Archives du mot-clé artistic practices

Gilles Laval – Talking

Access to the texts associated with Gilles Laval:

A. Gunkanjima by Noemi Lefebvre : English translation
B. Edges – Gilles Laval : Lisières – English translation

Accéder aux textes originaux en français :

A. Gunkanjima : Gunkanjima
B. Réflexions sur quelques murs d’incompréhension entre pratiques musicales : texte original en français
C. Lisières – Gilles Laval : texte original en français

 


 

Extract from a Talk between Gilles Laval
and Jean-Charles François

Reflections on some walls of misunderstanding between musical practices

 

Gilles L. :

In a recent workshop that I conducted in an institution of higher education, I realized that there were problems I did not suspect at first. That is, after the students were given assignments, some misunderstanding occurred, which in my opinion is due to the fact that under the same words people do not hear the same things. And in this context, I also asked for an exercise that involved transcribing a recorded piece of music, but the listening varies according to the aesthetics of the world one comes from. We don’t use the same entries to listen and explain what we’re hearing.

Jean-Charles F. :

This means that people who are competent in their field of analysis or writing music are completely lost in the face of music that is foreign to them.

Gilles L. :
Yes, and this happened in several cases: someone who is somehow, let’s say, a specialist in writing music told me very sincerely that he didn’t have any clue to understand how to pick up a piece that was somewhat rhythmically complicated, because it was a sequence of rhythms that were a bit complex, and the instrumentation was a bass, drums, and guitar. And in fact he had no elements to begin to imagine a way to realize the assignment. And that was interesting, it opened up a constructive debate – which I hope will nourish his reflection a little – but in any case it was the opportunity to bring to him elements for understanding this.
Jean-Charles F. :

In a way it is the opposite of what Giacomo says: (see Encounter with Giacomo Spica Capobianco in the present edition) “when you go to a neighborhood where there is nothing left, it’s a no man’s land, there are only no law zones, even the cops don’t go there. You’re going to try to install things culturally, but there’s a gap that’s widened so much, such a big divide, that makes some people wonder why we come, they don’t see the point.” And you can turn the thing around a bit by saying: in a neighborhood with a classical music institution, everything is provided, it’s not a no man’s land, it’s just an area with full rights. But it’s basically the same problem: if things are introduced that are culturally unrecognized, there’s a gulf that has grown so wide, a fracture that is so great, that some people wonder why one comes there.

Gilles L. :
Yes absolutely, it’s interesting to mirror, the other access also seems impossible. Which for me is completely astonishing, because I dared to hope that in these places, openness and curiosity existed. But that doesn’t prevent them from being able to either shut themselves away or open themselves up to other practices. Because at the same time it is a reality for some but not for everyone. We can see that whether in deprived neighborhoods or in large institutions, fortunately there are people who are still able to realize that it is important to open up to others, who have the curiosity to find that there is an interesting issue at stake. We could say on both sides these attitudes also exist.

Return to the other texts by Gilles Laval.

Yves Favier – English

Return to the French original text: Eloge des écotones

 


 

To Live on the Edges, to Praise the Ecotones

Yves Favier

 

Summary :

1. Edges
2. Improvisation, Social Practice
3. Free Comments about « Gaya Sapor »


Edges, Fringes

Evidently the notion of “Edge” or “Fringe” is the one that tickles the most (the best?) especially when it is determined as an « autonomous zone between 2 territories », moving and indeterminate musical zones, yet identifiable.
They are not for me a “no man’s (women’s) land”, but rather a transition zones between two (or more) environments …

In ecology, these singular zones are called “ecotones”, zones that shelter both species and communities of the different environments that border them, but also particular communities that are specific to them. Here we touch on two concepts: Guattari’s “Ecosophy”, where everything holds together, and Deleuze’s “Hecceity = Event.”

These edges between meadow, lake and forest are home to prairie species that prefer darker and cooler environments, others more aquatic ones, and forest species that prefer light and warmth.

Isn’t this the case in improvisation?…

  1. Would the improviser be this particular “being on the alert”?
    Hunter/gatherer always ready to collect (capture?) existing SOUNDS, but also “herder”, in order to let those “immanent” ones emerge? Not yet manifest but already “possible in in the making”?…
  2. “The territory is only valid in relation to a movement by which one leaves it.”
    In the case of the notion of Hocquard’s border associated with the classical political conception, the improviser would be a transmitter between 2 territories determined in advance to be academic by convention: a transmitter between THE contemporary (sacred art) music and THE spontaneous (social prosaic) music. …we’ll say that it’s a good start, but which will have no development other than in and through conventions…it will always be a line that separates, it’s an “abstraction” from which concrete bodies (including the public) are de facto excluded.
  3. What (musical) LINE, could mark as limit, an “extremity” (also abstract) to a music so-called “free” only to be considered from the inside (supposedly from the inside of the improviser).
    Effectively taking away any possibility of breaking out of these identity limits (“improvisation is this and no other thing”, “leave Improvisation to the improvisers”) comes from the fantasy of the creative origins and its isolated “geniuses”. … for me the “no man’s land” suggested by Hocquard can be found here!

…fluctuating moving data…leaving at no time the possibility of describing a stable/definitive situation…
temporary…valid only momentarily…on the nerve…
to touch the nerve is to touch the edge, the fringe, the margin…
improvisation as rapture…temporal kidnapping…
…where one is no longer quite yourself and finally oneself…
…testing time by gesture combined with form…and vice versa…
the irrational at the edge of well-reasoned frequency physics…
…well-tempered…nothing magical…just a fringe, an edge, reached by nerves…
ecotone…tension BETWEEN…
…between certainties…
…between existing and pre-existing…
immanent attractor…
…between silence and what is possible in the making…
this force that hits the nerve…
…that disturbs silence?…
…the edge, the fringe, the margin as a perpetually moving continuity…

The inclusion of each milieu in the other
Not directly connected to each other
Changing its ecological properties
Very common of milieux interpenetration
Terrier
Termite mound
A place where one changes one’s environment
For its own benefice and for that of other species

What narrative does the edge convey?…

 

Improvisation, Social Practice

Moving from a belief in certainty to working creatively with uncertainty.
Moving from frozen equilibria to proliferating disequilibria.
Moving from instilled objectivity to inter-subjective productions.
Moving from frozen equilibria to proliferating disequilibria.
Moving from ingrained objectivities to intersubjective productions?
Moving from deterministic predictions (hegemony) to an awareness of fundamental instabilities.
Moving from the unsurpassable to the possible/probable horizon.
Move from universal knowledge (centralization/hierarchicalization) to localized knowledge (rhizome/decentralized networks).
Moving from the supposedly objective structure to a broader movement of thought and dialogue between subjectivities…
…the edge of science/art being ecotone…

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari :

From the central layer to the periphery, then from the new center to the new periphery, nomadic waves or deterritorialization flows pass through, falling back on the old center and rushing towards the new.

Connectivité                   Plus forts                        Le centre comme milieu

et vice versa

 

Free Comments about « Gaya Sapor »

August 2020

1/ Foreword

Living in the environment in the time allotted to us, engages us in 3 simultaneous ecologies:

·       Environmental ecology

·       Social ecology

·       Mental ecology

Contemporary globalized society/civilization is dragging us into a particularly powerful anxiety-provoking “maelstrom”, heightened by the media grinder.

The conjunction of these anxiogenic currents (crisis: employment, financial, political, environmental, health, cultural, etc.) pushes us, by combined powers under the millstone of the injunction to adapt to the maladjusted, to resignation, surrender, individual abdication or collective struggles fueled by despair (even despairing)…

In order to “move from a belief in Certainty, to recognition and creative work with uncertainty”, emerges the need to implement “antidotes” to this toxic mental construction, to “produce” an alternative…unconventional… not “conventioned”… subjectivity?

 

2/ To live “on the edges of…”, or “Praise the Ecotones”

The edge between Arts and Sciences (erudite or incorporated) is an “ecotone”, a precarious shelter, a “skènè” (stage) that changes/turns the conventional order “between” the different actors, inhabitants (human and non-human), audiences…. Nothing can remain fixed, frontal, everything becomes precarious and uncertain… everything is in perpetual movement, change, evolution, emancipation from one to/for/against the other…. But always in diversity… biodiversity, in interdependent (autopoiesis) & interdependent moving ecosystems…

The music(s) in “social ecotones” are major vectors of shared sensibilities, transmitted in and with total uncertainty as to how they will be perceived (if, in the best of cases, they are) nor by whom they will be perceived.
It is now time to “overlap” these vectors of active sensitivity…

All the rest of the subject and its implementation could be under the sharpened poetic gaze of Italo Calvino…in Le città invisibili / 1972:

“KublaiKhan :

– Everything is useless, if the ultimate landing can only be the infernal city, if it is in this background that, on an ever tighter spiral, will end the flow.

Marco Polo :
– The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering in it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

I like the latter … it carries the flavor of knowledge(s) … in perpetual movement. To be continued…

– Felix Guattari, Ecosophie 1968 1991, Les trois écologies, Paris, Galilée, 1989.

– Gregory Bateson, Vers une écologie de l’esprit, Seuil, 1973.

– Bernard Stiegler, La Société automatique : 1. L’avenir du travail, chapitre 5 : « L’accomplissement du nihilisme et l’entrée dans le Néguanthropocène. » Fayard,2015. La Société automatique

– Hans Jonas, Le Principe responsabilité : une éthique pour la civilisation technologique, 1979 ; trad. française éd. du Cerf, 1990.

– Barbara Stiegler, « Il faut s’adapter ». Sur un nouvel impératif politique, Paris, Gallimard, coll. « NRF Essais », 2019.

– Ilya Prigogine (La fin des certitudes. Temps, chaos et les lois de la nature, Odile Jacob, 1996) cité par Déborah Bird Rose, Le rêve du chien sauvage, Amour et extinction, La Découverte/Les Empêcheurs de tourner en rond, 2011/2020 et Vers les humanités écologiques, Wildproject Editions 2004/2019.

Riebener_See3

The ecotone is often also a corridor, which according to the seasons develop different functions for different species.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89cotone

le-citta-invisibili

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopo%C3%AF%C3%A8se

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Villes_invisibles

Cécile Guillier : Text 3 – English

Free Immured-Art: Murmurs

Cécile Guillier

 

One of the most enjoyable experiences I had playing music was free improvisation. After overcoming a blockage that prevented me from doing so for many years (all during my studies at the conservatory and a few more afterwards), it became a joyful experience for me. On the initiative of a jazz piano teacher, with a few volunteer colleagues and adult jazz students, we would play for a few minutes, with or without instructions (when there were, it was sometimes structural constraints). My great pleasure was in this alternance of play and discussion afterwards. The discussion was free, that is to say not aimed towards progress or assessment, it was only the moment to talk about how far we had come, how each person had heard it, had been surprised, interested, disconcerted, left out… And I was quite at ease playing or singing, I had the impression that one was playing directly with sound matter (idiomatic or not) and with human relationships (what do I hear from others, do I answer them…). I think I was the only one to view it that way, and the others were surprised by my enthusiasm. I was struck by the power of free improvisation on a group, to connect individuals and create a common culture. The colleague who had organized this was careful not to make value judgments about the sound result and the choices made by each participant. I still have a kind of nostalgia for having caught a glimpse into what I would like to do much more often, and with much more diverse people, whether or not they are already musicians. Having said that, it takes a certain amount of courage to go beyond the usual musical rules of the game, and I don’t always have it. When we talk about walls, it’s mostly there that I see them, in our heads (like a drawing I studied in German class in college that said “the wall is still in our heads”). I get the impression that I have to cross a similar wall every time I play in the street, so outside a concert hall: the moment when I switch from a person who walks with a violin, like everyone else, to a person who is preparing to play in front of others. It’s a small psychological wall to cross.

Another experience, different, of the notion of a wall: during my violin apprenticeship at the conservatory, my teachers often pointed out my defects, my failures. I imagined them as walls that I had to overcome, and with a lot of effort and willpower, I hoped to overcome them. But I believe that the effort and the will focused me on the walls to overcome rather than on the interest to overcome them. I think that if my teachers had told me instead, this is what I enjoy doing, this is why I find interest in doing it, I might have found a quicker way to get over those walls. The pleasure and interest in being a musician, the nature of what a musician is, often remains unquestioned, unshared. It’s often a world of phantasms and individual projections, when it could be a world of shareable experiences.

 


Access to the three texts (English and French)

Texte 1, Faire tomber les murs : mûrs ?      Français

Texte 1, Walkabout Wall Falling [Faire tomber les murs : mûrs ?]      English

Texte 2a, Interlude      Français

Texte 2b, Interlude      English

Texte 3b, L’art-mur de la liberté : murmures      Français

Cecil Lytle

Accéder à la traduction en français : Rencontre avec Cecil Lytle

 


Encounter between Cecil Lytle,
Jean-Charles François and Nicolas Sidoroff

Lyon, August 3, 2019

 

The pianist Cecil Lytle came to Lyon in August 2019 for a friendly and touristic visit. Cecil Lytle was Jean-Charles François’ colleague in the Department of Music at the University of California San Diego during the 1970s and 1980s. For the past few years, as part of a program organized by the University of California, Cecil Lytle taught a course on jazz history in Paris every summer. A visit to Cefedem AuRA took place on August 3, 2019 in the company of two members of PaaLabRes: Nicolas Sidoroff who teaches at this institution and Jean-Charles François who was its director from 1990 to 2007. We discussed the history of Cefedem, the nature of its project focused on the development of unique curricula, and also the constant institutional difficulties that this institution had to face since its creation. Following this guided visit, the three musicians met with a view to publishing the transcript (based on the recording of this session) in the third edition of paalabres.org, « Break down the walls ». Throughout his musical career, Cecil Lytle has refused to limit himself to a single aesthetic. He has been very insistent on combining several traditions in his practice. Moreover, his important influence in the functioning of the university has allowed him to develop actions in the field of education for the social promotion of minorities in the United States from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The beginning of the interview focuses on a meeting between Cecil Lytle and Nicolas Sidoroff to get to know each other. The latter’s artistic practice is discussed, before aspects more specifically related to our guest in the field of arts and politics.

 


Summary :

1. Introduction
2. Cecil Lytle, musician at the conjunction of several traditions
3. University and the Preuss School
4. A Secondary Education School in a Neighborhood
5. The Walls and Pedagogical Methods
6. The Walls and Musical Practices


1. Introduction

Jean-Charles F.:

Before we start, it might be good to for you [Nicolas] to say few words about yourself. Nicolas was just in New York last month. So now he knows perfect English. [laugh]

Nicolas S.:

No… is it my accent [laughs]? I went there with French students, who did not speak English, so I always had to go from English to French and French to English.

Cecil L.:

That’s how we are in Paris. We start to say something in French and they switch to English.

Nicolas S.:

I had already been once in Boston and New York, and that time I spoke a lot in English for two weeks. My English had significantly improved. Last month, for one week, it was mostly French!

Cecil L.:

So you went there to do what?

Nicolas S.:

I am a doctoral student at the Paris VIII University and I work on music and the division of labor in music, in an Educational Sciences laboratory. We have formed a collective of students from this university, to stick together, to be collective in our research and to try to shape the university according to our experiences and ideas. And we made a proposal for a symposium on the idea of re-imagining higher education in a critical way. It was held at the New School in New York. Sandrine Desmurs who works at Cefedem AuRA[1] also came with us to present the mechanisms that we have put in place at Cefedem. I also attended a lot of concerts, and I took the opportunity to meet as many musicians as possible, like George Lewis, William Parker and Dave Douglas for example. I also work part-time at Cefedem with the students of the professional development diploma program for already on-the-job music teachers. And in the other part of my time, I play music, I conduct research, notably with the PaaLabRes collective, and I’m also a PhD student in Education Sciences.

Cecil L.:

So you make music, you are a performer?

Nicolas S.:

Yes, I play mainly in two collectives: one I call post-improvisation, a type of music called downtown[2] – Downtown II – do you know this term?

Cecil L.:

I know the expression. It comes from George Lewis?

Nicolas S.:

Yes. The expression has its origin in New York, but a lot of people play this downtown music and don’t live in New York.

Cecil L.:

I bet you.

Nicolas S.:

And it’s the second generation of downtown music, which is called Downtown II, of which John Zorn is one of the important figures and also Fred Frith, to take the most famous ones. That’s just one of the two streams of music that I do. The other one comes from Réunion Island, an island in the east of Africa, south of Madagascar. In the small islands in that part of the Indian Ocean there’s specific music called maloya and sega. And I’ve been playing this music with Réunionese people for about twenty years now, mostly on trumpet.

Cecil L.:

Now, is that what is called in France ethnomusicology?

Jean-Charles F.:

No, it is a practice that we call traditional music, but it is above all a live culture, it is not a music of the past, but of today.

Nicolas S.:

And maloya is quite specific, because it’s a music that’s been banned for an extremely long time.

Cecil L.:

By the colonials?

Nicolas S.:

Yes. By the French colonials.

Jean-Charles F.:

The French are still there. [laughs]

Nicolas S.:

This music came to the forefront in the 1970s thanks to the communists and the independentists. It was at the same time that reggae also made an international breakthrough. And that’s when what’s known as malogué or maloggae (a mix of maloya and reggae) developed[3] and seggae (sega and reggae) It has become a kind of very contemporary mix of traditional music, popular music and modern music. So I play with a family who came to France thirty years ago. I was playing this malogué, séga and seggae music with notably the father who sang, played bass and led the ensemble, and his son who sang and played drums. He was not yet 18 when I met him. And he was about ten years old when the malogué was created, he couldn’t reach the bass drum pedal! [Laughs] Today, the group has reconfigured itself on a roots reggae basis, it’s called Mawaar.[4] It means « I’ll see » in Réunionnese and a good part of it is sung in Creole. And we’re still working on the music from Réunion Island, even though we don’t play it live on stage any more. The father I was talking about is on bass, and it’s the son who is very active. He plays guitar and drums, he sings, he’s one of those who contributes the most to the music.

Cecil L.:

Do the people on that island speak French?

Nicolas S.:

Yes, and Creole. A very nice Creole.

Cecil L.:

You have been to that island?

Nicolas S.:

Yes, but only for a week, because the Cefedem has developed a music teachers’ training program in Réunion Island. And I was able to observe the three different Creole languages: the first one, the French in Metropolitan France can understand it, even if some expressions are not French, they are still understandable; the second one is mixed, the French understand some words but not everything; and the third one, the French understand nothing.

Cecil L.:

[laugh] You just play the music. [laugh] Yes. So how did you get interested in that island, that one place?

Nicolas S.:

Because of the people I met.

Cecil L.:

Here? They live in France?

Nicolas S.:

That’s because I met this family, and very soon I enjoyed talking and playing this music. I have to say that I make music in situation: I met people who are very interesting and know a lot of things about this island, its history, its music and about their origins, etc. So, I’ve shared their life, spent time with them, especially by playing music.

Cecil L.:

It is very important meet people where and how they are, to stay with this people, to eat their food, to hear their stories, how do they cry, how they are happy, how they are sad. There is a pianist living in Paris, Alan Jean-Marie from Guadeloupe. He plays jazz, regular straight-ahead traditional jazz. His jazz playing is so infused with the songs and sounds from Guadeloupe, traditional folk songs in jazz version. That’s what people do with jazz worldwide – – they make it their own. He sings in Creole, very interesting. He is not a great singer, but he is very soulful, very spiritual. Let me ask, how often do you go to the island?

Nicolas S.:

Just this time, and only for one week.

Cecil L.:

Oh! It is not enough.

Nicolas S.:

Quite insufficient! Besides, it was really special in this story. I went alone, without this family and the current band, with very little time at hand. It became like a joke between us: yes, I was going to discover music played there right now, meet musicians who live on that island… They weren’t happy that I could do it without their presence. That’s the way life is. But now I can see that I’ll have to go back. So we’re working more intensively on the project of going there to play music together and discover this island with them.

Cecil L.:

It is very courageous. I mean, it is courageous to study something that the West has not heard before so much.

Nicolas S.:

It’s a practice that comes from the streets, outside the walls of the university. We can look at it in terms of the epistemologies of the South, starting with the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos. He is Portuguese and is involved in the adventure of the World Social Forum. He has worked in South America, studying subordinate and dominated communities, how they organize themselves and how they use and produce knowledge not recognized or considered by the colonizers and Westerners. And he coined the expression « epistemologies of the South ». And it’s very interesting to observe how, now, more and more work at the university is asking these kinds of questions: the domination is still that of the objectivity of whites, of the North, of the West…

Cecil L.:

There is some interesting work being done in literature – some of our old colleagues in critical studies… Sara Johnson, who is on the faculty of the Literature department at the University of California San Diego, has been writing about cultural transitions from Caribbean and New Orleans. And in fact, I have my music students reading chapters from her book about island tastes and cultural practices–not music so much, not about the music. But some of the class distinctions persisted when the French left, when the colony ceased to exist.[5] Black classes emerged from the indigenous culture, the middle class, the military, and they started behaving like the French [laugh], very aristocratic and the core people fled to New Orleans, to Charleston or to Atlanta, to the Southern States. And then, she has just been writing from socio-literary point of view. Truly, Sara’s point is not about written literature, but oral literature. And there is obviously more and more written literature emerging since independence, but she is tracking the stories, the legends, the tales. So her work tracks cultural progressions taking place that measures closely with trans-cultural effects in music. And, all of these stories are set to music, they don’t talk about it, they sing about it, they dance it.

 

2. Cecil Lytle, musician at the conjunction of several traditions

Jean-Charles F.:

Should we start the formal interview?

Cecil L.:

Ah! OK.

Jean-Charles F.:

So, maybe to begin with, can you explain a little about who you are, what were your adventures in the past?

Cecil L.:

I am Cecil Lytle, I am pleased to be here to talk with friends who make music and make friend with people who talk about music. My initial music… How I got involve in music? My father was a church organist, Baptist church organist, he played gospel music. Also, I am the last of ten children, I have nine brothers and sisters. So all of us were in the church all the time, Pentecostal Baptist Church, five days a week, nights a week.

Jean-Charles F.:

Where was that, in New York?

Cecil L.:

In Harlem. So it was not religion as much as it was the music that influenced me – – maybe they are the same. I don’t think that my father and mother were very fundamentalists. They just thought it was something useful for the children to do. For there were lot of bad things for children to do. We were all in the church, in the choir, we did all that. My father played the Hammond B3 organ, and right next to him was a broken down Mason & Hamlin baby grand piano. So, I am told that, when I was five years old or so, I used to sit at the piano. What is that? I think it was the happiest music I ever made [bangs his hands on the table] with the palms of my hands, and the choir… These were not professional musicians, these were women who cleaned the streets and men who worked as postal workers, so they were not trained musicians. But the power of hearing a gospel choir right in your face! You had to appreciate the mingling of their song, sweat, and dancing while praying for salvation here and in Heaven. I was too young to fully appreciate the power of imagination of African Americans, but I knew that something magical was occurring three feet away from me, and I wanted desperately to be a part of it. they sang about misery and happiness in the same breath. So it was… That every Sunday was a magical moment when these people could feel their pain, power and agency. When they left the church they were back to the real world, but it was a very special few hours when a hundred people, hundred and fifty people, could share power. Now they all knew what happens when you leave the church, when you go back home, to go back to work, they knew that world still existed. So I always remember that joy, the power of this moment – those three hours together one day a week. And I always wanted to create that more, everyday more. The challenge for me was how to do that wherever I might be in the future.

I had proper piano lessons by the time I was eight or ten years old. My father got money – enough money together to send me downtown to a piano teacher. I don’t know how my father found out about this fellow, but he was a recent Russian immigrant to New York, a Russian Jewish. He spoke no English, I spoke no Russian. So for one year he had me play on the lid of the piano, to begin with the finger stroke. I guess that’s how they do it in Russia. Just finger strokes, may be for six months, I just played on the lid of the piano. It made no sense to me, but I understand now what he was after…, now [laugh]. I thought that my father should pay him half as much. But it gradually started to make sense. About the same time, I think I also started hearing classical music. My father used to take me to Carnegie Hall, different kinds of places around New York to hear pianists. I remember he took me to hear Wilhelm Kempff, the German pianist, he played the Hammerklavier Sonata and I could remember the power of that piece, this crazy piece, it went on forever, the Fugue! I just thought it was fascinating. Everyone thinks it is fascinating. So I started to mix my gospel jazz music with trying to play Beethoven’s sonatas – -imagine that! And I think I tried to do both ever since, traditional, classical music and improvised music at the same time. Years later at Oberlin Conservatory, I think my most important musical experience was early years in the church, and it was because of the authority and the legitimacy of those untrained Gospel singers – their sound, legitimacy.

I imagine that you experienced something like that on the Réunion Island. People had no training in music or the arts, but it was powerful. They would communicate and said what they had to say. I think that what came out of all my music to say that. To feel that way. Then I met Jean-Charles François and other very interesting people who improvise in different ways, who improvise with a very different language. The goal was the same, but the language, the vocabulary was different. And I found that fascinating to enter the realm of someone else’s musical legitimacy – – to appreciate what was important to them… Music that was out of reach.

It was a very short step from gospel music, to jazz- – it is the same music, it changes the words, it changes its limitations, but all the chords are identical. There is this new movie about Aretha Franklin – I think it’s called Amazing Grace, it just came up this year – it follows her from church, gospel music to her career in Soul. It is all the same sound, and the same authority, same power.

By the time I was fifteen, my older brother Henry played drums, jazz drums, so we had a jazz trio and played around New York, a bit. It’s kind of odd, but the more I moved in the jazz world, the more I felt uneasy – -I didn’t want to spend a life as a jazz musician. I saw the life of the jazz people I met. There was one incident that turned my head around. I was once playing at the Savoy Ballroom with a large dance band backing up Arthur Prysock. While we were playing, this guy kept coming up to me at the piano saying, “Hey, man, let me play the piano, let me play the piano”. He wanted to sit in. I told him to talk to the band leader. So I’d play another number, he comes back: “Hey man!” – I was fifteen years old or so- and he was an older guy – “you can’t play that stuff, let me play the piano, let me play the piano.” So, anyway, when we took a break, I went to the band leader and said: “Who is this guy? He is bugging me, you know!”, and the band leader said: “Oh man! Don’t worry about him, he’s a junkie, that’s just Bish.” It was Walter Bishop J., a great pianist, a famous jazz pianist. I had his records at home. But he was strung out on heroin, he was all messed up in his head and body, and it hits me: “do I want to round up doing that?” A fifty year-old guy asking a fifteen year-old for a job. I did not sour on jazz, but I did not want to be dependent on a jazz life. And I wanted to play other music too. So I think the church experience and at least early jazz gigs that gave me more questions than answers. I knew from the church experience that I wanted to play music that had authority and meaning, but at the same time I wanted to do a lot of different things, not just gospel music, not just jazz, not just be-bop, and not just one thing.

So when I met Jean-Charles, I was directing the University Gospel Choir (at the Univesity of California San Diego), and we were playing New Music concerts together. I think the university gave me an opportunity to do all the things I wanted to do. If I was just playing night clubs, I would get bored. So just playing Beethoven’s Sonatas, I’d get bored… We did Stockhausen’s Kontakte, which was fun… So that’s kind of how I think about music, I don’t think that my expectations from those early experiences has really changed much, I don’t think. The authority of the music I heard as a child, the variety of music I was introduced early on, they sort of stuck with me.

 

3. University and the Preuss School

Jean-Charles F.:

You were recruited by the University of California San Diego to conduct the Gospel Choir and to develop a jazz program, but later you also became the pianist of the department beyond the different aesthetics?

Cecil L.:

I thought I was hired for the Black Music, and we did just concerts and lectures. I don’t really remember what specific job title was. But then we played the concerts and it was fun, we leave a rehearsal and we talked, and I went upstairs and I do the Gospel Choir, and there is Carol Plantamura, we would rehearse lieder, there was plenty of variety. I guess my history isn’t a straight line – – my history is a mystery, I like that! But that was during the old Third College days at UCSD, when Third College was considered to be the “revolutionary” part of the University. And in many ways, it was. It was the “third” of what became six colleges. And the Third College was founded in 1965 with the original concept to be a college dedicated to Greek Antiquity. And then, Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bob Kennedy was assassinated, riots, protests and anti-Vietnam protests. Students became aroused and asked, “Why are we studying Greek antiquity when history was being made in the streets of America now?” So, the students changed the direction of the college to be more progressive – I try not to say left wing because I don’t know what that means anymore – but to be more politically active. And the leaders of were one professor, Herbert Marcuse, and his doctoral student, Angela Davis who was finishing her PhD in anthropology. She has written about this period in her life and in the life of the new University of California campus in La Jolla. She was sort of the spoke person for the students, and Marcuse the spoke person for the faculty, both moving the College in a more progressive direction. The name that the students gave for the College was “Lumumba-Zapata” College. Do you remember the name Patrice Lumumba, the assassinated President of the Congo? And Emilio Zapata the Mexican revolutionary? It was never named that formally, but some older alumni still called it Lumumba-Zapata College.

Jean-Charles F.:

And because nobody in the administration wanted to name this college that way, it was named “Third College”, just because it was the third one in existence.

Cecil L.:

Hell, the faculty didn’t want Lumumba-Zapata. Parents couldn’t imagine sending their precious son and, especially, daughter to Lumumba-Zapata College. They were rightly afraid that we were going to make them political revolutionaries… That was not going to work. So the University said: “No bullshit! No Lumumba-Zapata! We will call it ‘Third College” and used that official name for the next 20 years.

In 1988, 52 of USCD’s performers and composers went to Darmstadt. I became Provost of Third College the week after we returned from the Darmstadt Music Festival. This post was very meaningful for me, because it gave me a platform to do things that I thought were in the interest of justice, working on opening the walls of the university. So, the first issue I tackled was finding a meaningful name for the College, not leave it with a number. What I wanted to avoid was that, when someone would ask “Where do you go to school?”, one would not answer “I go to number three!” We tried “Third World College”, not really… So we did finally give the college a meaningful name, again. Thurgood Marshall College was rebirthed in 1991. A name clearly associated with social justice and progressive attitudes about race and class relations, and until it changes again, it is still Thurgood Marshall College.[6]

Nicolas S.:

Can you tell us who is Thurgood Marshall?

Cecil L.:

He was the first African-American Supreme Court justice. But before that, he overturned a number of a number of racist laws from the time of slavery. He also defended inmates on death row and African-American troops who were accused of cowardice during the war – the Korean war. Later, he married a Philippino women and he helped write the Philippines constitution with these principles of fairness and justice. His name is certainly not as recognizable as Martin Luther King, Jr. So, I am not surprise that his name is not as well-known abroad. But he was central in the Civil Rights Movement along with Martin Luther King. Interestingly, they didn’t always agree in terms of strategy. Thurgood Marshall criticized King’s plan to put children on the streets to confront the police – – putting children at risk to dramatize the effects of racism. Thurgood Marshall point of view was that this approach was too dangerous, people could be killed, and he felt that his important task was to overturn the laws that were racist and holding people back. Through their disagreement, however, they actually worked well together on a two-point strategy: King in the streets and Marshall in the courts. So I thought that it was appropriate to – perhaps, because his name is not as well-known as Martin Luther King Jr – to put his name on the table, to name the College after Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And it inspired me and inspired students and the faculty involved to think about those issues. We had to ask ourselves everyday: “are you teaching social justice? Are you doing social justice in the community, in your classroom? Are you participating in a meaningful way?” I think that the name change had that effect, I believe it had that effect. Later, we redesigned the curriculum to emphasize many voices in literature, many voices in sociology, to re-emphasize the study of the Third World – this was 1988.

