Archives du mot-clé artistic research

Jules Ferry Primary School

Return to the French original text: Projet à l’école Jules Ferry



Project with the children of Jules Ferry Primary School in Villeurbanne

Philippe Genet, Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi


This project is part of a program of the French Institute of Education. The Jules Ferry elementary school in Villeurbanne is an « associated educational institution », a partnership between a research laboratory and schools. The project developed over the last three years by Philippe Genet, Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi is being carried out in collaboration with the sociologist Jean-Paul Filiod and the teachers of the Jules Ferry school.

The four members of the research team have been working on identifying learning of musical (vocabulary, culture…) and psychosocial (self-esteem, cooperation…) nature. This involves musical listening and sound manipulation workshops.

Here are two examples of sound files realized by the children in this project:


1. Projets 2019-20.


2. Projet June 2019.

Christopher Williams

Accéder à la traduction en français : Rencontre avec Christopher Williams



Encounter between Christopher Williams and
Jean-Charles François

Berlin, July 2018


Summary :

1. The Concert Series KONTRAKLANG
2. Public Participation
3. The Question of Immigration
4. Mediation
5. Artistic Research – A Tension between Theory and Practice

1. The Concert Series KONTRAKLANG

Christopher W.:

To begin with, I wanted to propose we talk about my activity as a curator, because I think it speaks to the topic of this issue. In Berlin, I co-curate a monthly concert series called KONTRAKLANG ( In a place like Berlin where you have a higher concentration of people doing contemporary music than anywhere else in the world, and at a very high level, it happens that people specialize, and they don’t necessarily see themselves as part of a bigger ecosystem. For example, some people in the sound art scene might go to galleries or have something to do with the radio, but they don’t necessarily spend much time going to concerts or hanging out with composers and musicians. Then you have, as you know, composer-composers who only go to concerts of their own music or to festivals to fish for commissions, or occasionally to hear what their friends are doing. And then you have improvisers who go to certain clubs and would never go to conventional new music festivals. Not everyone is like that of course, but it is a tendency: humans like to separate themselves into tribes.

Jean-Charles F.:

There is nothing wrong with that?

Christopher W.:

Well, I mean, there is something wrong with it, if it becomes the super-structure.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes. And within the improvisation world you have also sub-categories?

Christopher W.:

Yes. Even though the pie is small, people feel the need to cut it up into pieces. I don’t mean to dwell on that as a permanent condition of humanity, but it is something that’s there – and which we wanted to address when we started KONTRAKLANG four years ago. We wanted to derail this tendency and to encourage more intersections between different mini-scenes. In particular, we gravitate toward forms of exchange, or work that has multiple identities. Sometimes, often actually, we have two-part concerts, one set – break – one set, in which these two sets are very different aesthetically, generationally, etc. But they might be tied up with similar kinds of questions or methods. For example, a couple of years ago we did a concert about collectives. We invited two collectives: on the one hand, Stock11 (, a group of composers-performers, mainly German, who are very much anchored in the “Neue Musik” scene; they presented some pieces of their own and played each other’s works. And on the other hand, we presented a more experimental collective, Umlaut (, whose members  do not perform together regularly, but they are friends; they have a record label, a festival, and a loose network of people who like each other, but don’t have necessarily have a common musical history. They had never actually played a concert together as “Umlaut”; and now we asked them to perform a concert together. I think there were five or six of them and they made a piece together for the first time ever. So, the same theme applied to both sets, but it manifested under very different conditions, with very different aesthetics, very different philosophies about how to work together. This is the sort of thing we dig. Even when there is no nice theme to package the diversity, there is usually a thread that connects the content and highlights the differences in a (hopefully) provocative way. This is something that has been very fruitful for us, because it creates occasions for collaborations that wouldn’t normally be there, you know with festivals or institutions, and also I think, it has helped develop a wider audience than we would have if we were doing only new music, or improvised music, or something more obvious like that. We also invite sound artists: we have had a few performance-installations as well as projects involving sound artists who write for instruments. Concerts are not necessarily appropriate formats for people doing sound art, because they generally work in other sorts of spaces or formats; performance is not necessarily part of sound art. In fact, in Germany, especially, it is one of the walls, let’s say, that historically has been constructed between sound art and music. It is not that way in other places necessarily.

Jean-Charles F.:

Is it because sound artists are more connected to the visual arts?

Christopher W.:

Exactly. Their superstructure is the art world, generally speaking, as opposed to the music world.

Jean-Charles F.:

Also, they are often into electronics or computer-generated sounds?

Christopher W.:

Sometimes. But, as an American, my understanding of sound art is more ecumenical. I don’t really know where to put a lot of people who call themselves sound artists but also do music or vice versa. Nor do I really care, but I mention it to provide a background for our taste for grey areas in KONTRAKLANG.


2. Public Participation

Jean-Charles F. :

It seems to me that for many artists who are interested in sound matter, there is a need to avoid the ultra-specialized universe of musicians, which might be a guarantee of excellence but a source of great limitations. But there is also the question of the audience. Very often it is composed of the artists, the musicians themselves and their entourage. I have the impression that today there is a great demand for active participation on the part of the public, not just to be in situations of having to listen to or contemplate something. Is this the case?

Christopher W.:

Are listening and contemplating not active? Even in the most formal live concert situations, the audience is physically engaged with the music; I do not really relate to the concept of participation as a separate layer of activity. Everything I do as a musician is quite collaborative. I almost never do something by myself, whether making written pieces for other people or making pieces for myself, or improvising, even when it’s ostensibly “alone”. There is always some very clear aspect of sharing. And I extend that notion of course to listening as well, even if listeners are not voting on what piece I should play next, or processing my sounds through their smartphones or whatever. Imagination is inherently interactive, and that is good enough for me. I don’t really spend too much time on the more overtly social participation that is hyped in pop music or in advertising, or even curating in museum contexts nowadays. I am quite skeptical actually. Did you ever come across an architect and thinker called Markus Miessen?

Jean-Charles F.:


Christopher W.:

He wrote a book called The Nightmare of Participation,[1] in which he takes apart this whole idea, and critiques the kind of cynical mindset behind “Let the people decide.”

Jean-Charles F.:

Yet active public participation seems to me to be what constitutes the very nature of architecture, in the active adaptation of spaces and pathways by users, or even their actual modification. But, of course, the process is as follows: architects build something out of a phantasm of who the users are, and then the users afterwards transform the planned places and pathways.

Christopher W.:

Well, architecture definitely offers an interesting context for thinking about participation, because it can be present in so many different ways.

Jean-Charles F.:

Usually, the public has no choice but participating.

Christopher W.:

They have to live there. Are you familiar with Lawrence Halprin’s work?

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, very much. “RSVP Cycles”.[2]

Christopher W.:

As you know, I wrote a chapter about it in my dissertation and I have been dipping into his work over the last couple of years. I also took a dance class with Anna Halprin, his wife, who was equally responsible for that whole story. She is ninety-eight now and still teaches twice a week, on the same deck where she has been teaching since the 1950s, it’s amazing. Anna still talks about RSVP Cycles a lot. Her view of RSVP is simpler and more open than her husband’s: he had a more systematic idea about what it should do and how to use it. It is fascinating to compare the utopian sense of participation in his writings with how he actually implemented it in his own projects. In her book City Choreographer  Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America,[3] Alison Bick Hirsh views Halprin’s work with sympathetic eyes. But she also offers a critical view of the tension between his modernist sensibilities and his need for control and, on the other hand, his genuine desire to maximize the potential of public participation at different levels.

The project I use in my dissertation to unpack the principles of RSVP is the Sea Ranch, an ecological community in Northern California. If you saw it, you would recognize it immediately because the style of architecture has been copied so widely: unfinished wood siding with very steep roofs and big windows – very iconic. He developed this kind of architecture for that particular place: the slanted roofs divert the wind coming off the ocean and create a kind of a sanctuary on the side of the house not facing the coast. The wood siding derives from a feature of historical regional architecture, the barns that were built there by Russian fur traders before the land was developed. He and his many collaborators also drew up ecological principles for the community: there were rules about the kind of vegetation to be used on the private lots, that no house should block the view of the sea for any other house, that the community should be built in clusters rather than spread out suburb-style – these sorts of things. And pretty soon this community became so sought after, because of the beauty and solitude, that basically the real estate developers ran all over his ecological principles.

Ultimately they let him go and expanded the community in a way that totally contradicted his original vision. This project was based on the RSVP Cycle, that is, on a model of the creative process that prioritized a transparent representation of interactions between the Resources, the Score, the Value-actions, and the Performance. But the power of purse hovering over the whole process, which kind of rendered everything else impotent at a certain point, is not represented in his model. This asymmetrical power dynamic was apparently a problem in more than one of his projects. It was not always based on money, but sometimes on his own vision, which wasn’t represented and critiqued in the creative process.

Jean-Charles F.:

That’s the nature of any project, it lasts and suddenly it becomes something else, or it disappears.

Christopher W.:

Some of his urbanist projects were extreme in this way: a year’s worth of work with the community, meeting with people, setting up local task forces with community representatives, organizing events, and taking surveys… and then ultimately he would shape the project to reach the conclusions that he wanted to reach in the first place! I can understand why it would be the case, in a way, because if you let the people decide complex issues, it can be hard to reach conclusions. He didn’t do that, I think, because of his training and his strong aesthetic ideals, which were very much rooted in the Bauhaus. He studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with Gropius. He could not, at a certain level, escape his modernist impulses. In my experience, authorial power structures rarely disappear in these kinds of participatory projects, and it’s wise to accept that and use it to the collective advantage.

In that same chapter in my dissertation, I talk about a set of pieces by Richard Barrett. He is an interesting guy, because he’s an illustrious composer-composer, who’s often worked with very complex notation, but he has also been a free improviser throughout his career, mainly on electronics; he has an important duo with Paul Obermayer called furt. Fifteen years ago or so Richard started working with notation and improvisation together in his projects at the same time, which was kind of unheard of in his output – it was either one or the other up until that point. He wrote a series of pieces called fOKT, for an octet of improvisers and composers-performers. What I find interesting about this series is that his role in the project is very much that of a leader, a composer, but by appealing to the performers’ own sound worlds, and offering his composition as an extension of his performance practice, he created a situation in which he could melt into the project as one musician among many. It was not about maintaining a power structure as in some of Lawrence Halprin’s work. I think it is a superb model for how composers interested in improvisation can work. It provides an alternative to more facile solutions, such as when a composer who is not an improviser him/herself gives improvisers a timeline and says: “do this for a while, then do that”. There are deeper ways to engage improvisation as a composer if you don’t adopt this perspective of looking at performance from a helicopter.

