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Editorial 2021 – Break Down the Walls
Third Edition – PaaLabRes
1. Presentation of the 2021 Edition “Break down the walls”
2. Artistic Form of the 2021 Edition “Break down the walls”
3. Grand Collage – Part I: Experimental Encounters
4. Part II: Wandering Ideas
5. Parts III and V: Political Aspects
6. Part IV: A Journey to Improvisation
7. Edges – Fringes – Margins
1. Presentation of the 2021 Edition “Break down the walls”
Our world is more and more defined by the presence of walls separating human groups in radical ways : they might be solid walls between determined political borders, or only conceptual ones, notably in cultural domains. We are in the presence of a proliferation of small groups forming restricted communication networks and developing specific practices, often alternative to those that are perceived as dominant in a given space. This constitutes a form of democratic progress that makes it possible for a growing number of people to be involved in various causes or practices.
The presence of conceptual walls is absolutely necessary for any development of a significant collective activity. In order to establish themselves, collectives need to build a protecting shelter that allows them to ground their practice on values and to develop their projects freely. Nevertheless, this way of achieving a certain specificity can often in the long run tend to exclude people who do not correspond to the way of thinking of the given collective and to its behavior. Internally, these collectives can be open to multidisciplinary activities, but by developing highly specialized languages, they also tend to involve only a very small number of people. Consequently, the possibility of finding ways to open the protected spaces seems to be at the core of a reflection on walls.
An awareness of the ecology of practices is necessary: potentially, any practice can kill others and yet it depends on the parallel existence of other practices. The walls, closures, shelters should not be an obstacle to the respect for each other and to interacting with them. It is important that the practices be inscribed in a common space.
The possibility for any individuality to be situated at the limits of officially recognized fields, working on the paradoxes created by boundaries, should also be taken into account. In recent artistic practices, hybrid projects between two domains, two styles, two genres, have assumed great importance. Belonging simultaneously to several identities is a common phenomenon in our present society.
“Break down the walls” does not mean erasing them in order to create a generalized conformity to an order that would be determined from a particular place. “Break down the walls” however seems today sorely needed not only to counter political and cultural initiatives of exclusion, but also to create a real possibility for anyone to move freely in the space of diversity. Finally, “Break down the walls” requires the implementation of a particular set of provisions, which would guarantee the meeting of different groups on an equal footing and ensure that the exchanges between them would carry beyond a simple confrontation of points of view.
2. Artistic Form of the 2021 Edition “Break down the walls”
The website of the PaaLabRes collective (paalabres.org) is an evolving digital space for experimenting in encounters between artistic objects and the accompanying thought process, between the world of practices and that of artistic research, between the logic of stage presentation and that of public participation, cultural mediation and teaching. The 2016 Edition was based on a series of train stations. The 2017 Edition was based on a series of known places on a map.
The 2021 edition, “Break down the walls” proposes a new artistic form:
- A meander, like a river, representing both a continuity (without walls) between the contributions and the meandering spirit of wandering thought; it is a “Great Collage” [Grand collage] of all the contributions presented in a continuous sequence along this sinuosity (see Guide to the 2021 Edition). The idea is to find some continuity between a diversity of practices.
- In addition, each contribution will be published in its entirety. On the home page, the individual contributions are represented by “Houses” distributed in the space. Paths connect these houses to the river of the “Great Collage” to indicate the segments where the various extracts from the contributions appear.
Visitors to the site can choose to see/hear a segment of the Great Collage (or its entirety, which lasts about three hours), to read a particular contribution in a House, or to go back and forth between these two situations.
3. Grand Collage – Part I: Experimental Encounters
The Grand collage is organized in five parts, each announced by the “Trumpets of Jericho” by Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi.
The first part, entitled “Experimental Encounters”, focuses on artistic practices based on the encounter between two (or more) established cultures or particular professional fields, as well as specific contexts. These various encounters give rise to more or less extensive experimentation with a view to creating a context where participants representing their own culture may not have to give up their identity but may nevertheless be able to elaborate with others a new mixed or completely different artistic form. From a theoretical point of view, Henrik Frisk’s article “Improvisation and the Self: Listening to the Other” can be considered in this edition as an essential reference concerning intercultural projects and more generally the relationship to the other in the context of improvised music. This article focuses on the group The Six Tones, an artistic project between two Swedish musicians (Henrik Frisk and Stefan Östersjö) and two Vietnamese musicians (Nguyễn Thanh Thủy and Ngô Trà My) and the questions related to learning to listen to a production foreign to one’s own culture, while continuing to play improvised music. The French translation of a text by Stefan Östersjö and Nguyễn Thanh Thủy “Nostalgia for the Past: Musical Expression in an Intercultural Perspective” completes this article with perspectives from other members of the group. (See the original text in English on sixtones.net.)
