Sonae Media Art 2019: Francisca Aires Mateus

Umbigo Magazine spoke to Francisca Aires Mateus about her work, Musica Humana, for which she was selected as a finalist of the 2019 edition of the Sonae Media Art Award.

Inspired in part by the Proust Questionnaire, Musica Humana was produced by the formulation of code using interview answers and unique musical qualities to produce an installation consisting of dialogic fragments and a corresponding musical composition that plays simultaneously. Musica Humana is at times harmonious and others cacophonic, verging on delirium. It challenges the senses of the viewer, or rather listener, thwarting any visual distraction to provide a space of reflection.

Musica Humana is on show at the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado until 2 February.


Myles Francis Browne – So much of our experience is dictated to us by our capacities of vision; many are reliant upon this in the conception of their realities. What motivated you to make this facet absent from the work?

Francisca Aires Mateus – By dismissing the power of vision, trough the darkening of the installation space, sound becomes the corporeal element that fills and moulds the space. This way, it is possible to accept and focus on sound, to feel the movement of the music through the speakers and to discover the overlap of different pieces and its creation of new harmonies and cacophonies.

MFB – Music is equally emphatic as human emotion – being so often inspired by virtue of this. The work transmutes emotion to data and subsequently data to music. How sufficient is the intermediate data in recognising and replicating the complexities of the human experience?

FAM – This works departs from the classical Greek civilisation’s idea that music existed “in an intimate relationship with almost all aspects of human activity” and that it was a force capable of influencing the universe and “affecting the will and conduct of human beings”. For this project, I explore the reverse of this Greek idea of the influence that music has in human behaviour: instead of looking for the relationship between certain kinds of music and their behavioural result, I create specific sound pieces based on the emotional and personality characteristics of several individuals. Here, the data acts as the translator of human behaviour and emotions to music, however, the sound pieces don’t attempt to directly imitate the human experience, they transform specific answers into specific musical characteristics from which a sound piece is produced that represents a certain individual.

MFB – It is interesting that you choose to incorporate questions that are frequently heard within job interview settings into the formulaic process. As I don’t imagine they are often profoundly revelatory of the human experience. What purpose did these serve?

FAM – These questions were meant to discern whether the interviewee was conscious of his own actions, worth and future plans. For instance, the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” tried to ascertain if the interviewees had concrete plans and aspirations or if they were in a transition phase or just looking to see where life took them. The answers to this specific question would determine the duration of the piece: whether the answer was vague or assertive would determine if the piece lasted 80 to 240 seconds or 60 to 80 seconds.

MFB – The speakers seemed to transmit individual voices and compositions, rather than a collectivised audio track that played these voices and complementary compositions in succession. What does this say of the human experience? Are we all profoundly isolated by our individual realities?

FAM – Each sound piece is the translation of an individual interview, however, in the installation, the pieces interact with each other, creating new harmonies, clashing or generating moments of pure cacophony. There are also moments where several recordings from different interviews play at the same time, seemingly talking to each other. I believe this mirrors our experience; in society, as in the installation, the common voice is the assemblage of several individual voices, there isn’t one single higher voice and there aren’t individualised, severed voices either.

Myles Francis is an arts journalist & writer, originally from London, now based in Lisbon. He has worked with such publications as Nicotine, TANK, Vogue Portugal, and now currently writes at Umbigo magazine.

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