Jean-Charles F.:

In the 1960s, I experienced many situations like the one you describe: a composer who included moments of improvisation in his scores. Many experimental versions were already available in the form of graphic scores, directed improvisation (what today is called “sound painting”), not forgetting the processes of aleatoric forms and indeterminacy. At the time, this produced a great deal of frustration among the performers, which led to the need for instrumentalists and vocalists to create situations of “free” improvisation that dispensed with the authority of a single person bearing creative responsibility. Certainly, today the situation of the relationships between composition and improvisation has changed a lot. Moreover, the conditions of collective creation of sound material at the time of the performance on stage is far from being clearly defined in terms of content and social relations. For my part, over the last 15 years, I have developed the notion of improvisation protocols which seem to me to be necessary in situations where musicians from different traditions have to meet to co-construct sound material, in situations where musicians and other artists (dancers, actors, visual artists, etc.) meet to find common territories, or in situations where it is a question of people approaching improvisation for the first time. However, I remain attached to two ideas: a) improvisation holds its legitimacy in the collective creation of a type of direct and horizontal democracy; b) the supports of the « visual » world must not be eliminated, but improvisation should encourage other supports that are clearly on the side of orality and listening.


3. The Question of Immigration

Jean-Charles F. :

To change the subject and come back to Berlin: you seem to describe a world that is still deeply attached to the notions of avant-garde and innovation in perspectives that seem to me to be still linked to the modernist period – of course I am completely part of that world. But what about the problem of immigration, for example? Even if at the moment this problem is particularly burning, I think it is not new. Do people who don’t correspond to the ideal of Western art come to the concerts you organize?

Christopher W.:

Actually, in our concert series we have connections to organizations that help refugees, and we have invited them to our events. Maybe you know that many of the refugees – besides the fact that they are in a new place and they have to start from scratch here without much, if any, family or friends – they don’t have the right to work. Some of them go to study German, or they look for internships and the like, but many of them just are hanging around waiting to return to their country, and of course this is a recipe for disaster. So, there are organizations that offer ways for them to get involved with society here. We have invited them to KONTRAKLANG, and it is a standing invitation, free of charge. The venue offers them free drinks. Occasionally we have had a crowd of up to twenty, twenty-five people from these organizations, and some of those concerts were among the best of the season, because they brought a completely different atmosphere to the audience. Imagine that these are mostly kids – say between eighteen or even younger up through their mid-twenties – many of whom, I suspect, have never been to any formal concert, much less of contemporary music. The whole ritual of going to a concert hall, paying attention, turning off their phones, seems not to be a part of their world. Sometimes, they talk to each other during the concerts, they get up and go to the bar or go to the bathroom while the pieces are being played. It is distracting at first, but they have no taboos about reacting to the music. I can remember the applause for certain pieces was just mind-blowing – they got up and started hooting and hollering like nobody from our usual audience would ever do. And they laugh and make comments to each other when something strange happens. Obviously this is refreshing, if sightly shocking, for a seasoned contemporary music audience. Unfortunately, these folks don’t come so often anymore; maybe we need to get in touch again and recruit some more, because it was a very positive experience. However, some of them did come back. Some of them kept coming and asking questions about what we do, and that is very encouraging. But, of course, this is an exception to the rule.

Jean-Charles F.:

Do they come with their own practices?

Christopher W.:

Well, I don’t know how many of them are dedicated or professional musicians, but I have the impression that some sing or play an instrument. Honestly, it’s something of a blind spot.

Jean-Charles F.:

More generally, Berlin is a place that is particularly known for its multiculturalism. It’s not just the question of the recent refugees.

Christopher W.:

It’s true that there are, here in Berlin, hundreds of nationalities and languages, and different communities. Are you curious why our concerts are so white?


4. Mediation

Jean-Charles F. :

It is about the relationship between the group of “modernists” – which is largely white – and the rest of society. It has to do with the impression I have of a gradual disappearance of contemporary music of my generation, which in the past had a large audience that has now become increasingly sparse and had a media exposure that has now practically disappeared, all this in favor of a mosaic of diversified practices (as you mentioned above), each with a group of passionate aficionados but few in number.

Christopher W.:

In Berlin you get better audiences than practically anywhere else, in my experience. Even though you may have only fifteen to twenty people in the audience at some concerts, more often you have fifty, which is cozy at a venue like Ausland[4], one of the underground institutions in improvised music. They have been going for fifteen years or so, and they have a regular series there called “Biegungen”, which some friends of mine run. The place is only so big, but if you get a certain number of people there, it feels like a party; it’s quite a lively scene. But then again you have more official festivals with an audience of hundreds. KONTAKLANG is somewhere in between, usually we have around a hundred people per concert. So, I don’t have the impression at all that this type of music and its audience are dwindling per se. What you are talking about, I think, is rather the disconnect between musical culture and musical practice.

Jean-Charles F.:

Not quite. To come back to what we said before, it’s more the idea of a plethora of “small groups”, with their own networks that spread around the world but remain small in size. It’s often difficult to be able to distinguish one network from another. It is no longer a question of distinguishing between high art and popular culture, but rather of a series of underground networks whose practices and affiliations are in opposition to the unifying machine of the cultural industry. These networks are at the same time so similar, they all tend to do the same thing at the same time, and yet they are closed in the sense that they tend at the same time to avoid doing anything with one another. Each network has its own festivals, stages, concert halls, and if you’re part of another group, there’s no chance of being invited. The thought of the multitude of the various undergrounds opens up fields of unlimited freedom, and yet it tends completely to multiply the walls.

Christopher W.:

The walls! Yes, that is what I mean by musical culture: how people organize themselves, the discourses that they are involved in, and places that they play, magazines they read, all of this stuff. To me, it is obviously extremely important, and it has a major impact on practice, but I don’t think that the practice is bound by it. There is a lot of common ground between, for instance, certain musicians working with drones or tabletop guitars, and electro-acoustic musicians, and experimental DJs; similar problems appear in different practical contexts. But when it comes to what is called “Vermittlung” in German, the presentation, promotion, dissemination of the music, then swshhhh… they often fly by each other completely. What interests me more, as a musician who understands the work on the ground, is how practice can connect different musical cultures, and not how musical cultures can separate the practices. Musical culture has to be there to serve the practice, and this is one of the reasons why I am interested in curating, because I can bring knowledge of the connectivity between these different practices to bear on their presentation. Too many of the people running festivals, institutions, schools, and publications don’t have that first-hand perspective of working with the materials, so they don’t see these links and they don’t promote them. Sometimes they might dare to bring seemingly incompatible traditions together for isolated encounters, like Persian or Indian classical musicians and a contemporary chamber ensemble. These things happen every so often, but more often than not they are doomed by the gesture of making some sexy cocktail of presumed others. What we try to do in our series is to explore the continuities that are already there but may be hidden from view by our own presumptuous music-cultural frameworks.


5. Artistic Research – A Tension between Theory and Practice

Jean-Charles F. :

This brings us to the last question: the walls that exist between the academic world of the university and that of actual practice. Music practitioners are excluded from higher education and research institutions, or more often do not want to be associated with them. But at the same time, they are not completely out of them these days. It seems to me that you are in a good position to say things about this.

Christopher W.:

Well, I am lucky to have one foot in academia and one foot out, so I don’t have to choose, at least at this point. I have always been interested in research, and obviously I’ve always been interested in making music for its own sake. In my doctorate I developed a strong taste for the interface between the two.

Jean-Charles F.:

Then, the notion of artistic research is important to you?

Christopher W.:

Yes and no. The contents of artistic research are important to me, and I am very fond of the idea that practice can do things for research that more scientific methods cannot. I am also fond of the potential that artistic practice – particularly experimental music – has for larger social questions, larger questions around knowledge production and dissemination. I am also interested in using research to step outside of my own aesthetic limitations. All of these things are inherent to artistic research, but on the other hand, I am ambivalent about the discipline of artistic research and its institutions. The term “artistic research” suffers a lot of abuse. On the one hand, the term is common among practitioners who cannot really survive in the art or music world, because they don’t have the skills or the gumption to live as a freelance artist. On the other hand, there are academics who colonize this area, because they need a specialism. Perhaps they come from philosophy or the social sciences, art history, musicology, theatre studies, critical theory, or the like. For them, artistic research is another pie to be sliced up.

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, I can see.

Christopher W.:

So, there are conferences and journals and academic departments, but I can’t determine if or how many people in the world of artistic research really prize practice as practice. You can probably sense my allergy to this aspect of artistic research – sorry for the rant! Let’s just say I care less about promoting or theorizing artistic research as a discipline, and more about doing it. I suspect most of the people who do the best work in the field feel the same way. This topic has been more in my mind lately than it ever has been, first of all because I’d like to have some sort of regular income; this freelance artist hardship number is getting tiresome!

Jean-Charles F.:

Indeed, the relationships between the different versions of artistic careers are not entirely peaceful. Firstly, independent artists, particularly in the field of experimental music, often consider those who are sheltered in academic or other institutions as betraying the ideal of artistic risk as such. Secondly, teachers who are oriented towards instrumental or vocal music practice often think that any reflection on one’s own practice is a useless time taken from the actual practice required by the high level of excellence. Thirdly, many artists do research without knowing it, and when they are aware of it, they often refuse to disseminate their art through research papers. Many walls have been erected between the worlds of independent practices, conservatories and research institutions.

Christopher W.:

Well, in terms of just the limited subject of improvisation, more and more people who can do both are in positions of power. Look at George Lewis: he’s changed everything. He paid his dues as a musician and artist, and he’s constantly doing interesting stuff creatively; and meanwhile he’s become a figurehead in the field of improvisation studies. Through his professorship at Columbia University, he’s been able to create opportunities for all kinds of people and ideas which might not otherwise have a place there.

Jean-Charles F.:

At Columbia University (and Princeton), historically, Milton Babbitt was the figurehead of the music department. It’s very interesting that now it’s George Lewis, with all of what he stands for, who’s in that position, who’s become the most influential intellectual and artistic figure in the department.

You did your PhD at Leiden University[5]. It seems to be a very interesting place.

Christopher W.:

Yes, for sure. There are lots of interesting students, and the faculty is very small – it’s basically Marcel Cobussen, Richard Barrett (my two main advisers), and Henk Borgdorff, who is an important theorist of artistic research. My committee chair was Frans de Ruiter, who ran the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for many years before founding the department in Leiden. I believe Edwin van der Heide, a sound artist who makes these big kinetic sculptures and lots of sound installations, is also involved now. It is a totally happening hub for this kind of stuff.

Concerning my search for a more stable position, I am sure something will pop up, I just have to be patient and keep asking around. Most of these kind of opportunities in my life have happened through personal connections anyway, so I think I have to keep my hands on the wheel until the right person shows up.

Our encounter is ending, because I have to go.

Jean-Charles F.:

Thank you very much for this nice meeting.

