Archives du mot-clé walls

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.

Benjamin Boretz

Benjamin Boretz

“-forming: crowds and power”


« -formant : masse et puissance »



.pdf in english
(7p, letter, 45Ko)
.pdf en français
traduction de Jean-Charles François
(7p, A4 portrait, 350Ko)


Cécile Guillier : Text 3 – English

Free Immured-Art: Murmurs

Cécile Guillier


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

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


Access to the three texts (English and French)

Texte 1, Faire tomber les murs : mûrs ?      Français

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

Texte 2a, Interlude      Français

Texte 2b, Interlude      English

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

Steven Schick – English

Accès à la traduction en français : Entretien avec Steven Schick



Encounter between Steven Schick and
Jean-Charles François

January 2018


Percussionist, conductor, and author Steven Schick, for more than forty years, has championed contemporary percussion by commissioning or premiering more than one hundred-fifty new works. He is artistic director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Steven Schick is Distinguished Professor of Music and holds the Reed Family Presidential Chair at the University of California San Diego. (see

The interview is about John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit (2007), which was performed under the direction of Steven Schick in January 2018, on the border between Mexico and the United States, with the musicians equally divided between the two sides of the border “wall”.


Jean-Charles F. :

To begin with, it should be noted that John Luther Adams[1] is not known at all in France. Could you give us an idea of who he is?

Steven S. :

I know that he is not known, because when I gave a master class on “Manifeste” for the 70th anniversary of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, I proposed this Inuksuit piece, and they didn’t know it. So it is not a surprise that you say that. John Luther Adams is a composer who at an early age moved to Alaska instead of pursuing more traditional routs to success as a composer in the United States. And he lived there for – I do not know exactly – for about 25 years. And he still has his own studio in the Alaskan forest, but he does not live there anymore. He now lives in New York and often also in the desert in Chile. Even though he no longer lives in Alaska, I think this notion of space in his music is still completely part of his language. And he was early interested in establishing relationships between music and nature in a personal way, with some dramatic pieces: in his play Earth and the Great Weather, there are things that could actually be staged, and quite a number of shorter solo pieces, etc. About 7 or 8 years ago, he started writing much bigger forms, orchestra pieces and large ensembles and quite a lot now written for orchestra and very large choirs. This seems to be kind of a big change, first of all not only in his usual music, but also in his recognition, that brought him to the attention of a much bigger public. The critical moment that marked this change was probably the piece Become Ocean. I’ve worked with him for a very long time: he wrote a piece for percussion, Mathematics of the Resonating Body in 2002, and then I co-commissioned a piece for a chamber ensemble, Become River, and also a piece for the La Jolla Symphony, Sila, to be performed outdoors. (see

Jean-Charles F. :

Looking at the video[2], it was difficult for me to imagine what this Inuksuit piece was all about.

Steven S. :

No, I am sure, I think that’s a fairly short visit.

Jean-Charles F. :

Could you describe how it works?

Steven S. :

Inuksuit was written in 2007 and I think the premiere took place in 2009 at the Banff Center[3] (Canada). It is written for 9 to 99 percussionists divided into three groups, so it is multiples of 3 in relation to the forces that can be solicited. In addition, there is a small group of piccolo players who can come and join at the end. The 3 groups of percussionists start from a central spot, then the first group leaves this place and starts to move outward in space, making some wind sounds – with megaphones, and different things like that, so breathing sounds. The second group has tubes that it spins in the air to make wind sounds and other kinds of things. The third group does something else. Gradually the three groups move to their spaces, and then the piece starts with a set of interactions between the groups. So group A would start with something that will trigger a response from group B and group C. Everybody plays their individual parts and so there is that kind of shifting overlay of these textures, which starts soft, and reaches very loud levels with drums, sirens and gongs, and things like that. And then, at the end of the piece, which is about one hour long, gradually all the percussionists come back to the center. The piece ends with again with wind sounds and bird songs. I think the New Yorker’s video shows a sequence that happens towards the beginning of the piece, which makes it seem like it’s just a bunch of scattered elements. But when you listen to the piece over the large scale, you’re going to hear these big waves of sounds and events that propagate out in space.

