Artists Nicolas Bernier

Nicolas Bernier is joyfully flowing from musique concrète to live electronics, post-rock, ambient, glitch, field recording, improvisation, performance, installation, art video while also working with dance, theatre and cinema. In the midst of this eclecticism, his artistic concerns remain constant: the balance between the cerebral and the sensual, and between organic sound sources and digital processing. The sound of Nicolas Bernier is somewhere between the old and the new. It is electronic music made from objects of the past: typewriters, old machines, tuning forks, soundscape memories, and, yes, musical instruments. It is made with a modern apparatus but feels like completely handmade. It is gently articulated textures alongside enormous masses.

His work has been of interest for Prix Ars Electronica (Austria), SONAR (Spain), Mutek (Québec), DotMov Festival (Japan) and Transmediale (Germany) and has been released on lovely labels such as Crónica (Portugal), Ahornfelder (Germany), leerraum (Switzerland), and Home Normal (UK).

He his currently a PhD candidat in sonic arts at the University of Huddersfield (UK) under the direction of Pierre Alexandre Tremblay and Monty Adkins. He his a member of Perte de signal, a media arts research and development centre based in Montréal.

For his work frequencies (a) he is awarded the Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria, 2013).


Nicolas Bernier

Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), 1977

Residence: Montréal (Québec)

  • Composer

Associated groups

On the web

Nicolas Bernier [Photo: Alexis Bellavance, Montréal (Québec), June 2012]
Nicolas Bernier [Photo: Alexis Bellavance, Montréal (Québec), June 2012]
  • Nicolas Bernier [Montréal (Québec), 2012]
  • Bold: Érick d’Orion, Alexis Bellavance, Nicolas Bernier [Photo: Annie Zielinski, 2010]
  • Nicolas Bernier [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, Banff (Alberta, Canada), August 2009]
  • Nicolas Bernier, Simon Trottier [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, 2009]
  • Nicolas Bernier, Simon Trottier [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, 2009]
  • Nicolas Bernier [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, 2005]
  • Nicolas Bernier, Jacques Poulin-Denis [Photo: Isabelle Gardner, Montréal (Québec), 2005]

Main releases

Acte / ACTE 02 / 2017
Misanthropic Agenda / MARO 44 / 2015
Line / LINE 064 / 2014
Entr’acte / E 163 / 2013
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 12114, IMED 12114_NUM / 2012
Hrönir / HR 7963, HR 7963CD / 2011
Ahornfelder / AH 18 / 2010
Crónica Electrónica / CRONICA 053 / 2010
Ekumen / EK 009 / 2009
No Type / IMNT 0816, IMNT 0816_NUM / 2008
Ekumen / EK 006 / 2007
Ekumen / EK 008 / 2007
Ekumen / EK 001 / 2006
Ekumen / EK 002 / 2006

In the press


Vito Camarretta, Chain DLK, January 29, 2018

Montréal-based sound-artist, performer and composer Nicolas Bernier recently dropped a new release on the label of Acte community (grouping some experimental sound artists on an edge of innovation, who are active in Montréal area). According to the introduction by the label, Transfert / Futur, the title of this release “marks a shift from Nicolas Bernier’s rather reductionist approach of the previous series to a more expressive and colorful aesthetic.” We tried to find out the reason by talking to its author.

Chain DLK: Hi, Nicolas! How are you?

Nicolas Bernier: Fine! In the middle of the electronic music students concerts at Université de Montréal, so my head is (even more) overloaded with sounds this week!

Chain DLK: Before focusing on Transfert / Futur, some introductory words for the readers who don’t know you… first of all, how did the spark for experimental music (if you agree with such a way of labeling it) become a fire?

Nicolas Bernier: I think the desire for experimentation, to get out of the common musical formulas, has always been there. For instance, even when I was doing folk music (among other punk, post-metal, and every conceivable rock variation) when I was a teenager, I was the one plugging effects, pedal and distortion and playing progressive patterns on my, well, mandolin! Just the fact of playing the mandolin was experimental in the era of power trios.

