Les Souliers

The Shoes

sound installation - 2009


Les Souliers
is an ensemble of thirty pairs of shoes mechanically queued by tramplers and computer-controls. These shoes hit and rub the floor to make acoustic music according to an original composition developed by a numerical Midi score (run by max/msp software). The selection of shoes, the composition they perform, and the scenography make a singular work that has been exhibited in international contemporary art and music festivals, along with more unique presentations in electronic arts and puppetry festivals.

>> Les Souliers (vidéo)
>> Making of (vidéo)
>> Pour une mythologie des chaussures - text in french from Vérane Partensky

Watching someone who walks is a terribly exciting and instructive activity.

Walking is captivating in its physiological complexity. Muscles, bones, joints, sensory organs, and the nervous system form a structure that is capable of causing the displacement of the body while it maintains a dynamic equilibrium. Seeing this "mechanical" system in action is exciting.
In many ways, this careful observation is instructive to distill the richness of understanding the walker. As conscious communication or unconscious expression, walking is another way of speaking that says intimidation, submission, provocation, and even seduction. It also reveals a speech of social affiliation, asymmetries, disorders, injuries, and perversions. Walking is an archaic language marked by the story of a being. It would be a shame to ignore those messages.

The artist, one of whose roles is to observe, must practice this auscultation of walkers ... of course.
It is during this rigorous observance that I reconsidered the common foot garment : our shoes! My musings led me to imagine a sound installation, an ensemble of mechanical shoes : Les Souliers.


Thirty pairs of shoes, selected by audition, perform this job. The shoes are provided by generous donors or bought at the flea market; they all have known a wearer and have tread across grounds. They already tell a story. Through customized tramplers, the shoes can move with amazing personality that makes us forget their mechanical drives. They hit, rub, hit & rub, rub & hit in rhythms that vary fast and slow, while also stepping up, down, forward, backward, and all stages in-between. A numerical Midi score guides the shoes precise movements. The composition, like in the selection of the shoes, is as much narrative as it is musical. It is an arrangement that is inspired from the raw sounds of an accumulation of individualized shoes. It can be considered a narrative work that evokes the wanderings of a singular man in certain passages, the rubbing of an unknown folk dance, the galloping of a youth gang, the determination of a military march, or even the independence of dissident foot falls in others.

Behind the burlesque character of these agitated shoes, we may also feel anxiety. An ambiguous feeling of fascination and fear, when talking about how we run the world. In orchestrating an ensemble of shoes, Les Souliers convene ghosts of former wearers and inevitably suggests their absence. In this way, we are confronted with a curious intermingling of dance incantation, contemporary music and derisory trampling.



from an idea of sabine petit and arno fabre
design, realization and composition > arno fabre
programming max/msp > matthieu phillipon
electronic design > francis bras and zandrine chiri -
assistant producer > liberty castelin
production and diffusion >
thanks to the donors of shoes
and many thanks to sabine for her advie, help and patience

Les Souliers are supported by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication - Dicréam, the city of Toulouse, le bbb, Bauer & Durin Réalisations and by Farnell France.