Jean-Charles F. :

All the performers have independent parts?

Steven S. :

They have independent parts and stopwatches.

Jean-Charles F. :

So it is not conducted?

Steven S. :

It is not conducted, and in fact you don’t really need a stopwatch, because you just need to know the sound signals that cue trigger events. One person from group A – that was often me – gives the starting cue to go ahead in it.

Jean-Charles F. :

Is the composer’s intention to develop a situation in which amateur musicians coexist with professionals?

Steven S. :

Not really. I think that the different instrumental parts require professional musicians, even in group A, which is the easiest with conk shells and triangles (groups B and C are actually difficult parts). I think that sometimes the piece is played by student percussionists and local amateurs. It’s something that will work for example in some Michael Pisaro’s pieces. But that doesn’t really work for John’s piece, which is really much harder to play. Even though I don’t think it’s very difficult for professional musicians, it’s certainly difficult for amateurs. That’s what the piece is all about, and so I had the idea of doing it on the border with half the musicians playing on the Mexican side, and the other half on the US side – normally the piece is played in one place – but in the meeting at the center where the piece starts and ends, then the border runs at the middle of the musicians. There were 35 percussionists on one side and about the same number on the other side, about 70 in all, and then you kind of radiated around in the space. On the Mexican side of the border, the park extends along the border but is reduced in width, so they could not move very far from the border, but they moved in length. On our side (United States) we could move farther from the border. So we were in the presence of a sort of strange shape, but despite everything we could hear each other, we could hear the cues very clearly crossing the border back and forth. But this concert almost didn’t take place…

Jean-Charles F. :

Because of the border?

Steven S. :

Because of a lot of things, but it has to be said that Border Patrol – I think it’s really important to say this – was very supportive. Not everybody, but there was a group of Border Patrol agents without whom the piece could never have been presented. Did you go to the Friendship Park, down the border (where the concert took place)?

Jean-Charles F. :

I never been there, but I know about it.

Steven S. :

When you go to visit it, it doesn’t look very friendly, especially on the US side it does not look friendly at all. But when I started thinking about doing this concert, someone from Border Patrol said to me, “If it rains, you wouldn’t be able to do the concert”. And I said, “OK, it makes sense.” But what he meant by that was that if it ever rained before the concert, the roads would be flooded and impassable. And so there was rain in the days before the concert and they said, “you can’t go, the roads are all closed”. I thought, “My God!” So we tried to consider all the solutions: we thought we could put the instruments on a pick-up truck and drive it along the beach. But the Border Patrol insisted that if we tried to do that, the pick-up truck would be stuck in the sand and it could catch fire, etc. I then thought that if we can get enough people, we would have everybody carry an instrument, we would be able to play the piece with a minimum of instruments. Now it was a two-miles walk, it was never going to work. But then at the last minute – and actually after we decided to cancel the concert – a Border Patrol agent with whom we had developed a good relationship said, “Look, this seems a nice idea: there’s an unofficial paved road that no one is allowed to use except Border Patrol; but if you come at 9 a.m., we will open it for 10 minutes, and you can drive your instruments in.” That’s what we did, so the audience had to walk the two miles on the beach. I think there were between 300 and 400 people on the US side, and about the same number on the Mexican side. And the great thing was at the end of this piece – the music fades out, so that you are really never sure when the performance is over, there’s a silence, and then there’s another little bird call, and then there’s more silence, and you wonder if that’s the last sound in the piece. So there’s a lot of stillness at the end of the piece – and then, when the applause started at a certain point on the U.S. side and not yet on the Mexican side, then they responded and we stopped, and it went back and forth for about five minutes, and that kind of ovation was so amazing. So this was that piece. It was good!

Jean-Charles F. :

What was the origin of this project? Was it a collaboration with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra?

