Recent Articles

Interview of Günther Höser, SWaP Art (*) artist!

Capcampus.com Paris, 05.27.08, 11:00 GMT

German-born Günther Höser studied art at the Kunsthochschule in Hanover and social sciences in Hamburg and Nice. He started his professional career as a scientist and professor in Nice and Aix en Provence. He then left academia for the business sector and rose to the European sales director's position in a major French group. In 1994, he founded a language engineering company - WHP - in Sophia Antipolis. Through the years, Günther had lost none of his passion for art and science. In 2005, he sold his flourishing company to devote himself entirely to painting. In his own words, he practices "SWaP Art" which he has made his registered trademark – old habits do die hard! He accepted to share his love for this new form of art with Capcampus and answer all our questions.

(*) [comment by the artist: SWaP Art and vp.art design the same technique].

Chéhérazade Daouni : Günther, you are a highly uncommon artist. We can see this not only in your career path but also in your art, as you create paintings from the sound of the human voice. Where did this idea come from?

Günther Höser : I have always painted, although more conventionally with oils or acrylic on canvas. After I completed my "undercover" art studies – as my parents were dead against it – I pursued at the same time as my science studies, I embarked on an academic career. I barely had the time or the proper frame of mind for painting. Things became worse when I switched to the private sector. I began painting again only when I started my company. For several years, I was more an ardent observer of all the creative forms I came across.

This pause actually helped me. At any rate, it freed me of the intellectual constraints that artistic creation in general, and painting in particular, is hemmed in. I was able to explore new media, for if there is one domain that has obstinately refused the computer revolution, it is that of fine arts. You would have trouble finding a single exhibition or even a book on "computer arts". Go to the book store at Centre Beaubourg. Of the several thousand books on sale, there are probably four or five on "new media", and not a single book on "computer arts". It is not the fault of the head librarian at Centre Beaubourg. Even if he searched hard, as he is probably doing, he is unlikely to find books on these subjects. If you speak English, you will find about a dozen books in Amazon (of the 500,000 the site offers) that includes the words "computer arts" in the title. Most of these speak only of the fun part that appeals to the public at large, and as far as I know, none of them deal with the computer as an implement for painting, just like brushes or pigments.

It is not surprising that most people, on hearing "sound, art and computer" in the same sentence, think of the "visuals" you have on iPod or on Windows Media Player with color patterns and shapes produced randomly with the interaction of sound with a computer program.

There are many artists who use computers to create or have at least integrated it in certain stages of their creation. For some years now, I have been interested in how computers can contribute towards the art of painting. But the idea of using the graphic potential of the spectrographic image of sound comes from my wife. She saw me experimenting for months with different computer programs, and early one morning, she asked me why I had never used spectrographic images, these devices that are used to view waves, well known to both scientists and sound technicians.

She opened the door to the realm of sound, and I began to look at and see it differently. It seems that some blind people can 'see' sounds and I sometimes feel capable of it. But this is something I've discovered only recently. The further I walk this path, the more I discover of an extraordinary world.

CD : What concretely is SWaP Art?

GH : SWAP is the acronym of "Spectrographic Wave Processing". We call such creations SWaP Art because it all starts with the spectrographic processing of waves. The term 'SWaP Art' does not exist outside of my work… well, not as yet. If you google the term, you will come across 4,000 entries, but in general, the word swap is the verb form with its common meaning of "to exchange". This expression applies to my work as well, as I "swap" technology for art. We registered SWaP Art as a commercial trademark and as an artistic creation process, but only to avoid someone doing so later and creating hassles for us.

At present, I rather think that the term SWaP Art is misleading as it overly emphasizes the computer part, which is of course indispensable for processing the sound information, but is not imperative for the creative part which remains entirely human. [note: SWaP Art has recently been renamed vp.art.]

CD : What are the main stages required to obtain the final result?

GH : It may seem quite complex. I won't go into the recording part which is of course very important, as the recording conditions such as the place, the persons or the type of message all have an influence on the end result. Once I'm in my studio, I get rid of any interference to isolate the voice and optimize the sound parameters I want to use. I want to stress the fact that right from the start and throughout the process, the choices I make are entirely subjective and are as decisive for the end result as the voice recording itself. This is human creative work where the computer is only a tool or a catalyst.

I then save the recording as an electronic file. This file is processed using spectrographic programs and a set of different suitable filters. In this phase where the sound is converted into a raw image, the possibilities are as numerous as they are decisive. I have all the information at hand, but for the spectrographic process, I will choose only a few of the parameters. This is essential, for the more information you add, the more ordinary your work becomes. It is a little like painting the night sky which is the widest representation of our universe, as opposed to drawing the portrait of a person sitting in front of you. This again is a highly subjective choice that determines what I subsequently obtain. Right from the start, I decide upon a project and make my choices in the processing phase, based on this project.

