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Bill Vorn and Louis-Philippe Demers

(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Bill Vorn and Louis-Philippe Demers, La Cour des Miracles, 1997
Bill Vorn and Louis-Philippe Demers, Le Procès, 1999 Bill Vorn, Evil/Live, 1997 Bill Vorn, Evil/Live 2, 2002
Born in 1959, Bill Vorn is a media artist who has been working since 1992 in robotic art under the aegis of Real Noise from Artificial Life. He received a master's degree in communications from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in 1993 and a Ph.D. in communications from the same institution in 2001. He is teaching new media in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University, Montreal.

Vorn was a founding member of the "electro-rock" group Rational Youth in 1980 and in 1988 founded a post-production company called Artefact inc. Since the 1980s, Vorn has collaborated with many different artists, notably Louis-Philippe Demers, Robert Lepage, François Girard and Monty Cantsin, and has experimented with a variety of media. He has worked on performance, interactive installations, experimental soundtracks, soundtrack scores, and sound editing, creating components for film, video, and various other artistic projects.

Vorn's successful collaboration with Louis-Philippe Demers extended over many years during which time they created several large-scale robotic, interactive installations and performances. These environments have consisted mainly of intelligent robotic components or entities that act and react in response to the audience. The primary focuses behind their installations are immersion, reactivity and interaction, with all three factors being influenced mainly by intense sound and light. Their approach has been to create "Spaces designed for machine populations and cybernetic organisms, societies which express metaphoric behaviours, spaces that are surrealistic immersive sites where viewers become both explorers and intruders. By creating this universe of faked realities loaded with "pain" and "groan," the aim of this work is to induce empathy of the viewer towards these "characters" which are solely articulated metallic structures. Therefore, we want to underline the strength of the simulacra by the perversion of the perception of animats, which are neither animals nor humans, carried through the inevitable instinct of anthropomorphism and projection of internal sensations, a reflex triggered by any manifestation that challenges our senses." (1)

One of the first major creations produced by Vorn and Demers is Espace Vectoriel (1993). A sound and light installation based on the mathematical principals of vectors, the piece is composed of eight motorized tubular structures that are equipped with loudspeakers and a light source. The tubes move according to subtle movements of the spectator, enveloping the person in light and sound. One critic likened the experience to being the sole guest at your own personal rave. (2)

In 1995, Vorn and Demers created both At the Edge of Chaos (1995) and The Frenchman Lake (1995), the former presented at Images du Futur 95 and the latter at ISEA 95 and the Sonambiente festival in Berlin in 1996. In 1996, in collaboration with the Ars Electronica Centre, the two produced a new interactive robotic installation, No Man's Land (1996). Shown at Ars Electronica Festival 96, this installation comprises nine types of robot "species" that each portray specific behavioural characteristics. These robots are planted around the installation site, and visitors can walk around them, triggering unique actions from each species. In the Ars Electronica Festival 96 catalogue, Vorn and Demers describe the robotic entities in detail and their complex positioning within the exhibition environment, claiming that the organisms are "metaphors of natural societies: parasites, scavengers, colonies, herds, etc." (3) More complex in its installation and in the number of robots at play in the space, No Man's Land expands on the duo's previous work and foretells the extravagant environments to follow.

La Cour des Miracles (1997) was the next major interactive robotic installation that Vorn worked on in collaboration with Demers. Presented at ISEA 97 (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), V2_ Organisatie (Rotterdam, the Netherlands), the IndustrieProjekt festival (Brück, Germany) and the Musée de Soissons (Soissons, France) between 1997 and 1999, La Cour des Miracles was a sensorial attack by many robotic entities and pieces that inhabited space loudly and reacted convincingly to a visitor's presence. Critic John Massier notes that:

"In a single, all-encompassing moment, chain-link fencing, scaffolding, sheet metal, oil drums, red theatre lights, strobe lights, smoke and an orchestra of howling, peeling, riotous noises (including moans, sobs and screams) collapse on the viewer. The looking glass has been broached. On the other side is a squalid industrial pit that must be negotiated by way of long, narrow corridors that wind through the space. Interspersed along the route are the inhabitants of La Cour des Miracles, 30 robotic entities that reel and stagger like mutant bastard children of the Terminator." (4)

The last of Demers and Vorn's recent collaborations is The Trial/Le Procès (1999). This robotic performance project formed part of Robert Lepage's technological cabaret Zulu Time (1999). Lepage invited various artists to contribute components to the theatre production, and Vorn and Demers provided several robotic performers for the show. (5)

As a solo artist, Vorn has also created unique installations and software. In 1996, he designed Life Tools, a set of software (MAX) tools using artificial life basic algorithm functions, which are downloadable from his Web site. In 1997, he produced Evil/Live 01 (1997), (6) an interactive sound and light installation "based on The Game of Life, a cellular automaton invented by John Conway in 1970." (7)

The installation consists of a structure comprising 64 halogen lights and four speakers hung from a wall in the exhibition space. The patterns of the lights, which change constantly, are controlled by a computer programmed with The Game of Life principles. As users walk through the space, sensors capture their movements and this information then changes the sound and light patterns. This installation was presented at Art Rock 98 festival (Saint-Brieuc, France), Sonar 98 (Barcelona, Spain), and the Musiques en Scène festival (Lyon, France) in 1999. Vorn has also worked on another version of the piece, Evil/Live 02, that employs three sound and light structures rather than only one as in the first.

Recently, Vorn has begun a new collaboration with artist Simon Penny that is partly funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation. The two artists will be working together to create bedlam, an installation exploring the creatures of artificial life.

Angela Plohman © 2001 FDL

(1) Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn, "La Cour des miracles," The Processing Plant, (accessed June 14, 2001):

(2) Christian Leblé, "Quel son fait-il à Hanovre?" Libération (Tuesday June 6, 1995): 30.

(3) Louis-Philippe Demers and Bill Vorn, "No Man's Land," Ars Electronica Festival 96 (Linz, Austria: Ars Electronica Centre/ORF,1996): 265.

(4) John Massier, "Wreckin' Machine," Canadian Art, Vol. 15, no. 3 (Fall/September 1998): 86.

(5) For an in-depth description of the machines and the work itself, please see :

(6) Bill Vorn, "Description of Evil/Live."

(7) For more information about The Game of Life, please see the 1970 article published in Scientific American in which Conway's principles were first discussed.