Lauren: Anne Le Troter, you are a sound artist or a plastic artist. An artist who plays specifically with plasticity, with the malleability of language, and more particularly, of speech. The microphone and the recorder are the tools of your trade. You have been recording speech for more than nine years, both your own and that of others. You use sound editing to manipulate, dismantle and recompose it so that we might listen to it—altered—in exhibition spaces. In a previous interview(1) you mentioned the fact that this passion began the very day that your art school purchased a recording microphone. You then began to record and edit your voice, cutting out the silences between the words. In 2011 these manipulations gave rise to a series of improvisations, including one entitled Fifi, Riri, Loulou. Then you began to move the microphone from your own mouth to that of others. I am thinking in particular of the pieces Les mitoyennes and Liste à puces, both compositions that are based on, and use the voice of, a telemarketer from a Call Center. Could you speak a little about your choice to move from recording a unique voice (your own, which is in your own words “thoughts in the process of forming”) to recording a generic voice (theirs, both structured and directed according to the protocols used for telephone surveys)?
Anne: The gesture of the forearm, which begins at my mouth and then moves towards the mouths of others, is also the gesture used to strengthen one’s biceps, and I like to think of my recorder like a sports coach or like a dating platform: like a kind of Tinder for speech. My recorder has been, and continues to be, an intimate object to which I constantly speak. It is my way of contemplating the world, of seeking to understand it. It is also how I write. I write by recording phrases, by listening to them and ultimately by transcribing them. For the last nine years I have been writing a continuous monologue, thoughts that are constantly in the process of being formulated, like with Firi, Riri, Loulou. I place my lips against the microphone of my recorder, I kiss it.
In my book L’encyclopédie de la matière that was published by the éditions Héros-Limite in 2013, I transcribed a number of my first sound pieces. And so this book outline the state of my knowledge at a specific moment. It is only 40 pages long. I felt that these thoughts in the process of forming needed to be nourished, and for this to happen I had to make room for the speech of others. Nothing better to help me to shut up than locking lips with a peer. At that time I was working as a telemarketer in order to pay the rent. Being a telemarketer is a performance in itself. We all repeat the same phrases for hours, for weeks. It is almost a chant, a cruel ritornello, a cacophonous choir. We knew the surveys by heart. We repeated the same questions to our correspondents for hours and hours. To this could be added the fact of our managers potentially listening in, under the pretext of quality control. We found ourselves in a situation of controlled speech. This context was the polar opposite of my work as an artist, with my over owing speech, as useless as it was counterproductive, solitary and uncontrolled. I had the feeling that the abundant speech of telemarketers could help me to build an uncontrollable body. A telephone survey is nothing more than the classification of ideas, of how to think, and we—telemarketers—were the messengers of that discourse. We were like delivery drivers for tepid thinking, with our crushed cardboard boxes shaped like telephones.
Lauren: This intention to reach out while holding a microphone in a specific context (the Call Center) could be initially linked to the practice of field recording: moving through a space with a micro recorder while keeping a trace. However, you go beyond a naturalist or documentary recording by introducing a protocol of collective encounter that has been written ahead of time. Could you tell us a little about how you capture sound before editing it? Would you consider this act of recording to be collective in nature?
Anne: The collaboration with the participants for Les mitoyennes began with a series of questions before the recording. The idea was to ask them about their work, about their own experience. In retrospect, I think it’s kind of funny to have created a questionnaire in order to put this work into perspective. In any case, this series of questions was established little by little with each of the protagonists, for the purposes of agreeing upon a direction for the sound piece. Often when I do things, I don’t have a clear goal in mind, and everything comes together in the recording phase. The reactions of my collaborators participates greatly to the quality of the piece to come. During the recording of this piece, I was exposed to a lot of enthusiasm and know-how. Thanks to the training that we received as telemarketers, we learned to have good diction, to maintain a smile on the telephone but also to maintain a connection with our interlocutor. During my encounters, certain telemarketers told me some interesting things. However, they refused to say them as individuals. This is where the idea of a choir that would allow fifteen people to repeat the speech of one person emerged. Each person’s speech was protected and the polyphonic sound editing provided an echo of what I had experienced as a telemarketer.
Lauren: You regularly have face to face meetings with professionals who’s voices are—from a marxist point of view—their labor power. Whether it be Call Center telemarketers or ASMR artists, these professionals hire out their voice to their employees or clients for a fee. They are subjected to the alienation of their own voice which has become merchandise in a capitalist economy. Does your approach as an artist allow you to contest, perhaps even criticize this additional economic value generated by the exploitation of their voice? If so, how?
Anne: In effect, the way that businesses capitalize on voices interests me. The voice in this type of work testifies to an individuality but without betraying an identity, to such an extent that it is quite easy to make it say anything. Speech essentially has something of the frivolous, it flies away, it escapes and evaporates. Speech within a business authenticates a body without signaling an individual: it belongs to a time, a place and to the body that pronounces it, escaping as quickly as it emerges, to the benefit of the firm. When I rented out my voice as a telemarketer, I discovered a certain technical prowess, I learned to master my voice but I became bored very quickly. One becomes bored when one stops speaking with one’s own voice, with one’s own words. When engaged with my own speech, most of my brain and all of my thoughts function, whereas here, I was paralyzed. My head was filled with phrases that were not my own.
