Dream is an online experience-generating system based on the unique mechanisms of dreams. Dreams seem to draw upon personal, collective and genetic memories. Our experiences, senses, intuitions and emotions are filtered by a neurological system that then presents us with a simulated reality guided by its own rules and internal logic. In a way, Dream is more an alternate reality than a virtual reality; it is a brief immersion in a parallel dimension that asks us to reconsider our relationship to both our dreaming and waking states.
Imagined and composed by experimental musician Philippe Lambert, Dream is built on a custom audio-visual synthesizer coded by Edouard Lanctôt-Benoit . You can navigate the animated dreamscapes created by artists Caroline Robert and Vincent Lambert. You might also stumble across the illustrated dreams of people who participated in our live draw-in events. Each visual memory is there to be morphed and transformed into another memory, creating a unique journey for each dreamer.
In creating Dream, I wanted to work with visual artists in a similar way to how I collaborate in my musical practice and process. I thought of the artists as different instrumentalists, who could improvise on the theme of dreams and create images to be layered and organized in time, in a live performance conducted by the user. The artists could play with a unique digital toolset, generating memories that could then be endlessly morphed into one another. I approached the collected drawings of audiences as visual field recordings or found sound materials, so that Dream would be less a single vision and more of an ensemble piece, accessing both an individual and a collective memory database.
In dreaming, everything is real; in waking, everything is real. Both states are part of the experience of life. In this hyper materialistic era, we often forget that everything is possible. It is important to remember that our own existence is basically a fragile moment in an endless stream of complex cosmic and local events. Our societies and cultures are just the manifested dreams of our ancestors. As a massive environmental crisis looms ahead, it is imperative for us to look into our dreams collectively and individually, to refuse to accept the status quo, and to realize that we as a species must continuously dream to shape our future. Having a vision is the first step of creation. To create is to be human.
Philippe, you are best known as a composer of electronic and experimental music. You’ve worked on interactive projects before, including BLA BLA (2011) and Jusqu’ici (2014), but Dream is your debut as a director. What was the experience like for you?
Philippe Lambert: Since 1995, my artistic practice has been music based. I’m not a filmmaker or a documentarian, so what I really wanted to bring to the project was the methodology of music, working with people who would create visuals as if they were playing instruments. Like they were part of a band, improvising. They could reconstruct, change, and superimpose elements to create a whole—a collective work, like with music.
The collaborative aspect of the project is a real focal point. How did that collaboration work? There were two of you, Caroline and Vincent, contributing to the visuals.
Philippe: I didn’t want to approach the project from a hyper-directive perspective, where the director delegates and others execute. My vision was that what counted most was the process, not the result. We developed a creation engine that allowed them to play with the theme of dreams. I wanted to design a creative context and see what everyone would bring to it.
Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit: Caroline and Vincent created textures on paper or digitally. Then they were integrated, and the engine processed them to generate a universe and its effects. These effects were configured, adjusted, and animated. We could change speed and size, the way they were interwoven, their colour, and luminosity…
Vincent Lambert: I did a lot of geometric drawings. Then I would experiment with the engine until I’d find something interesting, and I would follow that thread. I would follow a general theme, but it became almost like automatic writing.
Caroline Robert: In the beginning, it was more exploratory. Vincent and I created textures or animation in our own DNA. Then there were the animation procedures that Vincent had developed in the engine, and that I found interesting. So I used them again with some of my own textures. And, inversely, Vincent used some of my techniques to create textures in his own style. Finally, our two different visual styles echoed each other, but were also constantly in the process of transforming each other through the intermediary of the engine Édouard developed. I think that all three of us contributed to the visuals.
Tell us a bit more about the music and its role in the experience.
Philippe: The music in the project is interactive. It’s a bit like if I created an instrument and then asked users to play music on it. I have no interest in the notion of finality in music, but rather in sound ecosystems that can be activated by real-time performance. I wanted to give people the opportunity to find their moment—to offer an array of possibilities to explore, and combinations of frequencies to discover.
Vincent: In the engine, the animation can be adapted depending on the music, or on interactions that influence the music, which, in turn, influences the image. Philippe’s music could help me develop a scene, but the opposite was also true: I could create scenes that would inspire Philippe to make music for them.
Caroline: I tried to go into sensations. It’s as if we could feel our pulse—the relationship between the visuals and the frequency of the pulsations of sound takes us into the physical experience of sleep and dreaming.
The project is available on a variety of platforms. How do you feel about virtual reality as a tool for creative expression?
Philippe: There is a bit of a dystopian side to virtual reality, with its masks and its isolation. I wanted to create something different—another kind of reality bubble. Dreams are a kind of self-producing system: we go to sleep, we start to dream, we lose contact with reality. Virtual reality allows us to recreate that experience by isolating people’s vision and hearing. We wanted to rethink conscious reality. I find that the feeling of the first few minutes after you come out of a VR experience—when you have to readapt to your environment—is actually more important than the experience itself.
Édouard: We started the project in 2D and then as an installation version. As soon as we got away from the screen and turned it into a projection, our perception of the project and the emotions changed. Creating a generative project on the Web may add another level of complexity, but it also increases accessibility. In virtual reality, we take people into a universe that doesn’t exist. We go in search of sensations we can’t normally experience. Visuals take on a third dimension. Instead of just having a flat surface in front of us we are enveloped.
Are dreams manifestations of our subconscious or transformed versions of lived experiences? How did you approach them?
Philippe: I was a chronic sleepwalker as a child. I would sleepwalk through my house… but there was another layer to it. I was in a liminal state between the dream world and waking reality. When I began my artistic practice, I remember finding my old dream journals. My dreams came from somewhere else. They went beyond the cultural context and just appeared to me. Dreams are a source of information, a matrix. They are very close to creativity.
Vincent: We all have different perceptions of what dreams are. You can never completely illustrate a dream. So what we are doing in Dream is more of a reflection of reality—be it an impression, a situation, or something atmospheric. By being a bit vague about it, we’re not forcing people into a straitjacket.
Caroline: Symbols in dreams are so cultural. Philippe was not looking to create a project that represented any one particular dream, but rather to evoke the experience of dreaming. What happens when we dream? We approach the subject through sensations, which are a bit more universal than symbols.
Édouard: What are the emotions? What are the narrative processes that get lost? That’s what interested us.
Philippe: It’s extremely important, not only as individuals but also as a society, that we pay attention to dreams and understand that the context in which we live is based on things others have thought before us: dreams that become manifested in reality. We pass a third of our lives asleep, dreaming. We’re not computers that just switch off at night. The time we spend sleeping is full of information for us and forms an integral part of our human life experiences. Anyone can use the technique of observing their dreams as a way to release the hold of consensus reality. Dreams are a profound source of visions for us to explore.
A creation by Philippe Lambert, with Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit, Vincent Lambert and Caroline Robert.
A National Film Board of Canada production.
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