Then California did something very negative: during the 1990 Presidential campaign, California passed a law that condemned Affirmative Action. Namely the University of California would no longer be allowed to use race as a determining factor in its student admissions. California had decided that people who are black or brown would get additional considerations because of historical discriminations in the country. California citizens said “no, that’s wrong, you are discriminating against white people,” which kind of doesn’t make sense, but that was the outcome of the new law, Proposition 209. Oddly, California voted overwhelmingly for Bill Clinton and at the same time did away with racial preferences. Actually, I felt a bit trapped. If I am the Provost of a college named for Thurgood Marshall, then I have to speak, do something to counter this new law. So, a group of us, faculty and few students started talking about the idea of building a k-12 school for black and brown children, low income black and brown children. It would be a public charter school, grades 6-12 and the University would run it. Knowing that there would be opposition, we wanted to align the effort with an older tradition in American universities to have a secondary school on campus. Unfortunately, many of these “Lab Schools” were for very brightest and affluent students; kids who were doing algebra in the third grade, and reading Salman Rushdie on the week-end- -very bright students. This is a long accepted tradition for high-end American universities. So, I wanted to take advantage of that idea, but build a college preparatory school for poor children in order to get them ready to go to the most selective universities. This school would be a model for other schools in the community showing how to design a curriculum, a pedagogy, and to use college students as tutors to the classroom. Frankly, I wanted to not only reform public schools, but reform the university as well. I was trying to educate two types of students, the students from the poor neighborhoods who were involved in school, and the university students who never met these kids before.

I think my subversive idea was to change the university and have our university students receive academic credit for tutoring in class. Just like we give academic credit for taking Physics, History, Engineering, we would give academic credit for tutoring in school- -for being a decent citizen. And it seems to be working, the k-12 students are doing very well, they received admittance the prestigious universities. Our k-12 school is name after the principal donor, Peter Preuss. Preuss School doesn’t have a lot of dropouts. 850 young people start at Preuss School in the 6th grade and graduate from the 12th grade. I took a lot of criticism from friends on the Left because we also took millions from some pretty Right-Wing donors who were feeling guilty about how they were mistreating Black people and Mexican people. I took their money to build Preuss School because I figured that I’d do more for social justice with their money than they ever would.

So, a lot of good people got mad at me because I took “blood money”… There were good Liberals who gave money, too. Anyway, we built the Preuss School.[7]

Nicolas S.:

The building was built to accommodate 850 students?

Cecil L.:

Eight, zero, zero; eight, five, zero. That’s right! We knew the school would be successful. It is on the university campus under our control, it is right near the university hospital, the School of Engineering is right next to it, so there is this an environment of learning free from roving gangs. Students absorb the culture of learning from the university environment. The trick is, how do you translate more broadly back into the community? How do you go to a school that is in the neighborhood, the ghetto, and try to build that kind of environment. That’s a tricky proposition.

Bud Mehan, from the Sociology Department at UCSD, was a partner in this endeavor. He studies education reform. Bud was sort of the intellectual part of this initiative; I was the… – what do you say? – the “politician.”

 

4. A Secondary Education School in a Neighborhood

Cecil L.:

After a few years of operation, we discovered that many Preuss School parents had a child at Preuss School and another attending their local neighborhood school. About 40 families came to us at a board meeting and asked quite vigorously, “Can you help us start a Preuss School in our own neighborhood so that our children don’t have to go on the bus for one hour and half to go to the university.” We started meeting with the parents every Thursday night in the library at the local school for about a year and a half. Grand mothers would bring tamales for endurance during the long meetings. We’d start at 7 o’clock, 7h.30 until 11 o’clock just talking about how to do this. Very exciting! It was like a revolution was brewing for the parents, mostly Mexican-American parents and  African-American mix, plus some others. And it was just exciting that these were parents who were seeing what was possible in one child and wanted that effect distributed to all the children in the neighborhood. And, they lead it, they pushed it. We would meet and write letters to the San Diego Unified School District, asking for permission to change things at that local school. The District was so annoyed that they fired the principal who welcomed the revolution. They fired him to get rid of him, and they said that we could not continue to meet with the parents on school property. So through the good graces of the neighborhood priest, we began meeting at the Catholic church across the street every Thursday night. The entire community got behind this: the Church, the parents, the barbershops, people in the neighborhood. And for a year and a half we wrote the charter document to ask the School District for the money to run the school, our own school, based on the Preuss School model. It was approved and in 2004 at a raucous meeting at the school board. We opened Gompers Charter School the next year after a crowded year of planning.

In a way, I think Gompers Charter School[8] is more important than Preuss School. Preuss School has a lot of protections: gangs do not come on the University campus. These young people come to the university with a different expectation – they plan to study. But in the community, there is lot of pressure not to study, there are intimidations, and at that school campus, gangs came on campus all the time. We also discovered something interesting: if there was a riot in a California prison, (San Quentin or Chino State Prison) two or three days later, we would have a riot at the high school. If person “A” beats up person “B” in the prison, his family and friends would retaliate against relatives at the local high school. It was like clockwork: if there was a Monday riot at Chino prison, Mexicans against Blacks, for instance, and the Blacks lost, they got the worse of it, by Thursday we would have a retaliation riot at the high school. The connection between school and prison is very strong, and we had to figure a way how to fix that, because you can’t educate kids who are constantly looking over their shoulders. So, we had to work with the police and the district attorney to get an injunction, a legal document, that 200 known gang members could not come within three blocks of the school during school hours. A few of them tried and they were arrested, and they finally got the message and left Gompers Charter School alone. This is why I say that Gompers is the real test of the Preuss School model. It is in the ghetto, in the neighborhood, and it’s exposed physically to all the detriment of the community. Us university types gave advice, helped to write the letters and spoke at the meetings, but we let the mothers and grandmothers do the pushing on this. The university was not coming to tell them how to do it. But we certainly “had their back.” A lot of long hours went into the effort to open Gompers Charter School. I’d like to think both Marshall and King approved of the effort.

 

5. The Walls and Pedagogical Methods

Jean-Charles F.:

You mentioned pedagogical methods that were used, and could you say a few words about that?

Cecil L.:

Yes. Well, we recognize – I mean it is common knowledge – that poor families can’t always provide a college-going environment. Both the youngster and the parents foster good study habits and success aimed at going to college. Even if the youngster chooses not to go to college, they are going to be great plumbers, because they are educated, they know technology, they are creative actors in their community, they can build for the future. But I have a bias: I want them to go to college to be doctors and lawyers.

And… pedagogy: we learned a couple of things, we learned this from parents. In American high school, there is something called “home room” where students start the day in a class with a teacher reviewing school traditions. In most secondary schools, students change “home room” class from year to year with a different teacher, different students. One major innovation we implemented something called, “looped advisory” where the same group of teacher/students stay together throughout all the grades until graduation. For of all, the teacher gets to know the biography of every student, what is happening in the neighborhood, what is happening with the parents and siblings. Our teachers love “looped advisory” because they fulfill more than the mission of teaching but caring about those that they teach. A number of schools in San Diego, Los Angeles, and around the country have adopted this model. So there’s one pedagogic difference.

The other pedagogic innovation is to have university students in the classroom with the teacher and the students. So typically in a mathematics class, there will be a teacher, may be an assistant teacher and up to twenty university student tutors in the classroom sitting right next to the youngster helping with the mathematics or reading. About 65% of the students are Mexican, from Mexico, so not all of them speak English with fluency when they arrive in the 6th grade. So that the idea is to accelerate their language, and also accelerate good learning habits. The university tutors meet with the teacher one day a week to prepare for the lesson plan in the following week. That is very successful and very expensive. Small classes are expensive. Tutors are not paid but they receive academic credit. They are taking a class to learn how to teach, so we have to hire a teacher to instruct them adding more costs – but it is worth it. Although it costs about one-quarter more to educate disadvantaged youngsters for college, it is an expense much worth the effort. Just remember, it is economically cheaper and wiser to develop a child in school than it is to repair an adult in prison.

Although these sound like major innovations, they are common knowledge reforms every one will confirm as necessary for quality education to take place.

Jean-Charles F.:

During my visit to Preuss School, I was able to observe a computer class where students were working in small groups of four to develop a project for a small four-wheeled cart driven by one person for a regional competition. The idea was to take the cart downhill and whoever made it the furthest down the hill on the way up won. Each group had to work with a computer to find the most efficient way to build the cart to win the competition.

Cecil L.:

Yes, you know kids like games, and so use games as instructional tools. I don’t mean, you know, video games, but the computer lab inside Preuss School is state of the art and accessible to students. I don’t remember this project, that’s sound about right, I don’t know, but that’s special. What I do remember, they were in competition with other schools to build a machine about this big [Lytle hand motion] to move eggs from here to there without breaking them. So you have to design a machine that scoops the eggs, and you have to design all the electronics, and the wheels and gears to build the device and complete the task. And they fail, I mean, sometime, that’s why you practice. Like many of my colleagues in biomed labs, they often fail or fall short. Therein is another lesson: endurance and creativity. Repeat it until you get it right.

Jean-Charles F.:

And did the arts and music played a role in the school?

Cecil L.:

Not so much. That’s my disappointment. Everyone thought that Cecil Lytle was building a music school. I didn’t want to influence that, because the children are so far behind in basic skills. We started with 6th grade and students come and roughly reading at the 3rd grade level. So, Preuss School spends a lot of time in 6th grade and 7th grade bringing their skills up to what is the expected level, so by the 8th grade they are usually sailing through course work. That doesn’t leave much time for music or athletics, unfortunately. There is a choir, there is a small orchestra, but not individual lessons. No, I didn’t emphasize the arts in the curriculum although everyone thought at first I wanted to build a music school but… I wanted to build to acquire the basic academic skills so that they could decide what they want to do with their future. And a number of students have their own bands, they rehearse after school, but we don’t have a big fancy music program. And I think the pedagogical big idea was to individualize education as much as possible – -delivering education on a one-on-one relationship, that someone gets to know the student strengths. A great many of our 850 students are from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Spanish is the home language, however the youngsters are, essentially, illiterate in both Spanish and English; theirs is not academic Spanish. It tends to be a highly expressive, but crude, use of languages. Consequently, many classes in the early years are bilingual hoping to bring the youngster forward in their skills. It can be done, I think, with great determination on the past of the student, the teacher, and the family.

Jean-Charles F.:

I know someone who teaches kindergarten and first grade in California, in a neighborhood with a lot of emigrants from Mexico. Many years ago, he began teaching in a bilingual format, Spanish in the morning and English in the afternoon. But this program stopped because of regulations from the authorities who claimed it was a bad formula for the children. So everything is done in English now.

Cecil L.:

That’s bad!

Jean-Charles F.:

And he was very disappointed by this decision.

Cecil L.:

He should be. I heard that they are saving money. You have to have bi-lingual education in these situations in Southern California and many parts of the United States.

Jean-Charles F.:

It was not a question of saving money, as I understand, it was a question of imposing the English.

Cecil L.:

Yes. So there was two parts benefit for Right Wing ideology.

Nicolas S.:

You only talk about the successes achieved, were there any failures or more problematic aspects that you may have been able to solve?

Cecil L.:

How do you learn from that, yes. There is a very subtle point to be made in terms of possible regret. I think there is a subtle regret– and this happened to me, and I did not handle it very well. I remember one incident when I was about 16 year-old in high school. My mother asked, “Oh, aren’t you going to play your Debussy for the church women’s club?” And I said something like: “Oh, I don’t want to play for those people.” I thought I was pretty slick! By then, I was taking piano lessons from a Julliard teacher and fully ensconced in high art and I forgot where I came from. She slapped me, I was seventeen, she slapped me. She sternly said: “I am one of those people.” My mother was a poor women from Florida with very little education, but she always knew the value of education. We were at that moment both learning about the class distance such education can create if you’re not careful. It was years later before I figured out the crime I had committed. I realized what I’d done, and I was becoming for her an enemy, I was becoming an aristocrat, I was becoming elite, I was becoming one of people always trying to evict us from housing.

So I think one of my regrets or fears about these schools is that we may be making them the enemy of their families if we are not careful. How do you do that? In many cases, their grandmothers only speak Spanish poorly, and this youngster is reading Shakespeare and planning to go to Harvard. This collision may be handled carefully and individually. Each family has to be warned about the turmoil associated with class distinctions and behaviors; and, how to avoid them. Teachers and counselors talk with families about what may be coming, but we cannot go home with them and explain to the grandmother why the granddaughter wants to vote Republican [laugh] or something. We don’t give them as much transitional support as we wish we could. This is especially concerning with young Latinas. The family (usually the father) wants his daughter to be successful in America. But after receiving good grades and scoring high on standardized tests, he doesn’t want the girl to go away to college. We have had a number of examples of very successful students who were admitted to schools like Harvard with full scholarship, and dad says “no, you stay home, you go to school closer to home.” It kind of breaks your heart, but I understand that this is too much of a change. And many of these families have three generations, four generations living in the house: grandma, the parents the child, and may be a baby. So this clash of traditions, of generations, and values, change is real. If Preuss School is successful, we run the risk of helping to create the enemy of the family, we are creating the future landlords that will evict people in their same circumstance, we may be creating the future police chief, the future lawyer. So, I don’t know if this is a failure, but something we need to pay attention to in the evolving life of the child and family. It was my lesson, I had to learn on a cold wintry day in our kitchen. So, I don’t know if this qualify exactly as a failure, but something, for sure. In one generation, changing the trajectory of the family, a family that is poor for at least 6 generations within subsistence living on the dredge. And suddenly in one generation the kid is going to UCLA, UC San Diego, and the child is under stress, taking care of grandmother in Spanish, and to read Shakespeare. Or playing Debussy. And so that’s something we never fully address, and may be cannot be addressed fully.

Nicolas S.:

I also have a question about the construction of the Preuss School building, did you have the opportunity to choose the location of the spaces, the walls, the architecture, etc.? Did you make a special effort to change the standard format – in France schools are often referred to as army barracks?

Cecil L.:

Oh! Army barracks! Well, may be! Preuss School is quite beautiful with plenty of open spaces. We told the architect, education is going to happen in the classroom. But because we live in Southern California, a great deal of education will happen outside the classroom, because in California it is warm weather. So they were told to give us a plan that has classrooms and give us a plan that there can be space outside where the tutors and the students can meet under the supervision of nearby teachers. What they came up with was pretty clever, actually. Preuss School is designed on a 5-finger patter, with a central administration building here (hand gestures) and in between each building are courtyards with little tables so that tutors can meet their student to go over the class assignments together. Consequently, supervised education happens inside and outside the classroom, and even on the sports fields.

The first Saturday of every months is for parents’ meeting – we have 300 parents attend. That number is unheard in American schools – may be you get four parents, five parents, but 300! Now Gompers, we inherited a school that has been in the ghetto for nearly half a century. Once we were able to secure the campus, we took down most of the interior courtyard walls, and created quiet rooms for tutors and students. But we cannot tear buildings down and start anew. Gompers has added a new family counseling building and a gymnasium for sports. And the gymnasium is open to the community in the evening, so that families can come do sports in a fitness center. We’ve tried to make Gompers Charter School a part of the community, not close it up nights and weekends. There are still security issues. We have armed policeman on the campus. Unlike Preuss School, Gompers survives in a pretty tough neighborhood.

Nicolas S.:

And public police provides security guards?

Cecil L.:

We hire our own private police and train them properly about how to react. We have an agreement with the City police to not come on campus, unless they are called. This works pretty well. It is the case, unfortunately, when public police arrive, they quell the problem and sometime make it worst. So we stopped that, and now security works with the city police. No one likes to see the police come. The security guards are from the community, they know these people, they go to church with them, it is a little more friendly. Two or three of them are armed, the others are just walking around. But their purpose is to keep people out, that’s it. Because the students are not making trouble. I’ve talked a lot about the schools, I know if it is music or what you want to talk about?

 

6. The Walls and Musical Practices

Jean-Charles F.:

Well, may be, a last question will be – to go back to music – what walls do you see today in the field of practicing music?

Cecil L.:

You mentioned John Zorn and George Lewis. People like that have been at the front of what music is going to become, it is not big yet. People who have lots of taste, attitudes, ways of doing things, the too serious pianist, the athlete who plays Chopin Etudes like nobody’s business, I think it is about over. Do you feel that way? People lament the dying orchestra, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Why should there be a dozen orchestras in New York? One pretty good one is OK. The writing is on the wall already: audiences are getting older. People hate me if I say that but if it is dying out of disinterest, it is kind of a fossil, prehistoric fossil. So, will orchestras be around 100 years – there will be a few of them– they are very expensive and the repertoire they play is very limited, about 25 different works played all year all around the country. I mean these are wonderful pieces, I love them, I play them, but is that institution viable? I don’t think it is, and I don’t think its death is a terrible…

Jean-Charles F.:

I agree completely.

Cecil L.:

What is going to linger around, I think, are the problems you were telling me about starting this school. More evidence that powerful people are oriented towards the traditions and if you do something new, or have a different way of doing something old, they are not going to support you, they are going to give you a hard time. So when you were telling me about your fight to start this school, I know what you are talking about. But you have to enjoy the fight or else they will overwhelm you and your efforts. So, I don’t think it is a terrible idea. I think people like you, George Lewis in particular, are really exciting and challenging to watch. I’m especially excited about trumpeter/improvisor, Stephanie Richards, new to the music faculty at UCSD – really exciting. It is going to be difficult, but what I hope is that, if the institutions consolidate, the money that goes into supporting the 20 orchestras in New York, get redistributed somehow. I think that one of the unintended benefits of personalized technology in the past quarter of a century is that individual artists are finding ways around the music industry and can represent and present themselves at low cost. Subsidize yourself is the motto. And I don’t think that this is purely an American phenomenon. Artists in Europe and elsewhere are becoming known without the heavy packaging of agents or concert halls. I continue to think, however, that we cannot abandon the “institutions” to the lowest artistic denominator. So there is a tension to what I profess. In time, I hope, the individualized promotion approach will sufficiently coerce the pillars of arts and culture in society to rethink the public. The La Jolla Symphony, for instance is doing some interesting stuff: commissioning new works for large ensemble. The pieces are not always successful, but neither were the 700,000 sonatas printed between 1700-1900.

Jean-Charles F.:

Well, thank you very much.

Cecil L.:

Thanks. It gives me chance to think about stuff.

Nicolas S.:

Good continuation!

 


1. Cefedem AuRA [Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes] is a Center created in 1990 by the Ministry of Culture devoted to music teachers training (for music schools). It is a center for professional ressources and artistic higher education in music. See https://www.cefedem-aura.org

3. See for example the groups Naessayé and the recording Oté la sere in 1991, or Cyclon of the recording Maloggae in 1993. And for the seggae (séga and reggae), See for example, Kaya et Ras Natty Baby and the Natty Rebels.

5. See Sara Johnson, The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). This book is an interdisciplinary study that explores how peoples responded to the collapse and reconsolidation of colonial life following the Haitian Revolution (1791-1845). The book is based on expressions related to the trans-colonial political situation of blacks, both aesthetically and experientially, in countries such as Hispaniola, Louisiana, Jamaica and Cuba.

Reinhard Gagel

Accéder à la traduction en français : Rencontre avec Reinhard Gagel

 


Encounter between Reinhard Gagel and
Jean-Charles François

Berlin, June 29, 2018

 

Reinhard Gagel Reinhard Gagel is a visual artist, pianist, improviser, researcher and pedagogue who is associated with the Exploratorium Berlin, a center in existence since 2004 dedicated to improvisation and its pedagogy, which organizes concerts, colloquia and workshops (he retired in March 2020). He works in Berlin, Cologne and Vienna. This interview took place (in English) in June 2018 at the Exploratorium Berlin. (www.exploratorium-berlin.de) in June 2018. It was recorded, transcribed and edited by Jean-Charles François.

 


Summary :

1. Transcultural Encounters
2. Improvisation Practices across the Arts
3. Pedagogy of Improvisation, Idioms, Timbre


1. Transcultural Encounters

Jean-Charles F.:

I think that today many people work in different environments with professional, artistic, sentimental, philosophical, political (etc.) identities that are incompatible with each other. The language that should be used in one context is not at all appropriate for another context. Many artists occupy, without too many problems, functions in two or more antagonistic fields. Many teach and give concerts at the same time. The antagonisms are between art teaching circles and those of artistic production on stage, or between the circles of interpretation of written scores and those of improvisation, or between music conservatories and musicology departments in universities. The discourses on both sides are often ironic and unlikely to degenerate into major conflicts. Nevertheless, they correspond to deep convictions, such as the belief that practice is far superior to theory, or vice versa: many musicians think that any reflexive thinking is a waste of time taken from the time that should be devoted to the practice of the instrument.

Reinhard G.:

There is also a tradition here in Germany that consider it old fashioned to work in both pedagogy and improvisation. At the Exploratorium (in Berlin), for years and years all the musicians in Berlin said that the Exploratorium was only a pedagogical institute. This is really changing: for example, our concerts include musicians who are also scholars. There was a problem between the academic world and the world of practicing musicians, and I think that these boundaries are being erased a little bit, in order to be able to develop exchanges. The type of symposium I am organizing – you attended the first one – is a first step in this direction. The musicians who are invited are also researchers, pedagogues, teachers. But in Germany, our discussions are mainly focused on the constant interaction between theory and musical practice. This is my modest contribution to trying to overcome the problem that exists in many of the colloquia in which we participate: that’s there’s only talk talk talk, endless speeches, successions of paper presentations and little that really relates to musical practice. Your action with PaaLabRes seems to go in the same direction: to bring together the different aspects of the artistic world.

Jean-Charles F.:

To bridge the gaps. That is to say to have in the Editions of our digital space a mixture of academic and non-academic texts and to accompany them with artistic productions, with artistic forms that, thanks to digital technology, mix different genres.

Reinhard G.:

In your Editions you use French and English?

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes and no. We really try to concentrate on the French public who often still have difficulty reading English. Translating important texts written in English and still little known in France seems very important to me, this was the case with the texts of George Lewis, David Gutkin and Christopher Williams. Unfortunately, we do not have the possibility to translate texts written in German. We are in the process of developing a bilingual English-French version of the first edition.

Reinhard G.:

I have the feeling that your publication is interesting, even though I didn’t have much time to read it in detail. I find the theme of the next edition “Break down the walls” really important. My next symposium at the Exploratorium in January (2019) is going to be on “Improvising with the strange (and with strangers), Transitions between cultures through (free) improvisation?” I invited Sandeep Bhagwati, a musician, composer, improvisator and researcher, who works at an university in Canada and lives in Berlin. He belongs to at least two cultures, and he has created an ensemble here in Berlin that tries to combine elements from lots of different cultures to produce a new mixture. It’s not like so-called “world music” or inter-cultural music or anything like that – I think they’re trying to find a really new sound. This should be built from all the musical sources of the musicians who make up the ensemble and who all come from different cultures. I invited him to give a concert and to present the keyword address of the symposium. The last symposium was about “multi-mindedness.” This term is said to come from Evan Parker, and it refers to the problem of how a large group of musicians organizes itself while playing together. Some musicians use methods of self-organization, others use conducting in various forms. For example, my Offhandopera brings a lot of people together to create an opera in real time, with moderate conducting. The symposium has led to a good exchange and the new edition of Improfil[1] (2019) will be devoted to these issues.

Jean-Charles F.:

A first reaction to what you have just said might be to ask how this idea of trans-culturalism is different from Debussy’s approach, which takes the Indonesian gamelan as a model for certain pieces. There are, for example, many composers who use other cultures from around the world as inspiration for their own creations. Sometimes they mix in their pieces, traditional musicians with classically trained musicians. The question that can be asked in the face of these sympathetic attempts is that of the return match: to put the musicians of European classical music in their turn in situations of discomfort by confronting themselves with the practices and conceptions of other traditional music. It is not just a question of treating the musical material of particular cultures in a certain way, but of confronting the realities of their respective practices. In Lyon within the framework of the Cefedem AuRA[2] that I created and directed for seventeen years, and where from the year 2000 we developed a study program that brings together musicians from traditional music, amplified popular music, jazz and classical music. The main idea was to consider each cultural entity as having to be recognized within the entirety of its “walls” – we have often used the term “house” – and that their methods of evaluation had to correspond to their modes of operation. But at the same time, the walls of musical genres had to be recognized by all as corresponding to values as such, to necessities indispensable to their existence.

Reinhard G.:

For their identity.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, but we have also organized the curriculum so that all students in the four domains should also be required to work together on concrete projects. The idea was to avoid the situation where, as in many institutions, the musical genres are recognized as worthy of being present, but separated in disciplines that communicate only very rarely, and even less allow things to take place together. There are many examples where a teacher tells the students not to go and see those who make other types of music.

Reinhard G.:

It is typical of what happens often in musical education.

Jean-Charles F.:

In fact, this also happens a lot in higher education. The question also arises in a very problematic way with regard to the absence of minorities from popular neighborhoods in France in conservatories: the actions carried out to improve recruitment can often be considered as neo-colonialist in nature, or on the contrary are based on the preconception that only the practices already existing in these neighborhoods definitively define the people who live there. How to break down the walls?

Reinhard G.:

This fits my ideas quite well:

    1. My first idea was to say that improvised music is typically European music – free improvisation – there are for example differences in practice between England and Germany. British musicians have a different way of playing. Nevertheless, there is a communality. Whether it is a common language, is a question that I ask myself, I don’t have a ready-made theory on the subject. On the one hand there are the characteristics linked to a country or a group of musicians, but on the other hand there are many possibilities to meet in open formats, as for example at the CEPI[3] last year. If I play with someone sharing the same space, I don’t have the impression that he/she is an Italian musician. Nevertheless, she/he is Italian and there is a tradition of improvisation specific to Italy.
    2. But the next idea that came to my mind was that of Peter Kowald – do you know him? – the double bass player from Wuppertal who had the idea of the global village. His idea was to find out in practice whether there is a common musical language between the cultures. He coined the term « Global Village » for improvisation and he brought together musicians of different origins.(See the article in the present edition: Christoph Irmer, We are all strangers to ourselves .)
    3. And the third idea that motivates me concerns things that I see as very important in the actual political situation: the scientific research concerning the encounter between different cultures. In Franziska Schroeder’s book Soundweaving: Writings on Improvisation[4] there is a report written by a Swedish musician, Henrik Frisk, on a research project about a musical group that tried to grow together with two Vietnamese and two Swedish musicians. He describes in his text the difficulties they had to overcome: for example, you cannot just say “OK, let’s play together” but you have also to try to understand the culture of the other, that is the strangeness that despite everything exists. So, they provide a good example. The Swedish musicians went to Vietnam and the Vietnamese musicians went to Sweden. And they tried to stand in the middle between the two cultures: what is the tradition of Vietnamese music, what could they do or not, and so on… They meet each other to work together and play. And that was the basis of my idea to organize the next symposium in January with musicians and researchers, and I found Sandeep who I think is very aware of these issues: for him it’s an essential aspect of his project. He told me that he is not talking about trans-culturalism, but about trans-traditionalism. Because, he says – it’s the same as what Frisk says – a culture always has a tradition and you have to know that tradition, your culture can’t be all that matters, but tradition is what’s most important. And I’m very curious to know what he is going to say and what we will learn from the debate that will follow.
Jean-Charles F.:

And at the Exploratorium, how is addressed the question of the public and the difficulties of bringing in specific social groups?

Reinhard G.:

For the past year we have been developing a project called « Intercultural music pool ». And there are questions in Germany and in Europe today concerning refugees and borders, the question of bringing in only a few and not too many; and on top of that the question of terrorism and invasion and all that. In this situation, in Germany, we are moving in both directions: on the one hand, official political decisions and, on the other, local initiatives that try to integrate emigrants. So, we decided to develop an integration project so that people from other countries can play with musicians who have been living in Germany for a long time. And there are examples of choirs that exist in Berlin where people and refugees sing together. Matthias Schwabe[5] and I accompanied this project from the theoretical point of view, with the papers and other necessary formalities. This project has been in place for a year but with no refugees participating. In this ensemble, there are two musicians who come from Spain, but this is not at all what we hoped for. Certain musicians came and said that it could be possible to do it with improvisation; improvisation is a link to bring people together. I don’t know how we’re going to continue, but for now it’s a fact: we tried to make this project public, but they didn’t come. Therefore, I think we need to ask ourselves questions given this failure on inter-culturalism and trans-culturalism. And for me the question is whether improvisation is really the link, the bridge that fits? For example, it is perhaps more important for me to learn a Syrian song than to improvise with someone from that country. I will ask the musician leading this « intercultural musical group » to make an assessment of these experiences. We have not yet carried out the evaluation of this action, but it seems important to do so before the symposium. Here are the questions we are facing: is improvisation really an activity that involves a common language? No, I think it may not be the case.

 

2. Improvisation Practices across the Arts

Jean-Charles F.:

Well, very often I also ask myself this question: why, if improvisation is free, why does the sound result most of the time fit into what is characterized as contemporary music from a classical and European point of view? And one way of thinking about this state of affairs in a theoretical way is to say that improvisation, historically, appeared as an alternative, at the time when structuralism dominated the music of the 1950s-60s. The alternative consisted of simply inverting the terms: since structuralist music was then presented as written on a score, and moreover was written in every detail, then one had to invert the terms and play without any notation at all. And since structuralist music had developed the idea that ideally every piece of music should have its own language, then it was absolutely necessary to develop the notion of non-idiomatic music, which obviously does not exist. And since all structuralist scores were written for well-defined instrumental sounds in treatises, then ideally all these sounds should be eliminated in favor of an instrumental production belonging only to the one who created it. You can continue to invert all the important things of the structuralist culture of the time. But to invert all the terms we risk depending only on the culture of reference, and to change nothing fundamentally. On the other hand, and this is a paradox, what free improvisation has not failed to preserve is particularly interesting: its artistic productions have remained « on stage » in front of an audience. Outside the stage, music does not exist. This is a legacy of the Romantic West that is difficult to get rid of. As a result, it can be said that free improvisation developed strategies to prolong the tradition of European learned culture while claiming that it did exactly the opposite!

Reinhard G.:

I think it’s important to emphasize that it’s not just about looking at improvisation as such, but all the things that improvisation includes. I agree with you about romanticism, improvisation on stage and the idea of inspiration on the moment, the idea of momentum, of waiting for genius moments. For me, everybody in the world of improvised music talks about the quality, good or bad, of improvisations and the inspiration of the moment, the momentum in jazz, these are important things that do not only concern the practice of improvisation. I discovered through you the works of Michel de Certeau and I am reading a lot about collectivism and its applications in collective performances and performance theory: this theory tries to reflect about the way to show something, and it’s not only to have music on stage. But it’s possible to think about things outside of just the music on stage: you can go and perform outside the concert hall and mix audience and the musicians together and find new forms of performance of dance and music. I kind of like this idea of saying that improvisation is not just about these genius things, but it’s really a common thing; it’s a way of making music; it’s elementary, you have to make music that way. So, I meet a person and we make sounds together, and if someone says, “Okay, I have a song,” then let’s sing it together, and if I don’t know that song, we’ll just play one strophe or a phrase or something like that. I also think that the concept of quality is also a Western idea, this perfection in performance…

Jean-Charles F.:

Excellence!

Reinhard G.:

Let’s stop saying that it’s necessary to organize concerts, but let’s rather say that it’s necessary to invest in places where it’s possible to play, that’s what interests me. The Exploratorium is going a little bit in this direction: we organize open stages where people can play together, and so people are invited to produce music by themselves. It’s not about doing something that someone tells them to do, but it’s “let’s do it together”. So, I think it’s necessary to think about improvisation not only in terms of what constitutes its central core, at the heart of the music, may be not only in the core constituted by the interactions together, but also in the core of concerts and situations. That seems interesting to me. For example, the game of “pétanque” organized in France by Barre Phillips[6]: it was a bit like this idea of putting something in common, not for an audience, but for ourselves. And today, we meet before we play together in a concert[7] and not only on the day of the concert.

Jean-Charles F.:

Right.

