Nicolas Bernier
frequencies (a / fragments)

LINE_064 | CD + Digital | limited edition of 500 | February 2014

frequencies is an ongoing process focusing on basic sound generation systems. For this edition, frequencies (a / fragments) the system consists of a series of custom made devices in which computer-controlled solenoids activate a variety of tuning forks. The resulting sound fragments, when articulated in conjunction with synthetic sine waves, create frictions between the acoustic and electronic elements.

The tuning fork, producing a sound closest to a pure sinewave, provides a historical linkage between science (beginning as a 19th Century precision tool), tonal instrumental works, and electronic music in all of its permutations.

The frequencies (a) sound and light performance was awarded the 2013 Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Digital Music & Sound Art.

READ/WATCH: feature on the work of Nicolas Bernier via Ableton


Recorded and produced by Nicolas Bernier. Mastered by Taylor Deupree. Cover image by Nicolas Bernier

Thank you to Richard Chartier, Fonds de recherche du Québec sur la société et la culture, Perte de Signal, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, Olivier Girouard and the University of Huddersfield.


Canadian artist Nicolas Bernier (b. 1977) creates sound performances, installations, musique concrète, live electronics, video art while also working with dance, theatre, moving images and interdisciplinary contexts.

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: typewriter, 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 works have been of interest for Prix Ars Electronica (Austria), SONAR (Spain), Mutek (Canada), DotMov Festival (Japan) and Transmediale (Germany) and have been published on labels like Crónica (Portugal), Ahornfelder (Germany), leerraum (Switzerland) and Home Normal (UK).

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


... a beautiful sense of tension... Crossing the border between non-electronic and electronic music, magnetic fields, vibration & environmental sound... In 2014, this is the forefront of post-digital music exactly. The album is a must-listen.


 is a piece is concerned with tone generation. It combines both ancient tonal generators, tuning forks, with the contemporary technology of computer controlled solenoids to activate the tuning forks. The resultant devices made by Bernier have been manipulated to create sound elements which combined with synthetic sine waves comprises the instrumentation of this work. The interplay between the ancient/modern, synthetic/natural are dichotomies that could be thought about a bit in conjunction with this work. Also much could be made of notions of pure tone and essentialism within tone generation.

Other approaches might consider the novel experimental music machine building as a form of artistic merit, the stark minimal soundscape and wide sonic dynamics of the piece or even consider it as an exemplar of sound art. All of these approaches bear fruit. It is a short but densely packed 33.43 minutes of tonal generation and digital processing that go straight to the synapses. You could consider it as consider it as a form of cerebral enhancement: Tonträger für synapsenmassage. But that may be going too far. Be prepared for a dramatic sonic experience and listen with a sound system capable of a wide dynamic range to achieve best results. Whichever way you conceive of the work it remains a highly interesting piece of digital culture.


Utilizing the sound of tuning forks, a method of generating tones that goes back far into history, Nicolas Bernier places them in a motorized, computer controlled installation that belies the simplicity of its core.  The single piece moves quickly, evolving from the simple resonating tones to a dense, complex synthesis of the naturally captured resonance and the computerized processing of the pure source material.

This approach to creating music is not a new one for Bernier, who has utilized numerous forms of archaic and unconventional sound generation tools (typewriters, malfunctioning machinery, etc.) but paired with modern technologies to create a hybrid of the old and new.  The result sounds like neither time period specifically, but instead exists in some ambiguous area between the two.  At the same time he juxtaposes composition and improvisation as well, with some moments of this long piece sounding rigidly structured by the machinery he created, and others feeling like knob twiddling at its finest.

The introductory moments of the piece stick mostly to the natural sound of tuning forks:  each crystal clear chime is allowed to reverberate and resonate into silence, the space between the tones carrying just as much importance.  The various tuned forks begin to overlap with one another, the fragmented sounds meld together, and with the added sine waves the complexity becomes astounding.

The digital manipulation is rather subtle at this point, mostly limited to looping and echoing pieces of the sound to extend it.  As the processing and the machinery both speed up, the quick tones hitting in rapid succession it begins to resemble a large, digitally manipulated music box.  Things begin to change once some extremely low end passages come in and offset the sharp metallic ringing sounds that have defined the composition up to this point.

At this point, about half way through, the organization of the piece seems to come apart, with shards of high end harshness cutting through and the ultra-sonic microtones make for what I assume is a perfect simulation of tinnitus.  Everything here becomes a churning mass of noise that still resembles the standard sound of a tuning fork being struck at times, but only vaguely.  The closing moments go back to a more stripped down approach, but now heavily bathed in the digital processing from before, ending in a realm of hushed, inorganic textures and near silent bits of noise.

I often find this type of academic sound art challenging to listen to too frequently, but that was not the case with Fragments.  I was engaged throughout my first listen, and I gave it a second spin a relatively short time later.  Bernier does such an impressive job at mixing the natural and the synthetic, and at times the work hints at the loose improvisation of harsh noise and the clinical precision of the minimalist of techno music without ever fully sounding like either one.  That ambiguity, and the album’s fast pacing, make for an excellent work.


