Archives du mot-clé music education

Noémi Lefebvre and Laurent Grappe

Accès à la version française


Noémi Lefebvre

Noémi Lefebvre was born in 1964 in Caen, and now lives in Lyon, France. After studying music and politics and completing a degree focused on music education and national identity in Germany and France, she became a political scientist at IEP – Grenoble II University. She is the author of three novels, all of which have garnered intense critical success: her first novel L’Autoportrait bleu (2009) has been translated into English by Sophie Lewis (Blue-self portrait, Les Fugitives, London, 2017). After that, she wrote L’état des sentiment à l’âge adulte (2012), L’enfance politique (2015) and Poétique de l’emploi (2018). She is a regular contributor to the independent online magazine Mediapart and to the bilingual French-German publication La mer gelée.
Éditions Verticales
Blog Médiapart


Laurent Grappe

Laurent Grappe, composer, musician. His work on the poetry of recorded sound has led him to compose a certain number of electroacoustic pieces for which he systematically creates a specific setting allowing a “staging” of the sound, whether live or recorded beforehand. In his proposals, he involves actors, musicians, visual artists, and sometimes even the public itself.


Chevaux Indiens

Video realized by the studio doitsu. Text: Noémi Lefebvre. Editing: Laurent Grappe. January 2019.

See with english subtitles


Gilles Laval – Talking

Access to the texts associated with Gilles Laval:

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

Accéder aux textes originaux en français :

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



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

Reflections on some walls of misunderstanding between musical practices


Gilles L. :

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

Jean-Charles F. :

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

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

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

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

Return to the other texts by Gilles Laval.

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.

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



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 & al. 2007).

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 (Artistic Practices in Acts, Laboratory of Research [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 the station Débat, line “Artistic Research in the first edition of


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 Bailey 1992, 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 2007, 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 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 2001, 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 2009, and the PaaLabRes’ 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 & Guatarri 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 & al. 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 following musicians participated to this project: Laurent Grappe, Jean-Charles François, Karine Hahn, Gilles Laval, Pascal Pariaud et Gérald Venturi.

2. Derek Bailey 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.” (1992, p. xii)



Bailey, 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, paris: L’Harmatan, 1999, translation by Axel Nesme.

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. 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 ».

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

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

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


Michel Lebreton – English

Return to the French original text :



Walls and Edges Crossing
the Time and Space of the Conservatory

Michel Lebreton


1. Closed spaces… still time / Open spaces… time of possibilities
2. Suspended Spoken Words, Retrieved Spoken Words
3. Edges, Fringes, Margins
4. You Just Have to Cross the Bridge
6. A Speaking Human Being, a Social Human Being
7. A House of Music(s)
8. One Step Sideways

1. Closed spaces… still time / Open spaces… time of possibilities

The Wall. It imposes itself by its mass, its capacity to delimit a border. It induces a permanence in space, a fixity, an impression of timelessness that contributes to make us oblivious to its presence. We practice, we think in the shadow of walls. But if we always go through the same plans, the same volumes, they soon appear to us, in an illusory evidence, adorned with timelessness. They compel us to pronounce aphorisms such as: “We’ve always done it this way!”, “From time immemorial…”, “It’s obvious that…”, which are all expressions that cement them even more. And discourage debate, since… that’s the way it’s always been done.

The walls along the US-Mexican border are trying to lock Mexicans in their country. In a parallel movement, they lock the Americans in an enclave that some wish to be protective. There is a desire for walls that goes hand in hand with a fear of otherness that is unfortunately linked to a need for security.

A wall is made to defend. It means that an attack is feared. Hadrian’s wall stands against the threat of barbarian invasion. But as time goes by, it is neglected, soldiers abandoning their posts to settle as peasants in the surrounding area. It became a reservoir providing stones to build houses, churches… The wall here becomes the material for other practices. These open up new spaces.

How to open spaces and temporalities, which practices to develop that allow to perceive the wall and to dare to come out of its shadow, to leave this illusory security, to put fears in suspension? And to bring to light the evidences asserted by the powers that be?