Steven S. :

Yes, I mean they asked me to curate a percussion festival, and I told them that I didn’t want to do it, because a percussion festival didn’t seem really appealing to me. I suggested instead a festival about places, rhythm and time, and they thought it was a good idea. In addition to the concerts in the concert halls there were concerts all over the area. And so, yes, it was part of the festival and it was my idea. But the orchestra didn’t have very much to do with that particular concert. They certainly were part of the planning of it, but very few symphony players played in it. Then, there were concerts here, there were concerts in Tijuana, there were concerts all over the place. And we presented a new version of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat using a text by a Mexican poet, Luis Urrea, instead of Ramuz text: a text called “The Tijuana Book of the Dead”, which is very beautiful.

Jean-Charles F. :

And was John Luther Adams present?

Steven S. :

He wasn’t here for that, no.

Jean-Charles F. :

You had some contact with him?

Steven S. :

Yes, quite often. Even while we were doing it. We sent him pictures.

Jean-Charles F. :

I guess it wasn’t the first event or collaboration you organized between San Diego and Tijuana, or between California and Mexico?

Steven S. :

Of course. We have done several projects: I had a long partnership with the Lux Boreal Dance Company in Tijuana, and with Mexican musicians, and the band Red Fish Blue Fish played there regularly. And in addition, as you know, there are the concerts that I personally give in Mexico. But in terms of organization, these are the most important projects. And I’m going to organize the festival again in 2021 and I think I’ll continue to organize collaborations with both sides of the border.

Jean-Charles F. :

And you have a lot of students from Mexico?

Steven S. :

Yes, that’s true, but saying “a lot” is probably not true. The most important one was Ivan Manzanilla – did you know him?

Jean-Charles F. :

Yes, I met him in Switzerland.

Steven S. :

Now I see him quite frequently. He came from Mexico with six of his students to perform John Luther Adams’ piece. He wrote me a text the night before, he said, “My students have never been on an airplane!”

Jean-Charles F. :

So, do you think the wall will fall?

Steven S. :

What was interesting about the whole thing is that I was very sensitive to the impression that it was a protest demonstration. Because if we had taken that approach, we would never have gotten the permission to do it. There has been a lot of things that were organized around this issue: there was a German chamber orchestra that wanted to get permission, and it was clearly a protest movement against the Trump administration, and obviously nothing like that would be allowed. I wanted to be very respectful to the customs services because they treated us very well. Of course, there is a political element in this project and you cannot help but think of the fact that human connections and sounds pass easily through space and that there are walls that can never prevent that. You don’t have to unpack all the poetry that goes with this idea of a wall. But you should know that Al Jazeera was there to report on this event, too, and they really wanted it to be a protest. And so there was a little friction around that, and even the San Diego papers wanted to know if that was part of the resistance to Trump. We were probably like-minded about the Trump administration, but at the same time I had another idea about what to do about that, and I think that resistance is not how I think of it. In any event, it was evident that it had political value, and certainly there was no one who was there who was not thinking about that. But it had other components to it as well.

Jean-Charles F. :

And – may be it would be the last question – are there also walls to break down in the world of music and the arts?

Steven S. :

Well, one of the biggest wall is the one that encloses a concert hall. We rarely think consciously about the existence of walls. For example, several people have asked approached me to do the piece based as a sort of healing mechanism, to go to a given place, which has a wound, and to play that piece as a sort of way to addressing that. The fires north of Los Angeles in Ojai were the first proposal in this direction: it was to play John Luther Adams’ piece in the fire zone. And I talked to John about it, and I was a bit resistant to do that, because I wanted to avoid the piece becoming this sort of shapeless happening in a situation that adopts whatever political value is put into. I didn’t immediately leap on that idea. Like, for example, taking this piece and performing it in other parts of the wall on the border with Mexico or in Jerusalem, or in other parts of the world. The most beautiful part about that piece, I think, which makes it suitable to this kind of experience, is that at the very end, after listening to an hour of this music, where in order to make sense, everyone has to focus intensely on sound production, the piece fades out and there are still five hundred people, or whatever, listening really, really intensely, and all you hear are the sounds of nature. There is something really extraordinary about that, you can actually hear yourself, you hear your neighbors, and you hear the wind. It is therefore a tool that makes it possible to hear what is happening in a place. And as long as we keep this aspect as one of the main values of the piece, it could be exported to other places.

Jean-Charles F. :

But my question was also about all kinds of walls.

