Zimoun’s Engaging Systems & Intricate Worlds

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Zimoun’s sculptures contain worlds within worlds within worlds. His ability to create massive sound installations that still feel intimate and approachable is special. Using a series of various simple machines, Zimoun constructs immersible landscapes infused with elements of chance and uncertainty. Sonically, the combination of sounds that evolve from these basic forms is layered and complex, offering surprising insights into the possibilities contained within these systems. 

Zimoun’s latest audio document, the massive Guitar Systems, is out now on Room 40. He can be found via his website.

What are some of your earliest memories and experience of music and sound that have stuck with you through the years? 

I was still very young, maybe 3 or 4 years old, when I discovered the boiler room. In there I found a large, old metallic boiler. The entire room was covered with plasterboard all around. This boiler was periodically heated up and then cooled down again over a period of time before being heated up again. It was quite noisy when it was heating up, but when it was cooling down, only soft clicking sounds could be heard, which were caused by the changing temperature of the metal body. An incredible variety of these sounds unfolded. Since the walls had a very smooth surface, the sounds were reflected from everywhere in the room. It was indeed a fantastic sound piece. I returned to this room, again and again, to listen to this process. 

At what point did you start playing music yourself and learning an instrument? Was there a particular impetus that sparked that? Did you grow up in a family where music and art were present or at least have support for those interests from those around you at a young age? 

Yes, there was always support. Ever since I can remember, instruments have always been present in my family and I guess I started trying them out and experimenting very early. Pianos, guitars, drums and timpani, small percussion instruments, and so on… My parents also both played music. I also tried early to make small ‘compositions’ so I could show my friends what they could play on the keyboard, while I could improvise to it with the guitar or piano. I think there was no real beginning, at least today it seems to me that everything happened very organically… My mother usually woke me up in the morning with the piano and my parents always supported me when I was interested in learning a new instrument – and at the same time, they never pushed me to do it.  

And what about sound installations – when did you first start thinking about how sound could be used to create these architectural, mechanical pieces of sound art?

Just before I started to work with mechanical systems in my early twenties, I started experimenting with multi-channel sound systems and I did compositions for several speakers spread in the space. At the time, I was mainly working with pre-recorded sounds of physical materials such as for instance sounds of paper. Driven by a minimalistic approach and thinking, I then started to wonder how I could get the work even more direct and create sounds in real-time on site in the most immediate way, as opposed to recording them first and playing them later after some digital or analog processes. At that moment in time, the experimentation with mechanical systems began and the visual intentions merged together with sound and space into the installation work I am currently doing. 

What is it about using these arrays of machines and materials that continue to interest you?

Many aspects come together here. For example, I developed an interest in minimalism and reductive principles already in my teens. Somehow I seemed to realize that when things are reduced to their essence, they can unleash a powerful force. That large things are hidden in small things somehow. That infinity is somewhat more tangible in the small than in the large. So I started experimenting with repetition, variation, and reduction early on. Simplicity in the system and principle, with simultaneous complexity which arises from it. 

Repetition also interests me for different reasons. One of the reasons is to integrate a variety of sound generators in space, creating a kind of sound architecture or three-dimensional sound fields. I am also fascinated by the individuality that all the individual parts develop. Although I use the identical materials for each sound generator, I also look for the stages in which things get out of control within a defined framework once they are activated. In this way, each mechanical element begins to develop its own individual behavior. Also from this aspect, I am interested in repetition, because it allows me to observe these individualities. 

The fundamental interest in simplicity and reduction is also evident in the choice of materials. Just as I am interested in simple systems, I also seek simplicity in the materials themselves. So I mostly use simple, raw materials from everyday life and industry and recycle them over and over again.  

I’m not looking for a spectacle in the material or the mechanical system itself. Here I am interested in simplicity, even in primitivity. At the same time, I am then fascinated by what I see as a spectacular behavior of these materials, which arises from the dynamics of these unspectacular materials themselves. Or the complexity that grows out of the simplicity or even primitivity. 

One aspect of your work that I am so drawn to is that it seems built on dichotomies. You often have these complex patterns in the way each individual piece is set up in these installations, but once they’re turned on, it’s pure chance and chaos. There’s something so transfixing about the duality to me, but I’m curious what it is for you that keeps drawing you to these two seemingly opposite things and finding ways to connect them?

I am interested in the uniting and the simultaneity of such contradictions. The simplicity and the complexity, the order and the chaos, the precision, and the inaccuracy, the mass and individuality… what seems incompatible at first glance can exist simultaneously or even strengthen each other. A primitive mechanical system that can develop a complexity in spite of this primitiveness has for me a greater power and fascination than a complicated system that produces a complex behavior.    

There’s also this great immersive quality to your work that gets at the transportive nature of sound in my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot these last few years about how sound, as a medium, can transport a person almost immediately into a new world, and I think your work does that so well. How do you think about the way sound can transport listeners to new places?

I fully agree sound and music have a very unique power and potential in transporting us to other spaces. Light also has somehow related qualities. Or also the breathing. These seem to me to be somehow psychedelic characteristics, strongly linked to our perceptions and how we construct our apparent realities. A most fascinating topic indeed.  

Where did the initial seeds for Guitar Studies come from?

I often limit myself to a few elements in my work. This can be a material, a system, a sound generator, an instrument… thereby I often work on different pieces simultaneously. However, even if I often do a series of things, I didn’t plan to create this series from the beginning. Rather, in the process of creation, I noticed that different compositions based on the same constraint arise and are therefore suitable as a series. The three compositions were also created over a longer period of time, between 2019 and 2021.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to deal with when making these pieces?

One challenge was that the compositions were created over many months or even years and at the same time, each of the compositions has a duration of about one hour. If I hadn’t worked on a composition for a while, it was always quite time-consuming to get a full overview of the current state again, for instance, while listening to the current state several times in its full duration to get a clear mind where and how to continue. Sometimes this took me half a day to only get a sharp picture again of where I was in the process. At the same time, I think this challenge was also useful because I wanted to create long, engaging, and also somewhat hypnotic compositions, so I had to keep finding my way into these states myself. 

What was your process like in making these massive, sprawling pieces? These sculptures are built from live takes, right? Every time I put the album on, I am amazed by the subtle shifts and details. They really challenged my perception of what I expected them to be… It’s so inviting.

Yes, there are no loops in the compositions. I have sometimes recorded countless tracks and each of them over the entire period of about an hour. For example, if I wanted to integrate just a scratch from the guitar, I created and recorded this sound live for over an hour. The same then with a small crackle. Each composition, therefore, consists of many hours of recordings. Once the compositions were developed in their rough form, I then began to work with very slow sound manipulations by adding, for example, certain frequencies or tracks with steadily but slowly changing equalizer movements. I also played such interventions live and recorded them over the entire period. The same then with slight manipulations or a tremolo and so on and so on… this process was a bit crazy indeed.

What surprised you about these pieces first as you were creating them and then once they were finished?

It is difficult to say. I don’t create the compositions in a mathematical or purely intellectual way. These are rather ‘states’ and somehow ‘spaces’ which I look for in the compositions but cannot really describe with words how to achieve them. It is somehow just a feeling. Perhaps even a kind of longing for vastness, tranquility, space, and endless richness of details. It is a constant reflection during the creation somehow, but also a constant attempt to approach this state and to get lost in it… It’s hard for me to find appropriate words here.

What is next for you?

Currently, I am working on two new site-specific installations I will present in September this year in Switzerland, as well as on a series of smaller sound sculptures. I’m also working on various new audio recordings and compositions… Most of the time I work on 3-4 projects at the same time, also because I have to let each of them rest from time to time…

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