The Six Tones experimental project of confronting in practice two cultures with very different traditions, in the perspective of an encounter between Asia and Europe, can be compared in this edition to Gilles Laval’s collaborative project with Japanese musicians Gunkanjima and that of the DoNo duo, an improvised encounter between Doris Kollmann, a visual artist living in Berlin, and Noriaki Hosoya, a Japanese musician. In the latter case, the meeting between Europe and Asia is coupled with an encounter between two very different artistic fields, visual arts and music.
Nicolas Sidoroff, a musician, teacher and politically committed researcher, joined a music group from Reunion Island with a family-oriented character. Even if all this takes place in the Lyon region at the geographical antipodes of the place of origin, the practice of music from this island cannot be separated from the related ways of life. To be accepted in the cultural space (without being necessarily part of it) then becomes the condition for an effective participation in the expression of this music.
Intercultural encounters are never simple, especially because the practices are always already creolized in the sense of Édouard Glissant:
The thesis that I will defend to you is that the world is being creolized, that is to say that the cultures of the world that are today in contact with each other in a thunderous and absolutely conscious way are changing by exchanging through irremissible clashes, merciless wars, but also through advances in consciousness and hope that allow us to say – without being optimistic, or rather, by accepting to be – that today’s humanities hardly give up something they have long been obstinately striving for, namely that the identity of a human being is valid and recognizable only if it is exclusive of the identity of all other possible beings.
(Introduction à une poétique du divers, Paris : Gallimard, 1996, p.15)
The perceptions we have of ourselves and of others are all constructed geographically and historically by the phenomenon of hyper-mediatization of the world, they can vary infinitely in a very positive or very negative sense, as the case may be. Any meeting context must take these perceptions into account before being able to develop real collaborations. The pragmatism of situations can well prevail over manufactured ideas. This is in line with John Dewey’s thinking:
When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals.
(Art as Experience, New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1934, 2005, p.2)
Intercultural encounters between practices that exist in our immediate surrounding do not reduce the complexity, because we can get along better between people of similar status living at very remote distances. The mutual knowledge of all those who cohabit in a given territory requires the development, in the fields of artistic education and cultural mediation, of situations that both recognize the dignity of vernacular practices and those that are at the center of the institutions’ preoccupations. Michel Lebreton, musician and teacher, bagpiper, who was President of the Association of Traditional Music and Dance Teachers, is a dynamic supporter of the integration of traditional music within the framework of conservatories in order to avoid confining this music to associations exclusively focused on a single practice. For him, the meeting of musical practices and their modes of transmission prevails over the illusion of the authenticity of separate practices:
In response to the illusion of transmitting an authentic practice of popular tradition, we must now commit ourselves to the project of putting into play, as honestly as possible, the patchwork knowledge that we have at the service of a teaching based on encounter and confrontation. The discoveries, the mutual sharings, the shocks, the debates and the thoughtful positions that result from this are all rich and salutary elements in the formation of any human being.
(Michel Lebreton, « Département de Musiques Traditionnelles, CRD de Calais, Le projet de formation », 2012, leschantsdecornemuse.fr)
In his contribution to the present edition, Michel Lebreton reflects on the distinction to be made between “walls” (we have always done so…) and “edges” (which are the “places of the possible”) and he gives examples of actual practice with students from the classical education sector, but also of collaborations between professional musicians from different backgrounds.
Dominique Clément is a composer, clarinetist, and founding member of the Ensemble Aleph. he is also assistant director at Cefedem AuRA in Lyon. This institution, since 2000, has developed a study program centered on the meeting of various musical aesthetics and this has led to the development of professional groups mixing several fields of practice. His contribution consists of a recording of excerpts from a piece, Avis dexpir, written for the contemporary music ensemble Aleph and Jacques Puech (voice and cabrette) a specialist in traditional music from central France. In this piece the typical sounds of the two musical genres are superimposed while keeping their identity and also skillfully mixed to create ambiguity.