I am totally fine with the term “experimental.” I actually quite like it, as it puts forward the ideas of trying things to get to a result, on the experience, on the sensitivity, which is one of the main reasons to make music or art. There is no experimental aesthetic, per se; it’s more a state of mind before anything else.

Chain DLK: You said Transfert / Futur is the beginning of a new stage in your artistic and creative path… could you tell us something about the previous stages and the way they interrelate with the present time?

Nicolas Bernier: … And maybe not a long stage, to be honest. I don’t know yet, but I don’t think it will live 7 or 8 years like the previous “frequencies” cycle of works. All my creative cycles are reacting to the previous one. The frequencies were following cycles based on machine and field recordings, so I wanted to avoid this noisy universe to get back towards more basic sounds. The starting point was the sine wave of the acoustic tuning forks, but also the electronic sine wave and micro-sounds.

The funny thing is, while my projects are reactions to the previous ones, the previous will always be included in one way or another in the current ones. The title Transfert / Futur is, in the first place, a way to talk about science fiction, which is the main topic of this new series. But, on a more technical and personal level, it is also a transfer of the previous series within a totally new context. The piece Transfert (299 792 458 m/s) started out by transferring to synthesizers the midi sequences I used in the very first piece performance of the frequencies series. The second piece, Futur (299 792 458 m/s), also started from an old, unused and unfinished synth-based composition that was actually my very first midi sequence I made around 2013, I think (before that date, I was refusing to work with midi and synth, working only with field recording in a musique concrète perspective).

Chain DLK: How many diapasons do you own? What’s the oddest one, and why?

Nicolas Bernier: That’s a good question. I’ve got a couple of drawers full of them, old to new, metal to aluminum, brown to silver. But I’d say around a hundred.

Most of them are just boring tuning forks, but there are a couple that are more interesting: a huge 30 Hz tuning fork, for instance, or the stroboscopic ones, or an old one from the Max Kohl Chemnitz company that was one of the main scientific apparatus suppliers in the late 19th century. But there is one I have a really special relationship with: the Secretan one. Secretan was the company who was commissioned for the official international pitch A=435 Hertz tuning fork in 1859 (before the norm was set to 440 Hz), the “diapason normal.” The tuning fork was once a really serious scientific and musical topic, and the official one was kept in a controlled environment so it’s frequency wouldn’t change over time; it was the Mother of all tuning forks. I don’ t remember how a Secretan tuning fork ended up in my collection one day, and since then, each time I open that drawer, I fantasize about having one of the most important artifacts of music history. But, I mean, it’s really just me inventing stories, as it is probably just another anonymous tuning fork.

Chain DLK: Most of the artists dealing with pure sounds or frequencies I spoke with told me they developed a sort of idiosyncrasy for “dirty” noises… What’s your relation to sound and noise?

Nicolas Bernier: With the frequencies series, I wanted to look towards some kind of purity… while staying well aware that I would never find it. And, frankly, I am not that interested in purity; I am usually more looking for equilibrium between elements. This search towards purer sounds led to a certain clarity in my artistic proposals, I think. I am not a sound racist: all sounds, whether purer or noisier or everything in between, can be of interest. It’s more a matter of how you organize your ideas and elements together.

Chain DLK: Did you use any of the machines you previously built on Transfert / Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: Nope. This album is 100% digital virtual synthesizers. So, pure in a way, but dirty at the same time in the way the elements are organized.

Chain DLK: Well… why did you quote the speed of light in the titles of Transfert / Futur? Any sci-fi-like reverie?

Nicolas Bernier: Basically, all my projects reflect my obsessions (my life is made of obsessions that usually stay for a couple of years, and then leave space for a new obsession and therefore a new series of projects). For the last couple of years, I’ve been obsessed with science fiction. Before 2014, Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were basically 100% of my relationship with sci-fi, nothing else. But then I got hooked and I’ve been watching, reading and dreaming about parallel worlds, lasers, and humanoïds since then.

