Archives du mot-clé collective creation

Gunkanjima (English version)

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Ghost Island

Noémi Lefebvre

(from her blog médiapart)

Gunkanjima is a place, a ghost island, a warship, an accumulation of buildings, an urban system, concrete composition, a mining town, an energy era, a geological hole, some pure coal called diamond. It is a switched-off function, a cemetery of objects, beds, tables, TVs, radios, calculating machines, sewing machines, typewriters, toys, curtains, fans, shoes, papers, bowls, sinks, fallen roofs, broken window panes, bird calls, rubble, a telluric city in the middle of the sea, outpost of chaos, nature after man, a silent place from where music begins.

Gunkanjima is a musical place of research and creation, an open construct, a sound fabric, an ensemble associating timbres, some broken up language, ancient poetry, bruitism, onomatopoeia, animal-human song and screaming, organism and machine, a territory of invention situated in this post-industrial time and in this globalized space where we have to live. This ensemble of six musicians demonstrates that research and creation are not two separated domains, but that they are as indispensable one to another as are work and play, memory and forgetfulness, knowledge and uncertainty, intention and invention.

This music of the present, in the making, obliges us to break with habits and classifications in trends, aesthetics, genres, cultural influences, to refuse decidedly any identification to already known consensual frameworks, which tend to place the artists in front of a paradox: one should invent in continuity, look for ideas without crossing the prescribed limits, create something new following the line, without getting out of the context organized by designations, as if these designations were here to stay for ever, whereas they appeared themselves at a given moment in order to burst other paradigms apart, define something that the old classifications were unable to grasp.

We may try to situate Gunjanjima in a trend: rock without a doubt, free evidently, electroacoustic indisputably, contemporary music absolutely!

At the same time no; it would be equally inappropriate to say that this creation is under European or Japanese influence, from somewhere or from nowhere, best not to look for a provenance or an affiliation, we have even to renounce discovering a multicultural origin in hearing it, or an expression of “world music”. The origin of Gunkanjima is not somewhere, here, elsewhere or everywhere: its origin is a project, and the origin of the project a desire for a shared project by musicians who bring to it their personality, their energy and their imaginary.

The habits of classifying, in which overlap the modes of acknowledgement of socio-musical spaces, the organizations of distribution networks, the formalizations of musical criticism, the commercial rationales, tend to be prolonged in listening criteria and to prescribe a sort of attention displacement on to categories. Do they necessarily discard the possibility to hear what is being played? It does not matter if our listening is informed by a history of representations, by an acculturation or by education, because even if we have evidently some sound references, there is a moment in which experience cannot rely on experience, a moment in which what we hear is awaking clear audible understanding, is disconnecting knowledge from erudition, awareness from boredom, listening from memory, perception from prejudgments, acculturation from cultural history. This moment is what Gunkanjima realizes.

But how?

Hashima was a black rock island off Nagasaki, where the first big concrete apartment complexes in Japan were built for a population that came to work at the exploitation of coal. This island, progressively enlarged to reach 480 meters long by 160 wide, overcrowded, transformed into “Gunkanjima”, “warship” in Japanese, for the intensive coal exploitation by Mitsubishi, was never conceived according to a general plan of urban development. The buildings were gradually added, as the mining activity intensified, until it was decided, in 1974, to close the mine and that all the inhabitants should leave the island within a few weeks. Nevertheless, all these buildings, impressive by their height and imbrication, are linked to each other through several levels and form a mega-structure and some circulations, which integrate some public spaces, aisles, terraces, a main square “Ginza Hashima”, as if there could have been an initial urban design.

Of course, this mode of urban construction is not specific to the Hashima island. Most towns, described a posteriori as extremely complex and coherent organisms, can display ingenuity of general structure and of circulation nevertheless invisible to those who built it. But the ghost-towns reveal it better than others: it seems that the cessation of all activities and the disappearance of any human presence render possible an organic analysis coldly after the fact. Sometimes the dead bodies have to be observed in order to understand the living ones.

To observe coldly after the fact the music of Gunkanjima is not possible: even if it is burned on a CD, it is not fixed! For the concert is not the public restitution of the recorded work; instead, through the gathering of musicians in rehearsals and on stage, at each performance, Gunkanjima is created and recreated. Therefore the musicological analysis of a “musical text” defined once and for all would most probably not be able to seize the creative energy, which determines its strength and its form, in the first place because there is no text, and then because this non existent text is constantly modified. The graphic scores created for Gunkanjima have a musical function inscribed in play. In this passage, for example, called the space, in which the musical idea of a “living space but with almost nothing” is developed, the graphic score is used foremost as a reminder of what, in improvisation and in the proposed ideas, will serve as benchmark or as thread, from which is developed a freedom of play. Everything is constructed, nothing is determined in advance.

No way to relate the realization to a prior idea, no certainty, no prediction, and nevertheless there is a circulation, an ensemble of networks. The musical elaborations of Gunkanjima are elaborated little by little, in a common research, with some materials, chosen constraints and a lot of imagination. These music pieces have their specific form and their own matter, and little by little, these pieces connect in a pathway. As the musician guitarist Gilles Laval says concerning the initial creation of the group: “we arrive somewhere, we come out again, then it continues, we don’t know where it leads, I like this idea of some cooking that is grasped at a given moment, it opens and it closes, and in fact, the cooking continues, it still leaves some traces”. As in the case of the island, of which the human history, linked to the intensive coal exploitation, does not constitute a whole as such outside history, in Gunkanjima there is no beginning nor ending, but a living, poetic and violent moment, fugitive with regard to the thousand years of necessary sedimentations to transform the vegetal and organic debris into coal, a human time in a long history without humans, which as such lets itself be grasped, immediately, as soon as it begins, this is why, in concert as in CD form, the pieces are not pieces.

It is possible to listen to an isolated track of the CD, but in reality the music is made up by a single continuous piece; “I cannot imagine that the piece could be stopped at some moment, and then to start again; for me it is a single piece from beginning to end, there are things happening, and then in the same way I started off from this story, from this island, and then I could not see how to divide this town into fragments of town”, explains Gilles Laval.

The vitality of this ensemble lies in the rapprochement of personalities whose musical worlds are already present. “When I gathered together this group, I knew that they were individualities. Each person is able to develop her/his projects alone”. The equilibrium is found in co-construction, in which whoever pretends to be the leader [chef] is nothing more than a liar [menteur]: “each person is at his/her place and the detail is discussed more and more. These are musical discussions in the course of elaborating propositions, each one speaks and may intervene. The decisions are always based on common choices”.

Gunkanjima, the island, is not a distant theme, exotic pretext to make music, it is constitutive of its architecture. It is not a stylistic subject, an allegory, a theme from the past, this is why there is no point in looking for Japanizing references or anything that is overplaying Japanese music. If there is something of Japan in this music, it is because three out of the six musicians are Japanese. The time is creation or is nothing at all.

Translation by Jean-Charles and Nancy François

See also the blog chronicle of June 20, 2015.

Cultural Operations

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Episode 1 : operation, cultural operation

For an

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…