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Slow down and listen

DOHA (AFP) – In a noisy, chaotic and fast-paced world, the Qatar-based sound artist Guillaume Rousere is on a mission: to get people to slow down and listen again.

Birdsong, insects chirping, the sound of wind brushing through tall grass or over sand dunes – all these form part of what the 44-year-old Frenchman calls his “sound art”.

“Sound art is a discipline where the principal medium is sound and where the aim is to listen,” said Rousere, who lives in the Gulf state that will soon host the World Cup.

For a recent audio project, he set up a microphone at an organic farm in Qatar, where he also recorded man-made sounds such as those of cars, planes and farm machines.

“I walk around the site I want to explore and let my ears guide me if I hear anything that draws me,” he said, adding that often “it’s a matter of luck”.

“I place the microphone and leave,” Rousere told AFP. “I don’t listen to it before I’m back in my studio.”

Guillaume Rousere collects sounds in the nature north of the Qatari capital Doha. PHOTOS: AFP
Rousere at his studio in Doha
Rousere presents his work at an art gallery in Doha

His sonic artwork is “not to be confused with music” made up of “organised sounds”, stressed Rousere, who explained that his passion started in childhood when he would pop balloons to study the noise it made in different environments.

His new, water-themed installation, The World As We Know It Is Changing, aims to “take the audience on a journey, to listen and disconnect from the world”, Rousere told AFP.

“It’s become all the more important to me because… we live in fast-paced societies that have stopped listening.”

Visitors sit in a darkened room, surrounded by four loudspeakers, for their experience of “profound listening”, at Mathaf, a modern art museum in Doha’s university district Education City.

They soon find themselves immersed in an ever-shifting soundscape, with flowing river water and the noise of human activity, but also narrated memories connected to water in different languages, as related images are projected on the wall.

A previous installation, Fragile Resilience, inspired by the sails of dhows that ply Arabian seas, was shown at the Paris United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters, at an event organised by a Qatari foundation.

Rousere, who in the past managed musicians in Britain and studied sound art in Belgium, has lived in Qatar for nine years and was a resident artist at the contemporary art space Fire Station.

His sculpture Allow Me – this one made of stone – is displayed at the Msheireb metro station in down-town Doha.

“Ever since I’ve been here, there has always been support for local and international artists,” he said.

The World Cup, which kicks off on November 20, has given the local art scene an additional boost, he told AFP. “I think there was already a great dynamic, but everyone realised that there was an international opportunity for visibility.”

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