Cécile Guillier, musician and teacher, has proposed situations for the creation of concerts-spectacles around the encounter between classical music and hip hop dance. She underlines the difficulty of such an approach in a context where the vision of the project is not the same for all partners. Above all, she notes the lack of time needed to develop situations in a meaningful way. Indeed, the teaching community does not take into account the possibility for teachers to carry out their own field of research as part of their legitimate professional functions.
The originality of the approach proposed by Giacomo Spica Capobianco (see the long interview in this edition) is both, on the one hand,
- To develop writing and musical practices with young people in neighborhoods where –more and more – “nothing seems to be possible”, allowing them to create their own artistic expressions.
- On the other hand, to supervise these actions not with a single specialist of a certain artistic form, but with a group of 8 persons (with a parity between men and women) coming from various artistic genres and forming as such a group of artistic practice working on its own creations.
Sharon Eskenazi teaches choreography. In a somewhat similar approach, she also proposes the constitution of groups with young people from very different backgrounds (Palestinian and Israeli – young people from disadvantaged and better-off neighborhoods) with a particular emphasis on the creation of choreographies whose style is not predefined, elaborated by the members of each composite group. In addition, she organized meetings in the Lyon area and in Israel bringing together the two groups of participants, Palestinian/Israeli and French, working together on their creative dance practices.
The National School of Music of Villeurbanne, since its creation at the beginning of the 1980s, is a place that includes almost all the musical practices present in our territory: classical music, jazz, rock, song, urban music, traditional music from Latin America and Africa, etc. More recently, teachers have come together to develop a common program to overcome disciplinary compartmentalization – each instrument in its own corner, also separated from basic musicianship courses, highly specialized aesthetic genres – to develop a more collective approach and to diversify the pedagogical situations as needs and situations evolve. Three professors who are at the center of this curriculum, Philippe Genet, Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi, have been contributing, since 2019, in a research project in an elementary school (the Jules Ferry School in Villeurbanne) in collaboration with sociologist Jean-Paul Filiod. They are working on musical (vocabulary, culture…) and psychosocial (self-esteem, cooperation…) learning strategies. The project is based on the combination of listening to a diversity of music and sound productions made by the students themselves with the voice or everyday objects.
Intercultural encounters are not limited to artistic fields but can also concern the relationship between philosophical thought and the arts, between professional or social situations and the arts, between academic research and artistic practices.
Clare Lesser is a British classical singer specializing in contemporary music. She has just defended a doctoral thesis that relates the thought of the philosopher Jacques Derrida to a number of artistic productions of the second half of the twentieth century, in particular John Cage’s approach to indeterminacy. As in many of Derrida’s and Cage’s texts, the very form of her thesis and the way in which its textual formulation is fixed are constituted as an artistic object as much as an academic discussion. Thus, performances, made by herself with various collaborators of the pieces that are at the center of her analyses, are part of the thesis in the form of videos. In the PaalabRes edition, an entire chapter of this research work (“Inter Muros”) is published together with extracts of a performance of John Cage’s Four6.
Guigou Chenevier, composer, drummer, percussionist, led a collective project in 2015, “Art resists time”, inspired by Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The group that was formed on the occasion of this project included musicians with different aesthetic backgrounds and also a philosopher, a visual artist, and an actress stage director. The project took place over several residencies alternating the work of the group’s development and interactions with the outside public. The largest and longest of these residencies took place at the Psychiatric Hospital of Aix-en-Provence, with active participation of staff, patients and an external audience, in the form of writing workshops and artistic practices. The idea of resistance is very present in Guigou Chenevier’s artistic and political posture. The project was directly influenced by the Italian painter Enrico Lombardi, who said in essence: “In any case, the only place of resistance that is still possible today is time.”
For the American composer and music theorist Ben Boretz, the hybrid character of his research is internally inscribed in the characteristics of his musical and textual production. In this third edition, we publish the French translation of a text dating from 1987, “-forming: crowds and power” (real time reflections in a -forming session on a text from Elias Canetti Crowds and Power). This text is presented in a graphic form (color, size and distribution of the characters in the space of the page) mixing poetic expressions with philosophical ideas. It deals with the need to erect walls that exclude, but also to make them fall, to open windows, towards the inclusive presence of others. For him, it is always a question of “negotiating the space between the Closed and the Open through the walls”. We are in the presence of a reflective thinking about the relationships between the collective and the singular individuals who are part of it.
Marie Jorio is an urban planner committed to the ecological transition. She “invites listeners to reflect, dream and act (…) in the face of the magnitude of environmental issues”, through the presentation of performances combining readings of texts, song and music. As part of her work, she has been at the heart of the conflicts over urban development between La Défense (a high-rise business district) and the city council of Nanterre (a popular neighborhood) near Paris. It is in this very frustrating context that she has developed a number of poetic and political texts, four of which are presented in this edition by her recorded voice.