With the first project of the series was an installation where I wanted to recreate the feeling of the space travel scene at the end of 2001. So this is why I chose the speed of light as the main thread in the project, because my aim is to reflect those travels at light speed, those transfers to parallel zones, those spaceships full of neons and blinking control panels. And, well, the speed of light is saying that, as in my previous projects, I am still working with light, but with a different angle, a different sub-topic.

Chain DLK: The idea of attaching an interview (in French and English) in the booklet is pretty good…

Nicolas Bernier: I think so, too! It is something the label, Acte, really wants to keep in all their releases. It gives some content, some sense in releasing music in this era of unlimited downloads. A pretty exciting new label from Montréal, by the way, with a quite open-minded vision of what music should be in this 21st century.

Chain DLK: Most of the sounds in the second track synthèse (299 792 458 m/s) reminds me of something I did ages ago by short-outing circuits of some old drum machines… how did you create the sounds you included in this track?

Nicolas Bernier: This is quite interesting, as it is one more proof that the nature of the tools doesn’t really matter, whether they are analog or digital, old or new. Because, like I said earlier, this piece is 100% virtual synthesizers. No short circuits. All “clean” and planned, but composed in some kind of dirty ways that make it feel a bit improvised or out of control, even though it’s the complete opposite.

Chain DLK: Any word about the first half of Transfert / Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: In reaction to my previous series, one of the intentions of this new one is to NOT be conceptual, and transfert (299 792 458 m/s) is a good case in point. While I flirted with pop elements in my first releases a decade ago, I have always been away from the four on the floor type of music. This piece is a long ascension aiming to place a kick drum on every beat. In the end, the 4/4 stays a bit disarticulated, but we are pretty much as close as I get to more conventional rhythmic electronic music (aside from the scores I made for modern dance pieces, maybe). So it’s kind of a return to more intuitive and more physical music.

On the other hand, the visual, scenographic, installative or performative aspect is often an important component in my work these days. The music was composed beforehand and should then be able to live by itself as music, but in the end, it is also an audiovisual performance that pursues those science-fictional ideas. There is a glimpse of the performance here:

Chain DLK: How are you going to move this new series of releases forward? Any installation in progress or in your forthcoming plans?

Nicolas Bernier: I worked for years on a quite important installation project, but for some reason (mainly financial) I had to abandon it. I’ve got tons of other ideas, but as soon as your projects rely on the fabrication of tangible devices, it gets complicated technically and financially. So the future will tell.

Ars Electronica Prix – Nicolas Bernier: tra frequenze e dicotomie

Donata Marletta, Digicult, May 21, 2013

Nicolas Bernier è uno degli artisti più interessanti e raffinati della scena contemporanea. La sua opera frequencies (a) è stata premiata due giorni fà con il prestigioso Golden Nica per la sezione “Digital Musics and Sound Art” dal festival Ars Electronica.

Nicolas è un artista del suono che lavora con strumenti meccanici e digitali. Le dicotomie sembrano descrivere al meglio la sua produzione artistica: digitale / organico, tradizione / sperimentazione, cerebrale / sensoriale, meccanico / elettronico. Le sue creazioni artistiche e collaborazioni sono varie; è anche membro di Perte de signal, un collettivo e centro di ricerca sulle arti multimediali situato a Montreal, e candidato al PhD in arti sonore presso la University of Huddersfield (Regno Unito).

Il Golden Nica è stato l’occasione per intervistare Nicolas sui suoi ultimi progetti e la recente performance dal vivo di frequencies (a) presentata durante l’ultima edizione dell’Elektra Festival di Montreal, direttore dall’artista e curatore Alain Thibault

Donata Marletta: Mi puoi parlare della performance sonora frequencies (a)? Quali sono state le fonti d’ispirazione per questo tuo lavoro?