On a toujours été des fans de la première heure du Québécois Nicolas Bernier: depuis Les Arbres en 2008, on ne compte plus les chroniques, interviews et news – et même une participation en tant que rédacteur sur notre série Off The Radar. Et franchement, on ne le regrettera jamais quand on voit le magnifique parcours réalisé en moins de dix ans – le dernier fait d’armes en date étant sans doute ce Golden Nica remporté au concours Ars Electronica (l’équivalent musical de la palme d'or au Festival de Cannes du sound design, les précédents gagnants étant des mecs comme Aphex Twin, Bernard Parmegiani, Ryoji Ikeda ouAlva Noto). Prochaine étape, un nouvel album sur la très huppée écurie Line, qui approfondira encore un peu plus l’étude des diapasons et du rapport à la fréquence pure. Une sorte de suite non-officielle à l’excellentStrings.Lines et à sa récente installation sonore qui trouve un habitat tout naturel sur la structure de Richard Chartier. “Frequencies (a)” – Frequencies (a / fragments) sortira le 17 février prochain, et on a hâte.


Nicolas Bernier a développé un dispositif ingénieux de mise en vibration de diapasons via différentes fréquences controlées par ordinateur. Il en résulte—au-delà de l'aspect visuel —des chocs et croisements de fréquences toujours en suspension et qui semblent elle-mêmes réalimenter le dispositif. Très beau travail créant un lien intelligent entre musique électronique et design sonore.


Nicolas Bernier’s work has been unfolding and evolving over the last few years, garnering much respect and attention, particularly within the field of sound installation, where his work oscillates between the elegant restraints of the Zimoun/Pe Lang  form of minimalist intervention, and a kind of steampunk aesthetic, bringing unlikely home made, and archaic sound objects into a fresh arena, and giving them new life and indeed new relevance.  The aptly titled Frequencies works which manifested in recorded form on the UK’s wonderful Entr’acte late last year, now find their spiritual home on LINE, and these recordings fit the brief of this fine label to the letter.
Essentially, this is a 33 minute work that documents the sonic element of an installation piece that has enjoyed international exposure at various high profile arts festivals. The piece involves rows of precisely calibrated tuning forks, triggered via software such as Ableton, threaded through washes of sinewave activity.
The overall effect of the sonic elements of this work are quite mesmerising, as this evenly paced piece slowly unfolds, with skittering tonal waves evaporating into the murky ether. Bernier’s work explores that nebulous interface that arcs between the actual and the virtual, between the micro and the macro, creating sonic events that are at once ethereal and utterly engaging. His work invokes the spirit of Oren Ambarchi, and the precisely structured, liminal interventions of the magnificent John Wall.   As the piece evolves, the tones fracture, become more spare and disarticulated, warm, enveloping tonalities give way to more granular, vaporous, ambience as the piece draws to a close.

With only a clutch of digital releases to his name, Bernier has now perhaps assured his place within the spectrum of new sound artists whose work is equally at home on CD, as it is in audio/visual format, and this brief, but highly elegant recording will surely place him at the forefront of the genre. Highly recommended.    
(WHITE_LINE reviews)


Get ready to stroke your beard, there's a new CD from Line in the office! This one's from Nicolas Bernier and contains a combination of sine wave drones and "a series of custom made devices in which computer-controlled solenoids activate a variety of tuning forks", it's a detailed exercise in high pitched, glassy drones in which the physical ringing of the tuning forks is played off against the electronic smoothness of the sine drones.

In places the tones are quite high pitched, but in others they're incredibly high. Really head-piercingly squeaky. And there's some weird fluttering clicks too. I'm quite surprised with how distinct the tuning forks sound from the sine wave considering that you'd think the two would sound practically identical, and the quavering interplay between the two is interesting, but those extremely high drones are not for the faint of heart and give it a cold, panicky feel. Difficult but interesting tonal music for those who like things a bit cerebral.


Il y a des références contre lesquelles on ne peut pas lutter, des faits d’arme contre lesquels on ne peut se dresser sans passer pour un gros con sans culture ni ouverture. De ce fait, on ne peut pas valablement passer à côté de l’homme qui a remporté le Golden Nica au prestigieux festival Ars Electronica (équivalent du Festival de Cannes pour les œuvres de sound-design électroniques). Ça tombe bien, on ne comptait pas nier notre amour sans faille pour la musique de Nicolas Bernier(cherchez dans la base de données, elle est remplie d’interviews, de chroniques et de news en tous genres à son propos), Montréalais qui se dresse aujourd’hui comme une référence incontournable des arts électroniques de qualité.