Reinhard G.:

Here’s what could happen: it was my idea to invite you to do a concert, but it would be very interesting to do a rehearsal before the concert. I’d like to do that in addition to playing at the concert and trying things out and being able to talk about them. For me this is as important as doing concerts. It goes hand in hand with the idea of coming and going, finding things, allowing yourself to get out of the cage, getting out a little bit of the cage of improvisation limited to musical things, dealing with issues of idioms, interactions, looking at other aspects…

Jean-Charles F.:

With PaaLabRes, we have been developing for two years a project to bring together practices between dancers and musicians at the Ramdam[8] near Lyon, notably with members of the Compagnie Maguy Marin. This project was also based on the idea of bringing together two different cultures (dance and music) and trying more or less to develop materials in common, the musicians having to do body movements (in addition to sounds), the dancers producing sounds (in addition to dance movements). Improvisation here was a way to bring us together on a basis of equality. Indeed, what improvisation allows is to put the participants in full responsibility towards the other members of the group and to guarantee a democratic functioning. This did not mean that there was an absence of situations in which a particular person assumed for a moment to be the exclusive leader of the group. At the Exploratorium what about the interactions between artistic domains, do you have any actions that go in this direction?

Reinhard G.:

Yes, I am also a visual artist. Since last year I have had a new studio – on the countryside – which I use as my atelier: I can create in a continuity my music and my visual works together, and in October (2018), me and a musician and a poet will play a performance of my paintings. As far as other art forms are concerned, the question of improvisation is not the most important thing. In the visual arts, I think that there is no reflection on the questions of improvisation.

Jean-Charles F.:

In our project with dance, at some point last year, Christian Lhopital[9], a visual artist joined us. If you are going to look at the second edition on the PaaLabRes website, the map that gives access to the various contents is a reproduction of one of his paintings. He came to participate in a session of encounter between dance and music. At first, he hesitated, he said: “What am I going to do?” Then he said, “OK, I’ll come in the morning from 10:00 to 12:00 and I’ll observe”. The session started as usual with a warm-up that lasted almost two hours, it’s quite a fascinating experience, because the warm-up is completely directed at the beginning by a person from the dance who gradually organizes very rich interactions between all the participants and it ends in a situation very close to improvisation as such. We start with very precise stretching exercises, then directed actions in duet, trio or quartet, and little by little in continuity it becomes more and more free. Well, after a few minutes, Christian came to join the group, because in a warm-up no one is afraid of being ridiculous, because the goal is not to produce something original. And then after that he stayed with us all weekend and took part in the improvisations with his own means in his artistic domain.

Reinhard G.:

This is something very important. For example, if you say or think: “when I make music, I have to be completely present, concentrated, and ready to play”, then the music doesn’t necessarily materialize in the action. If you think, “Okay, I’ll try this or that” [he plays with objects on the table, glasses, pencils, etc.] and it produces sounds and there’s no pretense that it’s music, that music only functions when it is recorded, or it is just on stage, or if you listen to it in perfectly made recordings. This can become a completely different way of practicing music. In Western music, I think, historically in the 17/18th centuries musicians were composers and practicing musicians (also improvisers); it was a culture of sharing musical practice, of common playing: there was Karl-Philip Emmanuel Bach and the idea of the Fantasy and meeting to play at dawn, with the expression of feelings and with tears, and these were very important events for them. Later, I think, we developed the idea that we had to learn to play the instruments before we could really play them to produce music.

Jean-Charles F.:

Specialization.

Reinhard G.:

Yes, specialization.

Jean-Charles F.:

And to continue this story, Christian participated in the improvisation process by using the stage as if it were a canvas to draw on by using paper cut-outs and drawing things on them as the improvisations unfolded.

Reinhard G.:

I would like to see this, where can I find this information?

Jean-Charles F.:

At the moment this is not available, it might become possible in the future.

Reinhard G.:

OK.

Jean-Charles F.:

You said earlier that visual artists don’t talk much about improvisation.

Reinhard G.:

This may be a prejudice on my part.

Jean-Charles F.:

It’s quite true though, Christian Lhopital, the artist in Lyon had never done it before. We met the American trumpeter Rob Mazurek[10], who is an improviser but also a visual artist. He produces three-dimensional paintings that serve as musical scores. The relationship between musical practices and the production of visual art is not obvious.

Reinhard G.:

Yes, it’s more a question of going into a trance through different media, and I think that with music and dance things are more obvious because it’s done in continuity over time and you can find combinations in the various ways to move the body and to produce sounds on the instruments. But let’s take for example literature, improvisation in literature. That would be something very interesting to do.

Jean-Charles F.:

There is improvised poetry, like slam.

Reinhard G.:

The slam, OK.

Jean-Charles F.:

Slam is often improvised. And there are improvised traditional poetic forms. For example, Denis Laborde wrote a book on improvised poetry practices in the Basque Country[11] in a competitive logic – as in sports – by improvising songs according to tradition and very precise rules: the audience decides who is the best singer. There are traditions where the literature is oral and is continuously renewed in a certain way.

Reinhard G.:

There are also singers who invent their text during improvisation.

Jean-Charles F.:

But my question was about what a center like the Exploratorium was doing in this area. Are there any experiments that have been carried out?

Reinhard G.:

Yes, one of the workshops is dedicated to this aspect of things, but it is not the main focus of our program.

Jean-Charles F.:

What is it about?

Reinhard G.:

She is a visual artist who makes pictures – I didn’t attend this workshop, I can’t say exactly what she does – but she gives materials to the participants, she gives them colors and other things, and she lets them develop their own ways of drawing or painting. She conducted this workshop in public during our Spring festival.

Jean-Charles F.:

But she does this with music?

Reinhard G.:

No. She doesn’t. I really don’t know why. Maybe it’s because that’s kind of the way we do things here, which is to say, “everybody does it their own way”. Ah! once we’ve moved to our new home, we’ll be more open to collaborations.

Jean-Charles F.:

And you also have dance here?

Reinhard G.:

Yes, we have dance.

Jean-Charles F.:

What are the relationships with music?

Reinhard G.:

It’s more in the field of live encounters on stage. There are three or four dancers who come with musicians for public performances, and there are open stages with music and movement, and last Thursday we had the “Fête de la musique” here. The performances that are given here often bring together dancers and musicians.

Jean-Charles F.:

But these are only informal meetings?

Reinhard G.:

Yes. Informal. Anna Barth[12], who is a colleague of mine and is working at the library with me, is a Butoh dancer. She has performed a lot with Matthias Schwabe in this very slow and concentrated way of moving, and they’ve done performances together. But that’s not one of our major focuses. Our work is concerned with free improvisation in all arts, but 90% of it is music. There is a little bit of theater-improvisation, but only a little bit. The Exploratorium is centered mainly on musical improvisation.

 

3. Pedagogy of Improvisation, Idioms, Timbre

Jean-Charles F.:

Are there any other topics you would like to share with us?

Reinhard G.:

Yes, there is a question I ask myself that has nothing to do with multiculturalism. I work in Vienna at the University of Music and Performing Arts with classical musicians on improvisation. They are students at the Institute for Chamber Music. I’ve only had two workshops with them. I only give them a minimum of instruction. For example: “Let’s play in a trio” and then I let them play, that’s how I start the workshop. And during this first improvisation, there are a lot of things they are able to play, and they do it, they don’t have problems like saying “OK! I don’t have any ideas and I don’t want to play”. They play and I invite them to do so. And they use everything they have learned to do well after fifteen years of study. My idea is that I don’t teach improvisation, but I try to let them express themselves through the music they know and are able to play, and this would mean that they have the resources to improvise, to make music not only by reproduction. They can be also inventors of music. And for them, it’s a surprise that it works so well. They’re present, they’re concentrated, and they have really good instrumental technique and what they’re doing sounds really interesting. The feeling expressed by all is that “it works!” So I’m thinking about a theory of improvisation which is not based on technique, but on something like memory, memory of all the things you have in your mind, in your brain, what you have embodied, and with all that you just have to give them the opportunity to express themselves by just allowing them to play what they want. And I think that if we lived in a culture where there would be more of this idea of playing and listening and where classical musicians would be allowed to improvise more often and to improve in improvised playing, we could develop a common culture of improvisation. I’ve been doing that for the past five or six years and I have many recordings with very amazing music. What I want to discuss with you is about these resources. What are the resources of improvisation? What does improvisation mean to you? I think it would be interesting to get a better idea of what a common idea of improvisation would be.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes. It’s a very complicated question. Historically, in my own background, I was very interested in the idea of the creative instrumentalist in the 1960s. The model at that time was Vinko Globokar and I was convinced that thirty years later there would no longer be composers as such, specialized, but rather kinds of musicians in the broadest sense of the term. But curiously at that time I didn’t believe that improvisation – especially free improvisation – was the way to go. In the group that performed at the American Center on Boulevard Raspail in Paris with Australian composer, pianist and conductor Keith Humble[13], we were thinking more in terms of making music that belonged to no one, “non-proprietary music”. We thought, for example, that Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke X – only clusters – was grandiose, except that clusters cannot belong only to Stockhausen. The concept of this piece, “play all possible clusters on a piano in a very large number of combinations” could very well be realized without referring to the detail of the score. So, we organized concerts based on collages of concepts contained in scores, but without specifically playing these scores.

Reinhard G.:

I can understand this, because for me too, the term collage is a very important thing.

Jean-Charles F.:

I left Paris for Australia in 1969, then San Diego, California in 1972. One of the reasons for this expatriation had been the experience in Paris of playing in many contemporary music ensembles with most of the time three or four rehearsals before each concert with musicians who were very skilled in sight-reading scores. One had the impression of always playing the same music from one ensemble to another. The musicians could produce the written notes very quickly, but at the cost of a standardized timbre. We had the impression of being in the presence of the same sounds, for me, the timbres were hopelessly gray. At the American Center, on the contrary, without the presence of any budget – it was not a “professional” situation – music was made with as many rehearsals as necessary to develop the sounds. It was a very interesting alternative situation. And that’s exactly what a research-oriented university in the United States could offer, where you had to spend at least half your time conducting research projects. There was a lot of time available to do things of your own choosing. And once again, some composers in this situation wanted to recreate the conditions of professional life in large European cities around a contemporary music ensemble: to play the notes very well as quickly as possible without worrying about the reality of the timbre. So, with trombonist John Silber we decided to start a project called KIVA[14], which we did not want to call “improvisation”, but rather “non-written music”. And so, as I described above, we simply inverted the terms of the contemporary ensemble model: in a negative way, our unique method was to forbid ourselves to play identifiable figures, melodies, rhythms, and in usual modes of communication. It was rather a question of playing together, but in parallel discourses superimposed without any desire to make them compatible. We would meet three times a week to play for an hour and a half and then listen without making comments to the recording of what had just happened. At first things were very chaotic, but after two years of this process we had developed a common language of timbres, a kind of living together in the same house in which small routines developed in the form of rituals.

Reinhard G.:

And what were the sources of this language, where did it come from?

Jean-Charles F.:

It was simply playing and listening to this playing three times a week and not having any communication or discussions that could positively influence our way of playing.

Reinhard G.:

Ah! You didn’t talk?

Jean-Charles F.:

Of course we were talking, but we felt that the discussion shouldn’t influence the way we played. But this process – and today it doesn’t seem possible anymore – was very slow, very chaotic, and at a certain moment a language emerged that no one else could really understand.

Reinhard G.:

…but you.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes. Composers in particular didn’t understand it because it was a disturbing alternative…

Reinhard G.:

But it wasn’t traditional music, but the music you had developed… Was it the experience of contemporary music that gave you the initial vocabulary?

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes of course, it was our common base. The negative inversion of the parameters as I have noted above does not fundamentally change the conditions of elaboration of the material, so the reference was still the great sum of contemporary practices since the 1950s. But at the same time, as Michel de Certeau noted when he was present on the San Diego campus, there was a relationship between our practices and the processes used by the mystics of the 17th century. It was a question for the mystics to find in their practices a way to detach themselves from their tradition and their techniques. It’s exactly the opposite of what you described, it’s a process in which the body has stored an incredible number of clichés, and good instrumentalists never think about their gestures when they play because they’ve become automatic. That’s what we’ve been trying to evolve into oblivion. You mentioned the idea of memory.

Reinhard G.:

Memory, yes.

Jean-Charles F.:

It was exactly another idea, to try to forget everything we had learned so that we could relearn something else. Of course, that’s not exactly how it happened, it’s a mythology that we developed. But for me it remains a fundamental process. The fear of classical musicians is to lose their technique, and of course whatever happens they will never lose it. In this process, I have never lost my ability to play classically, but it has been greatly enriched. The importance of this process is that through a journey to unknown lands, one can come back home and have a different conception of one’s technique.

Reinhard G.:

It’s a combination of new and old things?

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, so it is possible to work with classical musicians in situations where they have to leave their technique aside. And in the case of John Silber for example – he borrowed this idea from Globokar, and Ornette Coleman[15] had the same kind of experience – because our playing periods lasted for a very long time without interruptions, he got tired when he only played the trombone. So, he had decided to play another instrument as well, and he chose the violin, which he had never studied. He had to completely reinvent by himself a very personal technique of playing this instrument and he was able to produce sounds that nobody had produced until then.

Reinhard G.:

But the process through which these classical musicians I work with go through seems different to me: it’s a bit of another way of considering instrumental playing. If I tell them “play!” they don’t really try to play new things, but they recombine.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, what they know.

Reinhard G.:

They recombine what they know. But because they are in an ensemble situation, they can’t have control over it. There’s always someone who comes across what they’re doing. If they have expectations, there’s always someone who comes and disturbs them, and then you have to find a new way. And the interesting thing is that they are able to follow these crossings without getting irritated and saying “no, I can’t…” It’s a phenomenon where in many workshops, the participants first say “I can’t” and as soon as they start – a bit like the painter you mentioned – it works. And the question I ask myself is: is it a musical problem or is it a problem related to the situation? My main theory is that suddenly there’s a room and someone allows them to do something and they do it. And it’s interesting to note that they never do it on their own. They come to me and they play, and then they go outside, and they never do it again. There has to be a group and a space dedicated to this activity. There is a musician who came with his string quartet and they tried to improvise. Later he told me that they played an improvisation as an encore at a concert; but they didn’t announce that it was an improvisation but that it was written by a Chinese composer; and he said that the audience really liked that encore very much, and he was really surprised that it could happen like that. For me the problem seemed clear, because if they had announced that they were playing their own music, there would have been people who wouldn’t have wanted to listen to it. If you play Mozart, it’s because you’re playing something serious, there’s an effort to be made, and so on. So, the improvisation is more centered on the personality of the person doing it, and you enjoy yourself doing it, that’s a very interesting fact.

Jean-Charles F.:

It is said – I don’t know if this is really the case – that Beethoven playing the piano in concert improvised half the time and that the audience much preferred his improvisations over his compositions.

Reinhard G.:

It is really an interesting fact, yes.

Jean-Charles F.:

Was it like that because improvisations were structurally simpler?

Reinhard G.:

Now we are faced with two possible paths. The first leads us to an open field where we say to ourselves: “I don’t want to do what others have already done or are doing”. And the second one is to say: “I’m going to do an improvisation that won’t be a complete” – what do you call it? …

Jean-Charles F.:

An erasure, an oblivion.

Reinhard G.:

This is about “thinking about your ways in a new way” rather than looking for new a musical content; and so, it is not a very avant-garde posture. Yes, we produce music that is a bit polytonal, with polyrhythms, and harmonies that are a bit wrong, a bit like Shostakovich, etc. But for me the important thing is not to say: “we are going to create a completely new music”, but that the students can see the work session as improvisers. What they are able to do in this situation and the skills they can develop will help them to explore things for themselves: “it’s not something original that will define me, I’m only a little bit open to new things, but I love the music we produce together, I find it moves me completely.” This happens in a very direct way because they’re playing as persons and not as someone I would say, “please play me now from bar 10 to bar 12, in a wahhhhhhh [whispering loudly], you know how to do it.” But if they decide to do it on their own, then  it’s something completely different.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, but for me the essential question is the timbre, the qualities of the sound. Because there is an equation between structural music and others: the more emphasis is placed on the complexity of an established grammar, the less interesting the sound material is, and the more emphasis is placed on the complex quality of timbre, the less interest is placed on the complexity of syntactic structures. If we consider the European classical music of the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a long process in which instrumental playing becomes increasingly standardized, and the dominant instrumental model of this period is the piano. And so, the challenge is to create a lot of different kinds of music, but from the point of view of what is represented by the notation system, the notes and their durations, which can easily be realized on the equivalence of the keys of the keyboard. It is a matter of manipulating what is standardized in the notation system, the design of instruments and the techniques of sound production, in a non-standardized way and differentiated from one work to another. The structural approach in this case becomes very useful.[16] And of course a lot of experimentation has been done in this context with the looting of traditional music by transforming it into notes: of course, in this process we lose 99% of the values on which this music works. The equation is complicated because from the moment concrete and electronic music appear, a different cultural branch is set up, a different conception of sounds. And with popular music such as rock, the combination of notes is of no interest, because it is too simplistic and tends to be based on few chords, which makes this music more accessible. But what matters is the sound of the band, which is eminently complex. The musicians of these types of music spend a considerable amount of time working out in groups a sound that will constitute their identity, reinventing their instrumental playing based on what they identify in past recordings in order to dissociate themselves from them. Following this model many situations can be envisaged in improvisation workshops that put musicians in processes where they have to imitate what is really impossible to imitate in others, difficult situations, especially for musicians who are so efficient in reading notes. What happens when a clarinetist plays a certain sound and now with your own instrument, a piano for example, you have to imitate the sound that is produced in the most exact way?

Reinhard G.:

It is a question of timbre.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes. The world of electronics creates a universe of resonances. This is true even if we don’t use electronic means. But at the same time, you are completely right to think that the tradition of playing from the notes written on the score is still a very important factor in musical practices in our society.

Reinhard G.:

In Western society.

Jean-Charles F.:

A lot of good things can still be done in this context.

Reinhard G.:

You have a memory, and a pool, and an archive. I think – and this surprises me a lot, but that’s exactly how I see it – that improvisation doesn’t work with notes, but it functions with timbres. I call it musicalizing the sound. With the classical musician, you have a note, and then you have to musicalize it, you have to decode it.

Jean-Charles F.:

To put it in a context of reality.

Reinhard G.:

Exactly! Put it in a context, and then you bring it to sound. And when you turn the sign into sound, as a classical musician you are in the presence of a lot of fusion from sign to sound, using everything you’ve learned and everything that makes up the technique. The technique allows you to realize variations of dynamics, articulations and many other elements. This is the way they really learned to play. And now I’m going to take the notes out and ask them to keep making music. And that’s how I often start my workshops by asking them to play only one pitch. The seven or eight people who were at my workshop in Vienna last week, they did an improvisation on one pitch with the task of doing interesting things with that pitch. And it’s interesting because they have so many nuances at their disposal, and it sounds really very, very, well. And for me it’s the door that opens to improvisation, not to rush to many pitches, but to always start with things that are based on the sound qualities. If you look at the history of music, I think that humans who lived forty thousand years ago they had no language, but they had sounds [he starts singing].

Jean-Charles F.:

How do you know?

Reinhard G.:

I have a recording [laughter]. And I’ve done the following experiment with my students: do a spoken dialogue without using words [he gives an example with his voice], it works. They can’t tell you something specific, but the emotional idea is there. I think you’ll agree that the timbre of the spoken voice is really a very important thing, as Roland Barthes noted in The Grain of the Voice.[17] I agree with him. I try to get these classical musicians to improvise a little bit in their tradition, so they don’t create new things, to discover their instrument, but within their tradition.

Jean-Charles F.:

From the point of view of their representations.

Reinhard G.:

Yes exactly, and what came out of this workshop is very interesting.

Jean-Charles F.:

This is a very pedagogical way of doing things, otherwise the participants are lost.

Reinhard G.:

Yes, the program director in Vienna loves improvisation. I think what he likes about improvisation is that the students learn to get in touch with each other and with the issue of timbre production. For chamber music these are very important things. I’m not a perfect instrumentalist myself because I don’t spend thousands of hours in rehearsals, but I think I can work with that in my mind, I can really find a lot of artists working in music on scores that are interesting, it’s really very rich.

Jean-Charles F.:

In a string quartet, the four musicians have to work for hours on what is called the tuning of the instruments, which is actually a way of creating a group sound.

Reinhard G.:

That’s what I do with improvisation, I function in a way that is very close to this tradition. The tasks are often oriented towards intonation between musicians, but it’s not only about going in the direction of the perfect bow stroke, but also in the direction of the music. Well, I was very happy with this interview, which will feed into my writing. I would like to write a book on improvisation with classical musicians, but I don’t have the time, you know how life is…

Jean-Charles F.:

You have to be a retiree to have the time to do things! Thank you for taking the time to talk.

 


1. Improfil is a German journal [connected with the Exploratorium Berlin] concerning the theory and practice of musical improvisation and functions as a platform for professional exchange among artists, teachers and therapists, for whom the subject of improvisation is a main topic in their work. See https://exploratorium-berlin.de/en/home-2/

2. The Cefedem AuRA [Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes] is a center in existence since 1990, devoted to the training of music school instrumental, vocal and music theory teachers. It is a center for professional ressources and artistic higher education in music. It carries research in musical pedagogy and publishes a journal Enseigner la Musique. See https://www.cefedem-aura.org

3. CEPI, Centre Européen Pour l’Improvisation [European Improvisation Center] : “For me CEPI is a meeting point where improvising musicians, other practitioners of improvised performance-arts, scholars, thinkers, anyone who is active and/or curious about new forms and methods of doing can meet to exchange their ideas and experiences and also to participate together in the creative process, in short to improvise together.” Barre Phillips, 2020. See http://european.improvisation.center/home/about

4. Franziska Schroeder, Soundweaving : Writings on Improvisation, Cambridge, England : Cambridge Scholar Publishing. See the French translation of Henrik Frisk, “Improvisation and the Self: to listen to the other”, in the present edition of paalabres.org.: Henrik Frisk, L’improvisation et le moi.

5. Matthias Schwabe is the founder and director of Exploratorium Berlin.

6. During the CEPI meetings in Puget-Ville (in 2018 in particular), Barre Phillips proposed a game of “pétanque”, in which each team consisted of two ball throwers and one person who would improvise at the same time.

7. The encounter took place a day [July 2018] before a concert of improvisation at the Exploratorium Berlin with Jean-Charles François, Reinhard Gagel, Simon Rose and Christopher Williams.

8. RAMDAM, UN CENTRE D’ART [à Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon] is a place for working, a rather flexible place, open to a multiplicity of uses, with adjustable and transformable spaces according to the needs and constraints of the selected projects. Ramdam is place of residence of the Dance Compagnie Maguy Marin. See https://ramdamcda.org/information/ramdam-un-centre-d-art

9. Christian Lhopital is a French contemporary visual artist, born in 1953 in Lyon. He essentially produces drawings and sculptures. His work was presented at the Lyon Biennale: “Une terrible beauté est née”, by Victoria Noorthoorn, an ensemble of 59 drawings from different epochs (from 2002 through 2011) were presented in the form of a drawing cabinet. In June 2014,the Éditions Analogues in Arles have edited the book Ces rires et ces bruits bizarres, with a text by Marie de Brugerolle, illustated by photos, mural graphit powder drawings, sculptures, miniatures, from the serie « Fixe face silence ». https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Lhopital

10. Rob Mazurek is a multidisciplinary artist/abstractivist, with a focus on electro-acoustic composition, improvisation, performance, painting, sculpture, video, film, and installation, who spent much of his creative life in Chicago, and then Brazil. He currently lives and works in Marfa, Texas with his wife Britt Mazurek. See the known place “Constellation Scores” in the second edition of this site (paalabres.org) http://www.paalabres.org/partitions-graphiques/constellation-scores-powerpeinture/ Access to Constellation Scores. See https://www.robmazurek.com/about

11. Denis Laborde, La Mémoire et l’Instant. Les improvisations chantées du bertsulari basque, Bayonne, Saint-Sébastien, Ed. Elkar, 2005.

12. Anna Barth is a freelance dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the DanceArt Laboratory Berlin. She studied Modern Dance, Improvisation and Composition at the Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis Dance Lab in New York City and Butoh Dance for several years with renowned co-founder and master of Butoh Dance, Kazuo Ohno and his son Yoshito Ohno in Japan. https://www.annabarth.de/en/bio.html

13. Keith Humble was an Australian composer (1927-1995), conductor and pianist who saw these three activities in continuity with a practice that resembled the function of the musician before the advent of the professional composer in the 19th and 20th centuries. During the 1950s and 1960s, he lived in France. He was the assistant to René Leibowitz and in 1959, at the American Centre for Students and Artists, he established the ‘Centre de Musique,’ a ‘performance workshop’ dedicated to the presentation and discussion of new music. It is in this context that Jean-Charles François met him. He continued to work with him until 1995. See http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/humble-leslie-keith-30063

14. KIVA, 2 CD, Pogus Produce, New York. Recordings 1985-1991, with Jean-Charles François, percussion, Keith Humble, piano, Eric Lyon, computer vocoder manipulations, Mary Oliver, violon and viola, John Silber, trombone.

15. See Henrik Frisk article, op. cit. in the present edition: Henrik Frisk, L’mprovisation et le moi.

16. See Jean-Charles François, Percussion et musique contemporaine, chapter 2, « Contrôle direct ou indirect de la qualité des sons », Paris : Editions Klincksieck, 1991.

17. Roland Barthes, « Le grain de la voix », Musique enjeu 9 (1972).

Edges, Fringes, Margins

Retour au texte original en français : Lisières

 


 

Edges – Fringes – Margins

Collage

 

On April 26, 2019 a meeting took place in Lyon between György Kurtag (composer and improvisator visiting from Bordeaux), Yves Favier (then technical director at ENSATT in Lyon), and the members of the PaaLabRes collective, Jean-Charles François, Gilles Laval and Nicolas Sidoroff. The format of this meeting was to alternate moments of musical improvisation with discussions about the different participants’ backgrounds.

Following this meeting, we decided to develop a kind of “cadavre exquis” [game of consequences] around the concept of “edges”, each of the participants writing more or less fragmented texts in reaction to the writings that were accumulating little by little. In addition, the five people were also allowed to propose quotations from various authors in connection with this idea of edges, fringes or margins. It is this process that gave rise in the Grand Collage (the river) of this edition “Faire tomber les murs” to 10 collages (L.1 – L.10) of these texts accompanied by music, recorded voices and images, with in particular extracts from the recording of our improvisations made during the meeting of April 26, 2019. You will find below all the texts.


 

Direct access to the texts of the authors included in the collage:

Collectif de la semaine d’occupation du CDNC Le Pacifique
Définitions 1               Définitions 2               Définitions 3
Aleks Dupraz 1                             Aleks Dupraz 2
Yves Favier 1    Yves Favier 2   Yves Favier 3   Yves Favier 4   Yves Favier 5
Gustave Flaubert
Jean-Charles François 1      Jean-Charles François 2      Jean-Charles François 3
Edouard Glissant 1    Edouard Glissant 2    Edouard Glissant 3    Edouard Glissant 4
Emmanuel Hocquard 1                  Emmanuel Hocquard 2
Tom Ingold 1                                                                                   Tom Ingold 2
György Kurtag 1     György Kurtag 2
François Laplantine et Alexis Nouss 1                     François Laplantine et Alexis Nouss 2
Gilles Laval
Michel Lebreton 1                                  Michel Lebreton 2
Jean-Luc Nancy
Nicolas Sidoroff 1     Nicolas Sidoroff 2      Nicolas Sidoroff 3     Nicolas Sidoroff 4
Dominique Sorrente

 


 

Emmanuel Hocquard :

The edge is a strip, a list, a margin (not a line) between two milieus of different nature, which have something of the nature of two entities without being confused with any of them. The edge has its own life, its autonomy, its specificity, its fauna, flora, etc. The edge of a forest, the fringe between sea and land (estran), a hedge, etc.

dans la cour       platanes cinq

 dans la cour                          platanes cinq

dans la cour                 platanes cinq

(Le cours de Pise, Paris : P.O.L., 2018, p. 61)

 

Yves Favier :

Evidently the notion of “Edge” or “Fringe” is the one that tickles the most (the best?) especially when it is determined as an « autonomous zone between 2 territories », moving and indeterminate musical zones, yet identifiable.
They are not for me “no man’s (women’s) land”, but rather transition zones between two (or more) environments…
In ecology, these singular zones are called “ecotones”, zones that shelter both species and communities of the different environments that border them, but also particular communities that are specific to them. (Here we touch on two concepts: Guattari’s “Ecosophy”, where everything holds together, and Deleuze’s “Hecceity = Event.”

 

Définitions : Lisières – subst. fém.

Étymol. et Hist. 1. 1244 « bord qui limite de chaque côté d’une pièce d’étoffe » (Doc. ds Fagniez t. 1, p. 151); 2. a) 1521 « frontière d’un pays » (Doc. ds Papiers d’État de Granvelle, t. 1, p. 185); b) 1606 « bord d’un terrain » (Nicot); c) 1767-68 fig. « ce qui est à la limite de quelque chose » (Diderot, Salon de 1767, p. 195); 3. a) 1680 « bandes attachées au vêtement d’un enfant pour le soutenir quand il commence à marcher » (Rich.); b) 1752 mener (qqn) par la lisière « conduire (quelqu’un) comme on mène un enfant » (Trév.); c) 1798 mener (qqn) en lisière « exercer une tutelle sur (quelqu’un) » (Ac.); 1829 tenir en lisière « id. » (M. de Guérin, loc. cit.); 4. 1830 chaussons de lisière (La Mode, janv. ds Quem. DDL t. 16). Orig. incertaine. Peut-être dér. de l’a. b. frq. *lisa « ornière », que l’on suppose d’apr. le lituanien lysẽ « plate-bande (d’un jardin) » et l’a. prussien lyso « id. (d’un champ) ». Cette forme *lisa a dû exister à côté de l’a. b. frq. *laiso, de la même famille que l’all. Gleis, Geleise « voie ferrée, ornière »; cf. a. h. all. waganleisa « ornière »; cf. aussi le norm. alise « ornière »; alisée « id. » (v. REW et FEW t. 16, p. 468b). L’hyp. du FEW t. 5, pp. 313b-314a, qui dérive lisière du subst. masc. lis (du lat. licium « lisière d’étoffe »), est peu probable, ce dernier étant plus récent que lisière (1380, « grosses dents aux extrémités d’un peigne de tisserand », Ordonnances des rois de France, t. 6, p. 473, v. aussi note b; puis, au xviiies., au sens de « lisière d’une étoffe », v. FEW t. 5, p. 312b).
http://www.cnrtl.fr/etymologie/lisi%C3%A8re

30216f8257_50035274_lisiere-prairie-foret-inoteb-cc-nc-nd-2
futura-science

 

György Kurtag

[He quotes here Pr. André Haynal, psychiatrist, psychanalyst, emeritus professor at Genève University, concerning the book by Daniel N. Stern, Le moment présent en psychothérapie : un monde dans un grain de sable, Paris : Éditions Odile Jacob, 2003.
https://www.cairn.info/revue-le-carnet-psy-2004-2-page-11.htm]

“More spectacular is the emergence of ‘urgent moments’ that produce ‘moments of encounter’.

Stern emphasizes experience and not meaning, although the latter, and thus the dimension of language, plays an important role. For him, present moments occur in parallel with the language exchange during the séance. The two reinforce and influence each other in turn. The importance of language and explicitness is therefore not called into question, although Stern wants to focus on direct and implicit experience.”

 

Yves Favier :

These edges between meadow, lake and forest are home to prairie species that prefer darker and cooler environments, others more aquatic ones, and forest species that prefer light and warmth.