2.Suspended Spoken Words, Retrieved Spoken Words

I had the opportunity to take charge of a writing workshop for ESMD (Ecole Supérieure Musique et Danse Hauts de France) students with the aim of helping them write their master’s dissertations. The very first session revealed dismay among some of these students, all adults with teaching positions and experience. Their first reactions were: “I have nothing to report”, “I am just teaching”, “Nothing extraordinary is happening in my courses”… They provided closed answers that cut short any prospect of questioning. What’s more, they were saying in an underlying way that there was nothing to observe, thus trivializing their teaching practices, practices whose many areas of interest we were to discover later on.

In order to overcome this state of affairs, I have called upon experiments taking place outside the framework of conservatories. Some experiences putting into play their capacities to accompany, help, educate but in a context where they are not evaluated through the prism of music.

For one student, it was a series of replacements in a hospital environment that led her to practice teamwork, listening to patients, conflict resolution… approaches that she was later able to translate into her teaching practice. For another one it was to help her sister who had difficulties with a baccalaureate exam. This sister was in demand and it went smoothly. The brother had the same difficulties but was reluctant to do school work, especially under the supervision of his older sister! The student did not find any operational situations but later realized, when her brother successfully reoriented himself in a different branch which he liked, that motivation cannot be taught but (I quote an extract from her dissertation) “that the role of a teacher is to develop situations open to the pleasure of learning (manipulating, exploring, building…) so that motivation can happen, can increase”. Finally, for a third student, it was an experience as a school life assistant for autistic children with the aim of integrating them into the standard school curriculum. She indicates in one of her writings: “This one year experience is certainly the most memorable and one of the most beautiful in my life, I understood the importance of being accepted without expecting anything in return, I have a different vision of this illness and above all I was able to acquire a certain number of skills…” (She then mentions competences such as patience, curiosity, ability to adapt, listening to others…).

These stories that they put down on paper and that they exchanged and discussed, played the role of the photographic developer. They saw themselves in situations of accompanying the learners, sometimes of teaching them. Speaking became easier, the desire to listen became more assertive. And with them, the conviction that “something was happening”. And that it deserves to be told, observed and analyzed. This ethnographic perspective has taken over their professional sphere. It became the source of other narratives, which were also exchanged, discussed and analyzed. Each of them had begun to circumvent the wall of foregone conclusions in order to begin to assemble the stones of the possible. And to reappropriate the time and space of their experiences by evoking the human deep layers and movements. On what grounds do we then commit ourselves to make these illuminations happen?


3. Edges, Fringes, Margins

The edge is a band, a list, a margin (not a list) between two milieus of a different nature, which participates in both without being confused with them. The edge has its own life, its autonomy, its specificity, its fauna, its flora, etc. The edge of a forest, the fringe between sea and land (estrant), a hedge, etc. While the border and boundary are fences, the edge separates and unites at the same time. A strait is an exemplary figure of an edge: the Strait of Gibraltar separates two continents (Africa and Europe) at the same time as it connects two seas (the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean).
Emmanuel Hocquard, Le cours de PISE, POL, Paris 2018, page 61.

The edges are the places of the possible. Their boundaries are only defined by the environments bordering them. They are shifting, subject to erosion and sedimentation: there is nothing obvious about them. Teachers and learners, both of whom inhabited by musical experiences nourished by their respective backgrounds, find themselves in the first place evolving in the soft soils of the edges. They don’t know each other but they gather around an object “music” that should be written in the “singular – plural”: the Music – my musics / the musics  – my Music. Over time, the teacher has built up a landscape where social and therefore musical representations have been constructed and edified more or less solidly, more or less consciously (for example, “what constitutes ‘music’”, “what does it mean to be a ‘musician’”, “what is ‘teaching’”, “what is the student’s place in this process?”…). The learners also come with a variety of social and musical representations.  But when they enter this place called “Conservatory” for the first time, the first term remind them that they are entering “a high place of expertise” and the second one reminds them that the music taught there is predominantly “great music”. The learners are available, motivated and on the reserve, possibly impressed. They are in the edges, unknown but attractive territories in order to concretize their own desires (at least we hope so). In this case, most often, the practice of an instrument. The question then is: will the teacher join the student in these moving edges, the only ground available capable of bringing them together during this initial moment? And will the teacher try to clear a common space and time for providing mutual learning? Or will she/he take the learners to the shadow of their wall to run a predefined and solidly built program? Will he/she leave the barriers open to vagrancy and tinkering[1], even encouraging them? Or will she/he confine all practices to the enclosure he/she has built over time?

