Robert Cahen

Robert Cahen studied music and composition, joining Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales of the ORTF of French radio and television between 1971 and 1974. In the mid-seventies, he became Director of experimental video research at the INA (the national audiovisual institute), within which he was to produce many of his later audiovisual pieces. Acknowledged for his research work in video and electronic formats, since 1972 Cahen has produced a vast series of works for both cinema and television. The power of the narration and the document coexist in Cahen’s visual universe, where they take on a metaphorical presence both in the journeys within the imaginary and in the careful descriptions of passages in time, places, and, generally speaking, the perception and resonances of the memory. The presence of performances and live events in his works are transformed and re-created in accordance with those modalities with which he explores sound and temporal fragments of reality.
Over the years, Cahen’s approach to the possibilities offered by the developments in electronics has led to a gradual transformation of his style, becoming more stratified and complex. By using electronic techniques capable of manipulating sounds and images, together with the spatiality and temporality connected to these, the artist has developed the possibilities of transforming the blurred confines between illusion and reality. Able to completely control a vast knowledge that ranges from music to acoustic engineering, film techniques, and special effects, he has worked with the textures of sounds and images in such a way as to reinvent representational modalities within a boundless expressive spectrum. This begins from a personal reinterpretation of the pictorial qualities of photography and then arrives at the rereading of film narration conventions. Often centered on the themes of journey, movement, transition, and transformation, Cahen’s research has touched upon, both formally and thematically, oneiric situations that redesign the transitory reality of things. [F.B.]

List of Works

Boulez-Répons, 1985
video, color, sound, 42 min. 58 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In this work commissioned for television, Cahen enters into a dialogue with the complex musical structure of Répons, a recent creation by the French composer Pierre Boulez. Performed by the Ensemble InterContemporain and directed by Boulez himself, this composition involves an ensemble of twenty-four musicians, six soloists, and a real-time digital processor. With visual and temporal inventions and transformations, in this work Cahen reinterprets the images of the concert, applying electronic techniques in order to immerse the performers in vast natural scenarios of seas, trees, and sky. Simultaneously, he creates a corresponding visual flow capable of interacting with the transformative processes at the basis of Pierre Boulez’s music.

Parcelle de ciel (Fragment of Sky), 1987
video, color, sound, 18 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This work is an interpretation of a dance piece choreographed by Susan Buirge. By using specific and limited electronic techniques Cahen creates a rapt and evocative atmosphere. With the music of Ives, Purcell, and Webern, the fluid images of the dancers’ movements prove to be light and almost ethereal with an effect of supernatural reality.

Sept visions fugitives (Seven Fleeting Visions), 1995
video, color, sound, 31 min. 43 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Created during a trip to China, this video presents a vast series of images, born as visual annotations and memories. At the same time the video carries out transformations of landscapes and persons filmed with the use of Impressionist color. Scenes of everyday life and traditional ceremonies are re-elaborated with painstaking visual and acoustic care (particular visual effects were created for the video). Michel Chion also participates in the project.