Home Case studies Battements et papillons

Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Battements et papillons, 2006

Interactive sound installation

Piano, bench, aluminum tape, motion detectors, microcontrollers, solenoids, relays, metal tension cables, motor and various objects162 x 143 x 214 cm

Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal Collection A 06 2 I

Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Battements et Papillons, 2006, Interactive sound installation, Collection Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay, © Jean-Pierre Gauthier.


Part of the permanent collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM), Battements et Papillons is a work by Canadian artist Jean-Pierre Gauthier, born in Matane (Quebec, Canada) in 1965. Produced in Montreal in 2006, this interactive sound installation consists of the following equipment: a piano, a bench, strips of aluminum tape, motion detectors, microcontrollers, solenoids, relays, metal tension cables, a motor and various objects.


At the centre of a dark room are a mechanized piano and a bench covered in strips of aluminum tape. The piano and bench are connected by metal rods and tension cables. Four motion detectors located on the bench cover capture a visitor’s presence and activate four microcontrollers that respond to a programming code, sending a signal to the relays. While three of these microcontrollers carry out the piano notes (keys), the fourth controls the voltage and activates a motor located under the instrument, triggering the movement of the sostenuto (or middle) pedal. The motor works unpredictably in one direction, then in the other, creating sound variations. The relays send the current to the solenoids, which are attached to the tension cables, allowing the keys to be depressed, producing random melodies. The piano ceases to play when the visitor is still.


The artist’s modifications of the piano give a distinctive quality to Battements et Papillons’s mechanized nature and operation. This work’s programmed microcontrollers trigger numerous components which compete to activate the piano. When the work was first installed at the MACM, an interview with Jean-Pierre Gauthier was conducted. The interview helped the MACM to establish the installation plans for the work along with dismantling instructions. It also provided details of the microcontrollers’ commands to each component and their subsequent mechanical responses, and of the distribution of notes. The artist suggested that the work be videotaped to record the real-time activity of the mechanisms and establish a high quality sound recording. The need to tune the piano to 440 Hz before its installation is also important to help preserve the life span of the soundboard, avoiding unnecessary tension and improving the instrument’s performance.


During the interview, the possible deterioration and future complications of the work were discussed and the conservation strategies necessary for maintaining the work’s integrity were considered. According to Jean-Pierre Gauthier, most of the mechanical components of Battements et Papillons should well preserve over time. Nevertheless, the diodes, solenoids and Basic Stamp microcontrollers may eventually need to be replaced or upgraded to components that are more resilient and have a higher performance. For the artist, it is just as important to preserve the work’s physical appearance including the added visible mechanisms, as it is to preserve its interactivity. The artist provided the MACM with a file and printed copy of the program code allowing for the reprogramming of the piece, if necessary.


Descriptive table of Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Battements et papillons