What also interests me, is the firm’s responsibility with respect to the voices of its employees, to whom it transmits directives such as a script, orders, chaptering, etc. These directives also include censorship. These voices mainly come from characters created by the company rather than the employees themselves. At the start, it is difficult to see the harm in speaking on behalf of a company that one works for (and they are not all bad) but little by little, one realizes what one’s voice is representing and embodying: the company enters our bodies to nest under our tongue like a seal, working its way to our vocal chords.
It is obvious that our voice and what we say have value, and that this value can be monetized. Everyone is free to rent out their voice. It would be unfair to attach any kind of ethics to this. The mouth is the orifice that we use for speech and for eating, and sometimes we even manage to be resilient, as in my case. It is also interesting to consider the fact that it is legally possible to commercialize what our organs produce (speech, sperm, oocytes) but not the organs themselves, as they are part of the integrity of our bodies.
So there are these voices being used, along with what the company itself says when using these voices, and this is exactly where my work is positioned. When I begin to compose a group beginning with a group of employees, I don’t seek to contest the positioning of the protagonists, or the positioning of the company. This drives me towards a body with multiple voices, connected to a job, it is above all the desire to be part of it for a given period. This was the case with ASMR artists for example. I too wanted to whisper at that time, to speak of eroticism while at the same time considering the political significance of this approach.
Lauren: The sound editing that you use in your pieces, notably the suppression of silences, of breathing and even the isolation of a phoneme, comes together to create a concert of voices—a community of voices—that ultimately create a common body in a performance space. You keep the voices together. There is no dissonance but rather a harmony that functions through repetition. In your opinion, does this community of voices tend to become a general voice, or even a generic voice, a political body, thanks to editing? What principle of composition do you use to make all of these voices become one?
Anne: I create sound installations where one group of people addresses another group, the spectators. I like speech to be a collective event, both in its emission and its reception. This is why so few of my sound pieces are meant to be listened to with headphones. I like people to laugh at the same time, to become bored at the same time, leave at the same time. I also like the sound recording medium as it can be broadcast in a loop. It is speech that continues uninterrupted over the course of a day and the only way for a spectator to participate is to leave at some point.
I imagine that what first interests me about the group is that no one individual carries the responsibility for what is said, neither in the recording, nor in the editing, apart from myself. This is one of the reasons why I like it when a group, and not an individual, carries an idea. A group provides a kind of protection for speech. This idea of the collective protection of speech refers us back to anonymity and the generic voice. It is still possible today for a voice to remain anonymous and generic.
When I ask a protagonist to make a sound recording for one of my projects, I have the feeling that it is easier for them to say “yes” if their image doesn’t appear. Simply carrying one’s own voice is a kind of joyous freedom. The anonymity of these voices is interesting because, certainly, it allows people to say everything and anything, and one can have a feeling of being less responsible for what one says when one’s image is not in play, but anonymity also allows one to speak while keeping a form of repression at bay. A voice that speaks with no author, which is hidden for good or bad reasons, is a voice that cannot be controlled. I have the feeling that speech within groups works in a similar fashion, in other words it proposes to disturb its own source, and the resulting floating can permit a form of liberty. With this potential utopian liberty emerging from the medium of sound at a time when our image is increasingly present, analyzed, recognizable and controlled. That this potential utopian liberty also emerges from the medium of the voice, of speech in a group, because, as I said before, what I propose remains evanescent.
For those voices to become one, I would like at the very start for them to have something in common, and as you noted in your previous question, these voices share the fact of being rented out as labor power in our capitalist societies. I also consider the group in its relationship with dialogues. All of the groups that I compose are groups that are searching, searching for what they have in common, that seek to refine a thinking what they have in common, that must be found in either the recording or the editing. It is then one body made up of many that is expressing itself in my installations. A political body? Yes, I hope so.
Lauren: In 2018, you presented a piece entitled The Four Fs: Family, Finances, Faith and Friends at the Biennial of Contemporary Art, À cris ouvertes (6th edition of the Ateliers de Rennes). It was the second volume of a series of sound installations that you created using a database of sperm donors freely available on the internet. A database that archives and classifies hundreds of profiles of anonymous donors for the purposes of presenting the information to potential buyers. Following a protocol established by the firm, these male donors are given a serial number and described both physically and psychologically by the firm’s employees. Somewhere between a 14th century Italian portrait gallery and a mass retail outlet from the 20th century. Could you tell us a little about what motivated you to enter this universe of serial portraits? How did the “gallery of the chivalrous 400” and the “ideal father” product range grab your attention?
Anne: I prefer not to answer this question. There is a radiophonic sound piece, broadcast in a car and available for listening on this website, that was made to speak for me.