Isn’t this the case in improvisation?…

a6092a5e02_50035279_ripisylve-ecotone-jantyp-wikimedia-cc-3

Aleks Dupraz :

In my writings, the notion of “edge” or “fringe” is gradually replacing that of “margin”, which is very much used by sociology and is frequent in the alternative spheres of art and politics. Even though we know that “the margin” is always in interaction – if only in the imaginary – with its opposite (the center where the centrifugal force of norms may seem at its highest level, which seems debatable insofar as the proximity of power places also confers a certain freedom as to the application, alteration and production of norms), the notion of “edge” carries within it the possibility of another displacement that is no longer simply that of the relationship between “a center” and “its periphery”. Being on the edge of the University is already being on the frontier of other worlds, and perhaps this opens up possibilities for me to think about my life experience and my approach differently than through the sole prism of the tension at work in a process of identity construction that would relate mainly to the university institution and its norms.

 

François Laplantine and Alexis Nouss :

The thought of the between and the in-between is linked to crossbreeding, because attention to the interstice makes us realize that we cannot be both at the same time but alternatively, as in Frenando Pessoa’s heteronymic process or as in the steps of the tango. (…) The in-between is what we cannot place border to border or put end-to-end and which prevents us from following the groove. It is a gap that cannot be filled, or at least cannot be filled immediately, but which calls for mediations that, as with Adorno, should be opposed to reconciliation and also to the notion of work of art insofar as the latter claims to reach a completion.
Métissages, de Arcimboldo à Zombi. Montréal, Pauvert, 2001.

 

Michel Lebreton :

The edges are the places of what is possible. Their limits are only defined by the environments bordering them. They are shifting, subject to erosion and sedimentation: there is nothing obvious about them.
(See in the present edition paalabres.org the « house » of M. Lebreton).

c5973e45b7_50035278_passage-faune-route-couloir-ecologique-roulex-45-cc-3jpg
futura-sciences.com

 

Yves Favier :

1/ Would the improviser be this particular “being on the alert”?
Hunter/gatherer always ready to collect (capture?) existing SOUNDS, but also “herder”, in order to let those “immanent” ones emerge? Not yet manifest but already “possible in in the making”?…

2/ “the territory is only valid in relation to a movement by which one leaves it.” In the case of the notion of Hocquard’s Border associated with the Classical political conception, the improviser would be a transmitter between 2 territories determined in advance to be academic by convention: a transmitter between THE contemporary (sacred art) music and THE spontaneous (social prosaic) music…we’ll say that it’s a good start, but which will have no development other than in and through conventions…it will always be a line that separates, it’s an “abstraction” from which concrete bodies (including the public) are de facto excluded.

3/ What (musical) LINE, could mark as Limit, an “extremity” (also abstract) to a music so-called “free” only to be considered from the inside (supposedly from the inside of the improviser).
Effectively taking away any possibility of breaking out of these identity limits (“improvisation is this and no other thing”, “leave Improvisation to the improvisers”) comes from the fantasy of the creative origins and its isolated « geniuses ». … for me the « no man’s land » suggested by Hocquard can be found here!

 

Nicolas Sidoroff :

Emmanuel Hocquard distinguishes three conceptions of translation with regard to the limit (the “reactionary conception” where translation can only betray), to the border (the “classical conception” where translation passes from one language and culture to another), and to the edge (a conception that “makes translation […] a hedge between the fields of literature”).
(Emmanuel Hocquart, Ma haie : Un privé à Tanger II, Paris : P.O.L., 2001, pp. 525-526.)

I work on the notions of “border” and “edge” between different activities. (…) A border is crossed in the thick and consistent sense of the term, one part of the body then the other, more or less gradually. This body has a thickness, we are on one side and on the other of a line or a surface which constitutes a border at a given moment. This can create a swing, such as back and forth movements in body weight above that line or on either side of a line or surface which constitutes a border at a given moment. How do you cross a border between several activities: what happens when I change “caps,” for example, between a space-time where I am a composer and another where I am a sound engineer?
(Nicolas Sidoroff, « Faire quelque chose avec ça que je voudrais tant penser, faisons quelque chose avec ça, de ci, de là », Agencements N°1, mai 2018, Éditions du commun, p. 50)

 

Dominique Sorrente :

For a long time, I’ve lived on the edge of the world.

 

Collectif de la semaine d’occupation du CDNC – Le Pacifique :

From one edge to the other, our movements form a song of echoes, a forest of signs in the sky.

Ecological corridor :

An ecological corridor [corridor], as distinct from a biological corridor [corridor biologique] and from the ecological continuum [continuum écologique]], is a functional passage zone, for a group of species belonging to the same milieu [espèces inféodées] ], between several natural spaces. This corridor thus connects different populations and favors the dissemination and migration of species, as well as the recolonization of disturbed environments.

For example, a footbridge [passerelle] that overlooks a highway and connects two forest massifs constitutes an ecological corridor. It allows fauna [faune] and flora to circulate between the two massifs despite the almost impermeable obstacle represented by the highway. This is why this footbridge is called a wildlife passage.

Ecological corridors are an essential component of biodiversity conservation [biodiversité] and ecosystem functioning [écosystèmes]. Without their connectivity, a very large number of species would not have all the habitats necessary for their life cycles (reproduction, growth, refuge, etc.) and would be condemned to extinction in the near future.

Moreover, exchanges between environments are a major factor of resilience [résilience]. They allow a damaged environment (fire, flooding, etc.) to be quickly recolonized by species from the surrounding environment.

Taken as a whole, the ecological corridors and the environments they connect form an ecological continuum for this type of environment and the species that depend on it.

It is for these reasons that current biodiversity conservation strategies emphasize exchanges between environments and no longer focus solely on the creation of sanctuaries that are preserved but closed and isolated.
https://www.futura-sciences.com/planete/definitions/developpement-durable-corridor-ecologique-6418/

 

Michel Lebreton :

Will the teacher leave the barriers open to wandering and tinkering? Or will he confine all practices to the enclosure he has built over time?

 

Edouard Glissant :

(…) where the migrant people from Europe (…) arrive [in America] with their songs, their family traditions, their tools, the image of their god, etc., the Africans arrive stripped of everything, of all possibilities, and even stripped of their language. For the den of the slave ship is the place and the time when African languages disappear, because people who spoke the same language were never put together in the slave ship, just like on the plantations. The beings were stripped of all sorts of elements of their daily life, and especially of their language.
(Introduction à une poétique du divers, Paris : Gallimard, 1996, p . 16)

 

Emmanuel Hocquard :

Everything that concerns margins (marginalia), crossroads, residual spaces or wastelands is to be attached to the edges…
The edges are the only spaces that escape the rules set by the State grammarians, the Versailles gardeners and international town planners.
(Op. cit. p. 62)

 

Edouard Glissant :

What happens to this migrant? He recomposes by traces a language and arts that could be said to be valid for everyone. (…) The deported African has not had the opportunity to maintain these kinds of punctual legacies. But he did something unpredictable on the basis of the only powers of memory, that is, of the only thoughts of the trace that were left to him: he composed, on the one hand, Creole languages and, on the other hand, art forms that were valid for all. (…) If this Neo-American does not sing African songs from two or three centuries ago, he is re-establishing in the Caribbean, Brazil and North America, through the thought of the trace, the art forms that he proposes as valid for all. The thought of the trace seems to me to be a new dimension of what must be opposed in the current situation of the world to what I call the thoughts of the system or systems of thought. The thoughts of the system or systems of thought were prodigiously fruitful and prodigiously conquering and prodigiously deadly. The thought of the trace is the most valid today to affix to the false universality of the thoughts of the system.
(Op. cit., p.17)

 

Jean-Charles François :

The wonderful “lisières” [edges, fringes, margins], the wonderful “lisières”, the wonderful “lisières”
The wonderful “lisières”, the wonderful “lisières” and… the nasty “lisier” [manure].
The wonderful “lisières” and the nasty “lisier”
The rebel “lisières” and in the middle of the field the “lisier”.
The “lisières”, the “lisières”, the “lisier”.
The beautiful “lisières” and the nasty “lisier”.
The “lisier” responsible for the beautiful green algae of northern Finistère [in Brittany], which decompose into nasty toxic elements dangerous to humans.
The beautiful “lisières” and the nasty “lisier”.
The mystery of the “lisières”, the great misery of the “lisier”.
The feast of the merry leeways, the feat of the mingled leaflets.
The flux of the winding river, the fever of the weak-link leaser.
The severe inklings of the pollster, the never-ending undulating of the roller-coaster.
The folly of the spending waist and the olive-green of peace on earth.
The beautiful “lisières” and the nasty “lisier”.
The “lisier” is used to define the nasty space of artichokes, between the beautiful “lisières” as nasty result of a beautiful industrial production and nasty ferment of a production of the same kind of beauty.

artichoke-1655484_960_720pixabay.com

Being on the alert, entre-capture, being on advert, entre-rapture, being that asserts, prey that lets itself be captured, being-aggressor, enter raptors we get along well, being-a-Grecian, Kairos, intense moment of interaction, being-a-gracious…
The “lisier” is a nasty nose aggressor, while the polished “lisière” agrees to read the parking meters.
The perking masters of the church of the Most Holy Therese of Lisière get bogged down in agreeing with the prosaic Guest-State-Police-Lisier.
The Eldorado of the beautiful Gluierphosate grid fills clysteres in the back pockets of filthy sires linked to their glycemic-prostatic swellings.
The beautiful “lisières” and the nasty “lisier”.
How to get out of the “lisières” and into the space of the “lisier”?
This seems to be the problem of improvisation. The ideal of communication belongs to the “lisières”, the edges, but the content itself remains in the incommunicability of the “lisier”, the slurry (apart from its stench). If the definition of the origin of the sounds at the time of the improvised performance on stage seems to belong to the domain of the unspoken, because it is strictly relevant to the intimacy of each participant, then only the « lisières », the edges of human interactivity, seem to be able to enter the field of reflection. The planning of the sounds, their effective elaboration, appears then to be the exclusive domain of the individual paths. The collective elaboration of the sounds is left to the surprise of the moment of the encounter of personalities who have prepared themselves for it: come what may. Getting stuck in the “lisier” (liquid manure).

However, this is not to say that the “lisières” (edges) of communication between humans do not play an important role in the reflection. In this sense, the question of being on the alert and the meanders of the unconscious /conscious are essential vectors to be taken into consideration. But if improvisation is a collective game, then the elaboration of sounds by individuals on separate paths is no longer sufficient to reflect the collective elaboration of sounds. The problem of the co-construction of sound materials then arises. This is where we fall into the “lisier”. If one prepares the sounds collectively, there is a strong risk of no longer being in the ideal of improvisation, which democratically leaves voices free to express themselves, which accepts the principle – in principle! – of dissension in its midst. But if all those who belong to the club of improvisers have followed the same path before getting on stage, then democracy and dissension on the stage are nothing but a simulacrum, the effects of a theater for a naive audience. Likewise, if those who do not correspond to the idealized sound models of the network are not invited, the agreement among those who are will be almost total. Is the notion of deterritorialization a matter for individuals who meet on neutral ground, or is it the collective elaboration of an unknown terrain? The list of elements of the “lisier” is long. How can we open up this type of research project, both from the point of view of practice and of reflecting on practice?

 

Nicolas Sidoroff :

Emmanuel describes the edge as: “white stain” [tache blanche]. For a long time, I understood and made him say “white task” [tâche blanche]. The circumflex accent made a lot of sense, evoking both the work to be done (by the task) and a space to be explored characterized by its situation (by the slightly nominalized adjective “white”). Behind this, I understood and still understand, an invitation to come and inhabit, explore and practice such spaces. It evokes the unexplored places of geographical maps, where one could not yet know what to write nor in what colors. The “white stain” is very present in the work of Emmanuel Hocquard. The “white stain translation” for him, a “white stain activity” for me, is to create “unexplored areas (…), it’s gaining ground”. In my vocabulary habits, I would also say: to create the possible.
(« Explorer les lisières d’activité, vers une microsociologie des pratiques (musicales) », Agencements N°2, décembre 2018, Édition du commun, p. 263-264)

 

François Laplantine et Alexis Nouss :

The zombie or the borderline example of crossbreeding. Both dead and alive, it alone condenses the irreducible and unthinkable paradox of every being. The zombie will never be fully alive, or totally dead. As if the journey of the living to death and the return of the dead to life irretrievably prevented a return to a primary condition. Impossible and vacillating journey, which prohibits any possibility of returning to a point of departure, to a stabilized and recognized identity of social being or moribund being.
(Op. cit.)

 

Edouard Glissant :

For a very long time, Western wandering – it must always be repeated – for a very long time Western wandering, which has been a wandering of conquests; a wandering of founding territories, has contributed to the realization of what we can call today the “totality-world”. But in today’s space there are more and more internal wanderings, that is to say, more and more projections towards the totality-world and returns to oneself while one is immobile, while one has not moved from one’s place, these forms of wandering often trigger what we call internal exile, that is to say, moments when the imagination or sensitivity are cut off from what’s going on around. (…) And this is one of the givens of chaos-world, that assent to one’s “surroundings” or suffering in one’s “surroundings” are also operative as a way and means of knowing one’s “surroundings”.
(op. cit., p. 88)

 

Lisière, subst. fém. :

All the dreams had risen, abandoned to their free flight. Servet recounted his impending joy of coming out of the edges. (Estaunié 1896)

I’ll get up at noon: I’ll have cozy mornings in bed. No more studying, no more homework. (Estaunié 1896)

God! I will always have to be pushed and I will always have to be held on the edge and I will languish in eternal childhood. (M. de Guérin, 1829)

 

Edouard Glissant :

To oversimplify: crossbreeding would be the determinism, and creolization is, in relation to crossbreeding, the producer of the unpredictable. Creolization, it’s the unpredictable. We can predict or determine the crossbreeding, but we cannot predict or determine creolization. The same thinking of ambiguity, which specialists in the chaos sciences point out, at the very basis of their discipline, this same thinking of ambiguity now governs the imaginary of chaos-world and the imaginary of Relationship.
(Ibid. p. 89)

 

Nicolas Sidoroff :

The expression “edge nucleus” therefore allows, first of all, to radically evacuate representations in rigid boxes with borders or in limiting and excluding boxes. (…) To view musical practices as the interaction and articulation of six “edge nucleus”, each corresponding to a family of activities: creation, performance, mediation-education, research, administration, techniques-instrument making.
(op. cit., p. 265)

image

https://images.app.goo.gl/F9rWyUQYkWpjJNKF7

 

Yves Favier :

The notion of “edge” or “fringe” is the one that titillates (best): moving and indetermined yet identifiable musical zones.

Sons Pliés Boltanski

Sons-pliés Boltanski

Gilles Laval :

Is there an improvised present, at instantaneous instant T? What are its edges, from the instant to be born or not born, or not-being, the instantaneous not frozen at the instant, right there, hop it’s over! Were you present yesterday at this precise shared but short-lived instant? I don’t want to know, I prefer to do it, with no return, towards the commissures of the senses.

Is improvisation self-deluding? Without other others is it possible/impossible? What target, if target there is?

Instantaneous stinging interpenetrations and projections, agglutinating morphological introspective replicas, turbulent scarlet distant junctions, easy or silly combinations, sharp synchronic, diachronic reactions, skillful oxymoristic fusions and confusions. If blue is the place of the sea, out of the water, it is measured in green, on the edge it is like a rainbow. Superb mass of elusive waves where inside shine and abound edges of gradations, departures with no return, unclear stops, blushing pink blurs, who knows whether to silence, to sight land or say here yes hearsay.

I’ve yes heard the hallali sensitive to the edges of improbreezation, (sometimes gurus with angry desires of grips tumble in slow scales (choose your slope), when others sparkle with unpredictable happy and overexcited surprises). End-to-end, let us invite ourselves to the kairostic heuristic commissures of imagined spaces and meanders, alone or with others, to moredames [pludames], to moreofall [plutoustes].

“commissure: (…) The majority of 19th century and 20th century dictionaries also record the aged use of the term in music to mean: Chord, a harmonic union of sounds where a dissonance is placed between two consonants (DG).”

“The end-to-end principle is a design framework in computer networking.
In networks designed according to this principle, application-specific features reside in the communicating end nodes of the network, rather than in intermediary nodes, such as gateways and routers, that exist to establish the network. In this way, the complexity and intelligence of the network is pushed to its edges.”
(End-to-end principle, Wikipedia)

“Kairos (Ancient Greek: καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment.[1] The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (χρόνος) and kairos. The former refers to chronological or sequential time, while the latter signifies a proper or opportune time for action.” (Kairos, wipikedia)

Kairos is the god of opportune occasion, of right time, as opposed to Chronos who is the god of time.

 

brouillard bleu abstrait morceaux blancs

 

Jean-Charles François :

The “lisières” (edges) make you dream,
melt into white tears
the mythology of the white stain
is that all the maps are colored
no more of them to make us dream

 

Yves Favier :

…fluctuating moving data…leaving at no time the possibility of describing a stable/definitive situation…
temporary…valid only momentarily…on the nerve…
to touch the nerve is to touch the edge, the fringe, the margin…
improvisation as rapture…temporal kidnapping…
…where one is no longer quite yourself and finally oneself…
…testing time by gesture combined with form…and vice versa…
the irrational at the edge of well-reasoned frequency physics…
…well-tempered…nothing magical…just a fringe, an edge, reached by nerves…
ecotone…tension BETWEEN…
…between certainties…
…between existing and pre-existing…
immanent attractor…
…between silence and what is possible in the making…
this force that hits the nerve…
…that disturbs silence?…
…the edge, the fringe, the margin as a perpetually moving continuity…

The inclusion of each milieu in the other
Not directly connected to each other
Changing its ecological properties
Very common of milieux interpenetration
Terrier
Termite mound
A place where one changes one’s environment
For its own benefice and for that of other species
What narrative does the edge convey?…

Ecotones
Ecotones

 

György Kurtag :

[Quote from Pr. André Haynal :]
“In his new book (Daniel N. Stern, Le moment présent en psychothérapie : un monde dans un grain de sable, Paris : Editions Odile Jacob, 2003), Stern talks, as a psychotherapist and observer of daily life, about what he calls the ‘present moment’, what could also be called the blissful moment, during which, all of a sudden, a change can take place. This phenomenon, which the Greeks call kairos, is a moment of intense interaction among those who do not appear without a long prior preparation. This book focuses our attention on the ‘here and now’, the present experience, often lived on a non-verbal and unconscious level. In the first part, the author gives a very subtle description of this ‘now’, the problem of its nature, its temporal architecture and its organization.

In the second part, entitled ‘The contextualization of the present moment’, he talks, among other things, about implicit and intersubjective knowledge.
Implicit <> explicit :
to make the implicit explicit and the unconscious conscious is an important task of psychotherapies of psychoanalytical (for him ‘psychodynamic’) or cognitive inspiration. The therapeutic process leads to moments of encounter and ‘good moments’ particularly conducive to a work of interpretation, or even to a work of verbal clarification. These moments of encounter can precede, lead to or follow the interpretation.

These ideas are obviously inspired by research on implicit non-declarative knowledge and memory on the one hand, and explicit or declarative knowledge and memory on the other. These terms refer to whether or not they can be retrieved, consciously or not. The second therefore concerns a memory system involved in an information process that an individual can consciously retrieve and declare. ‘Procedural memory’, on the other hand, is a type of non-declarative memory, which consists of several separate memory subsystems. Moreover, it is clear that non-declarative memory influences experience and behavior (the most frequently cited example is knowing how to ride a bicycle or play the piano, without necessarily being able to describe the movements involved).

A therapy séance can be seen as a series of present moments driven by the desire that a new way of being together is likely to emerge. These new experiences will enter into consciousness, sometimes as implicit knowledge. Most of the growing therapeutic change appears to be done in this way, slowly, gradually and silently. More spectacular is the emergence of ‘urgent moments’ that produce ‘moments of encounter’.”

 

Jean-Luc Nancy :

How can one, as an artist, give shape…? You are asking me to enter into the artist’s skin… That is precisely what I cannot do… And if I say  » into the skin  » it is of course very literally. The skin (peau) – “expeausition” (…) – is nothing more than the limit where a body takes its shape. If I think of the soul as “the shape of a living body” for Aristotle, I can say that the skin is the soul, or better, that it animates the body: it doesn’t wrap the body like a bag, it doesn’t hold it like a corset, it turns it towards the world (and as well towards itself, which thus becomes both a “self” and a part of the non-self, from the outside). The skin does not cover, it forms, shapes, exposes and animates this incredibly complex, entangled, labyrinthine ensemble, which constitutes all the organs, muscles, arteries, nerves, bones, liquors, which is in the end such an “ensemble”, such a machinery only to get in form in, through and as skin, with its few variations or supplements, mucous membranes, nails, hairs, and this notable variation which is the cornea of the eye, with also its openings – nine in number –which are not “inputs” or “outputs”, much less cracks or fissures, but instead the way the skin flares out or invaginates, shrinks and unfurls or expresses itself in various ways with the outside – food, air, odor, flavor, sound (we can add electrical, magnetic, chemical phenomena that mingle with what the “senses” tell us), – and the skin not only spreads from one opening to another but, I repeat, unfolds at each opening to form tubules, cavities, through the walls of which occur all the metabolisms, all the osmosis, dissolutions, impregnations, transmissions, contagions, diffusions, propagations, irrigations and influences (also like influenza). This system, which is both organic and aleatory, functional and hazardous (by itself essentially exposed), does nothing else but constantly reform, renew and transform the skin.
(Jean-Luc Nancy et Jérôme Lèbre, Signeaux Sensibles, Montrouge : Bayard Édition, p. 64-66)

 

Jean-Charles François :

For the apeaustle, the skin (peau) – expeausition – as the limit where the body takes its form, skin, edge where the pores are the form of the soul and animates the body, Saint-Bio of the contiguity of other bodies to the stars.

The peau-lisière (skin-edge) of Apollinaire, peauet until his trepanation, and peau-aesthete a-linear, was not at all police-wear, nor very polished, but poly-swarming, poly-swirling.

The emptiness of the soul is the form taken by this communion between the sensitive body and the epeaunym (in the sensitive lion eye of the Gaul primate).

 

Tim Ingold :

Wherever they go and whatever they do, men draw lines: walking, writing, drawing or weaving are activities in which lines are omnipresent, as is the use of voice, hands or feet. In Lines, A Brief History , the English anthropologist Tim Ingold lays the foundations of what could be a “comparative anthropology of the line” – and, beyond that, a true anthropology of graphic design. Supported by numerous case studies (from the sung trails of the Australian Aborigines to the Roman roads, from Chinese calligraphy to the printed alphabet, from Native American fabrics to contemporary architecture), the book analyzes the production and existence of lines in daily human activity. Tim Ingold divides these lines into two genres – traces and threads – before showing that both can merge or transform into surfaces and patterns. According to him, the West has gradually changed the course of the line, gradually losing its connection to gesture and trace, and finally moving towards the ideal of modernity: the straight line. This book is addressed as much to those who draw lines while working (typographers, architects, musicians, cartographers) as to calligraphers and walkers – they never stop drawing lines because wherever you go, you can always go further.
((Introductory text (in French ) to Tim Ingold,Une brève histoire des lignes, traduit de l’anglais par Sophie Renaut, Bruxelles : Zones sensibles, 2013. English original text:  Lines. A Brief History, London-New York, Routledge, 2007.)
http://www.zones-sensibles.org/livres/tim-ingold-une-breve-histoire-des-lignes/

 

Gustave Flaubert :

An edge of moss bordered a hollow path, shaded by ash trees, whose light tops trembled.

 

Tim Ingold :

But what happens when people or things cling to one another? There is an entwining of lines. They must bind in some such way that the tension that would tear them apart actually holds them fast. Nothing can hold on unless it puts out a line, and unless that line can tangle with others.
(op. cit., p. 3)

 

Aleks Dupraz :

My relationship to research became more pronounced after a year spent relatively on the fringes of the academic institutions. While I was wondering about research that I could join or set up with a perspective of contributing to the development of action-research, my trajectory has been strongly affected by my participation in different spaces of research and experimentation that were for me the network of Fabriques de sociologie (I joined in 2015), the creation of Animacoop collective in Grenoble (initiated in Grenoble a few months later), and the seminar of Arts de l’attention in Grenoble (inaugurated in Grenoble in September of the same year). Thus, it is above all in the encounter that my research recommitted itself, getting summoned to where it sometimes seemed to be lacking. Indeed, despite my attempts to introduce myself otherwise, I was often identified in these circles as a student and/or young researcher at the University. This was particularly the case at 11 rue Voltaire, the first location of the Chimère citoyenne, when I was part of the research seminar of the Arts de l’attention. I then became aware once again of the extent to which being identified as an academic came at first to freeze something of an identity to which I refused to be reduced while at the same time assuming a part of the social and political function that this entailed and the responsibility that this seemed to me to imply. In this tension, I could not help but notice my attachment to the world of the University – for which I remain very critical – this in a political context in which the discourses arguing the waste of time or the luxury of reflexivity and research in literature and the human and social sciences tended to multiply.
(« Faire université hors-les-murs, une politique du dé-placement », Agencements N°1, mai 2018, Éditions du commun, p. 13)

lisière eau
lisière eau

 

Nicolas Sidoroff :

Let’s take an artistic example: music and dance. Considering them as practices strongly marked by the historical setting of discipline, they are clearly separated. You are a musician, you are a dancer; you teach (you go to) a music or dance class. There are cases, boxes or tubes on both sides. Crossbreeding is possible, but it’s rare and difficult, and when it does take place, it’s in an exclusive way: you’re here or there, on one side or the other, each time you have to cross a border.

Considering music and dance as daily human practices, they are extremely intertwined: to make music is to have a body in movement; to dance is to produce sounds. Since 2016, an action-research was conducted between PaaLabRes and Ramdam, an art center. It involved people who are rather musicians (us, members of PaaLabRes), others rather dancers (members of the Maguy Marin company), a visual artist (Christian Lhopital), and regular guests in connection with the above networks. We’ve been experimenting with improvisation protocols on shared materials. In the realizations, each everyone makes sounds and movements in relation to the sounds and movements of others, each is both a musician and a dancer. For me, the status of the body (the gestures including those for making music, the care, the sensations, and the fatigue) are very different than the one I have in a rehearsal or a concert of a music group. They are even richer and more intense. With the vocabulary used in the previous paragraphs, in these realizations I am in a form of “tâ/ache blanche” (white task/stain) dance-music edge or fringe. A first assessment that we are in the process of drawing up shows that going beyond our disciplinary boxes (exploding the border, making the edge exist) is difficult.
(« Explorer les lisières d’activité, vers une microsociologie des pratiques (musicales) », Agencements N°2, décembre 2018, Édition du commun, p. 265)

Marie Jorio – English

Retour au texte original en français : Demain, Demain !

 


 

Tomorrow, Tomorrow!

Ecolo-musical Lecture

For reflecting, dreaming, acting

Marie Jorio, 2018

 


Summary :

From music to ecology, from ecology to music
Examples of audio files
Extracts of texts of the programme
How did I become an ecologist?


 

From music to ecology, from ecology to music,
to break down the walls of denial, fear, anger…

Marie Jorio is an urban planner committed to ecological transition and has extensive experience on stage in theatre/music performances. She found herself in the situation of (trying to) break down walls, literally and figuratively, as early as her engineering studies, where her artistic sensibility had difficulty finding a place, and as an urban planner, as a weaver of physical and human links.

In the proposal “Demain, Demain !” [“Tomorrow, Tomorrow!”] she wants the audience to reflect, dream and act, in order to overcome the denial or stupefaction that suffocates us today in the face of the magnitude of environmental issues.

Accompanied by the theorbist Romain Falik, and by other guest artists depending on the venues, she puts in place an original form of sensitization that mixes the reading of reference texts by major authors on ecology with literary and poetic texts, and a sensitive musical accompaniment of Baroque and improvised music.

Considering that music, like all forms of art, is a form of demand and implementation of the happy sobriety to which our societies should turn, its crossbreeding with ecology becomes a foregone conclusion.

To make people want to read and learn more about ecology is another aim of the lecture-performance. The performance program, which is the result of a long and ongoing bibliographical quest, presents classics of the genre, such as rarer texts, fictions, essays or poems, and attempts to combine the bitterness caused by the observation on the state of the planet, an existential reflection and an enthusiasm for action. The reading can be extended by an exchange on the subject of books and reading suggestions.

 

Audios (other examples are available)

https://nelevezpaslespieds.blogspot.com/search/label/Demain%20demain%21

 

Extracts of text in the performance program

Pierre de Ronsard, Contre les bûcherons de la forêt de Gastine

« Forêt, haute maison des oiseaux bocagers,
Plus le Cerf solitaire et les chevreuils légers
Ne paitront sous ton ombre, et ta verte crinière
Plus du Soleil d’Esté ne rompra la lumière.

Plus l’amoureux Pasteur sur un tronc adossé,
Enflant son flageolet à quatre trous percé,
Son mâtin à ses pieds, à son flanc la houlette,
Ne dira plus l’ardeur de sa belle Janette :
Tout deviendra muet : Echo sera sans voix :
Tu deviendras campagne, et en lieu de tes bois,
Dont l’ombrage incertain lentement se remue,
Tu sentiras le soc, le coutre et la charrue :
Tu perdras ton silence, et haletant d’effroi
Ni Satyres ni Pans ne viendront plus chez toi. »

,

Reproduction (Poem by Marie Jorio, from the blog « ne levez pas les pieds »)

La ville semble proche de l’effondrement,
Ses habitants fourrés dans des boîtes métalliques,
Comme des petits pains frôlant l’indigestion ;
Le moindre grain de sel fait gripper la machine.
Tout cela est complètement fou
(et pourtant ils pondent).

Mais quoi ! La ville est-elle folle au point
Que l’on construise toujours plus
Sur des lignes pourtant saturées ?
Et 100 000, 200 000, 300 000 mètres carré,
Pour se faire élire, s’ériger une gloire, une fortune.
Les conducteurs de métro sont-ils condamnés
A rouler au pas dans la peur d’arracher un bras ?

The city seems to be on the verge of collapse,
Its inhabitants jam-packed in metal boxes,
Like bread rolls verging on indigestion;
The slightest grain of salt causes the machine to stall.
All this is completely insane
(and yet they hatch).

What the hell! Is the city so insane
That we build more and more
On lines that are already saturated?
And 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 square meters,
In order to be elected, to build a fame, a fortune.
Are subway drivers condemned
To riding at a slow pace in fear of tearing off an arm?

 

How did I become an ecologist?

Marie Jorio, August 2018

How did I become an ecologist? Why did I become an ecologist? It is interesting to ask this question.

First answer, very clear in my memory: Christmas 2002, I’m staying with friends in Lyon, their apartment in Croix-Rousse neighborhood. They subscribe to Télérama and I read an article by Jean-Marc Jancovici about global warming. My Cartesian and naturally worried mind is struck by the subject. I would spend the following weeks devouring his website; his somewhat haughty polytechnic tone is not enough to spoil its real popularizing qualities, especially when it illustrates the gigantic amounts of energy we waste, with conversions into a number of slaves. I realize irrevocably that our growth-based lifestyle cannot continue for long in a world of finite resources. This simple reading definitely changes the way I look at the world. I’m a beginner urban planner, working on the redevelopment of Les Halles, Paris’ central metro station; this work is somewhat consistent with my brand new environmental concerns, since it involves improving the capital’s public transportation network.

If I go back further in my memory, I find older traces of awareness of the fragility and infinite beauty of nature. A summer trip in the family car, probably on the “sun” highway south. We come across a quarry in operation; “Dad, what are we going to do when there won’t be any more stones?” I don’t remember much of the answer, which was supposed to reassure me that we would always find some. Always…. Until when? And then I discover and devour all of Pagnol’s books and take advantage of the summer vacations in a large property in Provence to spend whole afternoons in the garrigue. I observe the fauna and flora, invent paths and stories. My childhood and early adolescence are marked by immersions in the forest and nature, which the urban planner that I will become will completely forget to the point of being afraid of the slightest thorn and the slightest noise each time I return to nature.