The only real journey, the only bath of Jouvence, would not be to go to new landscapes, but to have other views, to see the universe with the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is.
(Marcel Proust, La Prisonnière, page 762)

In a very reductive rewording on my part (sorry to the Marcels), at the very least update “sous les pavés, la plage!”[2] For what’s the point of being in the presence of other soundscapes if we bend them endlessly to our habitus? Instead, let us create situations open to our imaginations, edges conducive to passing strange objects in the midst of improbable exchanges. Let’s leave a part of improvisation in the “making of music”, and also the “collectively building sound scaffolding”, as well as the “keeping open workshop”. Open the other eyes that are in us and all this through the power of confrontation and exchange with the other.


4. You Just Have to Cross the Bridge

The meeting of musicians around open practices (e.g. “in the group, everyone will speak in reaction to what they perceive of other propositions: as a complement – to go towards – or in opposition – to move away –”) and little known or unknown objects (e.g. “let’s accumulate layers of sound texture through increasingly granular timbres”) brings into play relations to objects and subjects that differ from those developed in a training that is still often centered on the interpretation of aesthetically identified repertoires. The usual behaviors and skills are no longer sufficient to participate in the sound narratives that one is called upon to construct, alone or in a group. There are then two possible ways: jump into the departing train without knowing the itinerary and make a new narrative come along or let the train pass (some may even be tempted to dynamite it!).

Such a situation was revealed during a project with a string ensemble (eight violinists and three cellists). Initially, the aim was to create a repertoire of traditional dance music from Berry and also to compose in that style. These repertoires, unknown to the musicians, were approached through singing and dancing, followed by oral transposition on instruments and in small groups. The musicians were invited to search collectively for this transposition, then to confront their findings in a large group. Improvisation games on the fifth structure and the bourdons of certain melodies completed this workshop. It should be noted that the technical skills required for the interpretation were acquired by all the participants.

One of the musicians, aged 16, was on the reserve, both on dancing and on improvising on the proposed rules (she had already practiced improvisation on harmonic grids but in another setting). She had come to enroll in a string ensemble class and expected to work on the « classical » repertoire, although information had been provided defining the particular project of this workshop. But where she had expected, despite the presentation of the project, to work in an ensemble on written works with the aim of interpreting them collectively under the direction of the string teacher, she found herself in a workshop situation in which everyone was called upon to tinker. Add to this the apparent lack of “prestige” of the proposed materials: the apparent simplicity of the melodies, improvisation on five notes, accompaniments based on rhythmic bourdons, popular dance with repetitive steps at first impression… as well as the proposed working methods: collective work and research, confrontations and debates on the findings, search for a final collective construction… which she was put off by. These were all elements that displace the more usual issues such as confronting difficult and prestigious repertoires and blending in with orchestral playing and sound, with many professional recordings as references. I did not succeed in helping her to question this state of affairs, she was unwilling to exchange with me.


5. Co-construction

At stake here is the very status of the musician learner/teacher.

Are these learning musicians able to put on different skins (performer, improviser, orchestrator…), different scenarios (orchestra, chamber music, contemporary music group, soloist…) and different aesthetics as they would freely rummage through their trunk of old clothes in their grandparents’ attic to play at being someone else?

Is this teaching musician willing and able to accompany these learners so that these hats become one, flexible and adaptable to the choices and necessities of the moment; so that these scenarios are as many varied human and musical relationships; so that these aesthetics are opportunities to breathe in cultural diversity?

Are these learners able to accept that a course identified as a string ensemble is the place for these different pathways?

Is this teacher able to create the conditions for this to happen?

Here it is important to take into account several aspects that shape the tradition of conservatories. They will enable us to better define the building and its architecture at a time when it is trying to redeploy itself in relation to the evolution of French society. The few remarks below are to be taken into account for those who want to cross the walls.

These walls…

… are partly within the institution which more or less partitions different territories into “courses”, “orchestra”, “chamber music”, “collective practices” … and allows / prevents, more or less, teachers and learners to advance, depending on the projects, by porosity between the different categories of the occidental musical world.