Steven S. :

You mean, not simply the physical walls, but also other kinds of things?

Jean-Charles F. :

Yes, the example that can be given in our context concerns popular music versus the avant-garde of Western classical music. My question is outside of John Luther Adams’ piece and its performance.

Steven S. :

Thank you for clarifying. This is exactly what we seek to do in the proposal made at the Banff Center: try to make the cloture disappear, which seems more than a handcuff than a tool these days. I mean people use these words, which don’t have any meaning any more. So, if someone asks me: are you a classical musician? I wouldn’t know what to say. It’s really a very important kind of thing, but I think the mechanism to address these questions has got to be really very sophisticated, because the problem is complex. I think it’s about going beyond a simple “feel good” moment in which everybody would recognize that: “All right, we have a problem, there’s a wall here.” But if you actually want to do something about this problem, I don’t have to tell you how difficult and complex the task will be, when you realize how many people’s minds you have to change, and how much prejudices and biases you have to encounter. That’s the work we did in Banff – I don’t think it is happening here in San Diego in the music department so much, although there’s a little bit of that. It is critical to be able to do that, so the answer of course is “yes” and you have to find a suitable mechanisms for each case.

Jean-Charles F. :

Thank you.

Steven S. :

Thank you.


Transcription of the recorded encounter (in English) and French translation: Jean-Charles François.


1. John Luther Adams is not to be confused with the more famous composer John Adams.

2. The New Yorker published an article by Alex Ross, on the performance of Inuksuit presented between Tijuana et San Diego, with a short video. See

3. See the Banff Centre :

Cécile Guillier – Text 1 – English

Walkabout Walls Falling [Faire tomber les murs : mûrs ?]

Cécile Guillier

In May 2018, I participated in a performance jointly created by 3 colleagues (viola, cello, percussion), a hip-hop dancer and myself, a violinist. As part of the professional season of our institution, funding is granted to a few creative artistic projects (about 3 to 4 per year) bringing together teachers from the conservatory and artists from outside. The idea came from the cello teacher “F.”, who had met “V.” (a dancer and hip-hop teacher in private structures). She suggested setting up a string trio (with “A.” on the viola) and to add a percussionist (“M.”) and to work with V., for a single concert at Chaise Dieu.

I was tempted by the project, but despite the relaxed atmosphere and the pleasure of playing together, we had (in my opinion) difficulties in formulating artistic issues, in looking critically at our productions, and in setting up a creative process. Above all, there were funding constraints (we were only paid for a few rehearsals, a concert and a school concert, and we all contributed much more). But we also had, at least the three string players, different approaches and different ways of doing things: A. wanted to work with a written score in front of his eyes, and F. suggested building an original performance with staging, but using classical works. Her idea was more (I think) towards performances by artists who perform Bach suites while a hip-hop artist dances to this music, while at the same time promoting chamber music. This seemed to me at first sight like a pseudo culture shock organized for an audience used to classical music. I would have liked to question the relationships and specificities of the dance movements and the sounds, but I didn’t necessarily have the time and the means to carry out such a project. And especially not the relational ability to provoke a real exploration of this subject, given the individual challenges that it would not have failed to raise: the classical world, that of teachers even more, has so much need to legitimize its skills, that exploration, creation, risk-taking are sometimes extremely difficult between colleagues. The hip-hop dancer asked us to put our pieces together, insisting that he would invent choreographies for them. Now that I’m watching the rushes from the only rehearsal video we made, it seems clear to me that he was trying to adapt his dance practice to what he perceived and projected from our “classical” practice. Watching the whole thing (filming and analyzing ourselves) would have been essential but we didn’t (the only video is of a rehearsal that we couldn’t watch before the performance). And the position of the percussionist was more to follow the initiatives of each other participant (It must be said that the group was really disparate in its aspirations, it was perhaps better that there was not a fifth different ambition).

I think that everyone made concessions, made an effort, we did the best we could, but that our conceptions regarding the issues at stake in the creation were multiple and not always explicit, the artistic cohesion of the performance was not quite consistent, the work on the representations of each participant was a little ambiguous.