1. 2010 Markus Miessen, The Nightmare of Participation, Berlin: Sternberg Press

2. See Lawrence Halprin, The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in Human Environment, G.Brazilier, 1970. RSVP cycles are a system of creative and collaborative methodology. The meaning of the letters are as follows: R = resources; S = scores ; V = value-action; P = performance. See

3. Alison Hirsch, City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America, University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (

4. “Ausland, Berlin, is an independent venue for music, film, literature, performance and other artistic endeavors. We also offer our infrastructure for artists and projects for rehearsals, recordings, and workshops, as well as a number of residencies. Inaugurated in 2002, ausland is run by a collective of volunteers.” (

5. See Leiden University – Academy of Creative and Performing Arts.(

Christopher A. Williams (1981, San Diego) makes, organizes, and theorizes around experimental music and sound. As a composer and contrabassist, his work runs the gamut from chamber music, improvisation, and radio art to collaborations with dancers, sound artists, and visual artists. Performances and collaborations with Derek Bailey, Compagnie Ouie/Dire, Charles Curtis, LaMonte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, Ferran Fages, Robin Hayward (as Reidemeister Move), Barbara Held, Christian Kesten, Christina Kubisch, Liminar, Maulwerker, Charlie Morrow, David Moss, Andrea Neumann, Mary Oliver and Rozemarie Heggen, Ben Patterson, Robyn Schulkowsky, Ensemble SuperMusique, Vocal Constructivists, dancers Jadi Carboni and Martin Sonderkamp, filmmaker Zachary Kerschberg, and painters Sebastian Dacey and Tanja Smit. This work has appeared in various North American and European experimental music circuits, as well as on VPRO Radio 6 (Holland), Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona, Volksbühne Berlin, and the American Documentary Film Festival.

Williams’ artistic research takes the form of both conventional academic publications and practice-based multimedia projects. His writings appear in publications such as the Journal of Sonic Studies, Journal for Artistic Research, Open Space Magazine, Critical Studies in Improvisation, TEMPO, and Experiencing Liveness in Contemporary Performance(Routledge).

He co-curates the Berlin concert series KONTRAKLANG. From 2009-20015 he co-curated the salon series Certain Sundays.

Williams holds a B.A. from the University of California San Diego (Charles Curtis, Chaya Czernowin, and Bertram Turetzky); and a Ph.D. from the University of Leiden (Marcel Cobussen and Richard Barrett). His native digital dissertation Tactile Paths: on and through Notation for Improvisers is at

From 2020-2022 he is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz.


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. ( 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.:


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.:


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.:


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.:


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

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

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

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 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

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 ».

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 ( Access to Constellation Scores. See

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.

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

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



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).



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.]

“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?…


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 the « house » of M. Lebreton).



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.


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.

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)



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
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?…



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.)


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)

Jean-Charles François – English

Return to the original text in French :  Invention collective



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



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 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 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 )

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, 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.



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 2016 Edition, stations Nomade and Transversal, central line ”Cartographie PaaLabRes” for definitions of these terms.




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, 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, 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, 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., 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

Debate (English version)

Return to the French text

Debate on Artistic Research
Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
PAALabRes Collective
November 2, 2015


Definition of Research
The Institutions of Research, The Institution of Research
The Models of Research in Tension
1. Relationships to other Disciplinary Fields
2. Theory and Practice
3.The Status of the Written Text
Artistic Research – Avenues to Reflect
1. Research through the Elaboration of the Artistic Act
2. Alternative Research Models
3. Administrative Obstacles
4. The Question of Research Spaces and Publications
Widening Research
1. Research before the Doctorate
2. Research before and outside Higher Education
3. Research outside the Norms
Post-scriptum to the debate session: PaaLabRes, debate on « Artistic Research »

On November 2, 2015, the Study Center of the Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes[1] and the Collective PaaLabRes[2] organized a discussion session on questions related to artistic research. The theme of the imaginative and dynamic evening, was based on two questions: how to define, conceive, develop artistic research? And why?

Two texts were proposed to the participants before the debate: a) a summary in French of the book by Kathleen Coessens, Darla Crispin and Anne Douglas, The Artistic Turn, A Manifesto (CRCIM, Orpheus Institute, Ghent, Belgium, distributed by Leuven University Press, 2000); b) Jean-Charles François, “La question de la recherché artistique dans le cadre de l’enseignement supérieur musical” (“The Question of Artistic Research in Higher Music Education”), November 2014 (unpublished).

Were present in the debate:

Jean-Louis Baillard, writer, director of research at the School of Architecture in Saint-Etienne.
Sophie Blandeau, collective Polycarpe.
Samuel Chagnard, musician, teaches at the Cefedem AuRA, member of PaaLabRes.
Marion Chavet, visual artist.
Dominique Clément, clarinetist, composer, adjunct director of the Cefedem AuRA.
Jean-Charles François, percussionist, composer, retired director of the Cefedem AuRA and member of PaaLabRes.
Hélène Gonon, lecturer in Educational Sciences at the Cefedem AuRA.
Laurent Grappe, electro-acoustic musician, member of PaaLabRes.
Aurélien Joly,jazz musician and improvisator.
François Journet, administrator of the Cefedem AuRA.
Gilles Laval, musician, director of the Rock department at the ENM of Villeurbanne and member of PaaLabRes.
Noémi Lefebvre, in charge of the Study Center at the Cefedem AuRA, writer and researcher in Political Sciences, member ofe PaaLabRes.
Valérie Louis, lecturer in Educational Sciences at the CNSMD of Lyon, formerly Freinet primary teacher.
Ralph Marcon, in charge of the Documentation Center at the Cefedem AuRA.
Jacques Moreau, pianist, Director of the Cefedem AuRA.
Pascal Pariaud, musician, clarinet teacher at the ENM of Villeurbanne and member of PaaLabRes.
Didier Renard, professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Lyon, director of a laboratory at the CNRS.
Eddy Schepens, researcher in Educational Sciences, formerly adjunct director of Cefedem AuRA, chief editor of Enseigner la Musique.
Nicolas Sidoroff, musician, teaches at the Cefedem AuRA and member of PaaLaBbRes
Gérald Venturi, musician, saxophone teacher at the ENM of Villeurbanne, member of PaaLabRes.



The concert that serves only to concert, who does it concern? Concentrate! Because one centers the concert on the works served “in concert”, They have to be conserved in served concerts, they are serried in severe terms and serve only for the purpose of concerts. To serve works in concerts in front of consorts, serves to conserve, and to converse, but the conversation is already a concerted activity for those concerned, a concerting concern. The concerting concern serves to concentrate oneself on the concerts served to consorts, the concerting concern is the raison d’être of the concert, it serves in gathering consorts in concert of concepts more or less disconcerting. The concerting and disconcerting concern concentrates action and reflection. The concerting and disconcerting concern is the research on action and reflection. The concerting and disconcerting concern is the research on action and reflection about the concerting concert and object of concerting actions. The research is not concerned in conserving converts, but it conserves, it converses on the health of concerts served as concerting concern. The research without which there is no higher education, the research concerns us.[3]

In order to open up the debate, a certain number of questions were formulated by Noémi Lefebvre in the name of the Study Center of the Cefedem AuRA, and by Jean-Charles François in the name of PaaLabRes:

  • Even if the European reform of higher education “LMD” gives a strong institutional framework, with injunctions made to conservatories and art schools to develop some research, the intention of this debate is to formulate the problems as if we were starting from nothing. Thus, two aspects of artistic research need to be distinguished: a) the real content of actions, what is happening within the given different groups and b) where can it be happening, to what extent are these actions allowed and recognized by institutions.
  • It is therefore important in this debate to put forward the following questions: a) “who speaks” about artistic research today? b) “from where does one speak”, from which institutional context or from outside the institutions? And c) “in what circumstances does one speak” about it? Who has something to say about it? Artists? Political representatives?
  • Another dimension of artistic research concerns the fact that many people who carry out artistic research do not speak about it, either because they do not feel the need to, or because they deliberately refuse to. Who are they exactly? Where do they work, these anonymous researchers? What are their objects? What are the ideas linked to their research acts?

In this first series of questions, a strong tension appears between on the one hand the institutional frameworks, what they allow and do not allow, and on the other hand the real topography of the actions realized here and there claiming the term of research, or also the more frequent number of actions that do not pretend to deserve such qualification:

  • Is there then an obligation to develop artistic research as an answer to the requirements imposed by the European or national instances? Nothing would be more absurd than to simply obey the injunctions to conform to a single model of higher education, if the conditions are not fulfilled in a given discipline to create a meaningful context.
  • The question of the different disciplinary fields is complicated by the fact that they are not stable entities, they constantly evolve. There is a tendency to consider the disciplinary fields as fixed objects. In these conditions of instability how does one contemplate the question of the signification? If it is possible to envision research as seeking to find sense in actions, the question arises of how to create meaning? How to highlight the meaning of the actions?
  • There is no higher education in a determined field without the presence of a definition of research linked to that domain. Is it really the case? Is it necessary in the artistic domains? Symmetrical question: is it possible to contemplate research outside university study programs that lead to it?
  • Artistic research is considered as concerning in the first instance the elaboration of artistic practices. The still dominant thought is that practice is separated from theory: practitioners do very well what they are doing, they do not have to think about what they do. Higher education is still divided in the mind between professional training on the one hand, and theoretical tracks on the other hand. Are the artists capable of a specific thought when they practice their art?
  • Another strong representation maintains that only those who are placed as onlookers from outside a practice are able to analyze what is at stake in it. The practitioners tend to be blinded by their own objects. In what conditions could the arts practitioners have access to reflection on their own actions?
  • Is artistic research an internal necessity for today’s artistic practices? Does the situation of the artist in society impose on whoever is practicing the arts a capacity to carry out systematic reflection?
  • The question of temporality seems essential. During the 1970s, it is striking to note, musicians had time at hand: the public grants allowed the development of long term projects, the fundamental research was at the center of university activities. Do we have time today? Without a reasonable amount of time, has artistic research any sense?
  • The question of the usefulness of research should be considered in an artistic context that strongly refuses to carry particular utilitarian purposes. What is the purpose of art? But above all what should be the purpose of artistic research? Here there is a subsidiary question: isn’t it a fact that the very notion of research is linked to the concepts of progress and modernity? Would artistic research be yet another way to measure the degree of innovation of a given practice?

In the text that follows, the totality of the persons present participates in the debate. The selected option is to not mention in the text the name of the speakers, and to classify what was said in well-identified chapters. The contradictions that are expressed from time to time in the text reflect a constructive debate respecting the point of view of each participant. The text has been established on the basis of the excellent note-taking by Jacques Moreau in collaboration with Nicolas Sidoroff and François Journet.