They are also to some degree present in the segmentation of the teaching that takes place from the junior high school onwards, and which refers to a conception of education constructed as a succession of fields of knowledge that the pupil goes through from hour to hour: a gigantic open-space strewn with half-high dividers that isolate while allowing an institutional hubbub to filter through that barely makes sense.

They are present in the dominant conception of conservatory teaching, which focuses the learning process on the instrument and its teacher and conceives collective group practices as an implementation of what is learned in the instrumental course. Some sort of supplement.

They are also included in the division of labor that has developed since the nineteenth century and the hyper-specialization that followed to the present day: to each person his or her place and task.

They are finally present in the teacher-learner relationship which is impregnated by this way of structuring society.

Partitioning, segmenting, dividing… the organization and practices in places of education, including conservatories, are still permeated by these more or less closed constructions. The creation of departments[3], to take one example, has only shifted this reality into a slightly larger circle, but between partners of the same family, they are structured on the same foundations. Many departmental meetings are moreover focused on the choice of repertoires to be played in the coming year and these choices are not the consequence of a more global project centered on learning musicians, territories to be explored and filled with music.


6. A Speaking Human Being, a Social Human Being

Walls delimit a territory and allow for its development in a protective setting. They also contain rules that govern individual and collective life on this territory. The edges are these gaps in the wasteland, these moors open to experiments not provided for by the regulations of walled games. They can be confusing, but they can also become rich grounds for various collectively cultivated plantations. And this is one of the keys to reconsidering the aims and organization of teaching: the spoken word, expressed and shared collectively, placed at the service of experimentation and the realization of individual and group projects. A spoken word that accepts to deliver to the eyes of others what makes sense in the practices for each person. A spoken word that is welcomed with respect for each person’s convictions and with a aim of building an institution that is neither the addition of personal projects nor the piling up of departmental projects. A spoken word that suggests that the teacher does not know everything and that cooperation is necessary in order to build something.

Florence Aubenas, journalist, collected often inaudible words. Here is an extract of an article from the newspaper Le Monde dated 12. 15. 2018 under the title “Gilets jaunes : la révolte des ronds-points” [Yellow Jackets: The Revolt of the Roundsabout]

For months, her husband had been telling Coralie, “Get out of the house, go see friends, go shopping.” It was the “gilets jaunes” at the Satar roundabout, in the smallest of the three shacks around Marmande, planted between a piece of countryside, a motorway off-ramp and a large loading platform where trucks take shifts day and night…

…The activity of the “gilets” here consists in setting up filtering checkpoints. Here come the others, here they are, Christelle, who has children of the same age as Coralie’s, Laurent, a blacksmith, André, a retired man attired like a prince, 300 shirts and three Mercedes, Sylvie, the chicken breeder. And everything comes back at once, the warmth of the hut, the company of the humans, the “Bonjour” slamming loudly. Will the “gilets jaunes” succeed in changing life? A nurse pensively wonders: “In any case, they changed my life.”

When Coralie comes home at night, it’s all she wants to talk about. Her husband thinks she loves him less. He told her that. One evening, they invited the faithful of the roundabout to dinner. They’d never had anyone in the house before, except the family of course. “You’ve got it, your new beginning. You’re strong,” the husband slipped in. Coralie handed out leaflets to the drivers. “You won’t get anything, miss, you’d better go home,” suggested a man in a sedan. “I’m not expecting anything special. Here, we do things for ourselves: I’ve already won.”


7. A House of Music(s)

“We do things…” This is a prosaic, complex but promising starting situation: a group of musicians (learners and teachers) who act (come together for elaborating a common project). A terrain of expression (roundabout or conservatory). The starting of the project through a co-construction process that redraws the pathways. A situation fraught with pitfalls but nevertheless stimulating.

Sensoricity, interpretation, variability and improvisation invite to create a teaching by workshops supported by variable-geometry teaching groups. They can rely on vocal and corporal expression through collective rules insisting on shared intention in sound production. The learning of the written code can be integrated into the sequence “imitation, impregnation, transfer, invention” as a complementary tool opening up, in particular, to composition. That of the instrument is traversed by one-to-one and group work…

8. One Step Sideways

This is the second year (2018 and 2019) that I offer a two and a half day workshop to CEPI [Cycle d’Enseignement Professionnel Initial][4] students from the Hauts de France. This year, eight musicians came together, some of whom had already been present the previous year. Coming from practices of amplified popular music, classical music and jazz, they listened to collections of traditional songs from Berry and Limousin recorded between the 1960s and 80s. Simple monodies sung in a kitchen, at home by local people, farmers. No harmonies or accompaniments. Only voices sculpting in their own way melodies with temperaments and inflections unknown to these young musicians.