An interview with American percussionist and conductor Steven Schick recounts the beautiful adventures of a performance of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit on both sides of the border wall between Mexico (Tijuana) and the United States (San Diego) with the participation of 70 percussionists in January 2018. An excerpt of this concert can be seen on a video from The New Yorker (thanks to Alex Ross, the New Yorker‘s music critic for giving us permission). In Steven Schick’s intentions, this project, despite its obvious political character, was not an anti-Trump demonstration, but rather centered on the idea that “connections between humans and sounds pass easily through spaces and that no wall can stop them.”
4. Part II: Wandering Ideas
This section presents more general thoughts that are not focused on specific actions, for example related to politics or interculturality.
The primary choice of the term wandering was made with a poetic undertone: to find the term that best evokes, for us, an abundance of differences and experiments, of paradoxical and ambivalent situations in relation to the questioning of the various partitioning that can be observed in our society, particularly in the artistic and cultural fields. This in no way means that the people concerned have no idea where they are going and in which direction they want to go.
Here again, we can refer to Édouard Glissant:
The thought of wandering is not the desperate thought of dispersion, but that of our rallying not claimed in advance (…). Wandering is not exploration, colonial or not, nor the surrender to erring. It knows how to be immobile, and to carry away. (…) By the thought of wandering, we refuse the unique roots that kill around them: the thought of wandering is that of solidarity grounding and rhizome roots. Against the diseases of the single root identity, it remains the infinite conductor of the relationship identity.
(Philosophie de la relation, Paris : Gallimard, 2009, p. 61)
The question of the community and its relationship to the what is “foreign” is a question that crosses the concerns linked to the hyper-globalization of exchanges and at the same time the abandonment of a “universalist” approach in favor of extremely localized initiatives by small groups, creating a kaleidoscope of thoughts-actions. Christoph Irmer, a musician who lives in Wuppertal, Germany, sent us a text centered on Peter Kowald. This latter, a double bass improviser, who is no longer with us, was torn throughout his life between, on the one hand, being an itinerant musician, a globe-trotter who meets and plays with a large number of consorts without being able to develop more sustained relationships with them, and on the other hand, living within his community (Wuppertal) in order to develop more lasting actions with the foreign elements who reside there or with guest artists. For Irmer the great journeys do not escape the perception that the idea of the “stranger” is within us, it is the “hidden face of our identity”. He then quotes Julia Kristeva to describe our era as a paradoxical community: “If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners”. He speaks of a “paradoxical relationship between affiliation and non-affiliation. (…) … in this globalized world, we do not become brothers or sisters, nor do we immediately become opponents or enemies.”
The relationship to the foreign, to the strange is also at the heart of the reflections of Noémi Lefebvre, a novelist and political science researcher. Debates on the relationship between human beings include here the presence of animals to better understand our perceptions and actions. We present a video produced by the studio doitsu, “Chevaux Indiens” [Indian horses], made by Noémi Lefebvre in collaboration with Laurent Grappe, a musician from Lyon. Based on the idea of the donkey-horse couple, a multiplicity of significant levels is presented between text and video collages. This video is presented in its entirety within the Grand collage.
It is not sufficient to bring opposing practices together to create the conditions for a more or less peaceful coexistence, a genuine living together or meaningful collaboration. In the absence of any particular disposition, the different modes of action and identity superimpose themselves, ignoring each other superbly, even within the institutions most open to the world’s diversity. Highly influenced by the research conducted collectively at Cefedem AuRA since 1990, notably in collaboration with Eddy Schepens, a researcher in Educational Sciences, Jean-Charles François, a musician and former director of this institution, is leading a reflection on the need, in the context of improvised practices, for the presence of particular protocols or “dispositifs” (agency) to ensure that within a heterogeneous collective a living democracy can take place in the development of shared materials.
Improvisation is a social practice. The relationship between individuality and the collective is one of the problems very present in the reflection on improvisation. Vlatko Kučan is an improvising musician, composer, teacher and music therapist, who works at the Hamburg Musik Hochschule. Using psychoanalysis, he tries to define the obstacles that must be overcome by apprentice improvisers. His article is based on quotes from well-known jazz improvisers, all of whom point out the need to forget hard-won knowledge when performing on stage and to surrender to the mechanisms of unconsciousness or overcoming planning consciousness. For him, three categories of walls present themselves: a) self-awareness, individual psychodynamics; b) group dynamics; c) material production, attitudes towards idioms and musical language.