Definition of Research

To define the term research is difficult, and consequently even more difficult to define artistic research. Is it a question of any manifestation of a cerebral activity, or of what is well delineated by the framework determined by universities? In the course of elaborating curricula, it is easy to create education cells that can be qualified as “research”. Facing certain courses you think: “in this case it has definitively something to do with research”. We could refer to the doctoral program at the Lyon CNSMD (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse), exclusively modeled on the existing university model. Yet, it is possible to begin to reflect on the notion of research specific to the arts outside the higher education institutions. It is a matter of defining, in the framework of the internal aspects of artistic creation and of its transmission:

  1. What is artistic research?
  2. Who is concerned by it?
  3. How can this type of research exist in social environments?
  4. The places in which it makes sense.
  5. The ways by which it may succeed.

In summary, it is a matter of defining on what basis artistic research is capable of developing larger paradigms, which would justify its legitimacy within higher education. What is the breeding ground on which this legitimacy can be built? And incidentally what is happening in the universities?

The term “research” is perhaps too much loaded with precise references, linked to the professional status of researchers. It can be considered as a false nose for a posture that can be qualified as “reflexive”. The idea of the “reflective practitioner” seems to offer more democratic perspectives, allowing a great number of persons to find in it a framework less imposing than the one implied by the term “research”. This is a posture that anybody can assume as part of his/her activities. This idea is inspired from the work of the American philosopher John Dewey, around the practice of the enquiry that any citizen should be able to carry out in order to develop an awareness of the stakes inherent to a particular field of investigation. The reflexive posture would allow consideration of all the contributive approaches of the diverse artistic practices.

But there is something much more important than a precise definition of what exactly the terms of research or of reflexivity entail: it is the indispensable presence of places, of circumstances, of structures that gather people together, and the presence of production tools the nature of which is necessarily composite, hybrid. The criteria for defining the reflexive or research activities have to be determined after the fact. To start with the very meaning of what research could be seems an inauspicious way to give any result. The most important task is the capacity to assemble – cf. the winemakers’ assemblage or blending – people who are in a reflexive posture, but who work often in a great solitude. How to assemble them together?

Some years ago the French Ministry of Culture organized a conference on artistic research, inviting above all some philosophers, and a few art practitioners, scrupulously avoiding posing the question of teaching and learning the artistic things.[4] What were the criteria developed by these philosophers? It was above all question of confronting the ideas of one chapel in connection with those of other chapels. It did not give us viable tools to proceed further.

It is established that in order to find a place in the actual system of research, there is no other choice than to tackle questions, which in advance have already been resolved. This phenomenon should not be underestimated. To counter this, we should propose the idea of something existing, which is determined in the course of its elaboration. And it is also perhaps for this reason that, with the term of research – taken now in the sense of combat – it becomes important to affirm alternatives to practices that are instituted in some too peremptory manner.


The Research Institutions, the Institution of Research

Should we completely refuse to be situated outside the arbitrary impositions of the LMD process (Europe imposing Licence-Master-Doctorate on all Higher Education) and of its normative institutional injunctions, or on the contrary consider that it is an ideal occasion to tackle the issues of research in order to invent new situations? The Ministry of Culture tends to launch some watchwords without defining what they imply as possible directions to take. This gives an opportunity to take up the ideas in order to adapt them to situations going in a different direction than the intended one.

Two debates should be distinguished: on the one hand the institutional debate that concerns acknowledging activities as legitimate research, allowing to access grants. All institutions have to face the problems of recognition of research. Such debate has nothing to do with the one, on the other hand, which poses the question of the reflexive attitudes that one can have starting from one’s own practices. In the first case, in order for a research activity to be recognized, we are in presence of more and more violent criteria, over which the teachers-researchers have absolutely no control. In the second case, we find pockets of resistance that refuse the arbitrary injunctions of non-pertinent criteria, and then go on to seek alternative processes of gaining legitimacy. To stress the difference between these two debates seems absolutely essential. A book like the Artistic Turn, for example, is written by artists fighting to find a legitimate place in the university while preserving the specificities of their art. This book, however, is very preoccupied with the institutional rationalities for evaluating artistic research, and not enough with an intellectual content, which would be completely independent from them. When we read this book, it is necessary to make a keen distinction between these two positions.

One of the preoccupations of The Artistic Turn is to attempt to position artistic research in relation to the dominant model, which automatically assimilates research to hard sciences and to their criteria of truth. This reduces the reflection to a prebuilt modality, since artistic research has always to be placed within criteria that are elaborated elsewhere. It should be noted that a part of scientific research tries to be inspired by artistic experimental situations.[5] Bringing artistic research closer to that of social sciences, which also has to deal with subjective elements difficult to stabilize, seems a more propitious way to develop the understanding of many things in the domains proper to artistic activities.

Some despair is apparent today among those who work in French higher education. They deplore the recent development of savage evaluation rationales, centered perversely on research in quantitative terms (publications, participation in conferences, quotes in books, etc.), which does not at all go in the direction of an opening of research to the instability of results that cannot be predicted. Research, devoid of its intellectual qualitative content, becomes solely an instrument of normalization, in order to align universities on a single conception and above all in order to hierarchically compare them. The notion of excellence turns into submission to a certain number of injunctions dictated by centralizing policies. This is what allows funding appropriations to take place. Another important injunction concerns the requirement for research to be only occupied with what is considered as useful to society, notably in encouraging establishing privileged relationships with industry and the market place.

These approaches announce the programmed disappearance of Social Sciences and Humanities departments. A certain number of disciplines in the social sciences, literature and arts find themselves caught between the necessity to conform to criteria that are external to their essence and to constantly justify their usefulness to society, which considerably weakens them and directly threatens their existence. Consequently, there is a tendency today in universities to align research on the lowest intellectual educational level. The researchers are therefore strongly encouraged to turn their attention towards practical domains, but this has nothing to do evidently with artistic concerns.

The race for quantitative recognition in research produces also the recourse to “ready-made thinking” and to “ready-made evaluation”, which soon become the obliged pathways to which everybody has to conform and in which many participants find reassuring and comfortable situations. The association of domains that are deemed subjective, such as the arts, with scientific domains that are deemed objective, such as for example the neurosciences, suggests at the same time that research envisioned in this way contributes to the progress of humanity and that it allows the access to undeniable proofs. The scientific method falsely applied to the arts becomes an obligation without which nobody can pretend to claim legitimacy in research.

The injunctions coming from European instances carry with them many constraints, but they have also the merit to open new spaces. In architecture, the doctorate has been put in place only very recently, one does not know yet what it exactly entails. A Canadian attempted to describe what is a thesis in architecture. He studied forty theses and mapped them out according to the elements that orientated the research. This is the kind of approach that creates some openings towards the spaces of creation: how to create your own great book on architecture. On the condition to not fall into the elaboration of a between ourselves sub-culture, as it is often the case when the methods and the language have primacy over the contents. On the condition also to respect the small objects of research, as much as the ones with larger perspectives.

All the same, one has the impression that the race for control could well collapse on itself: with the increase in criterization rationales and a society going ever faster and faster in combining things and matters, have we not arrived at a point of rupture, at the end of a system? By definition, it will be more and more difficult to continue in the same register of normalization and controls, because the system in itself generates a capacity to get out from the boxes, to surpass the imposed frameworks. For reasons of efficiency, and the social issues raised by the system, it is difficult to imagine that the university can continue for a very long time in this way. Even if the technocratic imagination can make these absurd systems last for a very long time, it is conceivable that some dynamic reassessments are about to emerge inside and outside the institutions.


The Models of Research in Tension

1. Relationships to other Disciplinary Fields

Artistic research seems to make sense only in the perspectives in which art is not considered any more as autonomous in relation to the banality of its ordinary environment. To continue to consider art as preserved from the conditions in which it is produced (art for art’s sake), is an ideal that research cannot fulfill. In this posture, the artist does not need to devote attention to research, since this could threaten the purity of the creative act, research in this context should be considered as external to art, it should content itself with the contemplation of its high achievements. Only in perspectives opening enquiries about the way to practice art can one approach in an internal manner the field of artistic research: how do artists and other (human or non-human) beings or entities contributing to artistic practice interact to obtain their results. This central idea of interaction opens the field of artistic reflection to fields such as sociology, psychology, educational sciences, technologies, cultural policies, mingling artistic domains, literature, philosophy, etc. Artistic research seems to make sense if – within artistic practice itself – other elements are contributing, coming from other fields of practice (outside the arts). But in the case in which a disciplinary field outside the arts comes to influence research, it is not normal that the artistic research should conform in all aspects to the rules that apply to the imported discipline.

There is one positive aspect of the process linked to the obligation to develop research in sectors of higher education that until now were oblivious to it: collaborations with other research groups or entities become absolutely necessary. For example, concerning the Schools of Architecture, the corollary of research is a partnership in the framework of the creation of the UMR (Unité Mixte de Recherche, Mixt Unity of Research). A Mixt Unity of Research is a federation of laboratories. The objective is, in order to remedy the difficulty of being confined to ones’ own questions, to look for issues aroused by others, and to build collaborations. The projects involve the presence of funding and partners. For the Schools of Architecture it offers very interesting questions: who should we turn to? Towards the Schools of Architecture? Or towards the researchers who exist in close vicinity, but who are very different, that is Schools of Engineering, University Schools, Schools of the Arts? These partnerships lead to interesting fields. In the Schools of Architecture, the architectural project remains at the center of the study program and is nourished by four domains: engineering science, imagery, arts’ history, and philosophy/ethnology/sociology. This program of study lacks a course on writing. Architecture and writing have things to develop in common, for in research the capacity to write is indispensable.[6] All these issues lead to alterity, within domains that until now were confined to a certain insularity.

2. Théorie et pratique.

The separation between theory and practice remains a dominant representation in the arts.

Artistic research is thought as being primarily concerned with reflection on practices. In this context, the still dominant idea is that the practice (tacit) domain reserved to artists, remains separated from the theoretical (explicit). The theoretic thought is considered as an analysis realized after the fact, made preferably by outside observers. In the Schools of Architecture, for at least twenty years, the separation between practice and theory was dominant: separation between the architects and the engineers, separation between professional practitioners and teachers. Today, because of the State’s injunction, this separation is called into question in the requirement of a double competency to which research has to be also added. However the status of teacher/researcher still does not exist. Since last year the Schools of Architecture have a double tutelage, one from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, and one from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

In the case of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lyon, up to now there was no training for practitioners. Here, the violent injunction of the State is that it is now necessary to train some practitioners, that is to give the students some perspectives of professionalization. For example, some courses on entrepreneurship are now organized during the first year at the Lyon II University. We are facing a delicious paradox linked to research: at the University, a stronghold of theoretical studies, there is the injunction to train practitioners, and in the Schools of Architecture and Arts, strongholds of practices, theoreticians should be trained. In the two cases it is a matter to start doing what one was not used to doing, and what one does not know how to do.