Between the ear picking up, the singing by imitation, the transfer to the instrument and the rules of improvisations suggested by me, a constant energy was deployed. The most beautiful example in my eyes is the intensity with which they invested themselves in the realization of “living bourdons”. From notes held mechanically on the 1st and 5th degrees, they have gradually evolved into an ecosystem welcoming variations in timbre, the passage from continuous to iterative, entries and exits by variations in intensity… and all this in a wonderful collective listening. These bourdons carry the improvisations and one would be tempted to take them for a negligible quantity. This was not the case, an emerging collective consciousness having offered them a territory to inhabit. They all came out of it with the feeling of having lived an individual experience thanks to the grace of the group and a collective experience thanks to the active presence of each one of them.

I will leave you with a few excerpts from their improvisations: it was obviously not a question of training in the interpretation of the traditional music of Berry or Limousin, but rather of grasping the characteristics of these and other music in order to explore other improvisational voices.

A soundscape, inserted in a longer tale, ends the video. It is brought into play by the musicians of a string ensemble led by a classical violin teacher, Florence Nivalle. In addition to other parts of the tale, we proposed to look at the musicality of a forest:

    • Listening to a recording in the forest and exchanging impressions.
    • Directed listening. Locate if there is:
        – a permanent pattern in the landscape;
        – repeated events with varying degrees of spacing;

        – significant events, in rupture.

    • Assimilate these elements through vocal imitation. Define sound characteristics .
    • Transpose this to your instrument by retaining only the envelopes and textures of the sound and leaving out the imitation.

    The weft (grasshoppers) is played/sung tutti. Repeated events (mosquitoes and animal noises in the thickets) are handled by several duets (one mosquito and one thicket). A few birds appear, solitary. Displacement approaches are invented by each duet to induce the sound production. The two productions are either tiled, juxtaposed or with interspersed respiration.

    It should be noted that a violinist, Clémence Clipet, being both in classical and traditional music violin training, was solicited by Florence and myself to transmit the final bourrée with the bowing indications. At the moment of this first restitution, we had completed 13 sessions. And the first assessment was very positive: all the participants had the feeling of building a vehicle for a journey to be invented.

    Finally, an ensemble of bagpipes from cycle 1 (2 to 4 years of practice, it depends) proposed an improvisation game based on a relay between the first two incises of a bourrée: G a b C and D e F [SOL la si DO and RE mi FA]. The passing is done in tiling by overlapping successive entries. A simple game, but one that mobilized in everyone an energy and concentration sometimes unsuspected. An “engaging” discovery for most of them.

    Michel Lebreton, March 2019

    Return to the French text


    1. “The tinkerer is the one who uses diverted, oblique means, as opposed to the man of art, to the specialist. The work of the tinkerer, unlike that of the engineer, unfolds in a closed universe, even if it is diversified. The rule is to work with the means at hand. The result is contingent, there is no precise project, but ideas-force: it can always be useful, it can work ». The elements used do not have a fixed, let alone predetermined, function: they are what they are, at that moment, as they are perceived, desired, in relation to other elements that are the operator of a particular operation. For the tinkerer, a wooden cube can be a wedge, a support, a base, a closure, a corner to be driven in, etc. It can be a simple material or an instrument, its usefulness depends on an ensemble. The appropriateness of a tinkering can evoke the objective randomness of the surrealists.” (Ruse et bricolage, Liliane Fendler-Bussi)

    2. Note of the translator. This is a well-known political slogan from the May 1968 Paris demonstrations, literally “under the pavement, the beach!”.

    3. Note of the translator. In France, since about the late 1980s, departments have been created in conservatories, most of the time along the following groupings: strings, woodwinds, brass, keyboards and percussion, basic musicianship, jazz, traditional music, etc.

    4. Note of the translator. The CEPI or in English the “ Initial Cycle of Professional Teaching” is offered in Regional Conservatories as preparation to enter musical higher education institutions.