Once I have optimized the spectrographic output, I work with the raw graphic file using various professional programs, and apply filters I have developed or have had developed according to my specifications. At the end of this "computer" phase, the image is still raw, although certain attractive graphic elements start to show up. Then begins the conventional job of the painter. I sometimes continue to work on the graphics on the computer, and sometimes start imediatly painting on canvas.

I can see your next question coming, one that I've been asked several times: "What is the relation between the initial recording and the finalized painting?" My answer is: "It is the same relation as between a subject and a painting, the same relation as for any conventional artist. Sometimes, it is a close likeness, almost photographic, such as SWaP Art Limited Editions No 36 and 38, and at other times, it is my interpretation of this reality which no longer resembles a photograph, such as, for example, my works based on recordings in the streets of Monaco." All painters work in this way. This goes to show that my paintings are not a product of a computer program.

CD : Then, for you, what is the difference between Swap Art and Computer Art?

GH : Is there a definition of Computer Art? Someone wrote in Wikipedia that "Computer art is any art in which computers played a role in production or display of the artwork." This is a wide definition, as even the Lascaux cave paintings are exposed on computer, and the computer is no longer excluded from any production or distribution of any product. However, if the computer is used as an implement by the painter, just as one uses a paintbrush, the term Computer Art takes on more meaning. My definition is even more restrictive – for me Computer Art is any work in which the computer is at the heart of the creation process or is even the sole implement. In this sense, I do not do Computer Art, as it is not a computer program but the painter, i.e. myself, who freely chooses throughout the creation process and actually paints the work. I recently told one of your journalist colleagues that I feel I have more in common with renaissance painters than with my fellow contemporary artists. It is true that I share a lot of the ideals of the major artists of that flourishing period. The computer for me is only a tool that gives me access to something which otherwise would be inaccessible. I do not worship technology; I am only a pragmatic user.

I particularly disapprove of the blind attitude and ignorance of contemporary artists as regards technology. Some renowned painters, like those practicing 'narrative figuration' use video projectors, compressors and spray guns to paint their huge paintings, but scorn the idea of using a computer to create. Well, it is true that people in 1802 were afraid of getting on a train because it appeared that traveling long distances at 20 kmph was harmful to one's health!

CD : Does the richness of the voice completely change the result of the painting?

GH : Absolutely! You need quite some experience to notice it in the initial stages of the sound processing, or else you must have highly sophisticated programs to detect it. But then, let's be honest – when you process sound electronically, you can simulate any degree of richness you want. Theoretically – and a good engineer can even do so practically – your voice can be reproduced perfectly. If an engineer analyzes your vocabulary and the expressions you normally use (any good listener is capable of doing so), he or she can make you say anything he or she wants.

I do not want to recreate, on canvas, a person who is entirely a figment of my imagination. Some do so, but personally, I have not reached this level of sublimation that gives me the ability to impose my outlook on others. I see myself as a privileged observer placed in the front row who wants to narrate what he sees – something that makes a person so special. For this I have my technique, and my choices. I prefer to concentrate on the beauty of the voice, the hidden beauty in people, as a matter of fact. Our culture gives too much importance to its darker side and explores this aspect to the extreme. We are beginning to see that it does not lead us anywhere. I am convinced that beauty can take us further. But this choice is personal, and I understand those who criticize it.

CD :Do you want to transmit any message in your work? If so, what is it?

GH : If there was one, it would be this - humans and the world of humans are magnificent, as beautiful as they are frightful. In the light of this fact, we all have our choices to make as illustrated perfectly by this parable: seeing droppings in the middle of the road, some take a stick and poke at it whereas others take a wide leap right over it while looking ahead to see what's coming next. I belong to the latter group; I prefer to look at the beauty in front of me.

CD : Have you planned any exhibitions? If so, when can we see them?

GH : I will soon be starting a series of exhibitions throughout Europe and North America. As soon as the calendar is finalized, I will send it to you. I would be very happy to see it published on Capcampus.

CD : Are you planning any other artistic experiments?

GH : Several, but I have only just started exploring the voice, although I have already experimented on a similar concept that also combines science and art to bring out other aspects of the human being – the microcosm. I used images produced with electronic microscopes. From there on, the process is similar. But this is a door to yet another world. In fact, the combination of science and art is not at all my invention. The great art schools of the renaissance already combined scientific studies, latest technologies and art almost 500 years ago. It was only in the 19th century that fine arts fell into obscurantism.

CD : A last word for our readers?

GH : This is an infinite world in which humans are barely poised on the starting-blocks of their exploratory journey. 40 000 years after our appearance on the surface of this planet, we are still more or less at the same point: mid-path, poking at what we see before us. We must open our minds to the beauty around us, and everything that we share, that binds us together, to move forward! I am aware that this sounds terribly pompous and idealistic. Still, it is a form of wisdom to believe that everything that is worthwhile lies still ahead of us.

CD : Thank you for having responded to our interview with as much passion as we can see in your paintings! We hope to see you soon with other even more astonishing works!

Interview by Chéhérazade Daouni for Capcampus.com
First publicated by Capcampus.com on May 27, 2008

Return to previous page