La pièce qui sort aujourd’hui sur l’excellent label LINE, c’est l’extension de l’installation sonore qui lui a valu cette inestimable récompense, une session musicale d’une trentaine de minutes enregistrée directement à partir de ce qui doit désormais être considéré comme un plébiscite inévitable. Structurellement, nous sommes ici dans de la fréquence pure, dans la perfection d’une onde sinusoïdale générée sur diapason. Sur une petite armée de diapasons, d’ailleurs. Placés en rang et frappés de martelets contrôlés par ordinateurs, ces instruments génèrent un océan de son, des vagues de données pure plus ou moins régulières, toujours dans l’ondulation, augmentées de percussions signalétiques et autres erreurs (au sens de leurs ruptures) amenées sciemment. Et c’est beau. C’est même démesurément beau.

Ce qui fait cette beauté – au-delà de notre amour inné pour la fréquence pure – c’est la manière avec laquelle Nicolas Bernier influence le son, la mesure dans laquelle il se distingue toujours de son objet. Travailler la fréquence pure (ou la musique de données) a ceci de difficile que le corpusest obligatoirement fait de neutralité – musicale, voire morale par extension – et que toute destination réclame une impression plus forte encore que pour toute autre forme de tentative musicale. C’est le lot de tous ceux qui attendent de travailler sur ce qui est, au départ, un instrument scientifique, un instrument de justesse musicale.

Si la notion de justesse prend ici tout son sens, celle-ci doit être perturbée (le postulat étant ici inversé) avec soin, sous peine de se retrouver dans un magma difforme. Travailler la neutralité pour se rediriger vers une œuvre belle (juste, si on se place du côté des sens), c’est là que Nicolas Bernier accomplit son miracle. Avec cette touche qui ne l’a pas quitté depuis dix ans, cette tendance à faire de toute musique électro-acoustique une œuvre qui émane de l’humain. Cette capacité à tenir la machine à bonne distance, à tout penser selon le mode du moyen, jamais de la fin. Pour arriver finalement sur des œuvres d’une beauté pure, belle de leurs imperfections, de son rapport privilégié aux tripes plutôt qu’au tout cérébral. Cette ambiguïté, elle est aujourd’hui célébrée par le plus exigeant des concours de musique électronique. L’avantage, c’est que la note a peu de chance de se discuter.


There are some people who see “composed” and “improvised” as a dichotomy in music; a piece that is one thing cannot be the other. Nicolas Bernier provides an excellent example of the grey area between them with this one-track, half-hour-long disc. There is obvious structure here, but there’s a lot of room for improvisation, twisting the instrumentation, adding or subtracting a rhythm here or there, etc. Genrewise I’m not exactly sure where you’d stash this, keeping with the grey-area theme; there’s electroacoustic, ambient, perhaps a bit of electronica running deep in here. Clear, bright bell tones (tuning forks?) and sound wash over a rhythm so serene and yet so fractured that it could easily be the feet of people walking around in a space (as per Damion Romero’s “/livingroom” but with less audio fuckery involved) rather than an actual rhythm. And yet despite all this there is no point where you can listen to a fragment of this and not feel the hand of a composer; it is intriguing indeed.
(Popcorn for Breakfast)

… Electrónica física y acústica translúcida que lentamente va erosionando la superficie sobre la que se sostiene. Difícil es a veces distinguir la naturaleza de este trabajo, pero eso se vuelve irrelevante al escuchar como estos distintos fragmentos se unen entre sí, como se van edificando las armonías de pureza casi absoluta, ubicadas en algún punto entre las obras de Carsten Nicolai, Ryoji Ikeda y Mark Fell, pero con un tono más crepuscular... Durante estos treinta y tres minutos y cuarenta y tres segundos, cada una se estas unidades de tiempo contienen instantes donde surge un momento inesperado, sin romper la línea estructural. La densidad eléctrica a veces se torna más opaca y oscura, a veces más brillante, pero los quiebres no interrumpen la permanencia: estrellas oscuras sobre un mar blanco.

Este último trabajo del artista canadiense permite apreciar cómo es que a partir de partículas milimétricas se genera el sonido, y presenciar visualmente la creación de energía audible. “frequencies (a / fragments)” es una impresionante muestra de estructuras nanométricas extrapoladas desde lo sintético a lo material, frecuencias acústicas de ruido blanco y minimalismo hermosamente fragmentado.


Those strange objects on the cover artwork are not an artistic installation of spigots for an imaginary starship, even though they look like spigots, but those mysterious things spill frequencies. It's a sound generating system where a series of tuning forks got activated by computer-controlled solenoids that inventive Canadian sound-artist Nicolas Bernier built for a performance of sounds and lights which was awarded the 2013 Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Digital Music and Sound Art. The entrancing audible part of this installation, which could be considered as a bridge between science and electronic music as well as between primeordial stage of musique concrete and contemporary electronics, is the sonic pasture for this release. The initial likeness with faucets is not apocryphal as you'll have the impression that Bernier let drip frequencies on the first minutes of this 34-minutes lasting recording before the rivulets of pure musical tones which come from those two-pronged U-shaped forks sprinkle and drown the entire sonic sphere by a series of variations, dilutions and swelling, which gradually drives filaments of icy electron beams towards the lukewarm thermal state of a genuinely embryonic melody.