Henrik Frisk, in his article, also deals at length with the question of the individual’s relationship with the other members of a heterogeneous group, around the question of ego and freedom:
With reference to one’s right to be individual, one may end up using one’s personal freedom to claim the right to control the situation at the expense of the freedom of the other.
(“Improvisation and the Self: To Listen to the other”, p.156)
György Kurtag is a musician and researcher in electronic and experimental music, art/science coordinator at the SCRIME in Bordeaux. He also refers to psychoanalysis by way of Daniel Stern. Stern’s thinking, by focusing on the present moment, brings into play the unconscious/conscious relationships of implicit/explicit knowledge. Improvisation can be seen as “a moment of intense interaction among those who do not appear without a long prior preparation.”
Yves Favier, improvising musician and technical director, emphasizes the uncertainty of the present moment, the awareness of its fundamental instabilities, the importance of knowledge situated in decentralized contexts and the horizon of the possible/probable that it gives rise to through intersubjective dialogues. For him, the notion of edge is fundamental (see below): “… the science/art edge making ecotone…”.
5. Parts III and V : Political Aspects
The large part “Political Aspects” was divided in two (third and fifth part of the Great Collage).
Artistic practices today cannot escape the political challenges raised by the multiplication of conflicts, of walls (both materialized and inscribed in mentalities), directly linked to questions about the future of the planet and those related to economic and cultural globalization. The idea of the autonomy of art in relation to daily life and life in society is not necessarily discarded as a critical force different from the political, but it is strongly put in tension by the need to adapt artistic practices to the realities of the human situation present in a given territory. Within this general framework, it is certain that the intercultural encounters and the ideas expressed in the first two parts (and in the fourth part), are no less “political” than those grouped under the rubric of parts III and V, even if the contexts described remain strongly colored by the notion of artistic and cultural spaces preserved from external conflicts, viewing at the same time a daily life quite different from those defined by “political” politics.
Two poles coexist and very often intertwine in the way we consider today the relationship between the artistic and the political. In the first case, artistic activity retains a certain degree of autonomy from the vicissitudes of daily life and the organization of social life. The space for creation in the arts is thought of as an alternative to the mundane world and must give the public the opportunity to discover a universe full of new possibilities. This approach implies spaces dedicated to these requirements, whose neutrality must be asserted, even if all contingencies may well demonstrate the contrary. The status of the creative act is considered here as independent of traditions and all aesthetic expressions, which become then recoverable as material detached from its social functions. The public concert, the professional scene, and the educational institutions that correspond to it, remain here the privileged structures, towards which all actions are oriented. Politics in this framework either expresses itself through actions undertaken separately from the artistic field or must be manifested in the textual or other messages attached to the works presented or through a link between performance and political demonstrations.
In the second case, attention is paid to the fact that any social interaction is the expression of an implicit or explicit political posture. This also applies to situations where artistic activity is manifested and elaborated. The emphasis is therefore no longer placed on the primacy of the quality of the work or performance, leaving the means to achieve this anonymous, but on the way in which the different actors will interact and collaborate in the construction of artistic objects. The public as such can be considered as part of this interaction and be invited to participate to a certain extent in this elaboration. The space of the stage, of the concert, of the educational institutions that prepare for it, are no longer the exclusive elements that dictate all the means to be implemented. The professional artist also becomes a mediator (teacher, animator, practice facilitator, organizer, etc.) in addition to practicing art, or rather, often not separating the artistic act from the act of social mediation.
Although walls exist that tend to separate the world of the first pole (those who are « good enough » to be on stage) from that of the second pole (those who do not want to limit themselves to the stage or who do not really have the means to do so), many artists today happily oscillate between the two situations, changing the specificity of their postures according to the demands of the different particular contexts that present themselves to them.
Guigou Chenevier, in parallel to his activities as a musician, is politically involved, notably by carrying out actions in favor of the reception of migrants. Concerning the many refugees who find themselves homeless in the region where he lives, there is some evidence of a complete absence of action by the public authorities at the national and local level, as well as by the authorities of the Catholic diocese, to take into account their problems of survival. A collective in Avignon has been created to carry out actions in order to alleviate this situation with all the means at hand. In his approach, Guigou Chenevier avoids mixing the help he gives to migrant families with his artistic practice, because he believes that it is important not to impose from the outset cultural postures that are foreign to them. In addition, the technical logistics related to the quality of the performances in which he participates doesn’t seem to him compatible with the more spontaneous nature of the political demonstrations that take place most of the time outdoors. This does not prevent him, as we have seen above, from developing artistic projects in which social interactions with human groups that are strange/foreign to him play a predominant role.