3. The Status of the Written Text

There is an astonishing uncertainty in the fact that the transposition into words, the writing of a text, is a practice that can be either creative, or be content with being an explanation tool. Is the transposition into words directly an integral part of the research processes or of artistic production, or is it only the tool for a descriptive or speculative presentation of this research or artistic production content? In the usual conceptions of university research, the transposition into words of the results tends to be exclusively considered as a process that is separated from the content and from any creative elaboration. The mechanical application of the concepts borrowed from scientific research, in order to justify the existence of artistic research, creates a strange state of mind: the artistic act is innovative, creating something new that will be directly injected into intellectual circles. What cannot be explicated by words creates some forms of distance, of exclusion, certain modes of innovation becoming in this way excluded from the field of research. The discourses around the conditions of artistic practices, notably with Bruno Latour, overshadow innovation forms that cannot be articulated with words; the words come after and outside the fact. In this scheme of thought, if someone does some research grounded on artistic practices, the language (putting into words, taking up a pencil, or using a computer) comes after, and in this way does not take part in the research process, but only in its restitution.

This separation between creative research processes and their communication by means of a text has to be questioned in two ways. On the one hand the creative transposition into words can become a tool inserted into the heart of the research process: one thinks of John Cage’s lectures,[7] which textually did not explicit much, but which described in their form in itself the processes of elaboration of the author’s musical compositions. Through these lectures, one has a direct access to the author’s experimental procedures, his modes of thinking, but without having to go through a narrative telling us how they could be explained. On the other hand, the communication of the research contents can use different medias other than text: films, videos, recorded speech, graphisms, sounds, images.

Behind the term research, there are many words that come to complicate its effective implementation: “innovation”, “scientific aspects”, “discourses”, etc. Is there a loss of sense when the discourse comes after the fact? The Cage lectures are no less, nor more research than his musical works. The criteria “discourse” is not sufficient to define research, nor the one of “science”, because a whole number of things should be summoned. One cannot therefore proceed with a single entry. What is complicated is to intertwine all the elements with each other.


Artistic Research – Avenues to Reflect

1. Research through the Elaboration of the Artistic Act

The principal enigma that needs to be resolved has to do with the situation of the artist in today’s society: is research an inherent obligation for the artistic act today? And, if the answer is positive, how can research be distinguished from the artistic act? In the perspectives of a coexistence of historical times, which is an important aspect of our society of electronic communication, it is quite possible to continue to consider that autonomous art – the one exclusively devoted to the production of works outside any circumstantial or contingent consideration – still plays an important part in the field of practices. But the possibilities offered by the new media fundamentally change the deal of artistic practices in considerably facilitating their access and in allowing amateurs to create their own means of production. These amateurs have time at hand – that professionals often have difficulty to find – for thinking through their own practice or for getting in a position favoring experimentation. The stakes of the obligation to present the work on stage – the living spectacle – are modified: processes limited to small groups, devoid of the objective to produce definitive works of art, devoid of the obligatory presence of a contemplative external public, become possible. In this type of context, it is possible to envision research as an integral part of practice, because the practice addresses at once the rationales of the production, of the interactivity between participants, and between the participants with the materials to be used.

Several factors contribute to identify artistic research to practical processes. The research linked to artistic education leads directly to practical artistic acts.: there is no pedagogical action without a direct effect on artistic practice, on ways to envisage the material production of the artistic objects, and consequently on their plasticity itself; and vice-versa, a given practice leading to particular artistic results always implies some methods of knowledge transmission in order to attain it. As soon as one is preoccupied by education, one realizes how until now effective practices have failed to concern researchers, that is the processes leading to artistic productions, everything that occurs before the emergence of the work.

2. Alternative Research Models

Other models should be considered that do not correspond to what is done in the world of the university, notably those already elaborated by personalities such as Bruno Latour, Antoine Hennion and Isabelle Stengers. In spite of the fact that since about twenty years, we have been facing a movement, over the medium to long term, of normalization of research, other models can be envisioned if we limit ourselves to an independent intellectual content. But it is not evident how to adopt these models in order to realize, at the margins of the institutions, something different while using the same terms. There are no other alternatives than to create some pockets of resistance using a diversity of models. The pockets of resistance become necessary in face of the great complexity of globalization and the challenges it poses to the great democratic models. Deindustrialization has risen to unbelievable proportions, the working class movement disappeared in less than twenty years. There should be some places and circumstances that allow people to maintain a spirit of resistance for at least a certain time. It is necessary to have some kaïros, some reaction to opportune time, in seizing all the occasions that can occur.

The question of markets and their role in the control of artistic production is increasingly disturbing. At the same time, the markets succeeded in liberating and disseminating the techniques that allow alternative inventions, something the musicians from the elite could not achieve. It is important to be able to develop a reflective approach to the tools of dissemination, to software, to the issues raised by business markets, in order to develop possible rationales for alternative public policies.

An institution like the Cefedem AuRA remains determined by the professional context in which it develops its actions. In general, musicians are less preoccupied by research issues than the actors of the other artistic domains. We can see that musicians have a strong tendency to return to an outdated corporatism. Concerning the norms of the definition of a musician and her/his activities in the professional milieu, the development of the Cefedem AuRA as a place of questioning these norms was completely improbable. This pocket of resistance allowed many people to invent their own line of action. Today, a possible focus of resistance is not to limit the Cefedem’s program of study to teacher’s training, but to turn to the education of practicing musicians at the heart of their practices both of transmission and of elaboration of their art: a reflexive thinking on music and art, on accompanying amateur practices, on the double social and artistic rationale that underlies the actual role of musicians in society. One can assert a singular approach.

3. Administrative Obstacles

There is an astonishing paradox between the reality of the institutions of artistic education and the injunction to develop research and intellectual thinking. All the schools of the arts have to face budget reductions; all the sectors of practices have made great efforts. The incitation to research is developed in an environment that remains very rigid and without the means to provide adequate responses. As soon as new pedagogical projects are proposed, even if they are neither exceptional nor experimental, but that are near the realities of what it is possible to do, many obstacles and roadblocks appear. The arts schools lag behind in the use of new technologies (video, image rights, diffusion issues), and the few tools they are capable of developing are not available to students and teachers. In the domain of popular music (officially called in France musiques actuelles amplifiées, amplified actual music), there exists in Copenhagen an “incredible” department: spaces full of the newest technologies available to users. However, the department collaborates directly with the record labels that impose their criteria, this does not correspond to the role of public institutions. In the public service of music education, the participants are not there to obey the demands of the market place, to produce groups conforming to its rules and to release commercial products. The public service has to bring its own independent vision. People are encouraged to do new things, but as soon as a proposition is formulated, it comes up against the rigidity of the system. The only thing that we do not know how to do, it is to change the system.

4. The question of Research Spaces and Publications.

One can see the importance of the existence of research spaces, precisely in order to change the rigid systems just mentioned. It is very important for a research group to have an adequate place and to be able to make it function: this is linked to the available time of the participants and their ability to attract some funding. In order for artistic research to be viable, militant approaches are not enough. It is also necessary to have the capacity to develop some forms of visibility associated with the public expression of the practices (the stage, education). How should we proceed so that what has been discovered, updated, can be heard somewhere as an element that cannot be ignored. In order for this research-resistance to exist, the conditions that would move the constraints imposed by the institutions have to be determined. How can we make sure that this research would be promoted and could cross the threshold of confidentiality, of self-confinement?

What is important is to build some traces. Resistance should be conducted through some existent things, through the “bringing to life”, it implies therefore publications that give full account of the different aspects of the place one occupies. The absence in the musicians’ world of an association that would be capable of defending something other than traditional (if not reactionary) objects is sorely evident. Why is it so difficult to federate the points of view that are not along those lines? How to get out of isolation? Making the path in life by walking would be a good start.

Those who exist in an institutional place often think that the things that are possible have to be envisaged outside the institutions. But those who are outside suffer from isolation and anonymity, from the plethora of information. A public place, whatever it might be, has the merit to exist, it gives a margin of possibilities. The Cefedem has had the good fortune to have been able to develop independently from the conservatories and the universities. The PaaLabRes collective hopes that the digital space being developed will be to some extent the equivalent of a place that seems up to now unavailable. Enseigner la Musique has been the essential tool for disseminating the practices developed at the Cefedem AuRA and other associated places.


Widening Research

1. Research Before the Doctorate

In the world of universities, real research starts at the doctorate level. Nevertheless, the idea that one can carry some research project from the very start of higher education, or even before that, is perfectly viable. Several places in Europe and in the world have been able to experiment this idea with success.[8] To introduce research from undergraduate level onwards is a way to refuse that the laws of the market place should define what could be expected of students at the end of their studies. The Rector of the Lille University said recently[9] that today the social sciences and the arts are no longer just tools to be acquired to shine in society, but are becoming completely indispensable to surpass the fact that machines in the hard sciences are going to be able to do all possible things replacing the humans. In music, the historical definitions of professional occupation are collapsing: we do not know to what we should train the students. The issue is not to train musicians to acquire a pre-established technique, but to do research would give them a more distanced point of view on their actions. They will be able in that way to continually reinvent their practices, rather than to reproduce fixed models. This creates another rationale for resistance: to imagine what will be the nature of the professional occupation tomorrow is not possible anymore, but it is also necessary to realize that the “professional occupation invented by contemporaries never existed”, it is invented along the way throughout history.

In the process of widening the concept of research to contexts fairly different from the one limited to doctoral studies and accredited laboratories, three levels can be observed in the education framework: a) the formal research of university doctoral studies and laboratories; b) preparation to research that concerns higher education as a whole; and c) learning through research that can be done at any level, including at that of children beginners. Moreover, it must be realized that these three levels are themselves distinct from experimental postures that are in operation today in many domains. Numerous approaches of this type exist at the same time in education institutions, in working places, in everyday life and in artistic practices that can be qualified as “reflective practices”.

2. Research Before and Outside Higher Education

Within the music schools (specialized music education at primary and secondary levels) there is a surprising presence of high-level groups whose members do not particularly demand rehearsal spaces, or supports for technical production or advertising. They come to these public institutions specifically to develop research projects, outside any consideration for acquiring a professional trade. These projects are very often centered on meeting other aesthetics and different ways to practice music.

Today, in music schools, there are many study programs (in the process of experimentation) in which the students are solicited in collective situations to learn specific things in an active manner by trial and error, in a different temporality than the one traditionally used and by varying in diverse ways the learning situations.[10] In these programs, research is inextricably a corollary to learning, not only on the side of the leadership of the teachers who have to continually redefine their actions in relation to the contexts given by the students, but also on the side of the students putting themselves in research situations. The idea of research is a posture that is assumed on an everyday basis, it is not a pretentious access to formalism, and it changes completely the sense of artistic studies. The goal is to develop enlightened practitioners, capable of carrying out inventive actions in an autonomous manner.

Performers are often the butt of caricatures, incapable of carrying research on their own, but, to take an example, a model exists today in the revitalization of old music in which there is a collective work on interpretation, which can be qualified as a research in acts. It is then possible to start with an affirmative that what one is doing is research.