Lauren: This artwork is the first sound creation where the voices that we hear have not been recorded by you. In effect, you edited an object that used the voices of people employed by the sperm bank. The process of creation through appropriation has become widespread and “vulgarized” since the early 20th century and can be seen the practices of artists as diverse as Duchamp and Richard Prince for example. Nevertheless, it is rarer to encounter this practice in the field of sound. Aside from the musical process of DJs, the appropriation of the sound recording, and in particular the voice, is rarely practiced. If one considers the recorded voices that you use as recordings produced from a specific recording process, intended for a precise broadcast circuit, dependent on a capitalist economy, does removing them from their original context in order to use them for artistic purposes seem to you to be more akin to recycling, to appropriation or even to theft? Where are we in terms of a “right to one’s voice” as one might speak of a “right to one’s image”?
Anne: No comment.
Lauren: Last October you presented your performance Apolo One(2) in the new space of the Fondation Pernod Ricard. Though your previous pieces used a plurality of voices that tended to become one after editing, with this performance you moved from borrowing the voices of others to donating your own. You carry the voices of others. Can you tell us a little more about your choice?
Anne: I don’t know if it’s truly the donation of my voice, but it is true that this is a question that I ask myself: “What about my own voice?”. Because I had spent so much time using the voices of others, I wanted to move in the opposite direction, to find my own words, as with Fifi, Riri, Loulou. As you highlighted in our first conversation, my sound installations are primarily the result of a group that speaks. For Apolo One, I wanted to be part of a speaking group. A group that was created from scratch: the people who lent their voices and myself put ourselves “in the place of”. We are in the place of other people as I didn’t manage to record the real protagonists. I would have liked that this procedure of “speaking in place of” contribute to a sense of anonymity, and I do think that this a whole other dynamic at work in the performance. This performance mixes research that I did in Japan in the Villa Kujoyama around public apologies, and my own family history: a doctor performing biopsies on animal livers, a woman who loses her artificial breast implant in water following a mastectomy, etc. Indeed, the text of this performance could be linked to Claire, Anne, Laurence, a piece of theater from 2013 in which I speak about my family, and more specifically my sisters. It is a piece of theater that we perform—my sisters and I—solely for ourselves.
Lauren: One could even say that you literally carry the voices of the others in this performance. You carry them pinned to a pink bathrobe, a bathrobe that covers, even thickens you, to which has been attached a multitude of tiny speakers. We can no longer tell if the bathrobe is a second skin covered in scales, or perhaps even a suit of armor. In any case this skin manages to express itself. You activate it in front of us so as to maintain a dialogue between you and the two voices that have been prerecorded and broadcasted by loudspeakers. Through a back and forth rhythm between two microphones on stands, your body swings from left to right to allow the voices to be amplified. What made you want to cover yourself in the voices of others, to dress yourself in them?
Anne: After my exhibition at the Grand Café—the center for contemporary art in Saint-Nazaire, I wanted more intimacy between the speech of others and myself. Rather than exhibiting the speech of others, I wanted to shelter it. I wanted a dwelling for speech, for my body to be this dwelling. With this bathrobe, my body becomes a shelter from which the group can express itself. When I wear it the weight of the speech anchors my body, it suddenly thickens, it swells. And at the same time, I love myself inside of the speech that envelops me, they speak in my name, they say what I can’t manage to formulate. Similar to Herzog, who in his film Land of Silence and Darkness placed loudspeakers on the stomachs of deaf mute people so that they could feel the sound through vibrations, I wanted to physically feel the speech of others, to wear it, to be armed with it. In hindsight, I realize that the bathrobe has a connection with the piece Parler de loin ou bien se taire(3)—a sound installation acquired by the Centre Pompidou—in which the sound edit was approached as if was a human body. Certain words correspond to the place and function of an organ. For example the word “and” is the heart, appearing regularly, accelerating or slowing down according to the content, always present. I imagine that having treated words like organs to so often, it seemed obvious to me to place them as close as possible to my own organs.
In the future I wish to begin a new cycle of performances with the same bathrobe. I would like this skin to bear witness to past events, I would like it to serve as a witness, a link between the speech of some and the ears of others, between groups or individuals who haven’t been able to, or have’t wanted to, meet. All of this is of course speculative and I don’t know if it will work, but I would like to find a potential reconciliation between what I write and the voices that I will carry in the future. This is one of the challenges of working in this way.
(1).Interview with Raphaël Brunel in the magazine Zéro Deux, March 2017.
(2).Apolo One, performance, 30 mins., 2020. Co-production: Fondation Pernod Ricard, the Villa Kujoyama et Viva Villa Festival. This project was developed during a residency in 2020 in the Villa Kujoyama with the support of the Fondation Bettencourt Schueller and the Institut français. Conception and performance: Anne Le Troter. Technical design: Guillaume Couturier and Pierrick Saillant. Voices: Lou Villapadierna and Antonin Horquin. Assistant: Lou Villapadierna.
(3).Parler de loin ou bien se taire, sound piece, 23 mins., 2018. Production: Le Grand Café—centre d’art contemporain, Saint-Nazaire and Nasher Sculpture Center (USA). From the Centre Pompidou Collection with the support of the Friends of the Centre Pompidou.
For more informations: Anne Le Troter
Toutes les deux on sera bien,
Anne Le Troter and Lauren Tortil, 2020