How to deal with this sensitivity and restless consciousness? For 15 years, it has been more of a weight than anything else, a black cloud over my head that I had to forget as best I could in my daily actions. I savor the long summer evenings thinking that these may be the last ones… Practicing self-mockery so as not to get too much attention, I try to convince and make my colleagues and those around me aware of the climate issue and the depletion of resources. At the beginning of the 2000s, the subject is minor and controversial. The qualities of logic and rigor that led me to study engineering, without any vocation, are the same qualities that made me recognize in the curves and figures, brilliantly exposed by Jancovici, among others, an irrefutable fact. These same engineering studies have had the result of making me skeptical about the validity of scientific models to describe the living, or in any case to grasp their limits. Understanding that models are by definition approximate with respect to the infinite complexity of nature, was undoubtedly the demonstration of an ecological intuition that was unknown at the time. In any case, this ecological consciousness, if it does not translate into political commitments – I have seen up close the Greens of the Parisian microcosm who have perfectly cooled the idea I might have had of getting involved – has a very concrete consequence on my private life: while my engineer friends already have 2 or even 3 children, I take refuge in the idea of not having any, overwhelmed by the responsibility of leaving them a dilapidated world and a disillusioned tomorrow. However, I have enough social sense not to worry my friends that having a third child seems irresponsible to me in view of the state of the planet.

And then the environmental issue progresses in the media, as all environmental signals turn red. It is becoming difficult to ignore the issue. My job as a developer, building infrastructures and selling land to developers or social sponsors, is becoming a heavy burden. Of course, I have chosen to work on projects that are exemplary from an ecological point of view. But the worse environmental news accumulates, the more I am convinced that the scope of the changes to be made is enormous, and that continuing “business as usual”, mixed with green cosmetics, is totally trivial.

Changing is slow and painful. An immense anger overwhelms me. What can I do about it? What drops of water to bring into the ocean? If the legend of the hummingbird, which carries its share of water to extinguish the fire, puts balm in our astonished hearts, it nevertheless masks the need for changes that go far beyond individual initiatives. How can we live with this acute lucidity of the impending collapse? With the bad conscience of being better off than many others? How can we continue to breathe, to laugh, and find the path of action that will give meaning to this life that has become precarious? How can we live when we are aware that the human species has its days numbered? What killjoys these eco-freaks!

This anger, combined with a few accidents along the way, pushes me to change my professional path, to turn to teaching and counseling; to try to transmit new, possibly radical, ideas, while maintaining a certain independence of mind. And above all to slow down the pace, to sing, to get closer to nature, to better apprehend the necessary changes, and to calm down, little by little, the anger.

There are no answers, just paths to take. The practice of singing and performing arts are my lifebuoys of lightness and beauty to support the cloud which is much darker than fifteen years ago. And then sharing this weight with other convinced people, with whom there is no need to “show green paw”, is absolutely necessary for me to move forward. Consciousness is progressing, and we will soon all be schizophrenic: we know that we have to change everything, but we are only human, and we continue to live, to change cars, to discover Thailand… Some of us are hoping for a violent shock (but not too much) as soon as possible, which will serve as an electroshock. One thing is sure, being a shrink is a way to the future. And being an ecologist is not only an external struggle, more and more violent, but also an internal one, to try to stay straight in the storm of uncertainties and worries.

Jean-Charles François – English

Return to the original text in French :  Invention collective

 

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Collective Invention in Music

and Encounters Between a Diversity of Cultures

Jean-Charles François

 

Summary :

1. Introduction
2. Alternative forms to definitive art works
3. Improvisation
4. Artistic Processes or just Human Interactions?
5. Protocols
6. Conclusion

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Introduction

The world in which we live can be defined as one in which a great diversity of practices and cultures coexist. As a result, it is difficult today to think in terms of the modern Western world, Eastern philosophy, African tradition or other labels too easy to use to guide us in the chaos of the world. We are in presence of an infinite number of networks, and each of us is active in more than one of these. Therefore, we have to think about musical practices in terms of ecological problems. A practice can kill another one. A practice can depend directly on another’s survival. A practice can be directly connected to another and still be different. The ecology of practices (see Stengers 1996, Chapter 3) or how to face a potentially very violent multicultural world is probably today as important as the ecological question of the future of the planet earth. I will attempt in this article to treat one aspect of the diverse world of artistic practices: improvisation with heterogeneous groups.

My own personal research on mediation between groups of musicians belonging to different cultural practices or musical styles stems from my involvement as the director (between 1990 and 2007) of a center devoted to the training of music school teachers, the Cefedem AuRA in Lyon, France. This institution was created in 1990, under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, and offers a two-year program leading to the Music Teacher State Diploma [Diplôme d’État de professeur de musique], geared towards the teaching of voice, instruments, basic musicianship, choral conducting, jazz, popular music [described in France as Musiques actuelles amplifiées, Today’s Amplified Music], and traditional music in music schools and conservatories organised throughout France by the towns. Research was conducted within the framework of curriculum development in this institution, in direct collaboration with Eddy Schepens and the entire pedagogical and administrative team of this institution.

For the first ten years all the students at the Center were classical musicians issued from Regional Conservatories. In 2000, the study program was completely reinvented to accommodate the inclusion of jazz, popular music, and traditional music students, alongside the ones from the “classical” sector. The curriculum was based on two distinct imperatives: (a) each musical genre had to be recognized as autonomous in its practical and theoretical specificities; and (b) each musical genre had to collaborate with all the others in specific artistic and pedagogical projects. We were thus confronted with the issue of how to face the problem of a difference of culture between a highly formalised teaching tradition with low exposure to public presentations, and traditions that are based on atypical or informal forms of learning involving a high degree of immediate public interactions. The problem that then had to be solved can be formulated as follows : the classical sector tends to develop an instrumental or vocal identity in a posture of technical readiness to play any music (on the condition that it would be written on a score) ; other musical genres tend to require of their members a strong identity based on the style of music as such accompanied by a technical approach based solely on what is necessary to express that identity. Our task was to find solutions that could include all the ingredients of this triple equation. Two concepts emerged: a) the curriculum would focus on student projects rather than on a series of courses and the definition of their content (although these courses continued to exist); b) projects should be based on the principle of a contract binding students to a number of constraints determined by the institution and on which evaluation would be based. The Centre has developed a research program on these issues and in pedagogy of music, and publishes a journal, Enseigner la Musique (see for example François et al. 2016a)

Taking this concept of intercultural encounters as a model, experimental situations have been carried out by a Lyon collective of artists in existence since 2011 : PaaLabRes (Pratiques Artistiques en Actes, Laboratoire de Recherche).
Several projects were developed :

  • A small group of improvisators met to propose protocols for developing common material in the context of collective invention.[1] These protocols were tested, discussed and then tried in a number of workshops addressed to the largest range of participants (professionals, amateurs; beginners and advanced students; musicians and dancers belonging to different musical categories, styles and traditions) (2011-2015).
  • Regular meetings of PaaLabRes musicians with dancers (Maguy Marin’s Company members among others) have been organized at the Ramdam, an arts center near Lyon, with the aim of developing common materials between dance and music in improvisation (2015-2017).
  • Through the digital space www.paalabres.org a reflection on the definition of artistic research, situated in between formal academic research and artistic practices, between various artistic domains and diverse aesthetic expressions, in between pedagogy and performance on stage. (See in the first edition of the digital space paalabres.org the station Débat on the “Recherche artistique” line).

 

2. Alternative forms to definitive art works

Improvisation situations seem in this context to be a good way to deal with heterogeneous encounters through practicing music, not so much as a focusing on aesthetics values, but rather as a democratic process that this situation seems to promote: each person is fully responsible for her or his sound production and for interacting with the others persons present in the space, and also with the diverse means of production available.

The definition of improvisation, within the art practices of the West—especially in its “freer” forms— is often proposed as an alternative to the written music that dominated European art music for at least two centuries. Improvisation faced with the structuralism of the 1950-60s tended to propose a simple inversion of the prevailing model:

  1. The performer considered up to that time as not being a major participant to the creation of major works, becomes through improvisation completely responsible for her/his creation in a context that changed the definition of work of art.
  2. The practice of writing signs on a score and respecting them in interpretation is replaced by the absence of any visual notation and the prevalence given to oral communication.
  3. There will be no more works definitively fixed in historical memory, but processes that are continuously modified ad infinitum.
  4. The slow reflective method used by the composer in a private space when elaborating a given piece of music will be replaced by an instantaneous act, in the spirit of the moment, on stage and in the presence of an audience.
  5. Instead of having compositions that define themselves as autonomous objects articulating their own language and personal sleight of hand, free improvisation will tend to go in the direction of the “non-idiomatic” (see Bayley, p. ix-xii)[2] or towards the “all-idiomatic” (the capacity to borrow sound material from any cultural domain).

And so on, all the terms being inverted.

For this inversion to occur, however, some stable elements have to remain in place: notably the concept that music is played on stage by professional musicians before an audience of educated music lovers. This historical stability of the concert performance largely inherited from the 19th century goes hand in hand according to Howard Becker with what he calls a “package”: an hegemonic situation that controls in a global way all the actions in a given domain with particular economic conditions, definitions of professional roles and supporting educational institutions (see Becker, p. 90). The reversal of elements appears to guarantee that certain aesthetical attitudes would remain unchanged: for example, the concept of “non-idiomatic” might be considered as reinforcing the modernist view of an ever-changing process towards new sounds and new sound combinations. We don’t know which idiom will result from the composer’s work, but the ideal is to arrive at a personal idiom. The improviser should come on stage without idiomatic a-priori, but the result will be idiomatic only for the duration of the concert. The “blank slate” ideal persists in the idea that each improvisation has to occur outside beaten paths.

The nomadic and transverse[3] approach to improvisation cannot be confined to the idea that it is an alternative to sedentary human beings personified by the classical musicians of the West. The nomadic and the transverse practices cannot just pretend to offer an alternative to institutional art forms, through their indeterminate movements and infinite wanderings. Rather the (transversal) nomads have to deal with the complex knots of practices situated in between oral and written communication, timbre and syntactic articulation, spontaneity and predefined gestures, group interactivity and personal contribution.

 

3. Improvisation

One of the strong frameworks of improvisation – as distinct from written music on scores – is the shared responsibility between players for a collective creative sound production. However, the exact content of this collective creativity in actual improvisations seems unclear. In improvisation, the emphasis is on the unplanned public performance on stage, on the ephemeral act that happens only once. The ideal of improvisation seems to be dependent on the absence of preparation, before the act itself. And at the same time, the actual act of improvisation cannot be done by participants who are not “prepared” to do it. The performance may be unprepared in the details of its unfolding, but generally speaking it cannot be successfully carried out without some intense preparation. This is indeed the paradox of the situation.

Two models can be defined, and we have to remember that theoretical models are never reflecting reality, but they offer different points of reference allowing us to reflect on our subject matter. In the first model the individual players undergo an intensive preparation inscribed in a time frame of many years, in order to achieve a personal voice, a unique manner of producing sound and gestural acts. This personal voice, or manner of playing, has to be inscribed in memory – inscribed in the body – in a wide-ranging repertoire of possibilities. This is the principal condition of the improvisation creative act: the creative elements are not inscribed on an independent support – like a score – but they are directly embodied in the playing capacities of the performer. The players meet on stage as separated individuals in order to produce something together in an unplanned manner. The performance on stage will be the superimposition of personal discourses, but if players can anticipate what the partners will be able to produce (above all if they have already played together or listen to their respective performances), they will be able to construct together, within that unplanned framework, an original sonic and/or gestural world. The emphasis on individual preparation seems to not hinder the constitution of a fairly homogeneous network of improvisators. This network is geographically very large and imposes, without having to specify any definition, the conditions of its access by a set of implicit unwritten rules. What is at stake here? The main focus of this model is on the public performance on a stage, where the important issues concern the sonic or gestural quality of the acts in that encounter produced by everybody present, including the attitudes and reactions of the audience.

The other alternative model puts the emphasis on a collective co-construction of the sonic universe independently from any eventual presentation on stage or other types of interactive actions. It implies that a substantial time is spent on elaborating a repertoire of sonic (or any other) materials within a permanent group of people. The development of the collective sound depends on a sufficient number of sessions working together with all members present. That these sessions are performed before an audience or not, is beside the point. This second model does not present much interest if the members of the group are homogeneous in their background, notably if they acquired their professional status in the same kind of educational institutions and the same processes of qualification. If they are not different in some important respect, the first model seems to be more adequate, as there is no difficulty in building a collective sound world directly through improvised performance on stage. But if they are different, and above all if they are very different, the idea of building a collective sound material, or a collective artistic material, is not a simple task. On the one hand, the differences between participants have to be maintained, they have to be strictly respected in mutual terms. On the other hand, building something together will imply that each participant is ready to leave behind reflexes, habits, and traditional ways of behavior. This is a first paradoxical situation. Another paradox immediately becomes apparent adding to the complication: on the one hand, the material that is collectively developed has to be more elaborate than just the superimposition of discourses in order to qualify as co-constructions; and, on the other hand, the material should not become fixed in a structuration, as would be the case with a written composition, the material should remain open to improvisation manipulations and variations, to be realized at the actual moment of the improvisation performance. The performers should remain free to interact as they see fit on the spirit of the moment. This second model does not exclude public performance on stage but cannot be limited to this obligation. It is centered on collective processes and might involve other types of social output and interactions.

The challenges of the second model are directly linked to debates about the means to be developed in order to break down the walls. To face these challenges, it is not enough to just gather people of different origins or cultures in the same room and expect that more profound relationships will develop. It is also not sufficient to invent new methodologies appropriate for a given situation, to ensure that a miracle of pacific coexistence will occur. In order to face complexity, you need to develop situations in which you should have a number of ingredients:

  1. Each participant has to know in practical ways what all the other participants are about.
  2. Each participant is obligated to follow collective rules decided together.
  3. Each participant should retain an important margin of personal initiative and remains free to express differences.
  4. There can be processes in which a leadership can emerge, but on the whole the context should remain on a democratic level.

All this complexity demonstrates the virtues of pragmatic tinkering within the framework of this plan of action.

As the sociologist and jazz pianist David Sudnow showed when he described the learning processes of his hands that enabled him to produce jazz improvisations: sound and visual models, although essential to the definition of objectives to be attained, are not sufficient to produce real results through simple imitation:

When my teacher said, “now that you can play tunes, try improvising melodies with the right hand,” and when I went home and listened to my jazz records, it was as if the assignment was to go home and start speaking French. There was this French going on, streams of fast-flowing strange sounds, rapidly winding, styles within styles in the course of any player’s music. (Sudnow, p. 17)

Some degree of “tinkering about” is necessary to allow the participants to achieve their purposes through heterogeneous detours of their own, outside the logical framework given by the teacher.

The idea of dispositif (apparatus, plan of action) associated with “tinkering about” corresponds to the definition found in the dictionary: an “ensemble of means disposed according to a plan in order to do a precise action”. One can refer to the definition given by Michel Foucault as “a resolutely heterogeneous ensemble, comprising discourses, institutions, architectural amenities, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative arrangements, scientific enunciations, philosophical, moral and philanthropic statements, some explicitly stated, some implicitly unsaid…” (Foucault 1977, see also the station timbre, line “Improvisation” in the first edition of paalabres.org )

In applying this idea to a co-production of sonic or gestural materials in the domain of artistic practices, the institutional elements of this definition are indeed present, but the emphasis is here directed towards the network of the elements created through everyday action, which are contextualized by given agents and materials. Thus, the means are defined here as concerning, at the same time, the persons concerned, their social and hierarchical status within a given artistic community, the materials, instruments and techniques that are provided or already developed, the spaces in which the actions take place, the particular interactions – formalized or not – between participants, between participants and materials or techniques, and the interactions with the external world outside the group. The dispositifs are more or less formalized by charters of conduct, protocols of action, scores or graphic images, rules pertaining to the affiliation to the group, evaluation processes, learning and research procedures. To a great extent, however, the dispositifs are governed on an everyday basis in an “oral” manner, in contexts that can change radically according to circumstances, and through interactions, which by their instability can produce very different results.

 

4. Artistic Processes or just Human Interactions?

The idea of dispositif, or complex apparatus, at the same time denies that artistic acts be simply limited or confined to well identified autonomous objects, and it also enlarges considerably the scope of artistic endeavours. The network that continuously forms, informs and deforms itself cannot be limited to a single focus on the production of artistic materials for the benefit of a public. The processes are no longer defined in specific specialized spaces. The term improvisation is no longer strictly limited to a series of sacred principles of absolute freedom and spontaneity or, on the contrary, respect for any tradition. Improvisation can incorporate activities that involve a variety of media supports – including using writing on paper – to achieve results in particular contexts. The purity of clear and definitive positions can no longer be what should dictate all possible behaviour. This does not mean that ideals have been erased and that the values that one wants to place at the forefront of the reality of practices have lost their primordial importance.

The confrontation of nomadic and transverse artistic practices to institutional imperative requirements may concern many areas: improvisation, research, music and art education, curriculum design, reviving traditional practices, etc. More and more artists find themselves in a situation in which their practice in strictly artistic terms is now considerably widened by what we call “mediation”, or mediating between a diversity of elements (see Hennion 1993 and 1995): pedagogical activities, popular education, community involvement, public participation, social interactions, hybrid characteristics between artistic domains, etc. The immersion of artistic activities into the social, educational, technological and political realms implies the utilization of research tools and of research partnerships with formal institutions as a necessary part of the elaboration of artistic objects or processes (see Coessens, 2007 and the Edition 2016 of paalabres.org, station the artistic turn). Research practices in artistic domains need to a large extent the legitimacy and evaluation given by academic bodies, but it is equally important to recognize that they must be seen as part of an “eccentric science” (see Deleuze, 1980, pp. 446-464), which considerably changes the meaning of the term “research”. The important questioning of these artists pertains directly to the very practice of conducting research: it tends to attempt to erase the usual strict separation between actors and observers, between the scientific orientation of the publication of results and other informal forms of presentation, and between the artistic act and reflections about it.

A possible nomadic and transverse response would be found along a pathway between the freedom of creative acts and the strict imposition of traditional canons. In this context, the creative act can no longer be seen as a simple individual expression asserting freedom in relation to a fiction of universality. The constitution of a particular collective, defining its own rules along the way, must play, in an unstable friction, against individual imaginative desires. To place somebody in a situation of research would mean to anchor the creative act on the formulation by a collective of a problematical process; the complete freedom of creation is now bound by collective interactions and to what is at stake in the process, without being limited by the strict rules of a given model. The creative act would cease to be considered as an absolute object in itself, and the accent would be put on the numerous mediations that determine it as a particular aesthetical and ethical context: the convergence at a certain moment of a number of participants into some form of project. The knots of this convergence need to be explicated not in terms of a particular desired result, but in terms of the constitution of some kind of chart of the problematic complexity of the situation at its inception: a system of constraints which deals with the interaction between materials, spaces, institutions, diverse participants (musicians, administrators, amateurs, professionals, theoreticians, students, general public, etc.), resources at hands, references, etc. According to Isabelle Stengers, the idea of constraint, as distinct from “conditions”, is not an imperative imposed from outside, nor a way to institute some legitimacy, but it requires to be satisfied in an undetermined manner open to many possibilities. The signification is determined a posteriori at the end of a process (Stengers 1996, 74). Constraints have to be taken into account, but do not define pathways that might be taken for the realization of the process. Systems of constraints apply best when very different people with different specialized fields are called to develop something together.

 

5. Protocols

We have called “protocols” collective research processes that take place before an improvisation and that will colour its content, then accumulate in the collective memory a repertoire of determined actions. The detail of this repertoire of actions is not fixed, nor is it necessarily decided that a given repertoire should be called up during an improvisation. The definition of the term protocol is obviously ambiguous and for many will seem to go completely against the ethics of improvisation. The term is linked to connotations of official, even aristocratic circumstances, where behaviour considered acceptable or respectable is completely determined: it refers to socially recognised modes of behaviour. Protocol is also used in the medical world to describe series of care acts to be followed (without omissions) in specific cases. It is not in the sense of these various contexts that we use the term.

The definition of protocol is here linked to written or oral instructions given to participants at the beginning of a collective improvisation that determine rules governing the relationships between persons or that define a particular sound, gestural or other type of material. It corresponds more or less to what you may find in dictionary (here French Larousse dictionary on-line): “Usages conformed to relationships between people in social life” and “Ensemble of rules, questions, etc. defining a complex operation”. The participants have to accept that in a limited time, some interaction rules in the group would be determined with the aim of building something together or to understand another point of view, to enter into playing with the others. Once these rules are experimented, when situations have been built, the protocol in itself can be forgotten in order that interactions less bound by rules of behaviour can take place, retrieving then the spirit of unplanned improvisation. The ideal, when determining a protocol, is to seek a collective agreement on its specific content, on the exact formulation of the rules. In fact, this rarely takes place in real situations, as different people understand rules in different ways. A protocol is most often proposed by one particular person, the important factor is to allow all present the possibility to propose other protocols, and also to be able to elaborate variations on the proposed protocol.

The contradiction that exists between the intensive preparation that improvisers impose on themselves individually and improvisation on stage that takes place “without preparation”, is now found at the collective level: intensive preparation of the group of improvisers must take place collectively before spontaneous improvisation can take place, using elements from the accumulated repertoire but without planning the details of what is going to happen. If the members of the collective have developed materials in common, they can now more freely call them up according to the contexts that arise during improvisation.

Thus we are in the presence of an alternation between, on the one hand, formalized moments of development of the repertoire and, on the other hand, improvisations which are either based on what one has just worked on or, more freely, on the totality of the possibilities given by the repertoire and also by what is external to it (fortuitous encounters between individual productions). The objective remains therefore that of putting the participants in real improvisational situations where one can determine one’s own path and in which ideally all the participants are in specific roles of equal importance.

Different types of protocols or procedures can be categorized, but care should be taken not to catalogue them in detail in what would look like a manual. In fact, protocols must always be invented or reinvented in each particular situation. Indeed, the composition of the groups in terms of the heterogeneity of the artistic fields involved, the levels of technical (or other) ability, age, of social background, geographical origin, different cultures, particular objectives in relation to the group’s situation, etc., must each time determine what the protocol proposes to do and therefore its contextual content.

Here are some of the categories of possible protocols among those we have explored:

  1. Coexistence of proposals. Each participant can define a particular sound and/or gestural movement. Each participant must maintain his or her own elaborate production throughout an improvisation. Improvisation therefore only concerns the temporality and the level of personal interventions in superimpositions or juxtapositions. The interaction takes place at the level of a coexistence of the various proposals in various combinations chosen at the time of the improvised performance. Variations can be introduced in the personal proposals.
  2. Collective sounds developed from a model. Timbres are proposed individually to be reproduced as best they can by the whole group in order to create a given collective sound.
  3. Co-construction of materials. Small groups (4 or 5) can be assigned to develop a coherent collective sound or body movements. The work is envisaged at the oral level, but each group can choose its own method of elaboration, including the use of paper notations. Then teach it to other groups in the manner of their choice.
  4. Construction of rhythmic structures (loops, cycles). The characteristic situation of this kind of protocol is the group arranged in a circle, each participant in turn (in the circle) producing an improvised short sound or gesture, all this in a form of musical “hoquet”. Usually the production of the sounds or gestures that loop in the circle is based on a regular pulse. Variations are introduced by silences in the regular flow, superimposing loops of varying lengths, rhythmic irregularities, etc.
  5. Clouds, textures, sounds and collective gestural movements – individuals drowned in the mass. Following the model developed by a number of composers of the second half of the twentieth century such as Ligeti and Xenakis, clouds or sound textures (this applies to gestures and body movements as well) can be developed from a given sonority distributed randomly over time by a sufficient number of people producing them. The collective produces a global sound (or global body movements) in which the individual productions are blended into the mass. Most of the time, improvisation consists in making the global sound or the movements evolve in a collective way towards other sound or gestural qualities.
  6. Situations of social interaction. Sounds or gestures are not defined, but the way of interacting between participants is. Firstly, there is the situation of moving from silence to collectively determined gestural and bodily movements (or to a sound), as in situations of warm-up or early stages of improvisation in which effective improvised play only begins when all participants have agreed in all senses of the word tuning : a) that which consists of instruments or bodies being in tune, b) that which concerns the collective’s test of the acoustics and spatial arrangement of a room to feel together in a particular environment, c) that which concerns the fact that the participants have agreed to do the same activity socially. This is for example what is called the prelude in European classical music, the alãp in North Indian classical music, a process of gradual introduction into a more or less determined sound universe, or to be determined collectively. Secondly, one or more actions can be prohibited in the course of an improvisation. Thirdly, the rules of the participants’ playing time, or of a particular structuring of the temporal course of the improvisation can be determined. Finally, one can determine behaviours, but not the sounds or gestures that the behaviours will produce.
  7. Objects foreign to an artistic field, for example, which have no function of producing sounds in the case of music, may be introduced to be manipulated by the collective and indirectly determine the nature of the sounds or gestures that will accompany this manipulation. The example that immediately comes to mind is that of the sound illustration of silent films. But there are an infinite number of possible objects to use in this situation. The attention of the participants is mainly focused on the manipulation of the object borrowed from another domain and not on the particular production of what the usual discipline requires.

 

6. Conclusion

The two concepts of dispositif and of system of constraints seem to be an interesting way to define artistic research, especially in the context of heterogeneous collective creative projects: collective improvisation, socio-political contexts of artistic acts, informal/formal relationships to institutions, Questions of transmission of knowledge and know-how, various ways of interacting between humans, between humans and machines, and between humans and non-humans. This widens considerably the scope of artistic acts: curriculum design, interdisciplinary research projects, teaching workshops (see François 2007), become, in this context, fully-fledged artistic situations outside the exclusivity of performances on stage.

Today we are confronted with an electronic world of an extraordinary diversity of artistic practices and at the same time a multiplication of socially homogeneous networks. These practices tend to develop strong identities and hyper-specializations. This urgently forces us to work on the meeting of cultures that tend to ignore each other. In informal as well as formal spaces, within socially heterogeneous groups, ways of developing collective creations based on the principles of direct democracy should be encouraged. The world of electronic technologies increasingly allows access for all to creative and research practices, at various levels and without having to go through the institutional usual pathways. This obliges us to discuss the ways in which these activities may or may not be accompanied by artists working in formal or informal spaces. The indeterminate nature of these obligations – not in terms of objectives, but in terms of actual practice – brings us back to the idea of nomadic and transversal artistic acts.

 

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1. The folowing musicians participated to this project : Laurent Grappe, Jean-Charles François, Karine Hahn, Gilles Laval, Pascal Pariaud et Gérald Venturi.

2. Derek Bayley defines “idiomatic” and “non-idiomatic” improvisation as a question of identity to a cultural domain, and not so much in terms of language content: “Non idiomatic improvisation has other concerns and is more usually found in so-called ‘free’ improvisation and , while it can be highly stylised, is not usually tied to representing an idiomatic identity.” (Bayley, p. xii)

3. See www.paalabres.org 2016 Edition, stations Nomade and Transversal, central line ”Cartographie PaaLabRes” for definitions of these terms.

 

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Bibliographie

Bayley, Derek. 1992. Improvisation, its nature and practice in music. Londres: The British Library National Sound Archive.

Becker, Howard. 2007. « Le pouvoir de l’inertie », Enseigner la Musique n°9/10, Lyon : Cefedem AuRA – CNSMD de Lyon. This French translation is extracted from Propos sur l’Art, pp. 59-72, L’Harmatan, 1999, translation by Axel Nesme. English original edition: Becker, Howard. 1982. Art Worlds, Berkley LA-London: University of California Press.

Certeau, Michel de. 1974. La culture au pluriel. Paris: Christian Bourgeois Editeur, (1980).

Coessens, Kathleen, Darla Crispin and Anne Douglas. 2009. The Artistic Turn, A Manifesto. Ghent : Orpheus Institute, distributed by Leuven University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles et Felix Guattari. 1980. Mille Plateaux. Paris : Editions de Minuit.

François, Jean-Charles, Eddy Schepens, Karine Hahn, and Dominique Clément. 2007. « Processus contractuels dans les projets de réalisation musicale des étudiants au Cefedem Rhône-Alpes », Enseigner la Musique N°9/10, Cefedem Rhône-Alpes, CNSMD de Lyon, pp. 173-194.

François, Jean-Charles 2008. “Dialog der Hochbegabten des Verstandes”, in Vinko Globokar, 14 Arten einen Musiker zu beschrieben, eds Werner Klüppelholz and Sigrid Konrad. Saarbrücken: PFAU, pp. 11-35. English translation in Open Space Magazine, Issue 11, fall 2009, pp. 2-24.

François, Jean-Charles. 2015a. “Improvisation, Orality, and Writing Revisited”, Perspectives of New Music, Volume 53, Number 2 (Summer 2015), pp. 67-144. Publish in French in the first edition of paalabres.org, station timbre with the title « Revisiter la question du timbre ».

François, Jean-Charles. 2015b. “I.O.U. A Lot – ComplE/Imentary to I/O by Benjamin Boretz”, The Space Magazine, Issue 19/20, fall 2015/spring 2016, ed. Dorota Czerner. Text published in French at the station IO + IOU of www.paalabres.org, 2016 (voir io-iou).

François, Jean-Charles. 2016a. “Paradoxical Situations of the Performer’s Body: Between Orality and Writing”, Improfil, Theorie und Praxis improvisierter Musik, Nr. 79, Mai 2016.

François, Jean-Charles. 2016b. Several contributions in www.paalabres.org, notably “Présentation du livre The Artistic Turn, A Manifesto de Kathleen Coessens, Darla Crispin et Anne Douglas.” (station the artistic turn et Nomade).

Foucault, Michel. 1977. « Entrevue. Le jeu de Michel Foucault », Ornicar, N°10.

Glissant, Edouard. 1996. Introduction à une poétique du divers. Paris : Gallimard.

Hennion, Antoine. 1993. La Passion musicale, Une sociologie de la médiation. Paris : Editions Métailié, 1993.

Hennion, Antoine. 1995. « La médiation au cœur du refoulé », Enseigner la Musique N°1. Cefedem Rhône-Alpes and CNSMD de Lyon, pp. 5-12.

PaaLabRes, collective. 2016. www.paalabres.org, station Débat on the line “Recherche artistique”, a debate organized by the PaaLabRes collective and the Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in 2015.

Schwab, Michael. 2013. Experimental Systems Future Knowledge in Artistic Research. Orpheus Institute, Ghent. Leuven : Leuven University Press.

Stengers, Isabelle. 1996. Cosmopolitiques 1: La guerre des sciences. Paris : La Découverte / Les empêcheurs de penser en rond.

Stengers, Isabelle. 1997. Cosmopolitiques 7: Pour en finir avec la tolerance, chapter 6, “Nomades et sédentaires?”. Paris: La Découverte / Empêcheurs de penser en rond.

Sudnow, David. 2001. Ways of the Hand, A Rewritten Account. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT

Giacomo Spica Capobianco – English

Return to the French original text: Entretien avec Giacomo Spica Capobianco


.