It is very important, even necessary, to be able to document these numerous new manners to envision teaching in music schools, the practitioners should be encouraged to write texts, producing videos, using all the possible media so that a collective knowledge can be developed, which would nourish the reflection on practices.

This documentation would help to see more precisely what constitutes artistic research; there is by the way a strong demand in the artistic world for the diffusion of such documents.

3. Research Outside the Norms

Many activities of research are carried out by people who never speak about it, who never write a single line about it. It does not prevent them from inventing things that do not inevitably correspond to the sense of innovation promoted by the governmental instances. How can we give full account of what remains a blind spot? To make these practices known would be a way to restore the meaning that one can give to democracy. In effect, there is an obvious unfairness in the large number of closures instituted to control access to research: in music, perfect pitch, dictation, standard sound, etc. It does not function in this way in reality, as there are many people whose practice does not correspond to these norms. The ones who feel they can legitimately speak about their practices, and who are willing to do it, do not do it for clearly argued reasons. They are willing to speak about them, and do it because they have some ideas in their mind. Behind their initiatives, some social strategies are in process. It is necessary to determine why one does things, to recognize what strategies are in place, to fully assume them, to make them known to the public. There is the need to break down some walls, of not thinking all this out of the blue, outside a context, without the presence of strategic objectives, to explicit what one is ready to defend.

Report realized and translated by Jean-Charles François – 2015-18.
English translation realized in collaboration with Nancy François.

Post-scriptum to the debate:
Exchange Forum PAALabRes “Artistic Research”

Following the debate organized on Novermber 2, 2015 on artistic research several questions remain to be clarified or discussed. We propose an exchange forum on the following questions:

  1. To what extent do artistic practices today necessitate processes of research inherent to their acts, yet remaining distinct from them?
  2. The issue of methods and criteria specific to research carried out by the practitioners themselves in relationship to their own artistic practices.
  3. The issue of a strong representation in people’s minds of a dichotomy between theory and practice. Is it the case that the distinction between fundamental, intellectual or formal research (considered as theoretical) and professional training (considered as practical) introduces more confusion in this debate between practice and theory (practicing theory and theorizing implicitly the practices)? Is the questioning on artistic practices – professional or other – of the domain of theory? Can it be done without some references to practical examples?
  4. Issues concerning the usefulness of research: the distance between the usefulness of a research activity for a given group of humans and the fact that if things are defined as useful from the beginning of a fundamental or artistic research, one refuses to accept that the results might be unpredictable. Is there the necessity to make a distinction between “usefulness” and “utilitarianism”?
  5. Issues concerned with the status of written texts in relation to artistic research and creation: to what extent are they part of the research in itself? To what extent are they only tools for communicating the research results?
  6. The contradictions between study tracks that are very often orientated towards individual work and the collective actions of laboratories.

Stories chronicling experiences would be welcome in connection with this notion of artistic research. The description of contexts in which disciplinary fields are in interaction, notably in the confrontation between arts and sciences, would be of great interest for this forum.

PaaLabRes accepts to consider for this debate very short contributions (6 lines for example) as well as more developed texts (one page). The research articles would be considered as potential contributions outside this “debate forum”.

PaaLabRes is in charge of the processes of presentation and of edition of the contributions in a spirit of exchange. Different types of encounters and interactions will be organized in order to continue working on these issues.


[1] The Cefedem AuRA, Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique was created in 1990 by the Ministry of Culture in order to organize a study program leading to the State Diploma for Teaching Music within specialized music education (schools of music and conservatories). The Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes based in Lyon developed a research publication, Enseigner la Musique, and created a Study Center on teaching artistic practices and their cultural mediations. See the site:

[2] The collective PaaLabRes, Pratiques Artistiques en Actes, Laboratoire de Recherches, was created in 2011 by ten musicians working in the Lyon region, with the objective to reflect on their own practices,including both the logics of artistic production and of transmission, the logics of research and free reflection.

[3] Informal text by Jean-Charles François, 2012 (unpublished).

[4] Voir La Recherche en art(s), ed. Jehanne Dautrey, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Paris : Editions MF, 2010.

[5] Voir Experimental Systems, Future Knowledge in Artistic Research, Michael Schwab (ed.), Ghent, Belgium : Orpheus Institute, distributed by Leuwen University Press, 2013. This series of articles is centered on the research of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Director at the Max-Planck Institute of the history of sciences department, on the epristemology of experimentation.

[6] For example, the School of Architecture of Saint-Etienne is now developing a track with the Lyon ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon), mixing architecture and writing.

[7] See John Cage, Silence, Cambridge, Mass. And London, England: The M.I.T. Press, 1966; see also John Cage, Empty Words, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.

[8] See notably The Reflexive Conservatoire, Studies in Music Education Eds. George Odam and Nicholas Bannan, London : Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Aldershot, England : Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005. The Cefedem AuRA in its program leading to the Diplôme d’Etat centered the curriculum on students’ projects in the domain of artistic practices, pedagogy and reflection (writing an essay); Jean-Charles François, Eddy Schepens, Karine Hahn, Dominique Clément, « Processus contractuels dans les projets de réalisation musicale des étudiants au Cefedem Rhône-Alpes », Enseigner la Musique N° 9/10, Cefedem Rhône-Alpes, pp. 173-94.

[9] Private conversation with Jacques Moreau, director of the Cefedem AuRA, 2015.

[10] The ENM (Ecole Nationale de Musique) of Villeurbanne is one of the very active places working in this direction, notably in the program EPO (Ecole Par l’Orchestre, Learning through Orchestra) developed by Philippe Genet, Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi, and the one from the Rock department with Gilles Laval.


Ecology of practices

Return to the French text

For an

What do we mean by “ecology of practices”? The term ecology affirms that living beings have some relations to their environment, in configurations of interdependence. Life and above all the survival of living beings depend on other beings, whether live or inert, in particular situations. Ecology has become an important preoccupation because of the threats to the survival of the whole planet today, precisely in relation to human actions. The ecological questions more and more pertain to important cultural domains and to the relationships between human beings; in going beyond a purely scientific preoccupation, they intrude on the political sphere.

In the arts, ecological concerns centered recently on awareness of natural phenomena, the disappearance of certain species, or on heightened attention to our urban environment in the perspective of a moralization of excessive uses and of a desire to create reasoned practices respecting the spaces of others and the environment in general. In the cultural domain, ecology is considered as the influence that the environment exerts on behaviors and mentalities of individuals immerged in it.

For the PaaLabRes collective, the utilization of the term of “ecology” has another meaning in its relation to practices. The term “practice” refers to concrete situations involving actions inscribed in some duration. Practice most often implies relationships between human beings in a collective, and also interactions of these same beings with objects, all this happening within a well-defined material, cultural and institutional environment. It is this particular agency of all the interactive unstable elements in duration that constitutes a “practice”. In artistic domains, the practices are defined at the same time by:

  1. Some hierarchic relationships between qualified persons. The idea of hierarchy implies that there are more or less qualified people and that the qualifications might vary according to defined roles, certain roles having the reputation of being more prestigious than others. Hierarchies can be more or less affirmed and more or less controlled by democratic rules.
  2. Relationships between persons and objects resulting in particular actions. The objects influence the actions of people as much as people exert their craft on the objects. Some technical gestures are developed according to how tools of production behave.
  3. Usages that are more or less fixed by rules. The rules come from established traditions, or can be invented for determined contexts. They are more or less explicit, and when they are implicit, there is often the impression that they do not exist. In order to create the absence of rules, one has to invent mechanisms, which in order to be efficient have to be organized like sheet music.
  4. Relationships with the external world, notably with the public through particular media. But also the relationships with other neighboring practices, in order to be different from them, to be influenced by them, or in order to disqualify them.

Practices can then be thought of as beings, as living entities in themselves, which interact in various ways with other practices. The interaction between practices is precisely what is interesting for the PaaLabRes collective as a fundamental concept to be developed.

The concept of “ecology of practices” has been developed by the philosopher of sciences Isabelle Stengers, in the Tome 1 of Cosmopolitics.1 In an interview published in the magazine Recherche2, Stengers, talking about ecology in terms of relations between individuals and between populations, describes them as offering three possible options, which vary according to circumstances: a) the individuals can be preys; b) they can be predators; c) they can be considered as resources. One of the favorite examples for Stengers, inspired by the practices introduced by Tobie Nathan, gravitates around traditional pre-modern or non-modern psychotherapy practices. Most of the time these practices have some difficulty to coexist with scientific approaches that disqualify all the others in the name of rationality, and that tolerate them only reluctantly as part of a museum-based survival of cultures. However, the keys to success of therapies can often be found in the belief systems and cultural environment of the concerned individuals:

In ecological terms, the way in which a human practice chooses to present itself to the outside world, and notably when it proposes to enter in relationship with the general public, is part of its identity. At present, the identity of physics is at the same time made up of all the beings that it has created, the neutrino among others, and of its incapacity to present itself to the general public. For me, to try to create new links of interest around physics and other practices means making a proposition, not of radical change but of a mutation of identity. (…) The physicist would no longer be this being who, suddenly, intervenes in the name of rationality disqualifying all the others. (…) In my speculation, this physicist could become an ally if we would decide, for example, to take seriously the traditional psychotherapeutic practices that bring into play djinns and ancestors. He would know that in saying that, one does not pretend that the djinn is of the same nature as the neutrino: he would know that one is going to be interested in the risk of these practices, in what they are able to achieve. In this world in which the practices are present through their risks and their requirements, the physicist can coexist with the traditional therapist.3.

In the arts, in particular in musical art, because it is so much linked to identity problems, the disqualification of the practices of others is the rule rather than the exception. The genres or styles are more often preys or predators, rarely resources. The disqualification can be manifest in four different ways and often simultaneously: firstly it can be made on the basis of competences or of technical artistic expertize, either for example that someone would not be able to read musical scores, or that someone could not improvise during a social gathering; secondly the disqualification can be measured according to a presupposed authenticity, either for example by blaming a practice for not respecting a tradition, or on the contrary by accusing a tradition of being the source of a lethal stagnation; thirdly, disqualification is induced in relation to a public success, either in accusing the artistic form of being commercial to the point of not belonging any more to a legitimate art, or in blaming it for being too far removed from public understanding to the point of being completely marginalized; and fourthly disqualification can manifest itself in relation to official learning institutions, either when a given practice would be excluded from them, or on the contrary when this same practice strongly asserts its existence by staying outside any institutions, considered in this case as the source of too confortable existences.

