combined workshop with TAREK ATOUI { January 8, 2010 @ 3:47 pm }

Whoa! What a way to start the morning: Tarek’s performing his "UN-DRUM" series: "This is a crossing between contemporary music, electronic music, but also electro-acoustic music and noise music," he says. Behind the console, fingers fiddling with dials, blare of traffic, arms flaring out to catch the air above his theremins, warping noise and backbeat bass, bare lanky feet stepping out, returning to focus on his laptop for seconds before he busts out another move, hair swinging, and recorded voices of men and women in Mandarin, yelling Mao Zhu Xi Wan Shui…

He’s finished. We applaud, wildly. Oh wait, he isn’t finished: there’s a second movement. He mops his forehead with a white towel, and launches back in.

After the second round of applause, he stops.

Tarek: I am sorry. I did in the speaker. Like Jimi Hendrix. I buy you a new one.

It’s the second time this has happened, we discover. The last time round was in Sweden, also with KS. It’s a curse, I tell you. Tarek: I asked Keng Sen to ask to speak to you this way because I use sound and I speak through sound. And second because the best way to see what I do is to hear what i do and talk about it. if I show you a video it’s not the same.

He opens the floor for questions.

Chath: I think you’re amazing.

Tarek: That’s not a question.

Chath: But i’ve never seen anything like it.

The work is 60% composed, 40% improvised, and he breaks down the whole narrative for the Cambodians: how improv was vitally improtant in the art and music of the ’60s, as it was a reaciton to break out of the stodgy structured forms of classical music and early contemporary music

Tarek: And I am starting to go back to form again. Now we are linking back to new forms of writing that use both form and improvisation. So it’s very much form and very much improvised.

It’s a really good presentation. He leaves pauses in all the right places for the translators, explains the three steps of his composition: 1) recording, 2) music and performance, 3) software and hardware engineering ("These 3 elements form a triangle and I can go from one corner to another"), and his physical tools of a) distance, b) faders, c) pressure, plus the 40 machines inside his software, and no absolute control, so he’s forced into randomness:

Tarek: I have many accidents happening, really a lot. And what I like about this is I don’t have 100% control of it. In other works I have computer starts to play all the sounds. And I try and make a composition out of it. When I dont know the reaction for the computer I have to be very attentive. And I like it because it’s going back to a point of hyper-attention.

And then there’s the background to the piece – he explains why he used audio excerpts from Cultural Revolution trials of musicians, composers and opera stars in China; how that period parallels not only the Khmer Rouge but also the Nasserist era of pan-Arabism (and here he explains the difference between Arabs and Muslims), how entire communal memories were erased for the sake of sectarian interests in the years that followed, and a Chinese text helps to negotiate the fact that he’s refusing to take sides in the local sectarian: neither Hezbollah nor Muslim Brothers.

And the personal background: it’s based on a personal experience when he was arrested and tortured in a war for three days in 2006. ("It’s okay," he says with utter nonchalance.)

Tarek: And during this experience I got beaten on my ear and now I don’t hear very well with this one (points to left ear). So I can play very loud. And it’s very nice, because the speaker blew up. The speaker next to this ear.

As proud as he is of the machines, however, he wants to make sure the kids know that they’re not everything. They can bring in their audio archive clips on the 10th and he’ll show them how it’s done. Don’t think it’s just me, he says. You can do this yourself.

interview with TAREK ATOUI, Beirut, Lebanon

{ January, 2010 @ 6:17 am }

YS: So would you identify as a sound artist or an artist in general, or…?

TA: No, I’m a sound artist. Not just an artist. My medium is sound and I’m the type of person who chose to focus on one medium rather than diversify and work with several mediums. And then this sound is defined in the shape of performances and installation, but it’s always sound.

YS: So how’s FCP been for you so far?

TA: Well for me it is.. I would not say… I’m really enjoying it, really enjoying it. And discovering lots of interesting stuff on many levels, on levels of people here,levels of participants, levels of new methods of work, levels of relationships, levels of disciplines, even levels of new civilisation and culture.

YS: And why did you agree to come?