Encounter with Giacomo Spica Capobianco

Jean-Charles François and Nicolas Sidoroff

May 2019

 

 

Summary

Introduction
I. The Orchestre National Urbain
II. Actions carried out at La Duchère (Lyon neighborhood) 2015-2019

a. The Projet
b. The Origin of the Projet
c. Instrument Building: The Spicaphone
d. The Residencies
e. The Writing Workshops
f. The Organization of the First Residency

III. Cra.p, An Art Center
IV. Political Politics and Citizen Politics

List of institutions mentioned in this text

Introduction

Giacomo Spica Capobianco has been working for more than thirty years to break down walls, fill in ditches, open windows in the walls to see what’s behind, build bridges so that antagonisms can meet, discover each other, confront each other peacefully. In 1989, he created the Cra.p, “Centre d’art – musiques urbaines/musiques électroniques”. The objective of this center is:

to exchange knowledge and know-how in the field of urban electro music, to cross aesthetics and practices, to provoke encounters, to invent new forms, to create artistic clashes, to give the means to express oneself.

(https://crap-lyon.fr)

It is through real acts of development of artistic practices that his action has taken shape in a variety of contexts difficult to define with hastily predetermined labels, but with a special concern for people who often “have no access to anything”. The breaking down of boundaries, in the reality of his action, never corresponds to forcing one aesthetic on another or to the detriment of another. On the contrary, his action is based on the creation of situations designed to help individuals develop their own artistic production, collectively, in the company of others, whatever their differences.

 

I. The Orchestre National Urbain

Jean-Charles F.:

Can you give us some details about the Orchestre National Urbain [National Urban Orchestra](see the list of institutions). What is it and how does it work?

Giacomo S. C.:

The Orchestre National Urbain was created following an idea I had a long, long time ago. In 2006, at the Forum on popular music in Nancy, I answered someone who asked me what I was doing, “Yeah, I am setting up the ONU” [United Nation] with a giggle. So, he said, “What’s it all about?” I told him, “It’s the Orchestre National Urbain.” OK, that was in 2006. In 2012 it started titillating me and in 2013 I decided to really create the Orchestre National Urbain.

The Orchestre National Urbain[1], is not the ONU [UN], let’s not be mistaken, it’s just a thumb of the nose. The cast of this orchestra is made up of both men and women musicians, there is parity between men and women. There are people who come from classical music, jazz, hip hop, electro, from all directions, it’s not about making a melting pot of everyone because it looks good, or everyone is great, it’s absolutely not that. It’s about working together to produce music, everybody also having a fairly strong pedagogical intent. It’s about working with a lot of people in the deprived neighborhoods, but also not just these people.

I asked around who would be interested in joining an orchestra with me. Lucien16S (Sébastien) was the first to express some interest. Also, Thècle who does beat-box here, electro, a very interesting girl who took part in our training program. asked her if she wanted to be part of the ONU and she said yes. Afterwards, another person came to join, and so on. The number of people has changed since then, because some people have left. It has been a little while since it has stabilized to eight people. The goal of the game is to have a written repertoire, everything is written. You can still improvise, you can improvise, but it’s really a very structured music to start with, which I composed. The texts are shared, which means that I’m not the only one who writes the texts, I write very few of them, it’s more the others who create them. And the name of the game was to compose everything by recording directly with a spicaphone (my one-stringed stick) and the use of my looper, and then to work in an oral way with people. This approach avoids having scores and all that it implies. Except for the brass players, because sometimes they would say, “Scores!” Then, we had to find people who wanted to be part of this dynamic. The idea was also that they could come and share their knowledge with any public and on top of that have some patience as well. I recently met a girl on drum set who was a candidate. We discussed it, she told me: “Anyway, no pedagogy, no improvisation.” I told her: “No ONU! Ciao!” I thought we couldn’t get along if pedagogy and improvisation were against her nature. We had to create a team that wanted to do this kind of thing. It was a very long process, because we had to set up a repertoire that lasted a little over an hour. Immediately the question arose as to the raison d’être of the Orchestre National Urbain, what does it represent politically, and what does it mean? It’s not only an artistic project, but it’s also to come back to the most remote neighborhoods and put a dent in things to get them going again. From there, I wrote a project that I presented to the local authorities (City of Lyon, Prefecture, DRAC and Lyon Métropole; see list of institutions). Everyone accepted. So, they started to help us a little with small grants to get started. We were able to launch the projects we had announced. I’m not saying that we now have thousands and hundreds of euros, but we now receive more support than what we had at the beginning.

With the Orchestre National Urbain, the idea is to settle in a city and ask to have access to a concert hall. We stay for a week, it doesn’t cost them anything because we are financed so that all the people involved are paid, and for a week we work with all the kids in the area.

Today, the reflection is not limited with the Orchestre National Urbain to sharing our practices with people from the most remote neighborhoods, but also to do so with people working in higher education. In other words, to show them our way of working. I want to see how we can take young musicians to work first on the artistic side and then on ways of looking at pedagogy. That is the main idea. A base has been established with the Orchestre National Urbain. But it is a base that moves, that is not fixed. In other words, there is a base and then there are around punctual and satellite projects. I just came back from Morocco, I discovered that in Morocco they are very interested in this project. I worked with Berbers, Berber tribes, mostly women, it was very interesting. If all goes well, we will be invited to go and play in Morocco in September (2019), and I don’t just want to go and play in Morocco to pretend to be the star. We will go there to meet the Berbers and work with them both artistically and pedagogically. That’s why I went there: I played and developed pedagogical situations. And I want to develop this more and more. My wish is that the Orchestre National Urbain will multiply in other regions, in other countries, and that this reflection can be part of a network, because we think it works well. Today we have a result, that is to say that we are quite happy with what is happening and especially with the relationship we are able to establish with the people we meet.

For me, it’s a bit like the results of thirty years of Cra.p where I’ve done a lot of projects, a lot of music, and where I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of different people and work with them. There was a moment when I thought that I needed to create something very, very tightly framed, but geared towards meeting people, and to see how you can develop things and reflections from this project. And with a huge cock a snook: for the Orchestre National Urbain, to call itself the ONU [UN] means a lot to me – and it is a political and cultural act. As far as Cra.p is concerned, I’m super happy. We have been around for thirty years, with people that we have been able to bring today to get a State Diploma and who now work here, others will follow the same path, it’s all working well. And I would like it to be a model for other cities and towns, in other regions, but it’s very fragile because we are perhaps the only ones to have developed this idea.

Jean-Charles F. :

So, inside the ONU, the way I understand things, it is at the same time a musical ensemble, and also a sort of commando somehow, a group of reflection and a pedagogical team. So, it’s a multi-entry structure. And at the same time, within it there is diversity. Could you talk about this diversity? And also, how do those who come from this diversity meet each other?

Giacomo S. C. :

Diversity is achieved through the choice of the members of the orchestra. I didn’t want to have only people for example connected to amplified popular music (in addition they are in a network of which I myself am a part). Moreover, diversity was not achieved by a calculation, but by affinity. This means that I had the chance to meet people from different worlds, I don’t have blinders on. I’m often invited to go towards others who are not supposedly part of my musical field, but I don’t see what that means: going towards others doesn’t necessarily imply abandoning one’s own way of seeing things. But when a classical singer comes to see us, I find it very interesting to wonder how we’re going to work together. She has learned things on her own, we have built things of our own, how can this be connected? Is the public going to be able to get involved in this process as well? Because inevitably, when you have eight people who all come from completely different places, and who present themselves in front of an audience that is also different, you wonder how they will consider this work, how they will react. That’s what interests me. It means that we have to ask ourselves how we’re going to be able to shake up the blinders of those who are separated by the barriers they’ve built, we’re at the heart of the subject of your edition, “Breaking down the walls”. For more than twenty years we have been saying with great ambition (and utopia) that we were going to be able to change things to make the departments of jazz, rock, traditional music, or other “something” departments work together. I don’t think things have changed that much.

Casting people from very different backgrounds in this way brings back this ambition to the forefront, and we demonstrate that it can be successful. And right now, I’ve just invited a cellist, Selim Penarañda, because we had a saxophonist who could hardly ever be there. I knew Selim and I called him. He has an extremely interesting background, it’s very rare. He is of Andalusian Arab origin, from an Algerian mother and a Spanish father. He was born in La Croix-Rousse [a Lyon neighborhood]. He was not at all destined to be a classical cellist. Selim ended up doing classical music, because he had a great teacher when he was in school: for the last half hour every day, she would play classical music for them. When he was 12 years old, he said, “What’s that?” She said, “It’s cello.” So, he said, “I want to play the cello”. His parents struggled to get him a cello and he managed to get lessons, and everything followed on. Now he is a cellist and he is a teacher. He is a teacher and a musician. He comes from classical music, and all of a sudden you amplify his cello, and everything starts happening, and he’s delighted. He says, “Finally, I find a project where I feel good.” And furthermore, he plays chamber music. And that’s the kind of situation I’m interested in.

Nicolas S. :

How did you meet him, for example?

Giacomo S. C. :

He came to enroll here, and he told us: “I play cello and chamber music; I want to work on the new technology”. We talked and he did a three-month internship with us. But he was playing so much that he couldn’t go on. He didn’t have time to continue the training he wanted to do here, so he disappeared. We then had Caroline Silvestre on trombone, we tried to work with her for a while and it didn’t work because there were two residencies where she couldn’t come. So Sébastien told me that he had contacts with Sélim and that we could try to work with him. I accepted right away, that’s how it happened. And Selim is delighted, he has direct tools for dealing with encounters, he does things that work directly, he lends his cello, and so on.

Then there’s the trombonist Joël Castaingts who joined the ONU about a year ago, because Caroline Sylvestre couldn’t continue. He’s a very interesting person, what really appealed to me about this guy is that he wasn’t the kind of person who refused to lend his trombone to those who participated in the workshops. For example, he would play something and then he would pass his trombone to one of the kids and say, “Go ahead and play”. That’s a sign for me, because you still have to be careful when you do that, because you can get bacteria, you don’t know what the kids are doing. It’s a sign of trust, for me it means a lot of things.

It’s very positive, but this choice is also made because, when you go in a residency, you are in front of an audience with whom you have to share these different ways of making music. You have to take into account how they see a lyrical singer, how they see a classical cellist, how they see a crazy person with instruments made from simple materials, how they see someone who makes rap music. And they realize that in fact these people can actually work together. How they see a dancer who’s not hip hop, nor in contemporary or classical dance, but who’s moving and all of a sudden, she’s making sense of her body, and how they can make sense of their bodies too. I have practiced this axis so much and for so long that it has become almost an unconscious act on my part and it could not be done otherwise. This is more or less the story of diversity and encounter. Indeed, this meeting of diversities is difficult and takes time. It’s not as simple as that, since the current team is not the same one as two or three years ago. Because there are some people who couldn’t hold out, faced with reasoning which was so disruptive to them. Recently, I’ve seen people leave the orchestra saying, “No, my idea is not to make music like that.” Then all of a sudden, it was people who were not ready to do that, who were trying to put some kind of very personal thing inside the project and that made it a project within the project. And I also find that this type of encounters is interesting at the research level, that’s what we would like to see a little bit more in educational training programs, where unfortunately, I say, it’s getting worse and worse. That’s why I’m talking about the lower regression in relation to higher education. I think there is an even more worrying backtrack than the one we experienced in the 1960s and 1970s: that period was perhaps more interesting than the one we’re experiencing today. You can go to any place where you practice music, there are very few of them with interesting things going on between the different musical castes present. There’s a kind of partitioning that drives me crazy.

This is how the Orchestre National Urbain was conceived. But it goes further than that: we are in the process of building up a repertoire. My ambition is also to meet other groups. I talked about it some time ago with Camel Zekri who told me: “With traditional music, we really need to put something together”. With Karine Hahn, not long ago, I talked about Gaël Rassaert with his Camerata du Rhône, a string ensemble, why not organize a meeting with them? What could we do together? I have a network of rappers, so we’re going to invite rappers on stage so that practices can be confronted. What interests me is to organize a platform with an orchestra where it moves. How can you envision that it’s not all and everything? What coherence can we find with traditional music from any ethnic group, from any place? How can we meet with contemporary music, with classical music musicians, with whomever? It’s not just about meeting each other, it’s also about knowing how we think together about the problems that it raises, how we really work together in common. That’s more or less the idea of this project.

 

II. Actions carried out at La Duchère ( Lyon neighborhood) 2015-2019

a. The Projet

Jean-Charles F. :

Could you describe a particular action in detail? A project you have done recently or less recently. Something where you would have all the elements at hand.

Giacomo S. C. :

A very recent action is the work carried out at La Duchère, a neighborhood in Lyon (in the 9th district). So, la Duchère project has been in existence for three or four years, working to create a group of young people: four years ago they were 12/13 years old, now they are 16/17. This work, for me, has given the most interesting result today, certainly in the research on the behavior of this group and its entourage. We did three residencies there, the last one took place in April 2019, always with the same young people, which allowed us to see how they had evolved. From the point of view of the young people, it was something that worked very well. It set in motion a lot of possible openings. Then, it’s more difficult when we have people who participate in the project and who are hired by a Social Center, a MJC [Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture, Cultural and Youth Centers, see list of institutions], a Music School, or a Conservatory, and who, because their directors suddenly throw in the towel, can no longer work with us. This means that we can no longer work with people who are in constant contact with the kids. Precisely at the Duchère there were some unforeseen changes: the project took place in the library/media library of the Duchère and the Conservatoire de Lyon [CRR, see list of institutions] was a partner. All of a sudden, this place burned down due to a criminal act. All the equipment used to make music burned down. That’s how the MJC de la Duchère opened its doors to welcome these kids.

The aim of the Orchestre National Urbain is to identify young people, above all to bring them to a diploma course. We’re seeing a drift that I described in 2005 in Enseigner la musique,[2] and we’re going to have to work hard on this: animators working in one place, who initially do a bit of music, but don’t have that function, are trying, despite the fact that they already have a job, to take the place of the Orchestre National Urbain‘s players, while requesting to be trained. So the problem is that these people act as a screen in front of the young people without being aware of it or being too well aware of it. The worst thing here is to mislead kids, telling them they’re going to be stars, they’re going to play everywhere and they’re going to make big bucks. That’s what Cra.p has been fighting against for thirty years, that’s why we’re here, I think. We receive a lot of requests to train MJC’s activity leaders and during the meetings I fight very strongly against this attitude which consists in pushing the kids into an illusion that will in any case bust if they continue this way. I don’t have anything against the MJC activity leaders, it’s not a minor job. And since they absolutely want to be trained to help young people, we don’t say no. We can welcome these activity leaders in training on one condition: there has to be a charter that stipulates that the goal of the training is to bring them up to a Conservatory degree and then to a teaching State Diploma in music. This is where we are, in concrete terms, right now.

Jean-Charles F. :

I would like to go one step back: at the Duchère, you said that it had worked well, but what worked well?

Giacomo S. C. :

What has worked well is that over the four years you have a stable public, a group of twelve children who have grown up, who have continued to be involved in the project and who continue to make music. At the beginning they were kids who had never touched an instrument or written texts. That’s it, the machine is up and running. They are also starting, themselves, to get the younger ones to work. That’s where it works. This project consists in saying:

  1. We’re going to take kids from neighborhoods that have no future anyway, because even if they go to school, there won’t be a job when they finish.
  2. For those who are interested, they will be given the necessary tools to go all the way.

 

And where I’ m pleased that it works is that, although the decision-makers and facilitators change, the kids stay. I think that’s where the success is. It means that we’ve managed to amaze them and encourage them. For me, they are the future educators with whom we will be able to work, and who will be in relay with the work we are doing in the 8th arrondissement of Lyon. It’s going to become a network: the 8th with the 3rd, the 7th and the 9th. And we will train these kids so that we can get them back to be a link with their neighborhood, so that they can develop things and so that they can have a similar position to that of a violin teacher at the conservatory. La Duchère is the most interesting example for the moment, because it’s still going on, it didn’t collapse, it’s the same people from the beginning. What’s super interesting for us is that there are more girls than boys, knowing that in certain neighborhoods the position of girls is culturally restricted.

Jean-Charles F. :

To make music, in the Duchère context, what does it mean in terms of, for example, oral learning, use of instruments and technologies, styles of music?

Giacomo S. C. :

This is the reflection that motivated me a lot: how was I going to set up a pedagogical project precisely so as not to fall into the flaws of a single particular aesthetic? When you arrive in a neighborhood, we tend to talk only about rap, R’n’B, a lot of trap currents, a lot of things that are happening now. That’s not what interests me. Of course, it’s not that I’m not interested in making them do rap or anything else, but that’s not what really concerns me. More, it’s about creating a group that produces a collective creation, and we don’t have to dictate to them what aesthetics they should choose. There are also writing workshops, and we’re not going to tell them what subject matter they need to address. They just have to avoid talking about sex, politics, and religion, because, being overseen by the Ministry of the Interior, we’re not allowed to do that with minors. Working in a collegial or collective writing workshop, they choose their own subject matter.

Then, we always work with musical orality, quickly, with loopers, with electronic instruments, with drums and with a lot of other things. Because in the Orchestre National Urbain, there are not only electronic musicians, but there is also a trombonist, there is a cellist, there is a drum set player. The trick is to give them a little bit of basic skills and let them build their own projects and their own aesthetics. And we can’t say that, tomorrow for example, the group de la Duchère is going to do songs [chanson], rap or something else: who cares? They create something and after a while they will do with it what they want to do with it. That’s the goal. But it’s certainly out of the question to arrive and say: we’re going to do a workshop of this or that music. We don’t know, since we also put young people in contact with people from the classical music world, types of musicians they are not used to meeting. At the moment, I am preparing a video for the festival where we see the cellist, Selim Peñaranda getting people working, he has an electric cello – in the Orchestre National Urbain it’s more appropriate to play with an electric cello than with an acoustic one. When he gets kids to work with a cello, all of a sudden, a contact is created. His approach is very interesting, but that doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly going to turn them into classical musicians or rock musicians. It’s more a question of saying: “You make music.” The idea is to simply make music. But that’s not my only concern. It’s also about taking into account all the different professions in the performing arts. It means that for a while, you may have someone working in sound engineering explaining to them what a mixing desk is and all that it implies. Because there are some, in the mass, who are not going to be musicians, but who may be interested in other aspects of the performing arts. For example, one of them is going to be interested in lights, or another one is going to be interested in décors (we don’t do décors). By showing that there is also work in the world of the performing arts, we open up a field of possibilities for everyone. There are far too few minority people working in this sector. And then these people are not even aware of what’s going on, they don’t even know that there are vocational training centers for that.

The example for the moment, the lab if you want, the most interesting is that of the Duchère. It’s not simple at all, because I’m in the process of wrestling with several people, because they don’t understand that they simply have to provide the interface. You have to tell them all the time, that this is not for them. But they know it as well as I do: when you bring something interesting, you have to provide the interface, without wanting to take over the main role, as in a slightly mafia-like system (i.e. the animator who would like to take the place of the young people in training for the State Diploma in Popular Music [Diplôme d’État de Musiques Actuelles Amplifiées]).

 

b. The Origin of the Project

Nicolas S. :

What interests us is how do you start? What was the beginning, the starting impulse?

Giacomo S. C. :

In the background of the Duchère, one dimension must be emphasized: to be able to attract young people, to get them into this process, it was not done in a snap of the fingers, and they would not have come without a teaser. At the Duchère media library where the project began, we were asked: “What can you offer to attract kids?” I suggested something very simple: a “round of loopers.” It means:

a) There are several people.
b) We turn on loopers.
c) Each one takes a microphone.
d) One produces onomatopoeias in the microphone such as clack, plack, pluck, plick, click, etc.
e) One puts them in loop with the loopers and it turns.
f) And then, you may freely play with it.

We created three stations in the library in the middle of the afternoon, without requiring people to register. We started to make sound and the kids arrived. And then we teased them: “Do you want to go on? Yes? Well! Paf! Poof!” It started. At one point, they left: “Where are you going?” – “I’m coming back.” They came back with 15 of their friends, it went fast. Because, for them, it would be absolute bliss to have a machine like that in their possession. So, we did the loopers’ round and the objective was to work with Lucas Villon, who is a musician working for the Lyon Regional Conservatory. He was in training at Cra.p while taking care of the kids there. He was the relay, and we said to all these kids, “Here you have the possibility to come every Tuesday evening from 6 to 7:30 or 8 p.m., with Lucas.” We went to see them from time to time, we went there three times a year. And a year later, we organized the first residency, and there we saw them all again. So, the residency also developed from the work that Lucas had done, that’s what created this group. For three years, every year we did a residency with this group, and now we’ve just done one. That’s how these kids became faithful to us. But, in the beginning, they were not regular users of the MJC [Youth Cultural Center] de la Duchère, nor of the library. Maybe they went there to look for a book, but there was no cultural activity organized for them. Afterwards, since the library burned down, we saw with the MJC if it was possible to open something and they took over. That’s how it happened.

Nicolas S. :

I am more and more convinced that people are experimenting with things and are gradually building an experiment by trying things without really knowing what they are building. Ten years later, this produces something more or less interesting and yet it works, and it has answered the questions that were asked at the beginning. And after ten years of experimentation, they will always be talking from where they have ended up. And what’s often missing is the narrative that finally gets you to understand the insight of experimentation, so you can allow others to start doing something similar.

What’s interesting for me is the whole process that took place to invent this particular system, in this particular place, which could be quite different elsewhere. At La Duchère, you just talked about the loopers’ round at the library. What is it that at a given moment, given the circumstances, the encounters and the situations, this round of loopers is made possible? Why did you find it interesting to go and do this project there?

Giacomo S. C. :

In fact, this project was made possible initially by the concern of the elected officials of a city, its social and cultural actors. It is this concern on their part that gave meaning to the loopers’ round. Otherwise you come, you do a round of loopers and it’s direct consumption by the individuals who pass by: they’ve consumed something and then we don’t talk about it anymore. If there isn’t a sufficiently global awareness among the citizens who are there, surrounded by all these people who decide for them, or who think for them, if there isn’t a common reflection, we can’t work. The relevance of the loopers’ round is that, when it happens, it corresponds to how you can bring people to an artistic act very quickly, and how you can hang them up right away so that, after that, they can work in the long term and that suddenly it will make sense in the city. In this case, this project took place on the site of the Duchère where culture had been put aside completely for religious, political, social and financial reasons. The problem was: how to succeed in putting a breeding pond back in place. I think the loopers’ round is a possible solution among any other. We could have just as easily worked with the instruments I’m building there [at Cra.p], putting them in the library and then having them hit the cans. It would have been the same for me. The important thing is to think about the best way to involve people in a long-term process, so that we can create a team of people who are going to raise awareness among these youngsters as they grow up.

Nicolas S. :

Before arriving at the round, how do you raise awareness of the team of people around them and who decide for them, how do you get in touch with them? What makes that, at some point, they are the ones who come looking for you saying: “Giacomo (or the Cra.p) we need you”? What relationships do you build, because there is a long-term story there too?

Giacomo S. C. :

Most of the time we do a bit of advertising, well, not much advertising, the town councils have been called upon a little. So, there is no accident, there are moments like that when we were sought at the moment when things were being set up. A few years ago, within the framework of the Orchestre National Urbain, I met a musician – Lucas Villon (see above) – whom I met at the CFMI [Centre de Formation des Intervenants à l’Ecole, a music teacher’s training program for musicians who are going to be in residence in primary schools (see list of institutions)] a few years before and who told me: “I would like to work with you.” It’s the only one in twenty years of CFMI – I’ve been working there for twenty years, four days a year – it’s the only one who came to see me and said, “I want to set up a workshop with the kids in a neighborhood, to do hip-hop, if that’s what they want.” At that time, I was working very hard on the Orchestre National Urbain and on these issues. I asked him to join the Cra.p. training program. The Lyon Regional Conservatory paid him for two years of training here, because he was not up to date on practices within the neighborhoods and on writing workshops. So, he came to see me because he had a project to set up a hip hop workshop at La Duchère and he said, “I’m coming to see you because I need you, can you help me?” So that’s how it was done, and there are a lot of places, you know, where we’ve been called to try to solve big problems. As for example, some time ago at Morel College [Junior high school], Place Morel in La Croix-Rousse [Lyon neighborhood]. The documentalist had called us, in order to find solutions because there was a rather delicate social split in this college: you had the Whites on one side, and the Arabs and the Blacks on the other, and they were fighting each other from morning to night. She had the intelligence to tell herself that she was going to find people to set up a hip hop workshop in rap music and in dance too, and so we worked there for more than a year. It’s requests like that that allow us to reflect afterwards, to say, well, we’ve been through this, what does it achieve, even on a sociological level, how does it evolve? Most of the time, on all the actions that we have carried out, we have been called, we have not been the ones who solicited the institutions.

Nicolas S. :

At the Duchère, it is Lucas who comes to see you, but do you also have an analysis with the people around him, in order to decide that it is worth doing something there?

Giacomo S. C. :

In fact, we received a call from the Lyon town hall, and they told us that there were big problems at the MJC Vergoin of the 9th arrondissement in Saint-Rambert [Lyon neighborhood]. It’s the politicians who are calling us today, who tell us that they need us to put out the fire there, who are asking us to put things in place. In this case, for the story of the Duchère, it was Lucas who made the first step. We met one of the people in charge of the 9th arrondissement media-library, who is also very involved in this and there was a round-table discussion with other people in charge of the town, before starting the project. For me, when there is a round table discussion, if there are not strong enough political reflections behind the project, I don’t go along. That means that I absolutely don’t want to do what we were made to do more than 25 years ago when things were burning everywhere, one-off actions to calm things down, to prevent people from burning cars. That is over. When we met the people at the Duchère, we demanded that we work on the long term: not for one year, but for 3, 6, 9, 12, 15 years. Even if we are not the ones who are going to carry out the project, we needed to be able to create a team capable of grasping what we had put in place and so that it could continue. These are decisions that are made even before arriving on the loopers’ round, it’s well before, it’s really the preparation, with the elected officials and with everyone. Actually, I was a little hesitant to contact these people, but it’s easy to do, you call them and then you demand that everyone be around the table. And they get moving nevertheless, and afterwards it’s good, because there are some who adhere, there are some who don’t, but at least you can talk with them. That’s how the preparation before the beginning of the project went. There is always a reflection that has to be done before starting something in relation to the problem that is posed. It’s not like in the case of a master class where you come, you do something great and you leave straight away, without any reflection before or after, it’s direct consumerism, for me that’s not interesting. The thinking that we carry out before any project concerns the question of what we could set up with a specific public, which most of the time has been hindered. Rarely have we arrived in a place where everything was completely comfortable. If the local people did not understand what we were bringing, no connection could be established with them. I also believe that what gives us more and more work today is that there is less comfort everywhere. You have to find a balance in order precisely to federate when you get to the loopers’ round, it’s actually very simple: you’ve already arrived.

Nicolas S. :

And the time between the moment when Lucas says, “I want to do that” and the moment of the loopers’ round how long is it, a year, a year and a half?

Giacomo S. C. :

No, it’s faster than that, it’s very fast, we’re still talking about rapid emergence here, we have to be quick.

Nicolas S. :

You have to be quick, but you have to get in touch with the librarian who is interested, and make sure that you get the around the table you talked about?

Giacomo S. C. :

It’s 3 or 4 months. There is this first meeting with 2 or 3 people, and then after they understand, they can interface with the others. Because it’s all about interfaces, you don’t call an elected representative directly and say that we have to see each other, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, you need the interfaces that advise people to say that they have to meet us, because there is an interesting project that we want to set up with them. You can see that’s how it works. Today we’re a little bit beyond that stage, because we’re accredited by Grand Lyon agglomeration (see list of institutions), which means that we have a recognition label that took 30 years to establish. The relevance of a project doesn’t simply depend on the fact that I come to play and then do one or two master classes, but it’s: what continuities, what processes are put in place so that people seize control on the project. The project at La Duchère is the most interesting example for us, you can see it by the way these young people take control of it and above all the space we leave for them. Because the biggest battle when you are on a site like that is to make those who work there and who are in regular positions understand that they have to leave space for the young people who come to do things there.

Jean-Charles F. :

Can you develop this idea of collective, democratic creation. How does it really happen? What are the procedures?

Giacomo S. C. :

It’s very simple: there are eight of us, sometimes ten, each with a very specific discipline, with a project. So, we have to work together to ensure that it’s not just a simple consumption, with each person doing his or her own thing in his or her own corner, we have to establish links between all the disciplines.

 

c. Instrument Building: The Spicaphone.

Giacomo S. C. :

When you arrive at the sites, you realize that buying an instrument is impossible. Many refuse to make music because they think they can’t do it for financial reasons. In my workshop, I can have a quarter of an hour with kids working with the instruments present: we are in a phase of awakening, of meeting people; we are not really in a music learning situation, it’s not about delivering music courses, it’s only the possibility to be with an instrument, with a microphone, with a looper, to insert a loop and with all that to do one’s own thing. I let them see what can be developed with several instruments I built myself. If I have five participants in front of me in a space-time, each one will be able to create something. I tell them: “This is the instrument I built like this, it works like this, it has this function, you can use it like this.” I make them play these instruments and from there we create something.

For example, I built a spicaphone, it’s a very simple single-stringed instrument. I love playing with this kind of thing, because I don’t consider myself a guitarist anyway. It’s a posture to be a guitarist, you are part of a family, and if you don’t jerk off at 150 000 km per hour on the neck, you’re not a guitarist. I don’t like the “hero” side of the guitar. So, I told myself that I was going to put only one string, so I wouldn’t be like the others and with a piece of wood even less. And this piece of wood, a polenta spoon, is even worse. People wonder what that thing is, I show them that in fact it works. And when they tell me that they can’t buy a guitar, I tell them no, you can take any piece of wood and make your own. I’m going back to Morocco to build a lot of this kind of instruments. I intend to build six-string orchestras, for example E, A, D, G, B, E, like the ones on the guitar, with six people, each playing a single string.

When you take a drum set, you take it apart and six people can play. This allows you to get back to more interesting things related to collective creation and ensemble playing. It’s mostly about thinking that if I put a kid with something like this in his hands, he’ll play right away. If I put a six-string guitar in his hands, he doesn’t play, I have to fiddle with it, I have to put it in his lap and he has to take sticks to hit it, because that’s the only way he feels comfortable, because otherwise there are too many strings. With the spicaphone there is only one string: “Look, you can do toum toum toum just that, or Tooum Tooum Tooum Tooum simply on the beats.” And that’s it, it starts. This instrument costs only seven euros. These types of instruments, we say among ourselves that they are “crap”, reversing the meaning of the word!

I play with this instrument by fiddling with a lot of tricks; for example, I play with a cello bow. I also let them see that with an instrument like this with one string, you can also create sound materials. You can go as far as creating things with electronic means that are different from sound synthesis. They are very attracted by that; they wonder where the sounds come from when they see me playing. That’s what they’re interested in because suddenly they think it’s possible to do it. And as soon as it’s possible, they adhere, and they come. It’s a pedagogy that doesn’t consist in doing your scales for hours before being able to conceive of an artistic project. It’s a different attitude: approaching music right away, without going through this absolute obligation to learn your scales. However, I don’t talk about scales but about finger dexterity: to be at ease, I make them work on the speed of execution, to feel the fingers on the notes. But I don’t talk to them about notes or scales or things like that. In fact, they are building themselves on their own from that situation. And afterwards, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t the presence of a very sharp theoretical ground, since they are brought up to the point of writing texts, because everybody writes, on very precise rhythmic frames, it’s ultimately rhythmic solfège. You lead them into that, but in order to do that you have to go through a lot of practice beforehand. That is to say, we come back to how we ourselves learned to make music: it was very punk, you would take an instrument that you couldn’t play, you would lock yourself in some stuff, you would play, and then, afterwards, you would go into theory. The opposite works less well for me.