Nicolas Bernier: L’idea di lavorare con i diapason mi venne un po’ di tempo fa mentre stavo cercando un modo per integrare toni stabili nelle mie performances sonore che erano per lo più basate su rumore e oggetti. Stavo cercando di evitare l’uso di strumenti musicali tradizionali come elementi tonali. Poiché ho sempre lavorato con oggetti obsoleti, e che spesso mi soffermo sulla relazione tra musica, suono, vecchia e “nuova” tecnologia, l’uso del diapason mi sembrava perfettamente logico. Lo era perché il diapason in passato è sempre stato uno strumento scientifico di precisione, perché è il simbolo della musica tonale, ma soprattutto perché produce un suono che è vicino alla sinewave (onda sinusoidale) pura, uno dei primi suoni utilizzati nella composizione di musica elettronica. A quel punto iniziai una collezione di diversi tipi di diapason, dai pre-440hz del IX secolo ai più recenti, usati in campo medico. Portavo con me i diapason ovunque (a quel tempo stavo facendo un po’ d’improvvisazione) e quindi realizzai un primo album usando i diapason (strings.lines, 2010, Crónica).

Gradualmente fui ossessionato da quest’oggetto che diventò il mio strumento musicale principale. Ancora non ero del tutto soddisfatto perché, attraverso la gestione manuale dei diapason, non potevo essere preciso come avrei voluto. Da questa esigenza mi venne l’idea di automatizzare i diapason.

Donata Marletta: Recentemente hai presentato frequencies (a) al festival Elektra di Montreal. Come hai organizzato l’allestimento della performance dal vivo? Che tipo di strumentazione hai utilizzato?

Nicolas Bernier: Per questa performance il festival Elektra mi ha fornito la condizione più ideale che potessi immaginare: una piccola sala (100 persone al massimo) unicamente dedicata alla presentazione di frequencies (a) per tre giorni di fila. Questo è davvero un lusso poiché di solito i festival di musica elettronica sono alquanto schematizzati: una grande sala, un grande schermo, poco tempo per sistemare le apparecchiature in base ad un nuovo ambiente. C’è una ragione per tutto questo, non è una critica, ma il fatto è che alcuni lavori hanno bisogno di condizioni diverse. Questo è il caso di frequencies (a) in quanto non è stata costruita secondo un formato standard per la presentazione, ma secondo i bisogni specifici della performance stessa. Poiché l’opera ha a che fare con oggetti di dimensioni ridotte (i diapason, piccoli solenoidi, suoni delicati, precisione), il pubblico ha bisogno di stare molto vicino all’opera. È stata creata secondo il principio dell’intimità piuttosto che della grande spettacolarità.

Per quanto riguarda la strumentazione, con l’aiuto di Laurent Loison e Olivier Lefebvre, abbiamo costruito delle piccole strutture in acrilico che trattengono i diapason e i solenoidi, usati per attivare i diapason. Ognuna di esse è collegata ad un microfono e ad un flusso di luce generato dal tavolo luminoso appositamente progettato sul quale sono collocate. Il tavolo inoltre nasconde la parte elettronica (usb / scheda dmx). Tutto il voltaggio inviato alle luci e ai solenoidi è trasferito attraverso la scheda dmx. Il resto è una questione di composizione, di organizzazione delle sequenze audiovisive in sincrono, che gestisco io dal vivo con Ableton Live e Max For Live.

Donata Marletta: Trovo davvero affascinante il modo in cui riesci ad abbinare strumenti analogici e digitali. Come ti poni rispetto a questi due elementi contrastanti?

Nicolas Bernier: Questa relazione tra l’elettronico e il meccanico / fisico è stato l’elemento scatenante che mi ha fatto venire voglia di lavorare nel campo delle arti elettroniche. Oggi il dialogo tra questi due elementi è totalmente fluente ma 10 o 15 anni fa, all’apice della laptop performance, quella combinazione era estremamente attraente in quanto la maggior parte dei lavori erano o esclusivamente digitali oppure non lo erano affatto.