I had the opportunity to insert into the performance a theatricalized interlude that I had written, and which took up what seemed to me to be a thread, a link between us, at least between music and dance. The text of this interlude is included on this site:
Interlude – English.

Through this initial reflection, I also wanted to question the artistic production process. It seems to me that under other conditions, we could perhaps have organized a time for experimentation, for analyzing each other’s practices, and for formulating the essential elements that we wanted to “represent”. Then, the medium, the choice of repertoire and instruments, the question of staging, and the relationship with the audience could really have been addressed. But perhaps, this is not a prerequisite but a back-and-forth process that we need to be able to implement. Or maybe this is only feasible over a long period of time of working together?

Our performance project “Breaking down the walls” had the ambition to do so, but I have a mixed recollection of it: both a time period when we sincerely wanted to explore our artistic domains, but also a moment when we avoided taking that risk.


Access to the three texts (French and English)

Text 1, Faire tomber les murs : mûrs ?      French

Text 2a, Interlude      French

Text 2b, Interlude      English

Text 3a, L’art-mur de la liberté : murmures      French

Text 3b, Free Immured-Art: Murmurs      English

Marie Jorio – English

Retour au texte original en français : Demain, Demain !


Tomorrow, Tomorrow!

Ecolo-musical Lecture
For reflecting, dreaming, acting

Marie Jorio, 2018



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



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

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

In the proposal “Demain, Demain !” [“Tomorrow, Tomorrow!”] she wants the audience to reflect, dream and act, in order to overcome the denial or stupefaction that suffocates us today in the face of the magnitude of environmental issues.
Accompanied by the theorbist Romain Falik, and by other guest artists depending on the venues, she puts in place an original form of sensitization that mixes the reading of reference texts by major authors on ecology with literary and poetic texts, and a sensitive musical accompaniment of Baroque and improvised music.
Considering that music, like all forms of art, is a form of demand and implementation of the happy sobriety to which our societies should turn, its crossbreeding with ecology becomes a foregone conclusion.

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


Audios (other examples are available)



Extracts of text in the performance program

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


How did I become an ecologist?

Marie Jorio, August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editorial 2021 – English

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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
8. Conclusion


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 ( 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

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,

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,

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. 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.”


8. Conclusion

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.


Giacomo Spica Capobianco – English

Retour au texte original en français : Entretien avec Giacomo Spica Capobianco


Encounter with Giacomo Spica Capobianco

Jean-Charles François and Nicolas Sidoroff

May 2019




I. The Orchestre National Urbain

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

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

III. Cra.p, An Art Center

IV. Political Politics and Citizen Politics

List of institutions mentioned in this text (with links)



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

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

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


I. The Orchestre National Urbain

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

Nicolas S.:

How did you meet him, for example?

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

This is how the Orchestre National Urbain was conceived. But it goes further than that: we are in the process of building up a repertoire. My ambition is also to meet other groups. I talked about it some time ago with Camel Zekri who told me: “With traditional music, we really need to put something together”. With Karine Hahn, not long ago, I talked about Gaël Rassaert with his Camerata du Rhône, a string ensemble, why not organize a meeting with them? What could we do together? I have a network of rappers, so we’re going to invite rappers on stage so that practices can be confronted. What interests me is to organize a platform with an orchestra where it moves. How can you envision that it’s not all and everything? What coherence can we find with traditional music from any ethnic group, from any place? How can we meet with contemporary music, with classical music musicians, with whomever? It’s not just about meeting each other, it’s also about knowing how we think together about the problems that it raises, how we really work together in common. That’s more or less the idea of this project[2].