Nicolas S. :

You’re not the only one who thinks that! [laughter]

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, I take the example of what we lost. Academic pedagogy bothers me today, it’s even found in rock music. I’m more than disappointed to see all these young people we’ve graduated – young and old – doing exactly what they criticized for years, I find it absurd. I remember meeting the inspectors who had recently come to Cefedem for a sort of audit to find out what popular music was doing in a place like that. And the first thing they told me was that they were touring around France a bit because they couldn’t stand to see popular music behaving like classical music with scores in rock bands. I found that quite interesting. However, I’m not against scores…

I built a spicaphone for a young Kosovar girl, Aïsha, who had never studied music before. I don’t know what happened over there, but at first she didn’t speak, she was there, she was barely speaking to us. I told her: “You can do toum toum toum toum toum toum toum toum toum toum toum toum [he sings a melody], you can do whatever you want, or you can do toum toum toum toum toum toum [regular and on one pitch] and stay on the beats.” I explained to her: “We’ll turn some sounds (in a loop) and then you’ll play, and then you’ll see. Very shyly, she asked me how to do it: I told her to take the instrument, tap a rhythm, try to place one or two notes and see how it could work. It worked right away, there was direct contact. She started to play this way, she fell in love with the instrument, she wanted me to build one for her, and now she’s playing with it. We put an amplification system at her disposal, and she said that it didn’t sound the same anymore. But she started playing with it, with the idea of varying the sound. And later on, all of a sudden, they came to tell me that she had started to sing as well, even though she didn’t know how to do it, and that up to that point she didn’t even speak. In four years, we’ve seen her evolve and now she’s a leader! We didn’t know where she was going to position herself. She assumed a position.

I have tried with other instruments and it doesn’t work as well. That’s why I’m not the kind of guy who builds maracas out of Coca-Cola cans by putting rice in them.

Jean-Charles F. :

What I find interesting is that the spicaphone is a real instrument.

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, it’s a real instrument, it’s not just a phony one.

 

d. The Residencies

Nicolas S. :

Do the residencies take place during the school holidays?

Giacomo S. C. :

Practically all the time. For the moment we have not made a residency outside school holidays. The first day, when we arrive, it takes a while to settle in. As there is a dance person, Sabrina Boukhenous, she is taking the whole group, while we install everything, so as not to lose time. At the end of the first day, there is the presentation of part of the dance: the group comes to present what they have done, and we introduce ourselves.

Once we’re settled in, on the second day we’re going to start getting the groups together, we’re going to focus during the second day on the writing workshop, because if there are fifteen, twenty people, we can do a writing workshop with fifteen, twenty people and make subgroups inside. We can do five groups of four, with four different topics. Once we have something solid in the writing workshop, we put them on stage right away, so that something emerges: even if they have only written twenty sentences, they have to get them out. As soon as the writing workshop is over, we keep 20 to 30 minutes, so that they can come and present what they have done. Things evolve very quickly, from one day to the next you realize that something has happened.

And then, on the third day, the music workshops on the instruments begin. The number of people is divided by period of time and they are rotated through the workshops. We make them discover all the instruments. They go around all the different instruments so that they can immediately touch them and play them, so that it puts them in a perspective of making sounds, because otherwise if we start playing the aliens ourselves with our instruments, they won’t get hooked, it’s not going to work.

Then they go to see the trombonist, Joël Castaing, he makes them try his instrument straight out. Then they go to Selim, the cellist, the same thing happens, they play and create something. In electro, we’re going to do the same thing using a computer to produce sounds. On drum set, she’s going to make them play, most of the time she makes them play freely at first, and then she tells them: “Well, you can also do that, you can add that, your bass drum can be there, and you can play together.” And then all of a sudden, as we have this single-stringed instrument, the spicaphone, with a bass sound, then we can make a link between the bass (the spicaphone) and the drums. There is also a vocal techniques workshop, with Thècle, a lyric singer, beat-boxer, who also does electro. Finally, Sébastien Leborgne (better known as Lucien 16S) takes them in a writing workshop. For a week, they get to see a little bit of everything that is possible to do. That’s how it goes. That’s the way it works when we work with them for the first time.

All the workshops meet together at the end of the period, we try each time to have between 3/4 of an hour and 1 hour on the final moment, at least, let’s say, over a week, at the end of the third day. We get them up on stage, in small groups, and we say, “Well, there you go! Play!” We let them play. At the beginning it’s pretty messy, but the mess is important, because all of a sudden it gets structured. Then, we tell them: “If, for example, we talk about a 4-beat, 5-beat, 7-beat meter; there are seven of you, we’re doing seven beats; you take one beat each.” They each have an instrument, it’s very simple, it creates a structure and then two people add texts, and that’s how it starts. Everything falls into place, and then suddenly they are told, “Paf! Improvisation moment!” They improvise freely and then we define a framework for their improvisation. That’s what I’ve been doing for years, very simple things. But these very simple things are the means of structuring the group; all of a sudden they play and find an interest in it. Every day we make them play and at the end of the week there is a concert. They play with a full house, at the Duchère, without pretension. For example, I remember there was a full house with the Préfecture’s delegate and other kids from very troubled neighborhoods. What we do with the Orchestre National Urbain is not always easy for them, I thought they were going to burn us! Well, no, that went very well. The kids who get to perform, we don’t fill their heads with a bunch of rubbish, telling them “That’s it, you’re stars”, that’s absolutely not the case. Instead, we explain to them that it’s a job. We talk a lot with them, we accompany them, we get them into situations, we involve them, and that’s why we see them again afterwards. And so, at La Duchère, this is the fourth year that we have seen them. All this is done with very little material that we leave them to use between our interventions. We also make sure that the people in charge of the Youth Cultural Center (MJC) manage to have equipment for the kids, so that all year long they can have a room and come to work there. And there are activity leaders who are starting to help them. So, it’s good that they help them, as long as they don’t help them too much and don’t divert them from their personal development. That’s why the activity leaders who ask for it can come here, to learn, or rather to dis-learn, so that they don’t format as usual kids who have things to say and who are the music of tomorrow.

 

e. The Writing Workshops

Jean-Charles F. :

And there are text-writing workshops. Can you talk about their importance in the set-up?

Giacomo S. C. :

Well, the importance is on many levels. First, it just means “writing”. In the many writing workshops that we organize, we realize more and more that people haven’t mastered the simple act of writing. The kids even less so. The texts don’t necessarily have to have rhythm, they do what they want. If they want to read aloud their text, they can. I’m not talking about rap, or slam, but of “spoken words” [in English in the text], period. Then, if it becomes rhythmic, it’s up to them. But for those who wish, we also teach them how to loop a text: if, for example, someone says: “My sentences I wish they sound like this”, then we determine the number of space-time, and if it is four (or five or other numbers) beats, how to work on four beats (or other basic numbers). The function of writing, for me, goes further than that. These are collective writing workshops, so there is a common thinking process through discussions on a topic chosen by the participants. And there are bound to be people who don’t necessarily agree among themselves, and that’s what’s interesting. It’s through discussion that the workshop begins: you start talking about something, you try to determine what the reasons might be for talking about it, it can get out of hand, then it calms down, there is an exchange of ideas, and then all of a sudden there is a common thinking process. But we don’t do anything in there. In other words that the thinking process must be carried out between them. We are simply there to be the time keepers: after enough debate, at some point they have to get down to writing. We provide them with writing techniques, we see how it goes in terms of syntax and the vocabulary search. It is clear that writing allows the person to develop a social structuring. We feel this especially in this type of writing, because we are not in a situation where writing is detached from social realities. For me, the beneficial effect of this activity is at 100%. And then there is the problem of how to deliver the text on stage – I’m more likely to call it sound poetry with text declamation. What do they do with it? Rhythm or no rhythm, it doesn’t matter. They simply need to be able to engage in a project, in a space-time. They are told: “There, you are now presenting something to us”. And it’s up to them to make their own montage, the relationship between what the text is saying, the content of the reflection, the choice of music and so on.

 

f. The Organization of the First Residency

Nicolas S. :

Could you describe the first moment of the first workshop? It seems to me that there are almost three profiles of intervening people from outside, with the eight workshops. So, what is the possible path for one of these people? What makes him/her enter the place at a certain moment and what does he/she do when she/he arrives? And then there would be the same description for the move of one of your eight members of the National Urban Orchestra: what do you do before, during and after? Are the eight workshops at the same time or not? And then afterwards, could you describe what a person working in the host structure does, but who is not one of your eight, or what the audience who comes to participate does?

Giacomo S. C. :

Do you remember what you just said to me there?

Nicolas S. :

Yeah. [laughs] So, maybe the easiest thing: are all eight workshops taking place at the same time, for example? How does it work at the beginning? You’re there all eight of you, all the time?

Giacomo S. C. :

One must always adapt to the context, i.e. one can never predict that, from this time to this time, everyone will intervene at the same time. We are always there as a group. We only take the children for two hours a day, but then we work full-time from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Within that time, we dedicate two full hours for the children, and then it’s up to their families. Because we have to take into account the fact that they may have another activity: if they have a soccer activity in the afternoon, we take them in the morning, or the other way around – I say soccer or something else. Everybody is there all the time, because what is important is that the trombonist is not just centered on his instrument and then he can’ t understand what is going on. There’s a constant relationship between the members of the staff, that means that everyone is rotating all the time. But there is a time when you have to fix things too. The kids have to really pass through all the situations, even if they’re not attracted to a particular one. You make them understand how important this particular instrument can be, for example, in a group like the Orchestre National Urbain and what role it plays. Whether you like it or not, you have to go through it. It’s for example the children who come and say: “But I only want to be behind a computer to make instrus”.[3] We say, “OK, but you have to understand how a text is set up, so you can compose music for people who make texts”, and all of a sudden it works. I have a recent example, at La Duchère, of a young boy who had difficulty performing his text on stage: we talked a lot, we made him feel confident, the second time it was already better. But then he found himself behind the machines on a pad sending sound, and there he was super comfortable; when he came back to the text, it completely freed him. They all have that polyvalence there. That is, we want them to rotate. Because in the relationship between the text and the other sounds, we talk about interaction, we never talk about accompaniment. Because we don’t accompany the text, we interact with it, it’s improvisation. So, with the one who is performing the text, there are four or five who interact. After letting one or two texts go by, he or she finds himself or herself doing the music. One is at the service of the other all the time, and I think that’s very important, not to start saying that we have separately a group of singers or of a group of musicians. No, all of them have to have a fairly strong polyvalence.

We will say that most of the time, they’re willing to go for it. Rarely have we had kids who didn’t want to do something. But there are also those who don’t know at the beginning what they want to do. For example, Aïcha, who I already mentioned, who didn’t talk at all at the beginning. And then some of them only want to do one thing and others on the contrary want to do everything.

Nicolas S. :

During the workshops, do you work in different rooms, or are you always in the same place where the sound mixes? When working on electronics, and you with the spicaphone, are you in different rooms?

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, or when it’s not too loud, it’s possible to work in the same space. There are also workshops that can be joined together. For example, in the dance workshop it can be interesting to have the presence of the musicians participating in the rhythm workshop, there can be this relationship. It all depends on the space, because if you go to a place where you have enough space, you’re going to be able to organize things as you wish, and if you only have two rooms, you’re going to have to deal with that. That means that the workshops are set up according to the available space. Depending on the location, it is not always possible to have all eight instructors working at the same time.

Nicolas S. :

And all of you, you are on stage with them to perform with them?

Giacomo S. C. :

No, no, we don’t play, we don’t accompany them, that’s not the point, they are the ones who perform. Many people always say to me, “Ah, but it would be nice if you played with them.” I answer, “No, they’re the ones playing.” That’s the most important thing for them. It’s up to them to take the initiative. That’s it, we know how to do it, but it’s up to them to do it, it’s not up to us. I really care, and I always tell everyone, “You don’t perform for them, you leave it to them, the ball is in their court.” Then there is also a negotiation with the people I recruit in the Orchestre National Urbain it is to know if they are prepared to share their instrument But that’s another story.

Nicolas S. :

Do you consider that out of the two hours in a day, there is one hour of workshop and one hour of work with the large group?

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, they are mainly prepared to perform. For me, I break it up: the first day, after the dance workshop, it’s a big group meeting, we let them see who we are and what we do; the second day they start to present us something from the writing workshop and the third day, well, they start to really play, that is, they’re all really in a real situation. From then on, when we have a lot of them, we’re not going to have an 8-10 band on stage, it’s useless at first, but we’re going to form groups, trios, quartets, and then mix them up. On Friday, we really prepare them to present something on stage, we talk to them about a sound check as well. It’s not just about playing, it’s not just about creating a piece, it’s also about how to do a sound check, how to work with a person who’s on sound amplification, how to work with a person who’s on lights. We don’t mean a stage coach like, “I’m going to go like this”. We are absolutely against that idea. They are very free in their postures. And it’s the same for dance: we don’t make them dance so that they dance, but so that they become aware of the reality of their bodies, because we make them understand that it’s the body that produces music, that when they play, you have to be aware of the body. But it’s not to make them into dancers, absolutely not. It’s not that. I mean, especially the body at that age, what do you do with it? To really release a lot of stress. And then it’s also about awareness of rhythm, because we’re on very rhythmic music.

Nicolas S. :

So, you were describing two hours and all that, but I guess on Friday they’re not just there for two hours?

Giacomo S. C. :

No, they come earlier. But they are always there, right! When we’re here, they’re in other rooms, they work everywhere. At La Duchère for example, they spend as much time in other rooms where they work. Because now the thing is on its way, and us,  we only take them for two hours.

Nicolas S. :

During residency, what did the kids do when they weren’t with you for two hours?

Giacomo S. C. :

They were working in a lot of other rooms; they were rehearsing what they had started working with us. They’re not all there from 9:00 to 6:00, because you’ve got some who were doing sports or other things. But there was still a small core that was there all the time without any other commitments. They were free. For that, you have to come across directors of facilities who are open-minded, and to say that we are not going to compartmentalize our cultural activities by telling young people to come only from such and such an hour. The stays open and then if the rooms are not occupied – anyway there are such large spaces at La Duchère – they can work undisturbed. And then, in the end, there are not so many activities during the day. Because you have a theater space and things like that, where it’s for adults who only come in the evening.

Nicolas S. :

And you were talking about the times when you chat a lot with them. How do these conversations disorganize and organize themselves?

Giacomo S. C. :

We will sit with them. I remember a young boy who arrived who had a very virulent text that was not actually from him. He had a vision of what he wanted to do. A bit hardcore, but hardcore rap, but in everything he said, you could feel it wasn’t coming from him. So, I crashed into him. It was a pretty hard clash. The next day he came over and he thanked me, because he said, “Yeah, I finally understood…” Because I had said to him: “There you are not being yourself, you have to write down what you are yourself; there you are hiding behind a person, so we will never see you as who you are; if you want to be yourself, you have to be yourself.” That’s an interesting discussion, because when you arrive and they’re full of illusions about “what music is, what music mean…” There is the misconception that success is mandatory. This is not true. Once again we are faced with a gap between the realities of the professional world and the idea they have of the star system, the Star académie[4] and so on, all that crap that does not do us any good. When we arrive, we tell them: “Well, no, it doesn’t work like that.” When I arrive with a piece of wood to play with, well, they burst out laughing, or tin cans, they’re laughing hard. Then, when I start to play, they laugh less. These discussions are there to give meaning to actions. And if the whole team is there, it’s to help them and to raise them into something a little more interesting than what the media make them believe. I mean, especially the ones they watch and listen to. Luckily, not all media are like that. These are discussions that are long and interesting, and it’s completely thought-provoking, without resorting to some kind of guru diktat and saying that things have to be absolutely like this or that. It’s more like saying, “If you want to be yourself, this is not the way things happen.” That’s part of the discussion. And also, there are discussions about attitudes, such as the relationship between boys and girls. There’s even talk about homosexuality. When we say that we don’t talk about sex, we can still say that homosexuality exists and that it is not a crime. There are little things like that that we need to talk about. We also talk about drugs. That means that we’re in a landscape where everywhere there are drugs and it’s not good drugs, it’s shit! Because now there’s starting to be crack in every street corner. And then, worse than that, there’s another crack shit coming and they’re the ones who are going to be the victims. So, we also do prevention. I’m working a lot on that. And these are discussions that seem to me as important as making music. And that’s the role we take on. But if you don’t take on that role, what are you going to get? We’re not going to make them into animals making music, and then you take away the score, and it’s: nothing works anymore. You have to go further. I don’t have a score, I don’t have it, there’s no score [laughter]. The discussion is not prepared, it is done as needed, like when, all of a sudden, you have a child who is going to arrive disturbed for X reasons. Or on the contrary, because they are not only disturbed, you have a kid who can arrive in a fantastic top form, he has achieved something, well we are going to discuss it, we are going to share it with everyone. And then you have one or the other who has a big problem, a big worry, so we are going to talk about it. In any case, we don’t say: “No, no, wait, we’re not social workers.” I don’t know what that means. So, you have to be a little bit ready to listen and to serve the people in front of you. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we’re giving a course. We’re not going to give a half-hour class and then go home, that’s not how we see things.

Nicolas S. :

Let’s go back over the whole story. So, the round of loopers, the workshops on Tuesday afternoon with Lucas, the external musician paid by the Lyon Conservatory. Lucas, who is not part of the Orchestre National Urbain, what is his role?

Giacomo S. C. :

He’s there during the residency because he’s looking after all these children. He acts as an intermediary and he ensures continuity – because if you have them once a year in a residency you won’t see them all the time – by developing things with them. Between the first and second residency, a one-year time span, they evolve, they continue. That is to say that we invited the children to come here, it was Lucas who brought them, to work with other groups of their age here, to program them in the Crapul festival at the Kraspek [a concert place in Lyon], it was the first time they were going to perform, they were coming down from La Duchère. So, what was fabulous was – I would have liked to have had all the politicians present – to have had veiled women, their parents who came to Kraspek, it’s not bad at all. And then they played. But they played a real project, it wasn’t: “Ah! Between the little Arabs of our neighborhood and then the violets, oranges, of people of all colors, we did something.” No, that’s not it. It’s: they worked their brains out to make a creation together, right, and then they found themselves on stage freaking out and saying: “Well, we’re in a place, we don’t really understand this sardine tin, what it is…” It was crowded up front, and all of a sudden, they played. And then it was frrrrt, the trick… And Lucas’s role was to think about how the interaction with the young people from here and his own is going, how we, on our side, make our people work, and how he, on his side, makes his own work so that it comes together. And so that’s how this research is conducted. For me, it was completely successful. And this year, during the Crapul festival at the Kraspek this week, those we worked with from La Duchère will perform on the last day. They’re going to play with headliners of former students, for example Balir, who is thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old, who came to Cra.p, when he was fifteen, and who has a career now, so I called him and he agreed to perform. The idea of bringing in a guy like that, who is known in this milieu at the youth level, is also not to give them illusions, but to show that in fact it is possible to do it. This link seems important to me, so that over time, it won’t be worn out. What interests me is to have Aïcha and all these young girls who have grown up come here next year, for example, so that we can offer them training (they don’t have the means to pay for it): 1st, 2nd, 3rd cycles, as we do with everyone, after getting them into the DEM [Conservatory pre-professional diploma, see list of institutions] – if there is no more DEM, all the better, because that’s starting to tire me out – to see at what level they will arrive with a real group in which they will play and why not enter higher education program, present themselves for a diploma course and leave with a degree. This so that they, in turn, in their neighborhood, can redevelop things in connection with the conservatory. Thus, finally, we will be able to offer young people from a deprived community some work. In a neighborhood like La Duchère today – I remind you and you can keep the recording and say it very loudly – the amplified popular music [Musiques actuelles amplifiées] is a disaster area, because some people have put a monopoly on a certain place, and no one goes there and certainly no citizen of La Duchère. That’s the kind of struggle I’m waging… if I manage to do it before I get killed….

 

 

III. Cra.p, An Art Center

Giacomo S. C. :

The Cra.p has now become an art center because the way of working there is completely different from what we used to do before. It’s no longer just a training center. There are workshops in which students, people and groups have a lot of autonomy. And then we signed agreements with the diffusion partners. So, everyone performs a lot, because that’s what I missed the most until now.

Jean-Charles F. :

For you, getting people to perform is not part of their training program?

Giacomo S. C. :

Maybe it’s information, or disinformation, I don’t know, but it’s not just about workshops anymore, even if they continue to be very powerful moments over one or two days. Then we provide spaces where everyone should be able to work independently. After three months, we can already feel a considerable change in commitment. It’s really better, and it also allows us to take on more people.

Jean-Charles F. :

I think that all teaching ought to increasingly take this form.

Giacomo S. C. :

I think it’s obvious now, we can see that the rest is not working well. Well, it works for a while, until a certain age, we’ll say, children until a certain age, and after that, it doesn’t work anymore, so people leave and disappear.

Nicolas S. :

You say that the Cra.p is no longer a training center but an art center. So pedagogy, training, what is it for you?

Giacomo S. C. :

In fact, for me there are two things:

  1. In the first place, if we put things back in perspective, I am not a teacher, I don’t have any teacher status, I haven’t had teacher training, education training or anything like that. Rather, there’s a recognition of the work of sharing that I’ve done. Pedagogy I don’t know if that’s what I do. I was told that I’ m doing pedagogy but I didn’t even know that. It’s more about making music, doing things and sharing them. In fact, I lost that a little bit for a few years, hiding behind some kind of label, it wasn’t even me who found it. But I was told I was a pedagogue dude and all that, and it was becoming a little too institutional and too formal for me. I think that for me and the team I work with, it lost meaning in the actions we were able to carry out.
  2. All of a sudden, I consider myself more like an artist-musician, but without pretension. This means that it’s my job to share things, a passion and a job I do rather than to conduct a certified academic pedagogy. There is no certificate of what one does, and that’s what interests me, because certification makes me more and more afraid when I see what is going on in my pedagogical environment. Because, for years I was one of the people who worked in the excitement at the birth of amplified popular music until the opening of the diploma course and I saw shifts that worry me much more today than they reassure me. That’s why I don’t want to continue with this kind of reflection or this kind of work. And there, every time I go somewhere (I come back from Morocco for example) and I meet people, I play too, so I make people see something of what I do, and I get them to play a lot. The idea, in fact, is to bring them right away into an artistic project rather than a project where pedagogy is more important than art. The idea is to put people in situations even if they are not artists, so it changes the approach we have with people, we perceive them in a different way.

Two weeks ago, I experienced some pretty amazing things, I still put all the people I was working with on stage, some unexpected things happened, for me, but then even more for them. There were people with psychological problems who were unable to speak and putting them into an artistic project process unlocked a lot of things. I think it’s more interesting to do it that way. If I had talked to them about pedagogy, I would have locked them even more into their problem. Here’s the philosophical thinking, it tends to go more in that direction, it’s to say that it’s not a mutation, but a return to when I was much younger than that: we were more, as a group, sharing things, rather than as pseudo-teachers who tell people how to do things. Coming back to those sources, that’s something completely fascinating for me. This is why I say today that Cra.p is not an educational center – moreover this has never been the case, these are only headings that imposed themselves at a certain moment, but in fact this is not true, it was not the right thing to say – but it is an art center, a meeting place for multicultural artistic crossbreeding. It is a place open to many things that does not lock itself into a single specialization. I remember when, Jean-Charles, you said that Giacomo is a guy who makes people work in rap but who doesn’t do rap himself, and that’s a little bit like that, going back to the idea that we’re not in an absolute specialization of pedagogy, it’s open to a lot of things. In any case, we can see that there is a permanent recycling of the art, and so we must avoid closing ourselves up.

Jean-Charles F. :

Just one point, in an ironic way…

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes please.

Jean-Charles F. :

Doesn’t everything you say have to do with pedagogy?

Giacomo S. C. :

Maybe, yes, maybe that’s the word.

Jean-Charles F. :

What you say is based on a long experience that has been passionately devoted to pedagogy to a very large extent. Moreover, I agree 100% with what you say.

Nicolas S. :

We agree!

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, but then maybe it’s the deviation of the jargon.

Jean-Charles F. :

Well, the jargon, everyone has some! But it may also be a question of institutionalization, of the influence of those who control the institutions.

Giacomo S. C. :

But right now, where are the obstacles? What is the attitude of the people you face when you tell them that we’re going to make them work on an educational project? And how are they going to react when you tell them on the contrary that we’re going to put them in a situation where they’re going to embark on an artistic project? How will they feel? You, you have a rather powerful experience in this, so you have the rhetoric and the quick understanding of the reactivity, I’m not sure that ordinary people, younger, who have less experience, and who are not completely in the field, have the same reaction, it’ s more those that I deal with.

Jean-Charles F. :

It’s obvious. You’re not going to start by meeting people and telling them that we’re going to piss them off for six months with workshops.

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, but you can piss them off and tell them right away that they’re going to learn things first and only then will they be able to fulfill their artistic dreams.

Jean-Charles F. :

Yes, absolutely.

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes, there is some pedagogy. But I never said that I was a pedagogue, it was the others who said it for me. In the beginning I didn’t even know what it meant, to tell you that I was quite ignorant. The trick is to share things, but as I experienced it when I was a blue-collar worker: there were old people who taught me the trade, I was an apprentice; well, I didn’t have a book and they told me, “Here, we’re going to make this thing, we’ll show you and you’re going to put your hands in it.” It was very manual, and I understood a lot of things thanks to the old people because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to make it my trade.

Jean-Charles F. :

In conservatories we find the case of people who are suspicious of pedagogy and who put the emphasis on the long-term artistic project, but who tell their students that in the meantime they must practice scales. It is not enough to say that one is going to make an artistic project from the outset without there being mechanisms to achieve it.

Giacomo S. C. :

I would rather say that we are here to help with the experience we have, because the idea of “training” also bothers me a lot. You have to help give birth to an artistic project to a person, and to what he or she is himself or herself. I don’t know how to do scales, because I haven’t learned to do that. I know there are people who do it very well, but we’ll never do it. We don’t do repeats, we don’t learn music by retaking over a piece, I don’t believe in it at all.

Jean-Charles F. :

I didn’t say all this to imply that this is what you are doing, but to try to further reflect on what you are telling us and start a debate with you.

Giacomo S. C. :

My approach is mainly based on the mirror of what people send back to me and what they ask me, and from there to take into consideration where they are at. This means that it is impossible to build oneself alone, I don’t believe in it at all, it doesn’t exist anyway. And if today I have tools, and I have a lot of work to do in this field, and I’m quite happy about it, satisfied with what’s happening – satisfied I can never be satisfied enough – it’s thanks to all the people I’ve met over the last 30 years, they’re the ones who influenced me, it’s not me who influenced them, that’s obvious. In fact, when you want to try to keep that, it’s less comfortable, because all of a sudden, when you make that choice, you get away from a lot of things: for example, you quit teaching at a national music school because you don’t agree with the current pedagogical behavior, you don’t work with just anyone, you get completely marginalized, you become an electron completely outside the cultural world. It can go a long way; it can even go as far as not being programmed in certain places because we are against it. That’s one way of looking at it. But where I’m quite satisfied, well, quite happy today, is that I see that in fact there is a much younger population that thinks more and more in this way, and that everything else is becoming quite “has been.” It’s a bit my way of thinking from the beginning that is being questioned: I got caught in the mousetrap, now I have to get out of it [laughter].

Jean-Charles F. :

This is my fault.

Giacomo S. C. :

No, it’s not the case. But you were not alone, I will provide some names: Gérard Authelain and Camille Roy.

Nicolas S. :

You were a whole gang. What’s interesting, if I pick up on what you’re saying, is that you have a way of naming things that is hyper situated in the place and time you are, this in interaction with the people you’re talking to. And it’s precisely because you manage to have fairly precise descriptions of ways of organizing things, as you’ve just done at La Duchère, that you can develop a discourse in relation to acts. I would say that what you are doing is research, in relation to what I am working on. Then the people from teacher’s training centers will be able to say that it’s pedagogy because that’s their word, and others will say that it’s an artistic practice, each group of people can use their own key words.

Giacomo S. C. :

Of course. I leave it up to the people to give the label. When Eddy Schepens tells me that I am not an artist, but a craftsman, I answer him: “If you want.” I don’t question his own way of looking at things.

Nicolas S. :

And then do you take the proposals into account and try to see what it allows you to say and do?

Giacomo S. C. :

Yes of course. I think that if I can reflect today, and see things from different aspects, it’s because I have experienced all these things through actions. Otherwise I would not be as comfortable – and I am not quite there yet – I can see that there is a transformation to be accomplished, one cannot separate oneself from the movement of the population, from what it is experiencing politically, from what it is experiencing socially. I don’t think you can separate culture from that, so it’s necessary to constantly renew thinking in connection with what’s going on. What bothers me about the pedagogical side of the word “pedagogical”, where it has its weight, is that it’s a method: there are some who adopt methods that are 150 years old, that’s fine, but 150 years ago we didn’t live as we do today. All these backward-looking people bore me deeply because that’s why it doesn’t work, and that’s why this word pedagogy has unfortunately changed a bit. The word pedagogy bothers me a lot today, and that’s why I’ve completely discarded it. It’s a rather easy solution to pretend to do pedagogy, in order to put oneself on a pedestal. Being a pedagogue should mean that it means managing others, and that’s not insignificant. It gives power over others, and that’s what worries me a bit about the use of this word today.

I have a passion for many things, whether it is music, painting or any other art. But it’s above all when it comes to the meeting of the arts that I see things that completely annoy me. I tell myself that we are going to hit a wall: there is nothing, or very few interesting things coming out. We can see that it is a recuperation by the artist’s vision full of glitter and flicker bling-bling. It’s too black and white for me all this, and then there’s nothing else around, it doesn’t relate to reality. If we take music as a case in point, it’s really a catastrophe today, so what should we do next? Recently, I was in Morocco and I filmed a band playing on the Medina square in Meknes, with rotten equipment. They were surrounded by people, it was full to bursting point, with veiled women, everyone was dancing, it was good playing, it was very roots [in English in the text]. So, I said to myself, this is the truth of artistic communication. It was of Islamophobia day, so I filmed it and I sent it to the whole world, to France from everywhere, and everyone responded that it was great. I thought, yes, it was great, except that when you see someone in a veil it pisses you off too. You just have to remember that we’re actually experiencing cultural shifts that are quite interesting. Today, I’m paying attention to labels that can lock us into a caste. When I am told “You are a teacher”, I answer “No”, I am not a teacher, because I don’t have the status of a teacher. The headings, the titles, the labels, that’s what hides the whole problem a little bit. It’s too easy to manipulate. The titles we give people, that worries me a lot.

 

 

IV. Political Politics and Citizen Politics

Jean-Charles F. :

How do you see the context of Cra.p, today, in relation to the political context in general?

Giacomo S. C. :

I could say that right now I have one position, and on Sunday I might have another [the Sunday in question was the day of the European elections] [laughter]. I’m doubly annoyed, because I could have escaped to Italy, but it’s worse there. So, I’m caught in a stranglehold.