The issue of attempting to get rid of the infernal logics behind the disqualification of the practices of others, in order to replace it by a pacified ecology of practices, is far from simple. The solutions lie not in putting an end to conflicts or in forcing cultures into an idealized “melting pot”, but in seeking rather to organize the confrontation of practices on the principle of mutual recognition and equal rights. The main difficulty of this political program lies in that it is not sufficient to let cultures coexist in a given space, even if it seems pacific at first: the multiples enclaves in a shared institution (or a common territory) remaining in mutual ignorance of their respective raison d’être and simply limiting their relationships to their juxtaposition, or even to their superimposition, do not create the conditions of a viable democratic contract likely to pacify fundamentalist antagonisms. The effective confrontation of practices in mechanisms that have to be invented, which oblige them to interact while respecting their own existence, without compromise, becomes a necessity in order to face (at least partially) the difficulties in which our societies tend to sink. Only the existence of public institutions dedicated to this effect could arguably avoid the permanent danger of more or less violent civil wars.

The ecology of practices takes the form of the continuous emergence of new practices stemming from the already existing ones and continuous disappearance of other practices. This phenomenon seems to have been strongly reinforced since the advent of electronic media’s instantaneous communication. The onset of these numerous practices implies in each case, as noted by Isabelle Stengers, the “production of values, (…) the proposal of new modes of evaluation, of new meanings ».4In the perspectives of the ecology of practices, the issue is not to think anymore that these values, evaluations and meanings should replace the old ones in the name of a truth that one would have finally discovered, but that they “are about the production of new relations that are added to a situation already produced by a multiplicity of relations ».5 The extraordinary multiplicity of practices that emerge and disappear, through the very varied content of the meanings they express, results in a calling into question of normalization processes that led to universally recognized truths imposed on all. To ideas, the source of imposed “undeniable facts”, is opposed the resistance of practices that confront the instability of realities, and their values relative to contexts.

Consequently, the idea of ecology of practices is not only about the contents of the works or of artistic approaches in relation to sound ecology: that is on the one hand the issues relative to sound pollution in our societies, and on the other hand the enhancement of diversified sound environments. The ecology of practices involves a complex ensemble that gravitates around notions of interaction between human beings, and between human and non-human beings, in particular with inert objects and technologies. In this context artistic practices are confronted, like any other practices, with difficult dilemmas having to do for example with issues such as data hacking, respect of author’s rights, advertising power of the media, cultural industries economy and the funding of alternative practices, free or paid access to information, facilitated access to learning (notably about specialized techniques) and to critical thought, access to employment, in short anything that contributes to influence the environment, its unstable and uncertain future, and the beings living in it.

Jean-Charles François – 2015
Translation Kerrie Szuch and Nancy François

1. Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics I, Bononno, R (trans.), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2010).

2. Isabelle Stengers : « Inventer une écologie des pratiques »

3. Ibid., p. 59.

4. Cosmopolitics I, op. cit., p. 32.



 For an itinerary-song towards…



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Sensory Body and Learned Models

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In musical discourse, orality is often summarized in two assertions: to “learn by rote” and “without score”. Yet orality, and the term seems an over-simplification, refers in fact to a sensorial involvement in sonic practice. This mobilizes conjointly the ear listening, the eye sighting, the voice singing, the body dancing, the feet stomping, the hands playing, the word arising, in the service of a project built on experiences, trial and error and individual and collective constructions.

This sensoricity, a globalizing term taken up by Alain Savouret, plays a part in the ineffable side that any human action has, because it cannot be modeled (or escapes any definitive all-embracing modelization). It is constantly redefined by the permanent absorption of new experiences in the audible, vocal, tactile, gustative, visual, body motion domains… of the being in action – in reaction to the environment. Moreover, it integrates elements of traditions relative to the socio-cultural milieu of each and everyone.

Every human being has this ineffable part, which can be observed in his/her most diverse actions. It constantly interacts with the model-based part relative to the undertaken action, more or less mastered by the actor (manual techniques, theoretical knowledge, historical culture, …) and it leads to unique productions because carried by her/his global being.

Henceforth, the question is not about developing or refusing orality as defined in this way (it is there!) but rather about evaluating as closely as possible the existing models, symbolized by the relationship to the written in practice. This dosage, unconscious in nature, (the unconscious domain), can be questioned, be brought to light by the confrontation with others. Collective open practices can thus be the place where these individual equilibriums are elucidated. Greater mobility of boundaries, more porosity, can be found there. Interpersonal tinkering about becomes possible, each person bringing his/her stock of objects with a view to creating some assemblages that can become, or not, definitive realizations.

Orality questions our relation to writing and to the model to reproduce. There is orality in all societies; it is the degree of the presence and usage of writing, which introduces differences between, on the one hand, reproduction of the model, analytical discourses, and on the other hand variability of the objects in the time of their production, analogical discourses.

This point of view on orality allows one to consider musical practice from the sensorial perspective of the human body as a variable to the learned models.

Michel Lebreton – avril 2014
Translation Jean-Charles and Nancy François


Cultural Operations

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Episode 1 : operation, cultural operation

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This is not an embezzlement of definition.

Cultural operations are already, to begin with, an operation…

The choice of a feminist Latin etymology

Operation comes from the Latin word “operatio” (adding to it an “n” of love), meaning to work and a work.
A first origin can be found in “opus, operis”, a work and to work, but also as in work of art, a finished product. Or we could have the opos-opus of sap and juice, of sweat or sesterce, which one can get from working… PaaLabRes relies on a second origin, taken from the antique feminization (in the tactical feminist-action) of the first opus, operis: “opera”, to work and a work, but also activity; that is of a production in progress. In the framework of certain customs, an idea of providing service, with application and attention, with taking care and trouble, is associated with this word.

The verb operor (to work and making something, but also to practice, to exercise, to produce, to achieve) adds the meaning of to have some effect. It appears that the operative roots of the construction of all these words are:

  • ops, for power, strength, means, force including the idea of help, support and assistance.
  • op, radical that indicates the eye or the sight (as in optical matters for example), and by extension, analysis (as in biopsy, analysis of a living tissue), and also the prefix indicating “opposite” and “against” (to oppose, to be in opposition).

The “op” of hip hop, and the hype and the hop, of the oopsy daisy!
And the hit and the pot, of the horsy’s hops and of the seal’s seashore
Let’s stop our ding dongs
A   p o s t a l   s t a m p
No hip and no hope, no more dis-hope or sur-hope?
Suripo and syrup’s la la my don dingbat

[song in the process of being recorded]


Some previous (not yet cultural?) uses of operations ?)

An operation, “action done by some power, some force, which produces a physical or moral effect” [Cnrtl, A], is mysterious and magical. In the first traces of written texts we have, RELigion was not far: with the Holy Operation, old lips pear eat also in its operations.

As “action carried out according to some method, through the combination of an ensemble of means” [« action faite selon un méthode, par la combinaison d’un ensemble de moyens », Larousse French dictionary, opérer 1-opération 2], another religion grabs this term: l’ECONomics and BUSiness carry out speculative, financial, and monetary operations.
Les MATHématics themselves contributed by specifying an operation as “a process of a determinate nature that, starting with known elements, engenders a new one” [« processus de nature déterminée qui, à partir d’éléments connus, permet d’en engendrer un nouveau », Robert French dictionary, 3]. It is interesting to pay a short visit to “logic”: “examples of logical operations: identity, negation, conjunction, either exclusive or inclusive, non-disjunction, inclusion, non-conjunction” [« Les opérations logiques sont : l’identité, la négation, la conjonction, ou exclusif, ou inclusif, la non disjonction, l’inclusion, la non conjonction », Cnrtl B2b, Guilh. 1969].

And the MILITary (it is strange that, in dictionaries, “milit.” means military and not militant)… Look! They have not shown the tip of their nose under gasmasks. They annexed operation as an “ensemble of strategic movements or of tactical manœuvres of a deployed army, executed in order to attain a given objective” [Cntrl, C1]

Movement, manœuvre… strategy, tactic… all this evokes something… no, not in this context, actually mostly against this military / police context… the “lightning-raid operation” by Alpha Bondy of the Brigadier Sabari: the police violence (already more than 30 years ago!). And also another book with a revolutionary content… even an introduction? Ah yes: The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau (translated by Steven Rendall, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1984)… which has “the purpose (…) to make explicit the systems of operational combination [les combinatoires d’opérations] which also compose a ‘culture’ and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean that they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term “consumers.” Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.” (p. xi-xii) And here you are: “operation” in its plural form, is not very far from the word “culture”. We will come back to it.

Another big domain of the use of the term is MEDicine. An operation is here a surgical procedure performed on “some part of the living body for the purpose of modifying it, of cutting it, of taking it out” [Robert dictionary, 4], “for therapeutic, preventive, aesthetic or experimental purposes.” [Cnrtl D]. A certain number, even indeed a considerable number, are undoubtedly necessary after a military operation…

The takatak and tikitik of the machine guns
tactic of gunners,
that’s a lot of deaths, that’s a lot of deaths!
The clataclak and clatterlet of shears,
catheters and curettes,
repair bodies, repair bodies!

[song in the process of being recorded (bis)]

It is worth noting that the relative frequency of the term (in the corpus of the Trésor de la Langue Française) more than doubles between the first part and the second part of the 2Oth Century: from 5103 to 11520 occurrences (applied to a 100 thousand words [Cntrl, Fréq. Rel. litter.]). Is it thanks to the progresses in medicine? Is it the fault of the multiplication of military deployments? Actually, it’s both, thank you captain (in an operetta)? Or else is it due to the fast pace of financialisation? It is certainly not the appearance of the phrase “cultural operation” in the conclusion of Culture in the Plural by Michel de Certeau [(trans. Tom Conley, Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press, 1997) p.133-147] that was the cause of an “operation” runaway…

A cultural operation?

At first, it is necessary to clarify the words culture and cultural. We could multiply the definitions that do not limit the so-called cultural field to the arts and artists. They are numerous, and it is fundamental to constantly recall them in order to fight against the confiscation of the process of conceptualizations by recognized artists. Michel de Certeau writes in Culture in the Plural:

“Surely if it is true that any human activity can be cultural, it is not necessarily the case or is not yet inevitably recognized as such. If culture is really going to exist, it is not enough to be the author of social practices; these social practices need to have meaning for those who effectuate them.” [p. 67]

And in this framework, what can be an operation?

For Michel de Certeau, “the cultural expression is foremost an operation”. Concerning this idea, he indicates three instances: “(1) To do something with something; (2) to do something with someone; (3) to change everyday reality and modify one’s life style to the point of risking existence itself.” [Ibid. p. 143] For him the operation is the meeting point of a particular trajectory that goes across a place, a “practice of a space that is already constructed”. Here, the spaces are “determined and differentiated places” organized by the economic system, social hierarchies, the manners of expressing oneself, the traditions, etc. [p. 145] The trajectory modifies through particular actions the conditions of the instituted places:

“Thus, cultural operations are movements. They inscribe creations in coherences that are both legal and contractual. They stipple and trace them with trajectories that are not indeterminate but that are unsuspected, that deform, erode and slowly change the equilibrium of social constellations.” [p. 145-146]

A zebra [“They stipple and trace them” is used here as a translation for “Elles les zèbrent”, and the verb “zèbrer” comes from the animal “zèbre”] is “the wild donkey” [“l’âne sauvage”, Larousse French Dictionary] “with a very fast gallop” [“au gallop très rapide”, Robert French Dictionary], it is an “ordinary individual” [“individu quelconque”, Cnrtl], a “strange individual” [“individu bizarre”, Robert]… Striped like a zebra, a walker makes the cars listen to reason… To streak like a zebra is to scratch and jam the system, is to striate and “to mark with sinuous lines” [Larousse], with the signature “Zorro”…

For all the zebras who zig and zag
social constellations, star-type societies
For all the other Zadigs and other Zidanes
who dance with no ceremonial and fly in the nets
with zazou’s zedoary of zipped zany
And some hot pepper! Some erosions, movements, alterations,
And some hot pepper! Some collusions, changes, transformations.