Céline Pierre is an artistic director in the fields of electroacoustics, multimedia and performance. She also is concerned about the very precarious situation of migrants near Calais hoping to be able to move to Great Britain. The piece TRAGEN.HZ, excerpts of which can be seen in the Great Collage, consists of “voices and videos recorded on a refugee camp on the French-English border and a sequence of shouts, alterations and instrumental and vocal iterations recorded in the studio.”
For Giacomo Spica Capobianco (already mentioned above), the situation of the populations living in disadvantaged neighborhoods is deteriorating very sharply compared to the past three decades. The access to cultural institutions is strongly compromised by several phenomena:
- When institutions overlap between two sectors, one rich and the other poor, the tendency is to deny entry to those belonging to the poor sector, to refuse to accept projects aimed at these populations.
- The opening of well-equipped institutions – thanks to funding for underprivileged neighborhoods – attracts crowds living outside the neighborhood and thus excludes local populations who do not feel concerned.
- Despite the opening of higher arts education programs to a diversity of practices, including popular and urban music, the graduates who come out of them do not feel concerned by the practices to be developed in areas where there is nothing but a “lawless zone”.
- Permanent cultural activities professionals often constitute obstacles to the actions of artists in these neighborhoods, as they tend to steer practices in directions that do not promote the personal expression of the young people they address and tend to reinforce them in their cultural ghetto.
Giacomo Spica is more optimistic today about the willingness of elected politicians to seriously address the social and cultural problems related to poverty. It is thanks to this evolution in the attitudes of politicians that he is able to carry out successful actions. He prefers the term “gap” to “wall”: with the gap everyone can see what is on the other side, while the wall is an obstacle to looking at anything possible. The ditch gives the opportunity to observe a distance that can be realistically measured and thus to better apprehend it in order to reduce it. Faced with a wall, one is rather in front of an impassable surface, the potential for creating a ghetto.
Sharon Eskenazi (already mentioned above), in her projects around choreographic creation in contexts of encounter between communities, offers a more optimistic view of the role played by local institutions. An important part of her action concerns both the participation of young people in creations at the Centre Choréographique National in Rillieux-la-Pape or at the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, for example, and the central attention she pays to encounters. A whole social life develops around her projects (shared meals, debates, staying with families, trips together, etc.).
Gilles Laval (also already mentioned above) notes an inverse phenomenon of incommunicability in the most prestigious artistic institutions: in the temples of classical music, the language used in artistic forms not recognized as worthy of consideration has little chance of being understood. Languages linked to practices that are part of autonomous networks become languages that are completely foreign to each other. Impenetrable worlds on either side are called upon to ignore each other more and more.
Gérard Authelain, when he was director of the Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants in Lyon [Center for training musicians in residence in schools], had developed a whole series of exchanges with the Maghreb countries with a view to organizing musical practices on both sides of the Mediterranean that were suitable for all and appropriate to the contexts of general education schools. In recent years, he had been visiting Palestine on a regular basis to help develop musical practices in schools in this particular political context. After each trip, he has written a Palestinian Gazette to report on his work and the situation in which live the people with whom he has worked or whom he has met. We publish one of these Gazettes, “About a question on collapse” (August 2018). This text focuses on the bombing of the cultural center of Gaza and the distress that this event arouses in the population attached to the presence of arts, theater, culture, reading in their daily lives. Faced with this type of absolute catastrophe, Gérard Authelain wonders what meaning to give to his commitment: “Each time, before leaving and arriving on the other side of the wall in occupied territory, the question is the same: what meaning does it have that I come, I who don’t have to suffer these injustices, this contempt, these humiliating and degrading conditions?” For him, the answer to this preoccupation consists in constantly re-imagining his practice as a musician in residence in schools, who, wherever he practices his profession, intervenes in the discomfort of the unknown that constitutes the perceptions and attitudes of the students who must be confronted, not in order to impose on them manufactured knowledge, but to help them invent their own personality.