If I look back over the past thirty years, well, there have been some very chaotic moments politically, because what’s quite interesting sociologically on that period is that we’ve actually had a lot of changes: we’ve had several governments, several attitudes, people running local communities providing grants who have changed, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, and now it’s starting to stabilize. But it’s stabilizing because, since I made the proposal with the Orchestre National Urbain for undertaking such work, all of a sudden, things are really opening up, and I find that politicians are taking a serious look at the problems. But it is linked to a context, for me, much more worrying, in other words that there is a form of global radicalization of thought, and not just of religious thought. I’m talking about global thoughts, I’m not just talking about Islam or anything, or even Christians or Jews. I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about a context of mindsets that are changing. In fact, it’s a mess all the same: the proposal I made with the Orchestre National Urbain called into question the ways of doing things, especially ours, in relation to the people we reach – people who very often have no access to anything. But all of a sudden, politicians take hold of this kind of proposal, even today, they are very fond of it. So, in what I call political politics, an exchange is happening, leaders are finally starting to think and understand things. Because during the thirty years we fought, they didn’t understand all the time. They are beginning to understand, but not all of them. I think it’s an interesting development, but it’s also because we have a lot of arguments to present today. It means that we started from a situation where we had nothing. The State authorities [the DRAC, see list of institutions] didn’t know where to put us, so we had to create a new box which consists of saying that the aesthetics linked to urban music are of vital importance, and this box has finally been taken into account by politicians. But it has taken more than twenty-five years of struggle so that today – we’ll say since about five or six years ago – we are more peaceful and serene at work. For me, there is political politics, that is to say, politicians, and then there is what I am going to call citizen politics: it is this one that interests me, because it is those who are on the street who are doing politics, not those who say, “That’s the way to do it,” in any case, they don’t do anything. And there, I have a lot of doubts about citizen politics at the moment. I have a lot of doubts, because I have the good fortune to work with both people from higher education and people from the lower regression. When you go to a neighborhood where there’s nothing left, it’s a no-man’s land, there are only lawless zones, even the cops don’t go there. You’re going to try to install things culturally, but there’s a gap that has grown so wide, such a big divide, that makes some people wonder why we come, they don’t see the point, and that’s what worries me the most. In fact, they no longer understand the cultural interest that we bring to them and what kind of socialization development this will produce. But those who don’t understand are not the people in the neighborhood but those who are in charge around it. For example, some  leaders among social workers have created a real divide. And then there’s another gap that worries me more and more: in fact, I try to do regular work with people from higher education, who are in the educational training centers, but there’s no way to make connections. In other words, we try to put things in place in connection with these neighborhood populations, but people don’t feel like it, they don’t want to do it. These are the aspects of citizen politics that worry me a lot, in fact, we’re going right into the wall. I’m afraid that in a short period of time it’s going to produce uninteresting results, because there’s such a strong split. In the teacher training centers, there is a lack of reflection around questions concerning cultural practices in the deprived neighborhoods, the links that we are trying to develop between the Cra.p and these institutions are not working well. There are forms of refusal that are expressed, where all of a sudden you feel that one is singling out a public by saying “Well, that’s good, but that’s not a culture I’m interested in,” and that’s felt physically.

And I think we had a hump in the 1990s: in 1989 exactly, when the Cra.p association was born, there was such a big gap between aesthetics! In 1992 or 1993, things were happening, and we were heading towards a rather interesting ground. For example, there was that famous meeting in 1998 between rappers and classical musicians from Cefedem [see list of institutions], we really had gone up a step. For me, now, we’re going in the other direction, it’s completely fallen off. Gangrene has already taken its place. It will take a long time to get out of this hole. And I think that if we don’t gather more forces to reflect on this, we are heading for difficult times; but I’ve been talking about this problem for thirty years. So, from the point of view of politics, all of a sudden, politicians are very fond of any proposal along these lines: we now have a lot of support for the project of the National Urban Orchestra. We even signed an agreement with Greater Lyon Agglomeration, a kind of labeling. The Prefecture is very supportive, as is the city of Lyon [see list of institutions].

If we consider Cra.p’s cultural policy from the beginning, it was to say: “We’re going to open our doors to people who are nowhere, and see how we can bring them through diverse and varied encounters to enter higher education.” At one point, we thought about how these kids, one day, could go to higher education institutions. I’m still fighting on this, but for me, it’s not yet won. With the Orchestre National Urbain, we have put it back on track, again we’ve created trouble, which has consisted of saying: “What do we do, do we go or don’t we go?” We’re starting to get interesting results, because the fact that we’re working in many neighborhoods and districts of the region and throughout the whole Agglomeration, has allowed us to invite young people who make music and animation to enter into training here at the Cra.p. Thus, several of them came to work with us this year in order to bring them to the State Diploma, the famous diploma that would allow them to work and be considered on an equal footing with the others. It’s working well. But it goes further than that: it is also how these people meet each other. I’ll take an example of a young person we spotted a little over a year ago during a master class in the Lyon 8th arrondissement. As we were talking, we felt that he had things to say and that he was already experimenting things on his own. He told us: “How do you deal with all these people who have jobs in activity leadership with a minimum of qualifications, because, as they don’t make some sacred music, as their practice is considered as underclass music, you can’t give them a diploma.” It is this kind of state of affairs that revolts me. I told him to come and work with us, he’s been with us for a year now and it’s going really well. We’re going to take him to a diploma program, in the hope that he’ll get a diploma through a training program in relation to the work he does on Wednesdays with the kids from the 8th arrondissement neighborhood in Lyon. When I say that it goes further than that, I mean that he himself meets a lot of other people here, and not only those who are part of the culture he practices. What interests me is to see how he can work with people who come from classical music, contemporary music, jazz, etc. When I report this on the outcome indicators, it can only be beneficial at the moment vis-à-vis the political decision-makers who help us.

Coming back to the question of the history of current politics – citizen politics and political politics – what has reversed now is less concern about the decision-makers, because they have understood, but more concern about the public itself. Since we are in direct contact with the Prefecture, we are happy to be able to meet its delegate. So all of a sudden they are interested: there is a result.

It’s not that there is no expression from those who live in the deprived neighborhoods, it’s that there is nothing. If they do it they do it in their corner. We just did a week’s residency at the MJC [Youth Cultural Center] of Rilleux-la-Pape. Oddly enough, we didn’t have many children, and all those we tried to hook up, to come and rehearse what they wanted to do on their own, stayed outside the MJC, but didn’t want to go inside. But this was not because of our presence, it was something that already existed before. There is a gap between all the cultural places in the neighborhoods and the people who live there. And since when has this gap existed? Since the birth of SMAC [Scènes de Musiques Actuelles – Popular music on stages, see list of institutions] – and I don’t spit on the birth of SMAC. I myself knew what there was before the SMACs, I was one of the people who did a lot of work in all the MCJs in the region: I used to leave with a flyer, with a sampler, with a drum machine, etc., and with a colleague, we used to do workshops in all the MCJs, we had a fairly large network. In those days, kids would gladly come and take part. When all of a sudden, the labeling of the Scènes des Musiques Actuelles Amplifiées, the famous SMAC, was launched, there was a kind of call for air for a public coming from outside the neighborhood. Obviously, it’s much more interesting to go to a SMAC now, because when you’re doing rock or any kind of music, you’d better go there. Before this public didn’t go there, because it was the MJCs. There was then a much more popular aspect of culture in the MCJs and all of a sudden there was a kind of elitism, even in rock, which worries me a lot, and it pushes all the minorities aside. So, let’s take some very simple examples: there are a lot of guys who were doing hip hop dance workshops in the MCJs and got fired. That means that when you fire one person, the whole population goes with who gets fired. It’s a phenomenon that goes back to the 1960s and 1970s, when they put all the minorities back in their place, because they provided chicken coops for them, they put them back in, they get them stuck in there, they build great facilities in the community where they live and they don’t have access to them. It is a whole other population that comes from outside that uses the place. That’s where the gap is. That’s an empirical observation. It’s more than shameful when I see that! That’s why, when I come with the Orchestre National Urbain, I’m not always welcome! It’s war! When I arrive I say: “These kids, we have to take them, we have to bring them back, and then they have to have a job; because they are from there (it’s not only because they are from there), they have the right like the others, they are taxpayers.” And there, to make people understand that, well, it’s a crazy job! It’s a crazy job! And when I talk about this gap to young people who don’t have financial problems, who live normally and more comfortably for some, and when they are asked to make an effort to make things change, very few come forward. So that’s why I say we’re in a regression. Finally, it’s a loop, we have a real obsessive-compulsive disorder. I feel like I’m fourteen again when, in the Salle des Rancy MJC, I was told at the time: “Come and help us sand canoes and kayaks”. With all the friends, the local losers, we sanded canoes and kayaks. And when we had to leave in June for the Ardèche, all the little bourgeois of the area left and we stayed here. That’s the canoe-kayak effect. And so we are in the process of returning to this situation. That’s what worries me today. That’s why it’s malfunctioning all over the place. In fact it’s very simple, it’s not new, that’s why there are kids who fall under the grip of the fundamentalists of any religious or political community, or with drugs and extremes, leading them to say: “Well, here I have a task; over there I don’t have a task. There I don’t have a job.” Because there is no job either. Myself, I’m not far from quitting, I’ve been doing this for more than thirty years. It’s not that I want to do anything else, but when I retire what am I going to do? Am I going to drop everything? Am I going to run away? No. I want to do more things, but I also want more people to worry a little bit. There’s still a fracture, whether we like it or not. And that’s why everyone up there says, “But no, the kids from the neighborhoods have to go to higher education.” That’s the fashion these days. But it’s not just a fad, you have to think more about that.

Jean-Charles F. :

Yes, because on the government side about higher education and the Grandes Ecoles we hear the opposite narrative: meritocracy must take precedence over this aspect you describe.

Nicolas S. :

In what you have developed, there is the idea of a ditch, a gap. The pretext for our meeting was the idea of “Breaking down the walls.” In the ditch, there is a kind of depth and width, and you also use the term gap. Does that change things, a little bit, that formulation or not?

Giacomo S. C. :

With the wall, you don’t see what’s on the other side. For me with the gap there is a hole, but you still see what’s happening on the other side. That’s how I see it. If I go back to our history, in May 1989 we created the Cra.p, and in November the Berlin Wall came down. All of a sudden it gave us a kick in the ass, and I think that strongly reinforced our motivations. We were being challenged as well. All our walls were graphitized and a symbolism was set in motion. And the story of the wall, the walls that there are now, the idea of bringing them down, yes, I’m for it, but at the same time, what’s behind them? The gap is rather visible and how do you build a bridge so that it will pass over this hole? What bridge? What passageway? And there isn’t one. Here [the interview took place at the Cra.p headquarters, in the Guillotière neighborhood in Lyon], we are in a neighborhood that is, I remind you, on the other side of the bridge [Guillotière is separated by a bridge on the Rhône to what is called in Lyon the “presqu’île” (peninsula)]. There is also a café called “L’autre côté du pont” [The other side of the bridge]. It is not for nothing that we are called “The other side of the bridge.” I was born there. What you have to know is that on the other side of the bridge, therefore, the “presqu’île”, there it was absolute comfort, in every sense of the word, and here it was absolute shit in every sense of the word. Because here it was one of the most rotten neighborhoods: there were slums everywhere. My father when he arrived was living in a room in a rotten shanty town that went all the way to La Part-Dieu. When I was a kid, there was still the military infantry barracks, even the cavalry barracks, in the place of La Part-Dieu, and all around you had small shacks with small factories, it was filthy as hell. At first there were only Italian emigrants, because one of them came, and he made everyone come. After 1962, the Algerians arrived, and so on. But we are on the other side of the bridge. Once again, it is the bridge that makes this connection. And we were always looking on that other side. And when you reached a certain age you could go to the other side of the bridge. But when you would go there, it was to smash other gangs’ faces in, and often on December 8 [in Lyon, this is a festive day: “La Fête des Lumières”]. Because it was a different world there. I’m more interested in these kinds of divides than in the idea of the wall, because the wall, for me, hides something. In fact, it’s good to be able to see if what is opposite is reachable so that you can consider doing something. There you go, I rather have these concepts of gap/divide and bridge in my vision.

The gap comes from what I said before: there was a time when we got to do things. We went uphill, and then wham! it cracked again. And why? I’m not a sociologist, but I think we should certainly look into how it is that all of a sudden, we find ourselves faced with a phenomenon of decline, and that it’s always a minority that ends up on the streets! As we have all the kids from the Painlevé School with us all year round [the Cra.p premises are in this elementary school] – we study this a little – we see some extremely interesting reactions: it’s a school where they welcome everyone, even the Gypsies, they don’t discriminate, even people from the CLIS (Class for School Inclusion), mentally handicapped people who are mixed with the other children. It’s the children’s behavior that interests us, and that’s where the problem starts: when you see for example a little Gypsy girl sitting down, she gets up, there’s never another one to sit in her place. Yet they are first, second and third generation children, people of color. They don’t sit where the Gypsy girl sat because she is plague-stricken. There are a lot of attitudes like that, so what do we do? What do we do with these kids? Because the problem we have in some neighborhoods, for example, is that there is homophobia and racism. If we reminded them of what their parents experienced in terms of racism, I don’t know if they would understand. There is a radicalization that is very, very, very disturbing, there is a fascism close to Nazism in the neighborhoods. Because we’ve created all that: if you leave people alone and you don’t give them anything anymore, what do they do? They go crazy! And I think that’s it, we’ve kind of given up on cultural exchange at all levels. Jacques Moreau (director of the Cefedem AuRA), last year, came here, at Cra.p, with Colombian musicians: they were talking about the problems they had with the public in Colombia, which is obviously not on the same scale as here, we don’t live in the same country. But I told them: “You certainly have a problem, but it’s not the same as ours.” We have such a strong colonial past in France that today we have to deal with all the communities that are coming, and with those that are already here. So it’s both a richness and a hair-splitting headache that is not so easy to put in motion. But it has to be done, and if we don’t do it, we’re dead. And that’s what’s happening. We don’t do it. National Education has given up, completely, nothing happens at the schools anymore. I have kids who go to school, when I see what they bring me I think they are crazy. As I said before, in the circle of social centers, it’s dead. What do we do? We do education for only certain people in the social centers. And today you have thousands of music schools in the social centers. And on the other side we have the MJCs. We have a stratum, like this, boxes to put the population in. I say it’s not bad, but what’s the connection? Okay, we work like this because we can’t put everyone in the same place anyway. But is there a link between these institutions? Is there a dialogue between them? This is where the heart of the political question lies: today these links do not exist. I keep fighting and telling them this. We did a lot of work for two years at Pôle Neuf, in the ninth arrondissement of Lyon, we work a lot with the ninth, all over La Duchère, and Pôle Neuf is the MJC Saint-Rambert. Saint-Rambert is a quarter where it’s perhaps the most affluent area of Lyon, where all the great footballers have their houses, and all that… Next to it is the completely destitute workers’ cité of Vergoin. A study was carried out where for example – it was not me who did it, it was the people who reported it to us – it was shown that there were families with one or two children who declared 3000/4000€ per year in taxes. Per year! So you can imagine the problem: they have 3000 bucks to make the year, right? It’s not bad! And here we have carried out a work, precisely, to try to bring people together, so that they can meet, always on the artistic project, that is to say with the Orchestre National Urbain. We tried to create synergies between people and genres, all aesthetics and all populations combined, to create a great orchestra like the Orchestre National Urbain, to do things and to continue. We’re quite frustrated, because we haven’t managed to do it. Impossible. We have a long way to go! Because there is a gap that is so violent: neither the Social Center nor the MJC have had – by their authority – a high enough interesting commitment for something to exist. And from then on it was war between the Social Center and the MJC, and they are in the same building! Well, when I talk about links, I get angry. Recently at a meeting with politicians, elected officials, I said that we have in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes one of the most interesting cultural poles. There’s a Cefedem, there’s a CFMI, there’s a CNSM, there are grandes écoles, there are lots of associations that do things… But what’s the link between everyone, there’s no link! I signed a convention with everyone, I’m a bit of a mercenary. So there is one who says to me: “Ah, you work with them? Ah, you shouldn’t work with that one. You have to work with that one.” But I don’t care. The answer I give is, “What is the pathway of a citizen who comes, a young citizen, or even a not-so-young citizen, who comes to register?” How do we do it? And then after some politicians told me this kind of bullshit: “Yes, but you can’t take people from such and such a place, because we finance that place.” Well, they keep telling us not to do communitarianism, but they just create one, a segmentation of space. Concerning the Cra.p, I’ve heard unacceptable things, that you need to have 100% of local people, otherwise you don’t get any support. There are gaps like that. For my part, I refuse to go and establish something in a neighborhood that is completely isolated from everything, to work only with people from this neighborhood. That would be a big mistake for me. I’d rather be here in this working-class neighborhood and have people come from all sides, because they move around, they meet each other, and it makes for much more interesting things.

Jean-Charles F. :

Thank you Giacomo for all these very fruitful exchanges.

Nicolas S. :

And thank you for going into so much detail about activities and reflections that remain mostly invisible. It is very interesting and useful to explain them.

 


1. Today, the Orchestre National Urbain is composed of : Giacomo Spica Capobianco (1 string Spicaphone, Voice, Spoken Word), Lucien 16 s (Machines, Spoken Word, Human Beat Box), Thècle (Singer, Voice, Computer Music, Spoken Word, Human Beat Box), Sabrina Boukhenous (Dance), Dilo (Drum set), Joël Castaingts (Trombone), Selim Peñaranda (Cello), Dindon (Sound, Spoken Word) et Philipp Elstermann (Lights).

2. Enseigner la musique is a publication of the Cefedem AuRA (Lyon). See Enseigner la musique N°8, p.66, 2005.

3. Short for “instruments”. The electronic sounds that accompany a text like in rap.

4. A television show, in which young people perform before a jury of professionals.


 

List of institutions mentioned in this text

Cefedem AuRA, Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Founded in 1990 by the Ministèry of Culture, the Cefedem is a professional ressources and higher education music center. https://www.cefedem-aura.org

CFMI, Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants à l’école. Attached to the University Lyon II, the Lyon CFMI is devoted to the training of accomplished musicians of diversified background. It proposes different programs that allow them to work in artistic and cultural education. https://lesla.univ-lyon2.fr/presentation/centre-de-formation-des-musiciens-intervenants-cfmi

Cnsmd, Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse : high education institution for music and dance. There are two Cnsmd en France, in Paris and Lyon. Cnsmd de Lyon

Cra.p, « Centre d’art – musiques urbaines/musiques électroniques »[Art Center – Urban Music / Electronic Music] : center in Lyon,  founded in 1989 by Giacomo Spica Capobianco. https://crap-lyon.fr

CRR, Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional [Regional Conservatory]. https://www.conservatoire-lyon.fr

Drac, Direction régionale des affaires culturelles : institution representing the State in the Region, in charge of supervising  cultural policies. https://www.culture.gouv.fr/Regions/Drac-Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes/La-DRAC/Missions-des-DRAC

ENM de Villeurbanne.  Founded in 1980 by the composer Antoine Duhamel, the National School of Music, Dance and Theatre of Villeurbanne is well-known for the diversity of its programs in music (classical, contemporary, Baroque, traditional, jazz, popular song, rock, and amplified music), in dance (African, Baroque, contemporary, hip-hop and Oriental), and in theatre. The ENM is  a “Conservatoire à rayonnement régional” (CRR), with an habilitation to deliver a DEM, Diplôme d’études musicales [Musical Studies Diploma]. https://www.enm-villeurbanne.fr

Lyon Métropole : The Lyon Metropole is a political disctict with 59 towns around Lyon (Grand Lyon). https://www.grandlyon.com/metropole/bienvenue-a-la-metropole.html

MJC, Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture. The Youth and Cultural Centers are non profit associations which link youth and culture within a popular education perspective. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maison_des_jeunes_et_de_la_culture

ONU, Orchestre National Urbain [Urban National Orchestra], an ensemble founded in 2012 by Giacomo Spica Capobianco. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3Enc5sNCtA

Préfecture du Rhône : A prefecture designates the departments of the prefectural administration headed by a prefect, as well as the building that houses them. It represents the State in the Departments or Regions.
Préfecture du Rhône

SMAC : SMAc « Scène de Musiques Actuelles » [Popular Music on Stages] correspond, since 1998, to the program of the Ministry of Culture towards the promotion of today’s popular music. https://www.musictips.net/la-liste-des-smac-en-france

Ville de Lyon : The Lyon townhall. https://www.lyon.fr

 

Gérard Authelain – English

Return to the French original text :
Français

 


 

About a Question on Collapse

Gérard Authelain

August 28 2018

Summary

The Notion of Collapse
The Bombing of Gaza Cultural Center
How to React?
Keep Going as Musician in School
Keeping Hope by Continuing to Act
 


The Notion of Collapse

On 20 August 2018 at 6.30 pm, I wrote to Ouassem, president of the FNAMI (Fédération Nationale des Musiciens Intervenants), in response to a telephone message on an answering machine that I hadn’t been able to listen because of network problems. He asked me about the notion of collapse, and in particular about what I thought, through my stays in various countries such as Palestine or Tunisia, of the way in which people were living with difficulties of which one can only guess the extent. Widening the debate, he asked me how we can prepare ourselves to face other collapses that threaten us all: the conflicts in the making with border closures, climatic conditions, etc. In what way, he added, do these real or potential collapses challenge the profession of musicians working in schools?

I sent a few very brief lines, saying that even if I had not given much thought to the theme of collapse, it is true that I could see, especially in Palestine, and especially about Gaza, how young adults (between 18 and 30 years old) saw everything going down the drain, what they were doing, what they had done, what projects they could have done. The news that I recently received in the context of this weekly Friday march, where there have already been many deaths and even more injured, confirm that they are indeed in a state of collapse.

 

The Bombing of Gaza Cultural Center

On August 20, 2018 at 8:50 pm (9:50 pm in France), I received a message from a Palestinian friend from Gaza, with whom we have been corresponding via Facebook since 2016. She confirmed what the press had told us a few days earlier: the bombing of the cultural center of Gaza under the pretext of tracking down Hamas leaders, ruining in a single operation a building that was the place where a large number of activities took place (lectures, theater, music, dance, visual arts, library, exchanges, etc.). More than a collapse: a cultural disaster, a human catastrophe, the annihilation of a place of life, a ruthless brutality.

I quote the entire text published by this Palestinian friend, Huda Abdelrahman Al-Sadi, with whom we exchanged by phone or by Facebook, but we were never able to meet, as she did not have a visa to leave Gaza, and myself, I was never able to obtain a visa to go there despite three requests refused regularly.

The last time I wrote to you was under the bombing which led to the assassination of two children! But this time it was really difficult to write to you under the bombs because of the SHOCK!

As a Palestinian woman, especially from Gaza, shock, death, bombs, tears, fear, destruction, all became part of our daily life.
I once said, the pen, the theater, reading, culture are more powerful weapons than their weapons.

And they killed the theater in Gaza on 8.8.2018.

I was at work when I was told that the Said Al.Mishal Cultural Centre was crushed; five stories like a cookie

I didn’t believe anyone and I didn’t want to believe it, I thought maybe it was just a missile that did nothing, maybe the inhuman invader just wanted to scare us as usual, maybe it wasn’t the cultural center that was targeted, maybe it was an empty land; a lot of “maybe” and nothing “certain”.

Words get confused, but it is not war – why are they causing such destruction?
Why are they destroying our memories, our laughter?

This building does not represent a cultural building, but much more.
Each wall keeps in its arms the laughter after each performance, the memories of each rehearsal, the ideas of each room, songs, our souls, our talents, our leisure, our youth growing up within these walls, the dreams of young people deprived of life.
This building for me and for others was never a building, it was the world of which we are – as Gaza people – deprived.

The world we have never known!

“A theater in Gaza” was once a study dream for me I used to say: “in Gaza there is no real theater, there are only small spaces,” and I dream of reviving the theater with the French language.
Now I can say that there is no theater in Gaza!

For a long time, I dreamed of living the date 8.8.2018[1] .
I love this number and I wanted to enjoy this special date.

And unfortunately having a special date in Gaza is also forbidden!
An announcement was launched by the Pal Theater group – a group of amateur actors who learned to make theater by themselves and who promised to revive the theater without having a real theater or real materials only by having their desire to live in Gaza.

For a play for the big celebration and we were looking forward to this play.
And now there is no theater, there is no theater play.
We still have the festivities.

Happy festivities to all my friends.
Happy festivities to us in spite of everything.

 

How to React?

After such a message, it is difficult to write anything. And yet we have to write, we have to talk, it is the only way left to say that we refuse to be defeated, no matter how big the massacres are, wherever they are. I owe this to Huda, and I said it to Ouassem, who asked me to continue the reflection that we had initiated over the phone.

The cultural center of Gaza was bombed: there is nothing left, nothing more than a heap of rubble: this is a real collapse, that of the walls in the literal sense, but above all the collapse of a future that consisted in giving a little air to all those who frequented it and had undertaken cultural projects of all kinds.

The question is certainly how to rebuild “something” when there won’t be buildings anytime soon. Above all, it is to know what hope is possible other than the ever-postponed illusion that the international community will wake up and come out of its incomprehensible silence. In other words, what can we, from the outside, say to Huda that is nothing more than a simple demonstration of empathy and the testimony of a helpless friendship. For my perplexity dates further back in time. The collapse did not date from this bombing, I have had the opportunity to work in the Cisjordan since 2006, I have had the opportunity to work in the refugee camps of Chatila and Borj El Barajneh in Lebanon, I know the family of Salah Hamouri, imprisoned again without trial, and I can extend the list. Each time, before leaving and arriving on the other side of the wall in occupied territory, the question is the same: what is the meaning of my coming, I who do not have to suffer these injustices, contempt, humiliating and degrading conditions[2]?

Of course, I have an answer, but I can’t write it without taking the precaution of adding that it can quickly lead to misunderstanding, quickly provide a good conscience at little cost. I simply have to say that if I am pursuing a very modest presence, it is based on a conviction that we must never forget the formula that Péguy had already presented: “That’s astonishing, that these poor children see how all this is happening and that they believe that tomorrow it will be better, that they see how it is today and that they believe that it will be better tomorrow morning…”[3]

When I said to Ouassem, during the telephone exchange, that I could only envision the reality of any form of collapse by postulating in return the search for what can give hope, it was ultimately to justify the fact that cultural action, even if minimal, is one of the pillars that keeps a small fragile flame that Péguy spoke of in the quote above. But I know that it is easy to hold such a discourse when one is oneself comfortably installed in a system where freedom of movement, of expression, of thought, of information, makes it possible to have easy access to what others sorely lack.

 

Keep Going as Musician in School

I know that the word “resilience” is easily used today, a word that was not in use some 20 years ago. Whatever the formula, the question is to know where and how to find the strength to build (in normal situations) and rebuild (in situations of collapse) in order not to resign oneself to the fatality of the present condition. For it is this too, beyond any tragic situation that we all have in mind, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Venezuela, Burma, etc., which concerns us every day in our daily professional practice. When I enter a classroom (I’m always a musician working in schools, and whether it’s in France or Palestine, the questioning is of the same order), I know nothing about the children or teenagers with whom I share a few steps.

I have a certain comfort, which is that of my age, of my past experience, of the institutions that invite me, and of all the protections that I benefit from, including that of being repatriated in the event of a problem. But this does not give me any peace of mind about the background of the musical work in school. No matter who I intervene with, I never feel comfortable. If I am going to do a series of workshops in classes in Vaulx-en-Velin or Saint Etienne, I may have what some people call the tricks of the trade, but that doesn’t give me any security. The problem for me is not to succeed in an activity, to achieve a result that will be able to testify that I have fulfilled the contract for which I was solicited. Of course, it is better for the people who have invited me to have the opportunity to make a positive assessment according to their own criteria. But my real concern lies elsewhere.

Every time I walk into a classroom, my first question concerns the kids I’m with: what is the personal mystery that each of them carries when I look at them? I don’t know anything about them, and what someone might tell me about them is only a tiny, often behavioral, fragment of what they really are. A teenager’s speech is terribly ambiguous and terribly misleading too. I don’t know who I’m dealing with. My position is to be able to allow them to go a bit of the way from which they will be able to get something out of it (and I don’t know exactly what it might be). I’m not at all in the spirit of a “school” whose term implies a teaching to be given. No doubt I hope to teach the kids “things”, but that’s not my primary concern. My concern is how what we are going to do together will allow each of them to invent a personality of their own. You can use the word creativity if you want or use the formula of creative approach. Provided that we do not transfer the essential of the creation in the created object, but in the blossoming that this approach will have allowed for each one of them.

Of course, I’m not going to say that I’m not interested in the result. But it only captivates me to the extent that I could have guessed how much progress it will have allowed everyone to make on their own. So much the better if the audience attending a performance is enthusiastic, but real success is measured elsewhere, outside of press reports. That’s why I work a lot with small groups, all by themselves, and me not far away: if they need me, they come and get me. If they don’t need me, so much the better, they do their experimentation, and we talk about it afterwards, after the fights, after the laughs, after the failures, after the discoveries they are proud of, after the new questions they ask themselves.

And I’m never sure it’s going to work every time, because I don’t know anything about the collapsed situations in which they find themselves. I often continue to work with teenagers in SEGPA [Sections d’Enseignement Général et Professionnel Adapté, special education sections for junior and high school students having difficulties]. For most of them, I have no idea where they come from. In retrospect, I have experienced situations that are unfortunately extreme but not necessarily exceptional: the drunken father beating his wife, the student not knowing if his brother was from the same father, and I could continue to paint a series of tableaux in the manner of Hector Malot or Emile Zola.

Doing creative activities with them is not a comfortable situation, I may have all the material I want and the experience of these groups with unpredictable reactions: it does not give any comfort. Let it be understood that my problem is not a question of how I am going to keep a little authority, or a minimum of feedback towards myself. From this point of view, the ingratitude of this age is an excellent medication. It brings us back to the only interesting question: how our encounter has been a source of progress for them. And I never know that, because I would have to see them again after six months, after three years. It is not because you have planted the seeds in the fall in a garden that you are guaranteed a result the following spring. All you know is that if you don’t prepare the ground for everyone to put the seeds it also needs to be nourished, there is little chance that you will see its fruits later on.

 

Keeping Hope by Continuing to Act

When I was at the CFMI [Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants, Center for training musicians intervening in schools], I don’t think I ever gave students any illusions about the job that awaited them. I don’t think I led them to believe that the profession was a comfortable situation. But that it was interesting: yes. Not easy, but exciting. Challenging, without a doubt. Enriching, O how much! Those who play it safe in institutions, methods, tricks, rather than in a constant search for those to whom they are sent, may wake up sooner or later with some disappointment, the kind you hear about “the situation before” and all the litanies about the values of yesteryear being lost.

I am not against didactics, but I know that it is not where I put the trust I need in order to meet groups of children and teenagers. Nor in the hardware. When you invent, it’s not the richness of the hardware that determines the quality of the production: in archaeological museums, when you see the richness of glass vases or the decorations on earthenware vases, some of which date back to 1000 or 2000 BC, you see that inventiveness is not limited to the performance of the tools.

That doesn’t stop me from always very carefully preparing the interventions that I am going to undertake, including those concerning practices I have acquired over the years. But I prepare according to what I perceive through the eyes of those I am going to meet, and where I will have to adapt when I am in front of them. I don’t see how you can do something relevant without being in permanent creativity. Willingly or unwillingly, we are in a constant search. And I don’t want to sing yet another ode to creation, but we know that the children and teenagers who will come out of it are those who have had an inventive spirit, or at least those who will have approached their adult life to get by with all the means of the moment: and especially something that gives meaning to what they want to be.

This is why I truly believe that, in spite of Trump’s monstrous acts[4], it is not vain or illogical to pursue an artistic or cultural action, whatever the term, in all latitudes, insofar as it is a way of saying that against all odds there is a future for man, a future for man. To ask ourselves how we can “give hope to someone” is to think of the person in the first place who alone can manifest what he or she is striving for. The content and the modalities come after, and it is not even certain that this is the most difficult question to resolve.

Return to the French text

 


1. August 8 was declared a day of support for the Palestinian media. According to the Palestinian Prisoner Club Association, the number of Palestinian journalists held in Israeli prisons is 23 journalists. They have called for the formation of an international judicial body and more broadly requested the UN Security Council to investigate the possibility of carrying out their news work despite the measures of intimidation, interrogations and forced silence imposed on them. (Author’s note)

2. And I wonder all the more because I only do short stays, while young people named Alicia, Julie, Rose, Roxane, and others, will spend a year or more in these countries as Civic Service Volunteers and confront these realities, and for whom I have great admiration, not to mention the Palestinian men and women who are struggling daily with these permanent destructions and attacks.

3. Charles Peguy, Le Porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu. Paris : Nouvelle Revue Française, 1916.

4. The results of this have been seen in recent days with its decision to cut the UNWRA budget, which we know that a large part of the UN’s activity for the Occupied Territories is support for schools in the refugee camps. Italy, Hungary, we don’t know any better where this is going…