Matthieu Saladin, the song of dialogism

Interviews 30.11.2023

Matthieu Saladin is a multi-faceted character: artist, art teacher, performer, publisher, author, he has been a leading exponent of experimental music for many years. Let's take a look back at his career and explore with him some of the theoretical and practical driving forces behind his work.

"There is no sound except in relation " Vinciane Despret

Matthieu Saladin 's work is part of a conceptual approach to art, which, through the issue of sound, puts into perspective the history of forms and creative processes, the production of spaces, and the relationship between art and the economy.
Founder of the magazine Tacetmagazine, he contributes to Volume!, Revue & Corrigée and co-directs the Oh cet écho collection.
The author of numerous books, Matthieu Saladin's main essay, l'Esthétique de l'improvisation libre - Expérimentation musicale et politique (2014), published by Presses du réel, examines in situ, collective creation, sound experimentation, and the relationships to freedom, memory, habits and rules that are thwarted by the improvisational process, which he describes as political.
Matthieu Saladin's sound research focuses mainly on the paradoxical experiences of silence and the inaudible, as well as on what happens to sound in social conflicts and rumors, highlighting the issues of joint listening and sound sharing that any broadcasting in the public space presupposes.
Thus, Rumor #1 is an activatable protocol in which a phrase about air quality is whispered into the ears of visitors by the mediation staff of an exhibition space, the phrase changing daily according to the weather.
Or Public Ringtones, which are textual statements presented in the form of downloadable ringtones for cell phones. The telephone thus becomes a loudspeaker broadcasting statements into the public space.
And among the objects that recur as theoretical and practical driving forces in his work, there are four significant figures: the Telephone, Work, Partition and Sponge, modeling processes and theoretical methodologies as well as pure plastic creations...

1st step: the telephone
The telephone, part of a great tradition of sound creation, is very present in your work, in the contemporary form of the smartphone. How does it fit into your practice?
I'm very interested in the smartphone as an object. It represents the typical device of our contemporaneity. It is the paradigmatic object of our media societies, in the sense that it crystallizes a certain number of changes in our social relations and our relationship to public space. To put it in Mauss's terms, it is quite simply a total social fact.
This object interests me not only in terms of the uses we make of it and the transformations it has brought about, but also in terms of its own technical characteristics, both those that reflect the extreme miniaturization of control - the multiple sensors and programs that make it up - which turn this device into a kind of "connected intimacy", and those that ultimately relate to technologies that are quite old, but which it updates, such as the fact that it has a microphone and loudspeakers. The project Public ringtones project uses the loudspeakers on our cell phones, which are used to broadcast call and notification ringtones, to broadcast critical statements in public spaces. If you install one of these ringtones on your phone, for example a phrase like "public space is a strategic space" or "between two rings, silence", this statement will resonate in, and thereby activate, the place where you are every time you make a call. With the exception of pre-arranged telephone appointments, we generally don't choose when we receive a call, i.e. we don't know when the phrase installed as a ringtone will sound, in what situation it will be inserted, etc. If this usage echoes the popular principle of "between two rings", it's because we don't know when we'll receive a call. While this usage takes up the popular principle of personalized ring tones, it also transforms our device into a critical, possibly ironic, and unexpected propagation device. Another project, entitled Faites comme si de rien n'étaitrealized in 2017, hijacked the smartphone not as a sound transmitter, but as a receiver of text notifications. Unfortunately, this piece can no longer be activated today, as it exploited a flaw in the Bluetooth protocol that recent versions of mobile operating systems have closed. It consisted in anonymously broadcasting the phrase "Act as if nothing had happened" in the form of a notification to all cell phones (with the bluetooth function activated) that crossed the range (over a radius of around 70 m) of a beacon hidden below the Place de la République in Paris. The cell phone is a particularly appropriate device or medium for pieces that seek to unfold in everyday life, as it is an object that most people rarely part with.

2nd step: Work
The polysemy of the notion of work is an interesting one to unfold, to put any work into perspective. How might you, in turn, appropriate this notion?
A number of projects I've been working on recently have taken an interest in work, for the place it occupies in our lives, as a vector of both individuation and alienation. In particular, I've been focusing on the more or less recent transformations brought about by neoliberalism, in which every individual becomes an entrepreneur, as the philosopher Wendy Brown(1) puts it. A few years ago, I began a series entitled Partitions de travail. These scores have the particularity of being addressed not to musicians or performers, but to workers. As the milieu in which my work is shown is mainly contemporary art, these scores have so far been interpreted by contemporary art structures, by the people who work there. There are five scores to date, but the series is not yet complete. Each focuses on a specific aspect or moment in the work. Le Chant du dialogisme is a score that examines the ritual of the job interview, transforming it into a duet between employer and candidate. The duet involves singing, and is based on the lyrics of a well-known song sent by the applicant in lieu of a cover letter.