The American pianist Cecil Lytle was the Provost of Thurgood Marshall College at the University of California San Diego. In this very influential position, in response to the disappearance of affirmative action programs for minorities in California, he created a high school on campus exclusively for children from families living below the poverty line, with the goal – with the help of university resources – of getting them into prestigious universities. He then succeeded in bringing together the parents of students at a high school in San Diego, in a disadvantaged neighborhood, to develop a project to transform it along the lines of the existing high school on campus. This action, which closely involved the neighborhood’s residents, was successful despite the strong reluctance of the local authorities, and this high school now serves as a model for the transformation of other schools in the United States. One of the problems he had to face, given the successes he has achieved, was the one he himself experienced as a teenager: the acquisition of the culture of the elite (for Cecil, it was classical piano) comes into direct conflict with the popular culture of the milieu of origin.
6. Part IV : A Journey to Improvisation
The fourth part is concerned with improvisation. The contributions, which are part of it, of Christoph Irmer, Vlatko Kučan, and György Kurtag have already been mentioned above.
The pianist, improviser and visual artist Reinhard Gagel was at the origin, together with Matthias Schwabe, of the founding of the Exploratorium Berlin. This center in existence since 2004 is dedicated to improvisation and its pedagogy, and to the organization of concerts, colloquia, publications and workshops. He has organized numerous meetings between improvisers who have also conducted research on this musical practice and on the teaching methods to be proposed to achieve it. For example, in 2019 he organized a symposium on trans-culturalism in the field of improvisation, the different ways of considering the encounter between musicians coming from very different cultures, as it is the case in a city like Berlin. In the discussion with Jean-Charles François all questions concerning this idea of trans-culturalism are discussed. In addition, Reinhard Gagel raises many questions about his teaching at the University of Music and Arts in Vienna for musicians from the classical music world: is improvisation an opportunity to apply knowledge already acquired, now transposed in a context freed from the constraints of written scores? Or should improvisation be considered as a practice having its own means to create new sounds and their articulation in time? In the first case, we would be dealing with a kind of therapy that would heal the excesses of the excessive formalism of classical teaching and that could open the way to the pleasure of a certain freedom or to a better understanding of the creative challenge of interpreting repertoires. In the second case, improvisation would be considered as a practice having very different supports and mediations from the world of scores, especially in the way of considering individually or collectively the production of sonorities.
Christopher Williams, an American musician also living in Berlin. In a talk with Jean-Charles François, he raises the problem of public participation, of access for all to decisions in improvised situations. Taking as a model the action of the American architect Lawrence Halprin, author of the RSVP Cycles (R for Resources, S for Scores, V for Valuaction, P for Performance), and the contradictions that are inherent in his architectural projects developed with the direct participation of local populations. Indeed, at the end of these projects, the real estate developers did not fail to recuperate and modify them for commercial profit. Williams remains quite skeptical about the realities of such participatory approaches in the field of artistic practices. For him, improvisation is not far from the logic of composition, where a personality imposes its ways of looking at things. For example, improvisation can perfectly accommodate a dialectic between a composer and a group of instrumentalists. In this interview, he also talks about the way in which he conceives of the concert series he organizes in Berlin around the meeting of very different groups and also by inviting diverse audiences. In relation to this curatorial work, he is very critical of the fact that concert organizers are often nothing more than entrepreneurs who are not involved in the musical practices that constitute the raison d’être of the venues they control. He underlines the importance of local initiatives developed with the means at hand by actors who are close to the material productions of those invited to participate. The walls of incomprehension that often separate concert organizers from musicians are thus called into question.
7. Edges – Fringes – Margins
In April 2019, György Kurtag came to Lyon on a visit (from Bordeaux) to prepare with Yves Favier the meeting of CEPI, the European Center for Improvisation, created by Barre Phillips. That year, the CEPI meeting took place in September in Valcivières in Haute-Loire, two members of PaaLabRes actively participated, Jean-Charles François and Gilles Laval. On April 26, 2019, an encounter took place in Lyon between György Kurtag, Yves Favier (then technical director of ENSATT), 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 based on the different participants’ backgrounds.
During this meeting, Nicolas Sidoroff proposed to work on the term “edge” (or fringe, or margin) to reflect on ways to bring down walls. It was then decided to develop a kind of “cadavre exquis” around the concept of “edges”, with each of the participants writing more or less fragmented texts in reaction to the writings that were gradually accumulating. In addition, the five people were also allowed to propose quotes from various authors in connection with this idea of edges. It is this process that gave rise, in the Grand Collage (the river) of this edition “Break down the walls” to 10 collages (L.1 – L.10), which regroup these texts accompanied by music, recorded voices and images, with also extracts from the recording of the improvisations made during this meeting in April 2019.