TA: Because the whole… at the first sight it seems very interesting. First of all as somebody from the Middle East and considering myself also from Asia, it’s very rare to have opportunities to work and find other realitites and frameworks in Asia. And the second thing was because of my relationship with Keng Sen, and because of the trust I have in his widsom and his judgment and the things I’ve seen from his work before.

YS: Could you tell me about one artwork of yours you’re particularly proud of?

TA: The work that I value the most for the moment is the series of the Un-Drum performances. And it’s what I showed here in Cambodia, and it’s like, as I was saying, this articulation of composition, performance and engineering. And so with this work I really started to explore new modes of performing and new ways of composing and I truly and sincerely have the conviction of playing an innovative role in the international scene of electronic and electro-acoustic music.

YS: Could you tell us a bit about the contemporary scene in Lebanon?

TA: The contemporary art scene in Lebanon is… Compared to the size of Lebanon and the population of Lebanon, I find it’s a pretty dynamic scene and it has a lot fo things to offer, quality-wise. After the civil war, after 1990, I should say there is a first generation of contemporary artists who kind of paved the path for many good things to happen and rise from here, and those people are no small figures internationally.

And now like for instance I’m part of the, I would say the second generation? And I see also the new generation coming, third generation, and the work of these are… It’s like they have an example to follow. They have a reference, an example to follow of which we can approve, disapprove, but at least we have reference.

Yeah, I see good things. It’s a productive scene, the scene of experimental music is good and offering good things. The scene of contemporary and visual arts is also very productive, and performance… maybe this is where things are a bit behind compared to others, but we cannot say nothing is happening, no. I’m optimistic about the becoming of things in Lebanon.

Ng Yi-Sheng

Aug 10 2020
USA Lebanon France

Tarek Atoui Wins 200K Art Prize
by Fion Tse

Paris-based artist and composer Tarek Atoui was announced the winner of the 2022 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Art Prize by The Contemporary Austin (TCA) on August 7. Atoui will receive a USD 200,000 cash award in addition to funding for a solo exhibition at TCA in early 2022, later travelling to the FLAG Art Foundation in New York that same year. 

Beirut-born Atoui was selected for his collaborative community projects, which include sound-based installations and performances. Inspired by ethnomusicology and electroacoustic music, Atoui researches and assembles new instruments and sounds with a cross-disciplinary approach. In the announcement, TCA highlighted Atoui’s project WITHIN (2012– ), for which he works with musicians and deaf communities to create wood-and-metal electronic machines that function as instruments, enabling the reception of sound via alternative methods such as texture, movement, and vibration. The project was presented at the Sharjah Biennale in 2013, the Bergen Assembly in 2016, and in 2017, at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels and the Galarie Chantal Crousel in Paris. 

Atoui has held numerous international solo exhibitions, such as at London’s Tate Modern in 2016, the Serralves Foundation in Porto in 2018, and at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center in 2019. He has participated in the Sharjah Biennial in 2009 and 2013, Documenta 13 in Kassel in 2012, the 8th Berlin Biennale in 2014, and the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

His upcoming exhibition at the Fridericianum in Kassel, opening on October 3, presents works from his project I/E (2012– ), an archive of audio recordings from harbors and harbor cities. Later this year, his solo show “Cycles in 11” at the Sharjah Art Foundation, developed over 11 years of collaboration with the Foundation, will feature installations, sound labs, and performances. Atoui will also participate in the 13th Gwangju Biennale in February 2021.

The biannual Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Art Prize began in 2016 and is funded by trustee Suzanne Deal Booth and nonprofit FLAG Art Foundation. The prize recognizes international artists based on their works and record of museum and gallery exhibitions. The independent advisory committee for the 2022 prize was led by Heather Pesanti, chief curator and director of curatorial affairs at TCA, and includes Darby English, professor at the University of Chicago; Michael Govan, CEO and director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Ingrid Schaffner, curator at The Chinati Foundation in Marfa; Catherine Wood, senior curator at the Tate Modern in London; and FLAG Art Foundation director Stephanie Roach. 

Fion Tse is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.