from language.
I am also interested in engaging in questions around power and language and gender and meaning-making that I think these need to be imbued in the formal decision I am making sculpturally and sometimes, the desires of an audience going to see music is not to engage in that kind of critical, or intellectually stimulating experience. Every choice I make in my installation is intentional; it’s not just to have a pleasing sonic experience.
In your work The Whole is Also a Hole (2019) panning, reverb, pitching and resonance all play central roles, these are phenomena that studio musicians might call “effects” or a digital audio workstation might list as “plug-ins” - but in the work they sound natural, it would be interesting to hear about the use of digital manipulation plays in your practice? Yeah, so when people hear that piece they might think that I’m doing a lot, but I’m actually not, the only effect that I use in that work is pitch shifting, everything else is the natural resonance of the vessels or the overtones and natural harmonics of those vessels.
So in cases like that, what comes first, space, or objects, or sounds? I usually build a structure before I fill it with sonic content. In the same way that you would compose a piece for string quartet, I build the parameters of the “instrumentation” or the architecture of the structure first.
Who’s pressing record? Who’s doing the editing? Who’s hanging the microphones? It’s all me, all the time.
“I might commission someone to build me a plinth, but in terms of the technology and the interactions of the microphones and the way the transducers work with the objects, that is my practice. That’s where the meaning is for me.“
When did you amass those skills? Over time. I feel like the kind of expressive moves that I want to make need me to understand these technologies. It wouldn’t be appropriate to commission someone to do those parts because I feel like those are almost choreographic moves. I might commission someone to build me a plinth, but in terms of the technology and the interactions of the microphones and the way the transducers work with the objects, that is my practice. That’s where the meaning is for me.
“New York is great for my work. There’s so many ways for me to plug into all these worlds. I can go to music shows, I can see art installations that are really inspiring and it just feeds my different interests, in different ways.“
How is New York feeding into your work? What’s your relationship with New York like at the moment? New York is great for my work. There’s so many ways for me to plug into all these worlds. I can go to music shows, I can see art installations that are really inspiring and it just feeds my different interests, in different ways.
I’m teaching at the Columbia Sound Art MA right now. It’s really exciting that’s there’s a Sound Art MA, I get to work with students who are asking similar questions - that’s amazing, and feels really specific to New York’s histories.
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Holly Herndon, Berlin-based electronic composer and musician on Jules Gimbrone