Crrriick, crrriick, crrriick, crrriick. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzt, schklat-tlack! *

By Philip Gagnon


The power drill.


The hammer drill.


The hand drill.







A tool with a rotary head. A tool with exchangeable heads. Equally capable of fixing in place or freeing up possibilities. A tool capable of drilling holes into something smooth and impermeable. A tool capable of separating or forcing communication between certain materials inclined to play along. The object I call a drill is a versatile tool that can change form and perform many tasks. Some are more conventional. Others less so. It can drill holes of various sizes, twist cables, generate sounds, dismantle anything assembled with screws, make objects spin, bore or thread anything previously drilled.

The electric drill was patented in about 18892. The American company Milwaukee developed the first hammer-drill system in 1935. In 1967, Hilti commercialized the first hammer drills. Among the many advances that determined the evolution of the drill, the turning point that most interests me occurred around 1910. The American company Black & Decker redesigned the drill so that a single person could easily handle it. At that time, a client’s product was lying around on the work table: a Colt pistol. The images came together, and the drill became a construction weapon. The company made the electric drill in the shape of a pistol. For many people, a pistol is a rather persuasive communication tool.

In 1965, a bit before the invention of the hammer drill, a dozen artists, including John Cage, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Lucinda Childs, and David Tudor, paired up with engineers to create ten performances for 9 Evenings 3. Although several of the engineers had already worked on art projects, few of them had knowledge of the language of art. Coming from different backgrounds and disciplines, the artists and engineers struggled to understand each other in order to create the works. The former had the impression that the latter’s technical concerns would have too much influence on the performances. The latter thought the opposite, namely that the artists wouldn’t understand the technological challenges involved in the work to be accomplished4.

Once the solution to the problem was found, it inspired the cover design of the event’s programme. They used the language of visual diagrams. This language is a symbolic representation of information. A map of processes. A visualization of data showing the functional network that we don’t usually see. It’s a third language, technical and visual all at once. It overlaps the vocabulary of artists and engineers. By setting aside the oral and choosing drawing instead, communication was attained at last.

The best ally of the electric drill no doubt remains the screw. A piece of metal with a fluid and penetrating form. With the screw, it’s possible to create a support point by boring a spiral shaft into harder or softer materials.

It’s possible that the screw acts like a pivot and that the tool or material begins to rotate around it. In most cases, two screws will fasten two objects together firmly. It then becomes very difficult to handle them separately.

It’s also interesting to note that the screw slightly alters the shape of the objects it pierces. To such an extent that, sometimes, the objects remain in place even when the screw is removed. The deformation means that the objects slightly overlap and interpenetrate each other.

If the objects are not pre-drilled before the screw is inserted, some materials may crack.

In contrast to the artists and engineers of 9 Evenings, Benoît, Bruno, and I all come from the art world. That said, we usually practice in different “disciplines.” Our languages have different referents. The words that we use are tinted by different ideas. It took us several days to realize this. Certain words, such as vocabulary, language, performance, interpretation, and concept, created confusion in our trio. We tried to repeat our statements several times in different ways. We talked about heavy, hot, colourful, and sharp sounds. Yet there was no consensus on the colour brown. It was via a forth language, assembled bit by bit, that we navigated our way through and slowly learned to communicate.

I think that all three of us were already pre-drilled by the language of the jam. Even the organ at Palais Montcalm, the fourth member of the trio, knew something about this. Everything fell into place when we stopped speaking with words and started making sounds, unscrewing benches, running between the rows, and playing the Palais Montcalm. Like a drill, when it lets us know that a screw is securely in place, we communicated freely and fluidly.

Although the drill cannot provide harmony between materials, it has its own sonic language. It emits a certain sound when the operation goes smoothly. If it encounters some difficulty, it signals it through another sound or through resistance. If the materials have already been drilled, the screw has less work to do. It might be tempting to say, therefore, that everything gets easier the more the materials get to know each other. However, if a hole reserved for a screw is too large or stripped, the screw might not find a support point and keep spinning freely.

*Please note that I have practically no skills in construction or renovation.

2 Please note that I am no historian.

3 For more information about 9 Evenings, see the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology website:

4 Clarisse Bardiot, “The Diagrams of 9 Evenings,” 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre, and Engineering, 1966 (Cambridge: MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2006), 45­–54.