[song in the process of being recorded (ter)]

In addition to all this, let’s keep in mind a few ideas from the early definitions above: production as process rather than as finished product, attention and application, strength with help and support, facing up to something, engendering something new, intervention (to come in between, to emerge during something, to stand in-between, to interrupt, to mingle with, etc., a term that the military and medicine use also a lot!); likewise the notion of actions done together, or series of actions.

In the next episode, we will continue to work with the elements developed by Michel de Certeau. His book, The Practice of Everyday Life (op.cit.) begins with: “This essay is part of a continuing investigation of the operations, the ways in which users – commonly assumed to be passive and guided by established rules – operate.” (p. xi). This is the first phrase: the plural is there and the expressions linked to “operation” are very present in this general introduction….

An affair to be followed!

Nicolas Sidoroff – February 2016
Translation Jean-Charles and Nancy François

List of the dictionaries used…

Listed in the order of edition.

  • [Larousse] : Dictionnaire de la langue française, Lexis. (1992). Jean Dubois. Paris : ed. Larousse. (original edition, 1979).
  • [Robert] : Le nouveau Petit Robert (dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française). Text by Paul Robert, revised et amplified under the direction of Josette Rey-Debove and Alain Rey. (2008). Paris : Dictionnaires Le Robert (new ed. millesime, first edition of Petit Robert, 1967, of nouveau Petite Robert in 1993).
  • [Cnrtl] : Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales. [consulted on line:ération , February 11, 2016]

For the etymology:

  • Dictionnaire Latin-Français. Félix Gaffiot. (1934). Paris : Hachette [consulted on line:, February 11, 2016]
  • Les racines latines du vocabulaire français. Jacques Cellard. (2007). Bruxelles : De Boeck, ed. Duculot 4e édition.
  • Dictionnaire étymologique et historique du français. Jean Dubois, Henri Mitterand, Albert Dauzat. (2011). Paris : Larousse, ‘Les grands dictionnaires’.
  • Dictionnaire d’étymologie du français. Jacqueline Picoche, with the collaboration of Jean-Claude Rolland. (2015). Paris : Le Robert, coll. ‘Les usuels’. (new ed., first ed., 1992)


 For an itinerary-song towards…


Music to be made

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For an


There are two musics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. These two musics are two totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly). (Barthes, 1992, p.231)

The dichotomy presented by Barthes is interesting for PaaLabRes because it places music in an activity to be done whereas it is often only presented as a product to listen to. We will try to understand how important this distinction is for the diversity of music practices.

The music to be listened to is not very difficult to define: it is what we generally call « Music ». This is the implicit definition found in the (many) aphorisms on music:

« Music drives out hate in those who are without love. » Pablo Casals

« Without music, life would be a mistake. » Friedrich Nietzsche

Music is here no more than a pure sound product with which we are confronted, which could only exist for the ear. As a product, music is adorned with extra-ordinary virtues, even with magical powers that can go as far as saving man (it works even better with « the poor fellows » generally considered as cultural sinners). Even in the attempted distinction proposed by Duke Ellington – « There are only two kinds of music: the good and the bad » – music is still conjugated in the singular, because reduced to the one function: to be listened to.

But the consequence of this is that to be listened to, the music must be well played. Music to be listened to – and I do not speak here only of classical music – has to be made by specialists, played by specialists who have learned to do it with specialists, thereby excluding, without realizing it, a common practice of music.

Even if one thinks of the multiplicity of music in as many different musics as there are styles (rock, jazz, classical, variety, experimental, etc.), these musics always have in common the fact of being well played.

Yet, in Barthes’ quote, the most important point lies in the parenthesis “(even badly)”! The difference between music to be played and music to be listened to is contained entirely in this parenthesis. Barthes defines it as « the music that you or I can play, alone or with friends, with no other audience than its’ participants (that is to say, safely removed from any risk of theatricality, any hysterical temptation) ».

For us, we prefer to use the term « music to be made » instead of « music to play », it retains the sense that Barthes attributes to it in the last sentence of his article: “What is the point of composing, if it means confining the product to the concert hall or the loneliness of radio reception? To compose, at least by propensity, is to give to be made, not to give to hear but to give to write.” “To make” seems to us less symbolically weighty than “to play” (obviously, music is always played!) and than “to write”. Although it points to the idea of a fabrication, the verb “to make” implies above all the idea of an ordinary, banal, or common act.

In order to exist, the music to be listened to, however, must be produced in extra-ordinary and spectacular conditions: the concert. The systematization and sacralization of concert practice in the nineteenth century made us conceive all music as a music to be listened to, by putting the communication relationship between a producer and a receiver at the center of the device. The room and the moment of the concert were exclusively turned towards the activity of listening. The advent of recording has further amplified – in both senses of the word – this relationship to music. The only difference between the concert and the recording lies in the temporal and spatial separation of the places of production (concert hall, recording studio, etc.) and reception (living room, car, etc.). Recording, thought of as fixing the playing and affording a possibility of infinite re-listening, has made the ear even more demanding of a product well played, even « perfect » which eliminates possible imperfections of the playing (just notice the time spent and efforts made in re-recording, editing and mixing a recording to polish the sound product). But what one gains in musical « purity » or « quality », one could well lose in the diversity of practices…

In the media, music is currently often presented as a recorded/listened to music. For example, a widely published article, ‘French people ready to sacrifice their TV rather than music’, resuming a recent survey, presents music as a product whose consumption, that is to say by listening, is essential to the proper functioning of a home. d’un foyer. However, it’s not just about « music to listen to » in this article. The last sentence quotes with astonishment, practices that can fall into our category of « music to do »:

More fun, 10% of respondents admit to being surprised by their loved ones dancing naked, 23% indulging in » air guitar « , or 30% training in front of a mirror.

But the way of presenting these practices marks them directly with the stigma of a certain inadmissibility…

If music to listen to is above all a product, whose focus on the quality to be achieved hides the social, ecological and political conditions of its production, music to be made is primarily a social activity whose end can not justify the means. Mistaking one for the other, to assume they are the same, means the musical death of the latter.

Singing in the shower, playing in your room, singing loudly over a radio, scratching a guitar by the fire with friends, playing a piece of Bach badly, playing a quartet with only three instruments, and so on, are all invisible practices because « unspeakable » – we can not call them « music » – especially where musicians who produce music to listen to are taught: the conservatory. We should therefore be able at least to specify the circumstances of the production of « music », even more so in the places where it is taught, in order to avoid any « misunderstanding »,[1] so as not to take one practice for another. It is certainly this that gives rise to the misunderstanding of what « making music » means: the use of the substantive « music » without explicitly attaching the circumstances of its production.

To illustrate explicitly the circumstances of production of the object « music », let us try to finish by clarifying what is generally implied in the expression « to learn music » in the conservatory:

Learning music,
Is to learn classical music

that is to say, learning classical music in a classical way
that is to say, learning with others to read a score written in the Western language stabilized in the nineteenth century with a music theory teacher and learning to play alone a modern musical instrument of equal temperament with a teacher of the same instrument of modern music of equal temperament to be able to then rehearse with other musicians who received the same training, but on another modern musical instrument of equal temperament with a teacher of this modern instrument of equal temperament, to form the set that corresponds to the nomenclature of the piece of Western art music composed by a genius between 1685 and 1937 in order to interpret this under the direction of a conductor as correctly as possible on the raised stage of a concert hall adapted to receive a public also adapted.

If this definition has at least the merit of being clear, perhaps allowing one to avoid some misunderstanding, it could nevertheless in the long run prevent any practice of classical music by displaying too crudely its conditions of production, today implicit but nevertheless very real, as a director of one Conservatory says: “A musician who comes here to simply play in his room, ultimately has no place here.” So we may be interested in maintaining the misunderstanding and in being not too explicit about what is expected so as not to discourage those who play in their room … and who do not particularly want out. However, and without going as far as an impossible description of the specific conditions of each practice, one could nevertheless wonder a little more about the different models of practice that exist and thus not limit oneself to using only the categories of practice provided by the institutions and their actors. By developing practices centered as much on the music « to be made » as on the musical product « to listen to », or to put it differently on music as a social activity, as much as on an artistic practice separated from everyday life, one could give the possibility of a legitimate existence to practices other than those aimed at an endless perfection induced by the practice of performance on stage, even if these other practices remain in their room.

Samuel Chagnard – 2016
Translation Samuel Chagnard, Jean-Charles and Nancy François

For further reading:

Barthes, R., « Musica practica », L’obvie et l’obtus, Essais critiques, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1992, p. 231-235.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J.-C. (1965). Language and relationship to language in pedagigical situations, in Rapport pédagogique et communication, Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J.-C., & Saint Martin, M. de., Paris La Haye Mouton.

Bozon, M., Vie quotidienne et rapports sociaux dans une petite ville de province : la mise en scène des différences, Lyon, Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1984.

Chagnard, S., (2012) Modèle de pratique et pratique du modèle en conservatoire – Un musicien, c’est fait pour jouer. Master’s research essay under the direction of G. Combaz – Institut des Sciences et des Pratiques de l’Education et de la Formation – Université Lumière Lyon 2.

Lahire, B., « Logiques pratiques : le “faire” et le “dire sur le faire” », in L’esprit sociologique, Textes à l’appui, Paris, Éditions La Découverte, 2005, p.141-160.

Levine, L. W. (2010). Culture d’en haut, culture d’en bas : l’émergence des hiérarchies culturelles aux États-Unis. Paris: Éditions la Découverte.


[1]. ”The gravity of the linguistic misunderstanding in the pedagogical report stems from the fact that it has to do with the code. (…..) Learning means acquiring knowledge and inextricably, acquiring a knowledge of the code by which this knowledge is likely to be acquired. In other words, the code can only be learned here through the less and less clumsy décryption of the messages. No doubt this is the logic of all real learning either in the case of diffuse socialization or acculturation, but is not pedagogical communication entrusted precisely to technicians of learning whose specific function is to work continually and methodically at minimizing misunderstanding about the code? » [Bourdieu & Passeron, 1965, p. 15]


For an itinerary-song towards…