A working day suggests that each person working in the structure randomly choose a working day during the exhibition where the work is presented, and carry out each action as slowly as possible on that day.
The score Stakeholders transforms work meetings into a choreography in which different levels of discourse intermingle, from representation to self-perception to designation. Another score in the series consists of staring at a light source outside the screen during videoconferences and following it with the eyes, or the last in the series, Scripts for an absence messageIn these automatic responses, theoretical reflections questioning the way neoliberal ideology affects bodies are interwoven into formulas for the use of absence, producing singular statements written in the first person.
More broadly, this series stems directly from the contextual nature of my work as an artist, in the sense that I don't have a studio practice; I imagine projects each time according to the situations that call for them. And in the structures where I'm lucky enough to work as an artist, it's unfortunately not uncommon to discover that there's a profound sense of suffering at work. The cultural milieu is no exception to this suffering; in some respects, it even concentrates most of the problems linked to work in the contemporary economic and ideological context, and all the more perniciously as it is also often a work space chosen by vocation and passion.

3rd step: the score
What does the score reveal about the allographic condition of art, in its musical, performative and even literary dimensions?
The distinction between autographic and allographic works was initially established by Nelson Goodman to define the authenticity of a work. According to him, autographic works, such as paintings, cannot be reproduced without giving rise to forgery, whereas allographic works, such as scores, require performance. In other words, allographic works are realized through their interpretation.
This singularity has several aesthetic implications, but there are two that particularly interest me in my work. The first is formulated in an exemplary way by John Cage(2) when he explains in Silence that, for him, a work is only considered complete once it has been played, because only its activation allows its sensitive experience. The relationship to performance is decisive here. When Cage says this, he is not refuting the possibly conceptual dimension of some of his works, but emphasizing the empiricism that governs them. The moment of performance is essential because it gives rise to an experience in which, as such, the subject is transformed. To use a Foucauldian concept, the score - in its relationship to performance - has an ethopoietic function for Cage: it is the vector of self-transformation.
The second implication of allography, when taken to its logical conclusion, is appropriation. This time, it's the composer Cornelius Cardew who provides a radical exemplification in his work Treatise. This score comprises 193 pages of graphic notation, for the interpretation of which Cardew gave no nomenclature, no rules to follow, other than this indication: " What I hope is that in playing this piece, each musician will play his own music - that he will play it as his response to my music, which is the score itself. "
At the crossroads of these two relationships - appropriation and self-transformation - something quite fascinating is at work, which, without being an exclusive potentiality of the score form in the field of experimentation, reveals itself in a particularly salient way.

Step4: Sponge
The notion of the sponge evokes the double movement of absorbing a material, a liquid, and multiplying and enriching this augmented material tenfold. What does this notion say about your work and your working methodology?
In a recent solo show at Salle Principale gallery, entitled Distress & Dividends (September-November 2023), I presented the activation of a protocol that mobilizes a sponge. While the sponge is often associated with the idea of absorption, I was interested in its confrontation with the drying out of matter. This work consists in moving the sponge from the place of its activation, the sponge, or one of the sponges, that the people working in this structure use on a daily basis for various household tasks.
For example, the kitchen sponge, the break room sponge or the bathroom sponge, i.e. the sponge used for cleaning and maintenance work, whatever its condition or degree of wear. Over the course of the activation, this sponge loses its ordinary use and is subjected to a drying process, where the material contracts and hardens. It is then presented as a small sculpture in the exhibition space.

Then, at the end of the exhibition, the sponge returns to its original function and can be used again. The title of this work is Trying to convert a sponge into a stone (you'll never break a window with it). This is a phrase I borrowed from Cornelius Cardew, again, and which he wrote in his diary in 1973, when he became a Maoist, abandoning all avant-garde artistic practice to devote himself to music in the service of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain. In writing this sentence, Cardew uses an allegory to deliver a scathing critique of committed works, including his own, which remain confined to the art world. In a commentary, however, John Tilbury suggests that this criticism also marks a distancing from Maoist doctrine itself, since, according to the latter, a work considered bourgeois can always be hijacked to serve the interests of proletarian revolution. For Cardew, at least according to what this mysterious phrase tells us, such misappropriation would have just as many limits. I've been thinking about this sentence for a long time; there's something very poetic about it, and at the same time quite scathing in what it tells us about the relationship between art and politics. In any case, a sponge will never become a stone, precisely because of its capacity both to absorb and to reject.

Interview by Pascale Cassagnau

(1)Wendy Brown, The New Clothes of World Politics. Neoliberalism and neo-conservatism, Paris, Les prairies ordinaires, 2007.
(2)John Cage, Silence. Conférences et écrits [1961], Geneva, Héros-Limite, 2003.
(3)Michel Foucault, "L'écriture de soi" [1983], Dits et Écrits II, Paris, Quarto Gallimard, 2001, pp. 1234-1249.
(4)Nelson Goodman, Langages de l'art, Nîmes, Éditions Jacqueline Chambon, 1990.
(5)Nicolas Nova, Smartphones. Une enquête anthropologique, Genève, Métis Presses, 2020.
(6)John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: a life unfinished, Essex, Copula, 2008.

Photo article © Emile Ouroumov.


buy twitter accounts