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

a. The Projet

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

The aim of the Orchestre National Urbain is to identify young people, above all to bring them to a diploma course. We’re seeing a drift that I described in 2005 in Enseigner la musique,[3] and we’re going to have to work hard on this: animators working in one place, who initially do a bit of music, but don’t have that function, are trying, despite the fact that they already have a job, to take the place of the Orchestre National Urbain’s players, while requesting to be trained. So the problem is that these people act as a screen in front of the young people without being aware of it or being too well aware of it. The worst thing here is to mislead kids, telling them they’re going to be stars, they’re going to play everywhere and they’re going to make big bucks. That’s what Cra.p has been fighting against for thirty years, that’s why we’re here, I think. We receive a lot of requests to train MJC’s activity leaders and during the meetings I fight very strongly against this attitude which consists in pushing the kids into an illusion that will in any case bust if they continue this way. I don’t have anything against the MJC activity leaders, it’s not a minor job. And since they absolutely want to be trained to help young people, we don’t say no. We can welcome these activity leaders in training on one condition: there has to be a charter that stipulates that the goal of the training is to bring them up to a Conservatory degree and then to a teaching State Diploma in music. This is where we are, in concrete terms, right now.

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

  1. We’re going to take kids from neighborhoods that have no future anyway, because even if they go to school, there won’t be a job when they finish.
  2. For those who are interested, they will be given the necessary tools to go all the way.
And where I’ m pleased that it works is that, although the decision-makers and facilitators change, the kids stay. I think that’s where the success is. It means that we’ve managed to amaze them and encourage them. For me, they are the future educators with whom we will be able to work, and who will be in relay with the work we are doing in the 8th arrondissement of Lyon. It’s going to become a network: the 8th with the 3rd, the 7th and the 9th. And we will train these kids so that we can get them back to be a link with their neighborhood, so that they can develop things and so that they can have a similar position to that of a violin teacher at the conservatory. La Duchère is the most interesting example for the moment, because it’s still going on, it didn’t collapse, it’s the same people from the beginning. What’s super interesting for us is that there are more girls than boys, knowing that in certain neighborhoods the position of girls is culturally restricted.
Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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


b. The Origin of the Project

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

Nicolas S.:

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

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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


c. Instrument Building: The Spicaphone.

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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


d. The Residencies

Nicolas S.:

Do the residencies take place during the school holidays?

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

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

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


e. The Writing Workshops

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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


f. The Organization of the First Residency

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

Do you remember what you just said to me there?

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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


III. Cra.p, An Art Center

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

In fact, for me there are two things:

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

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

Jean-Charles F.:

Just one point, in an ironic way…

Giacomo S. C.:

Yes please.

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

Maybe, yes, maybe that’s the word.

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Nicolas S.:

We agree!

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

Yes, absolutely.

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Jean-Charles F.:

This is my fault.

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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


IV. Political Politics and Citizen Politics

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean-Charles F.:

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

Nicolas S.:

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

Giacomo S. C.:

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

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

Jean-Charles F.:

Thank you Giacomo for all these very fruitful exchanges.

Nicolas S.:

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


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


2. About Giacomo Spica Capobianco’s experience and the Orchestre National Urbain, see also « L’O.N.U. (Orchestre National Urbain) à Lyon. Musique, quartiers et rencontre des cultures, une démocratie urbaine réinvestie [Music, District, Cultures meeting, an Urban Democracy Re-invested] » in Enseigner la Musique n°13&14, Lyon : Cefedem AuRA, 2019,p. 489-500.
In this journal, Giacomo Spica Capobianco details the workshops he organized in psychiatric hospital (p. 101-130).

3. Enseigner la musique is a publication of the Cefedem AuRA (Lyon). See Enseigner la musique N°8, 2005, p. 66-68 et p. 127.

