A Conversation With Myco Audio

July 7, 2023

Myco Audio is the brainchild of Antoine Provencher, the Founder and Creative Director. His work combines the fields of sound design, biotechnology and ceramics. The speakers he makes possess a dynamic of patience and intentional play– revealing that the pursuit of a quality product does not limit itself from experimentation and art.

Where would you say you’re from and how would you describe yourself? 

— I’m from a town south of Montreal– not a lot of people know about it. It’s called Saint-Norbert-d’Arthabaska. There’s like two-thousand people living there. I moved out of my home when I was sixteen and got really interested in installation art, visual arts, experimental music and sculpture. I consider myself a multidisciplinary artist, but I moved more towards design after a few years of practice. I moved around a lot to different cities– from Quebec City to Montreal, to Vancouver and just tried a lot of things until I found something that spoke to me. 

That’s quite the circuit. How long did you spend in Vancouver? I’m from there.

— I spent two and a half years in Vancouver. 

That’s a good amount of time. You had the unfortunate opportunity to see the rain eight months a year. 

— But it’s the promised land during the summer. 

Yeah. I find that even though Vancouver’s weather is quite different, more temperate compared to the rest of Canada, the feeling is about the same. In both Montreal and Vancouver I find that everyone stays indoors for most of the year until the summer comes– then it becomes a different city. How did you find your stay there?

— I never got used to the rain because it would be so close to summer and yet it was still cold and you’d have to wear a jacket. I think artistically though, it was a good time for me during COVID. To focus on my work because I was in a new city and trying new things. Being in the mountains and being inspired by how vast the nature was out there. I’ve always had an obsession with rocks since I was young;the colours and patterns from the formations really influenced me and got me into ceramics. The chemical processes with rocks happen through millions of years but you can kind of depict them in some sort of way while doing ceramics. I always looked at rocks and wanted to replicate the textures and striations. 

Was your hometown by the water? 

— Yeah, we had a river passing in the backyard and I would skip rocks there in the summer everyday. I think subconsciously being so close to nature inspired me. 

How about schooling? It’s a lot of different aspects you’re working with– various pieces from art, design, biology and technology. 

— I started off as a musician when I was eighteen and that led me to schooling towards sound. I graduated in Electroacoustics at Concordia in 2021, so I spent four years doing sound design, mixing and mastering. I learned a lot about digital audio workstations and digital signals. Which also got me into the hardware side of it, with electronics. After my first two years there I also became interested in coding and interdisciplinary art. A lot of my practice went towards the latter as a result, in tandem with the creation of objects. I really liked the concept of having objects perform, so I had this idea of making speakers a year before I graduated. Prototyping took quite long, but once I had something working, that was it. I could make it happen. And so, it was a way for me to incorporate all of those aspects I was interested in, into one piece– to play with space and sound, and create funny looking speakers and have them interact with people. 

It must have taken quite a long time to fine tune the acoustics especially. 

— Yeah, ceramics are quite resonant so the biggest aspect for me was to create a speaker that was not only aesthetically pleasing;I wanted it to have fidelity too. I had to ask myself, how do I make something sound good that is so resonant? So I got into acoustical dampening. But also sustainability was something I thought deeply about. I wanted to do something that was one hundred percent natural and get away from plastic-based material.

That part about natural biology. Did you have a background in any of it? You mentioned to me you grew the mushrooms as well. 

— No, I don’t have an academic background in biology though I did a lot of my own research. 

I originally did grow them myself, but as the project grew, I eventually found it important to delegate the cultivation part to others to get the absolute best material. I love to work with the professionals that I’ve gotten to know, who do that for a living. 

From a sound perspective, do you find there’s a difference with the audio quality with mycelium compared to with traditional foam? 

— No, there’s little difference. I had the chance to experiment with both plastic foam and some people have experimented with wool. But all that matters is that the volume of the air on the inside corresponds with the membrane. There's a lot of mathematical stuff involved. As long as you respect the principles, and there’s not too much resonance, it works out. 

What’s the manufacturing process behind the speaker? I’m wondering how long it takes, since everything is so handmade. 

— I work in batches of twenty. The shells take about an hour. They’re casted then dried, then fired at temperatures between 1650 and 1860 Fahrenheit. But the exciting part happens when the shells are placed in the reduction chamber– this is where I arrange combustible materials to ignite and interact with the clay. There’s a layer of unpredictability and chance that creates iridescence and vibrant colour variations. The whole course of making one batch takes around two months, however, with the growth of the mycelium–that’s the part that takes the longest. But the timeframe is getting shorter, since I can have mycelium more ready on hand and I don’t have to grow it myself.

How did you come to learn the raku ceramic process?

— There’s two main differences in raku. One is exclusive for the Raku family descendents in Japan. The ceramics are usually for tea ceremonies. That history is five hundred years old. The Western technique has less of a strong tradition; there’s more barrel-firing and experimentation involved. When I first got into ceramics, I met a lot of people in Vancouver who helped me along the way. We would build our own kilns, and I’ve been practicing for about two years now. There’s something about the firing process where you have less control, and I liked that idea of not controlling things too much. 

Sitting here in your space, there’s a really cool aspect of your work where a lot of this is self-taught and DIY, but at a very high level. It took me a while to realize that the music that was playing was from the Myco speakers themselves. They’re so small and unobtrusive but of such a great quality in sound. And seeing the various electronic components on the shelves speaks to how intricately you’ve thought of design but also production. 

— My thought with the R1 bookshelf speakers was to have something that fit with the space, but to not stick out too much. I love big surround systems that are just crazy looking, but these were definitely designed to be subtle and unobstructive. But once you look into them in depth, there’s a lot of detail. 

Judging from a past event you had at the Forza gallery space, where your speakers were used for mindfulness and breathwork sessions, how important is mindfulness for your sense of well-being and inspiration? 

— I don’t think it’s related in a direct way with my products, but I believe it’s an important and empowering way to discover yourself, and control your anxiety. For a clear vision of what I want to do and my practice, it’s important to be aware of my surroundings and senses. I meditate a lot every morning. It gives me a space to be more objective towards where I’m going with things. To take steps in a more light and accepting way. We live in a world that is so excessive– and it’s a way to relax and be conscious.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how much sustainability has come into play with different new-age products, or just being a part of the culture in Vancouver.  For example, how plastic straws have been replaced by paper straws, which aren’t really effective as a material. But from certain more forward-thinking restaurants I’ve been in, they have suppliers that use sugar cane based straws which are much more durable. With mycelium, do you see it being a substitute for other synthetic products? 

— It’s trending for sure. A lot of companies are researching with teams of biologists for leather and coating. With design, art, fashion, architecture and packaging, mycelium is really being looked at. It’s not really a material that is well known. Every month it seems like researchers are discovering something new about it. I try to stay in touch and read articles to stay informed of potentially new technologies, or ways of growing and extraction. 

It must be quite exciting to be a designer and producer, yet you have to keep researching the subject at the same time. 

— I think Myco Audio needs to keep its core base with audio and mycelium, but I don’t necessarily want to stick with just that. I’m definitely interested in bioresin and 3D printing as well. 

It feels like what you’re making is a great synthesis of what you’ve learned and are interested in. It’s always nice to see that sort of thing from an artist/designer. You’ve put a lot of thought into it. Do you have any other products on the way to be made with the Myco ethos? 

— We’re currently working on a recycled plastic shell. It’ll be bigger, with a four inch woofer with Bluetooth. The amplifier will be within the speaker and more user friendly. I’m also working on a subwoofer. A lot of exciting stuff that I can’t mention as well is coming. 

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