Thinking Things

Premiere by the composer Georges Aperghis and the video maker Pierre Nouvel

Thinking Things: A Way of Thinking about Intelligent Objects

It has been seven years since Georges Aperghis has taken on musical theater despite being an indefatigable re-inventor of the genre for almost half a century. Admittedly, even in his purely musical works theater is never far, “It’s my way of seeing the world”, he says. “I always see tensions arise and, rather than calm them, I always try to push them as far as they can go. Naturally, this creates archetypal situations of domination, of revolt…. There is neither a representation, nor speech, nor a character, not even precise scenes, but vague situations that only music can express, like a theatrical and moving alchemy that makes them tangible.” Of course, the voice and text are far from absent in his most recent production. But it is the first time in his career that he has stayed away from the stage for so long…

For this great comeback, Georges Aperghis has also reconnected with IRCAM technology via Olivier Pasquet who guided Aperghis through his first steps in the IRCAM studios, 18 years ago, for Machinations (2000). The new piece, entitled Thinking Things can be seen from several points as the prolongation of Machinations and Luna Park (2011): it reuses the core structure of the stage set and questions, like the other pieces, technology and its abuses. As always, with the wild humor that distances and characterizes his work: the subject here is not to denounce, but to show and, above all, to play, in the recreational meaning of the term and with the serious carelessness of a child, with all the technologies that invade our daily lives.

Following the role of the machine in our contemporary society, generalized surveillance (worthy of George Orwell), Aperghis is now interested in robots of all sorts, in all these thinking objects that provide him with material to consider.

Inspired by the essay by Grégoire Chamayou La théorie du drone as well as military videos that were leaked here and there, and by the extraordinary funeral ceremonies organized for robots in Japan when they become obsolete or no longer work, Georges Aperghis imagines a musical theater bordering that of a magic show, deconstructing the image of robots until they become absurd, not without scuffing up the men who designed and use them…

The Technology

As often seen in Georges Aperghis’ work, voice and vocality are treated with special attention here. With Olivier Pasquet, he extends the work carried out for Machinations and Luna Park on synthesized voice, impossible polyphonies, and voice processing techniques—notably to give a “voice” to the robots whose mind-blowing, hallucinated discussions punctuate the piece. On the other hand, as if to better question the robotic presence in our lives, a part of the electronics is created using sound samples…. of 3D printers! These are the3D printers used to construct the robots that participate in the show.

The robots were designed by the artist Pierre Nouvel who also produced certain videos seen throughout the performance. “Here we are designing robotic elements and thinking about their possible interactions with humans, but also with space, sound, light, and images” says Pierre Nouvel. “We address themes related to robotics and artificial intelligence through systems that use, of course, current technologies, but that remain theatrical. Absurdly, this provides a lot of strength and artistic freedom to the project. The technology found on the stage is augmented by the theatricality and musicality with which it is confronted.”

Photo 1: left to right, Olivier Pasquet, computer music designer, Georges Aperghis, composer and Richard Dubelski, actor © Quentien Chevrier
Photo 2: Olivier Pasquet, computer music designer © Quentin Chevrier
Photo 3: Robot totem head © Quentin Chevier

by Jérémie Szpirglas, journalist and author



Georges Aperghis

Georges Aperghis (b. 1945) has worked for over 30 years on the invention of musical theater that he defines as “an invasion of the theatrical temple by the abstract power of musical organization”. Never a libretto set to music, but a polyph...


Pierre Nouvel

Founder of the trans-disciplinary collective Factoid bringing together video artists, musicians, graphic designers, curators, scenographers, Pierre Nouvel (born 1981) works as a scenographer with a broad range of directors (J.-F. Peyret, M. Deutsch, L....