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

ONU, Orchestre National Urbain [Urban National Orchestra], an ensemble founded in 2012 by Giacomo Spica Capobianco (See the first part of this transcription).
The City of Lyon, South-Est of France, had a population of more than 500,000 within less than 20 sq mi. Since 2015, it have formed the Metropolis of Lyon, called Grand Lyon with 58 suburban municipalities (a population of around 1,400,000), a directly elected metropolitan authority now in charge of most urban issues.
A prefecture designates the departments of the prefectural administration headed by a prefect, as well as the building that houses them. It represents the State in the Departments or Regions.
The Drac, Direction régionale des affaires culturelles, is an institution representing the State in the Region, in charge of supervising cultural policies.
The Metropolis of Lyon, called Grand Lyon, is a directly elected metropolitan authority in charge of most urban issues, formed with the town of Lyon and 58 suburban municipalities (a population of around 1,400,000).
The City of Lyon, South-Est of France, had a population of more than 500,000 within less than 20 sq mi. Since 2015, it have formed the Metropolis of Lyon, called Grand Lyon with 58 suburban municipalities (a population of around 1,400,000), a directly elected metropolitan authority now in charge of most urban issues.
A prefecture designates the departments of the prefectural administration headed by a prefect, as well as the building that houses them. It represents the State in the Departments or Regions.
The Drac, Direction régionale des affaires culturelles is an institution representing the State in the Region, in charge of supervising cultural policies.
MJC, Maisons des Jeunes et de la Culture, [The Youth and Cultural Centers] are non profit associations which link youth and culture within a popular education perspective.
CRR, for Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional [Regional Conservatory].
DE, Diplôme d’État [State Diploma] of music teacher, is a higher education diploma (Bachelor). It’s the most common diploma for teaching instrumental or vocal music in schools of music (conservatories but not only).
DEM, Diplôme d’études musicales [Musical Studies Diploma], is a pre-professional diploma obtained at the end of a course in a music school.
Cefedem (Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique) AuRA (Auvergne Rhône-Alpes) is a higher musical education institution accredited and funded by French ministry of Culture, to train musical teachers.
CFMI, Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants à l’école [especially in elementary school], proposes different programs that allow musicians of diversified background to work in artistic and cultural education.
CNSM(D), Conservatoire national supérieur de musique (et de danse), high education institution for music and dance. There are two CNSMD in France, Paris and Lyon.
CFMI, Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants à l’école is a music teacher’s training program for musicians who are going to be in residence in primary schools. It proposes different programs that allow musicians of diversified background to work in artistic and cultural education.
Cefedem (Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique) AuRA (Auvergne Rhône-Alpes) is a higher musical education institution accredited and funded by French ministry of Culture, to train musical teachers.
Short for “instruments”, the electronic sounds that accompany a text like in rap.
The label Scène de Musiques ACtuelles [Popular Music on Stages], corresponds, since 1998, to the program of the French ministry of Culture towards the promotion of today’s popular music.



List of institutions mentioned in this text

Cefedem AuRA (Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique Auvergne Rhône-Alpes): higher musical education institution accredited and funded by French ministry of Culture in 1990 to deliver a DE, Diplôme d’État [State Diploma], for music teachers. Cefedem AuRA is a professional ressources and higher education music center. It trains instrumental and vocal teachers, with an equal balance between artistic capacities and pedagogical competences and the perspectives on the musician for society, the community musician.

CFMI (Centre de Formation des Musiciens Intervenants à l’école): music teacher’s training program for musicians who are going to be in residence in primary schools. Attached to the University Lyon II, the Lyon CFMI is devoted to the training of accomplished musicians of diversified background. It proposes different programs that allow them to work in artistic and cultural education.

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

Cra.p (Centre d’art – musiques urbaines/musiques électroniques [Art Center – Urban Music/Electronic Music]): center in Lyon, founded in 1989 by Giacomo Spica Capobianco.

CRR (Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional [Regional Conservatory]): see for example the one in Lyon.

Drac (Direction régionale des affaires culturelles): institution representing the State in the Region, in charge of supervising cultural policies.

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

Métropole de Lyon: political disctict also called Grand Lyon. “It is a directly elected metropolitan authority encompassing the city of Lyon and most of its suburbs. It has jurisdiction as both a department and a métropole, taking the territory out of the purview of the department of Rhône. It had a population of 1,385,927 in 2017” <en.wikipedia/Lyon_Metroplis>.

MJC (Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture): the Youth and Cultural Centers are non profit associations which link youth and culture within a popular education perspective. <fr.wikipedia/MJC>.

ONU (Orchestre National Urbain [Urban National Orchestra]): an ensemble founded in 2012 by Giacomo Spica Capobianco.

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

SMAC: the label Scène de Musiques ACtuelles [Popular Music on Stages], corresponds, since 1998, to the program of the French Ministry of Culture towards the promotion of today’s popular music.

Ville de Lyon: The City of Lyon, South-Est of France, had a population of more than 500,000 within less than 20 sq mi <en.wikipedia/Lyon>.