The reference to the definition of the word “edge” is borrowed from Emmanuel Hocquard and his work on translation. For example, in his book Le cours de Pise developed in connection with his writing workshops at the École des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, he states:
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 either of them.
(Paris: P.O.L., 2018, p. 61)
The notion of edge is more interesting than that of wall and border which abruptly separate different entities. It makes it possible to consider at the same time the specificity of the worlds between which it is placed and to combine them in this space of transition. The edge has its own life, which comes from the ecology of two interacting worlds.
The idea of the edge extends the concepts of creolization by Edouard Glissant, crossbreeding by François Laplantine and Alexis Nouss, ecotone in the field of biodiversity improvisation by Yves Favier, “ecosophy” by Felix Guattari, “bricolage” (tinkering) according to Claude Lévi-Strauss, Kairos, this “intense moment of interaction” according to Daniel Stern, skin by Jean-Luc Nancy, etc.
The refusal to be identified as belonging to one and only one identity, in order to be able to assume different roles in several contexts in turn, while remaining attached to the sum of the allegiances that constitute one’s own personality, is an important element in the choice of the notion of edge to face identity conflicts. (See the texts by Alek Dupraz and Nicolas Sidoroff in the collage and house “lisières”).
For Jean-Charles François, the thought of edges seems appropriate to our world broken up into small fragmented groups, but can also be the object of a drift that could be described as “intellectual tourism”. By emphasizing the edges that enclose or separate practices, the deepening of the latter risks being overshadowed in favor of the illusion of a space of infinite mediations without content. The biodiversity of edges depends directly on the presence of germs in the fields they border.
According to Michel Lebreton, “the edges are the places of the possible.” For Yves Favier, “the improviser would be a smuggler.” Emmanuel Hocquard: “The edges are the only spaces that escape the rules set by the State grammarians.” Gilles Laval: “the instant not frozen in the moment.” For Nicolas Sidoroff, “I would also say: creating the possible.”
When we launched the publishing project around the idea of “Break down the walls”, we had not anticipated such an abundance of ideas, debates and corresponding practices. This no doubt shows that these are absolutely crucial questions in today’s ways of thinking about artistic practices and research, but it may also mean that it is a “one-size-fits-all” concept that is in danger of lacking a clearly established substance.
At the opening of this editorial, we mentioned the question of the ecology of practices. This edition reveals the need to add to it an ecology of attention in the sense given by Yves Citton (Pour une écologie de l’attention, Paris: Le Seuil, 2014). Paying close attention to people, of course, but also to objects, tools, devices, things, explanations, imaginary things, words and concepts, etc. Thus, it is undoubtedly possible to create openings by playing against walls, using both the sense of « against » in the expression « to huddle against » (the wall that shelters and provides refuge) and the expression « fight against » (the wall that excludes and puts out). Is it possible to live collectively on the edges [lisières], without becoming entangled in slurry [lisier]?
In any case, we should not regret the process that this appeal has generated. This is the reason for the very long time it took to complete this edition. However, between the time of the call for contributions and the actual publication, the world has continued to be walled in in a disturbing way between the anxieties of global warming and the natural disasters that result from it, the confinement of societies in the face of an unpredictable virus, and the increasingly widespread assertion of aberrant counter-truths in order to disqualify those around us.
It is to be hoped that this edition will provide fruitful avenues for work and reflection in the field of artistic practices – and beyond! – to anyone willing to continue to resist the prevailing gloom and to work to leave open the democratic mechanisms of doing things together.
The PaalabRes Collective: Samuel Chagnard, Jean-Charles François, Laurent Grappe, Karine Hahn, Gilles Laval, Noémi Lefebvre, Pascal Pariaud, Nicolas Sidoroff, Gérald Venturi.
Production of the edition “Break down the walls”: Jean-Charles François and Nicolas Sidoroff, with the help of Samuel Chagnard, Yves Favier, Gilles Laval and Pascal Pariaud.
Translations: Jean-Charles François. Thanks to Nancy François and Alison Woolley for proofreading the translations from French to English. Thanks to Gérard Authelain, André Dubost, Cécile Guillier and Monica Jordan for their proofreading of texts translated from English into French.
Thanks to Ben Boretz, Vlatko Kučan, György Kurtag, Michel Lebreton and Leonie Sens, for their constructive feedback and encouragement.