Da allora il mio lavoro ha sempre fatto affidamento sull’uso di elementi fisici processati da un computer. Lo stimolo per un’idea o un progetto viene sempre dal mondo fisico ma il modo in cui voglio presentare l’idea richiede abilità al computer. Per me la cosa più importante è l’equilibrio tra gli elementi, cercando di non precipitare sia nel completamente “naturale” e neppure nel completamente “digitale”. Io credo che non si dovrebbe distinguere tra il naturale e il virtuale / artificiale. Tutto è collegato e comunica reciprocamente, tutto è processato in un modo o nell’altro. Per esempio, l’azione di innaffiare una pianta può essere vista come un processo artificiale.

Donata Marletta: Hai una varietà di lavori e collaborazioni molto differenti, dalla danza, teatro, post-rock alle arti visive, performances sonore e musique concrète. Mi puoi dire quali sono i tuoi punti di riferimento principali e le tue “muse ispiratrici”?

Nicolas Bernier: Sono profondamente interessato alle arti e non capisco perché esistano delle “categorie”, se non per ragioni politiche e storiche. In ogni caso, non posso dibattere sul fatto che il mio mezzo principale è il suono e probabilmente resterà sempre questo. Il mio interesse si ferma ovunque, ed offre una molteplicità di influenze al mio lavoro. Quando sono colpito da qualcosa, non mi chiedo a quale categoria faccia parte. È la stessa cosa quando creo, faccio quello che sento di dover fare, senza chiedermi se la cosa rientra in una categoria o in un’altra. Questo è il motivo per cui, anche se il mio mezzo è il suono, spesso mi interrogo sull’aspetto performativo, teatrale, gestuale, visivo e, ovviamente, musicale.

Per questi motivi le mie muse sono ovunque. Tendo a preferire le persone che mi stanno vicino. Denis Marleau e Stéphanie Jasmin sono direttori di palco con i quali ho lavorato e che hanno avuto una forte influenza sul modo in cui percepisco le arti dal vivo. Olivier Girouard, Jacques Poulin-denis, Martin Messier e tutti gli artisti di Perte de Signal (un centro gestito da artisti di cui sono membro), sono tutti cari amici che mi hanno ispirato.

Se dovessi fare dei nomi, direi: Jim Jarmusch, Pierre Schaeffer, Marcel Dzama, Karl Lemieux, Janet Cardiff, Wong Kar-wai, FW Murnau, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luc Ferrari, Francisco Meirino, Ryoji Ikeda, Hermann von Helmholtz, Sol LeWitt, Alain Bashung, Zimoun, Portishead, Chris Salter, Vilém Flusser, Jacques Rancière, Marc Ribot, Wes Anderson, Sébastien Roux, Carl Andre, Arnaud Fabre, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, The Dillinger Escape Plan, William S Burroughs, Dan Flavin, Mark Fell, Gilles Gobeil, Herman Kolgen, Robert Lepage, Pe Lang… ovviamente questo è quello che mi viene in mente al momento.

Prestigieux prix de musique électronique attribué à Nicolas Bernier

SOCAN, May 17, 2013

Nicolas Bernier, compositeur de musique électronique membre de la SOCAN, vient de voir son œuvre frequencies (a) couronnée du prix Golden Nica de la catégorie «Digital Musics and Sound Art», dans le cadre du prestigieux concours Prix Ars Electronica, une des plus hautes distinctions des arts numériques.

Le prix a été annoncé le 16 mai dernier, et le gala aura lieu à Linz en Autriche en septembre prochain. Pour connaître les détails du festival et les autres lauréats du concours, consultez son site web —

Nicolas Bernier, né en 1977 et qui vit à Montréal, crée des installations sonores, de la musique concrète, électronique et post-rock en plus de travailler pour d’autres formes d’art comme le théâtre ou la danse. Il étudie également au doctorat à l’Université de Huddersfield, au Royaume-Uni, sous la direction de son compatriote et membre de la SOCAN Pierre Alexandre Tremblay et de Monty Adkins. Consultez son site web — — pour la liste de ses activités et de ses spectacles.

… une des plus hautes distinctions des arts numériques.