Clare Lesser

Accéder à la traduction en français :




A deconstructive approach to performance practice in John Cage’s Four⁶, focusing on undecidability, viral interpenetration and the merging of domains.

Clare Lesser


John Cage – Four
Four⁶ – ART: Abu Dhabi, April, 2018
…begin and end at particuLar/points in timE…




Murus, maceria, moerus, mauer, mur…

Immured, mural, rim….

…cell wall, prison wall, curtain wall, city wall…

…retaining wall, harbour wall, dividing wall, connecting wall…

…enclosure, partition, screen, divider, party wall, panel, bulkhead…

…shelter, guard, garden wall, dam, fortification…

…load-bearing wall, decorative skin, Four Walls

…off the wall… 

…mûre, mûr…


…with/out foundations…


Complicated things walls, and if we step into this stream of thought, who knows where we’ll end up? Maybe we’ll be washed off our feet and land on our heads…or crash into a wall?

Rather than immediately breaking down any walls, consider what it could mean, instead, to be between or within walls, to question them, to pick at the mortar, to make their foundations tremble a little, perhaps. But how to go about this process? Deconstruction seems a good place to start; examining the joins, quoins…penetrating the fabric, initiating the process of interrogation, of weakening, of the ‘perhaps’. So, let’s attempt to open our eyes and ears to the unfolding of deconstruction within and across domains, drawn from the work of Jacques Derrida and Bernard Tschumi (I could equally bring in Simon Hantaï and Valerio Adami), focusing on two main areas of concern: the pharmakon (and undecidability) and the virus.

There are a number of apparent contradictions or oppositions in the opening list (shelter/prison, connecting wall/dividing wall, load-bearing wall/decorative skin). Walls can seemingly occupy two or more apparently opposing states simultaneously, and as such, could be seen as pharmakoi. So, let’s consider a work of ‘music’ where these walls, these pharmakoi, these possibilities for foundation shaking and boundary dissolving, these apparent contradictions and blurred edges, these instances of aporia (or perplexity), are integral to the performance, and where the performer/creator (the ‘wild card’) can strive to deconstruct, or push, the ‘rules’ (walls) of the ‘game’ to breaking point.


John Cage – Four

Four⁶ (1992) for four performers, rather than ‘musicians’ or ‘players’ specifically, or rather, it is for four ‘performers’ on the front cover and four ‘players’ on the parts (does this play at games, at the theatre, does it play with play?) is one of John Cage’s time-bracket works, so named because during performance each player should

Play within the flexible time brackets given. When the time brackets are connected by a diagonal line they are relatively close together. (Cage 1992, p2)

Thus, player one opens with:

0’00” ↔ 1’15”      0’55” ↔ 2’05”


Cage also gives us two pieces of information about the types of sound he has in mind, I should mention here that there is no given ‘filling’ for the time brackets, that is for the performers to provide, because the work is

for any way of producing sounds (vocalization, singing, playing an instrument or instruments, electronics, etc.) … (Cage 1992, p1)

And Cage further tells us to

Choose twelve different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone structure, etc.) (Cage 1992, p2)

So, within the walls of the ‘rules’, within the boundaries of the work, we have creative contradictions or opportunities in the work from the outset. Cage offers us a less obvious pharmakon in that the sounds are apparently both fixed and free. We assume that Cage intended that each of the twelve sounds should have fixed characteristics, but why the first sentence in that case? It is redundant, it opens up the possibility of aporia. Why not just say ‘produce twelve sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude etc.)’? That would make perfect sense to a musician.

He also gives the performers complete agency regarding where, i.e. from what domain (if any), they come[1], as well as a certain amount of flexibility within the overall ‘structure’, in-as-much as the time brackets (containing walls) allow for variability in start and stop times for each ‘event’. Those time brackets are empty shells of course – waiting to be filled, waiting to be inhabited by events (what Derrida calls ‘the emergence of a disparate multiplicity’ [Tschumi 1996, p257]). In other words, their ‘programme’ is unfixed. The composer/performer relationship or hierarchy is completely unsettled (another pharmakon), for who is actually ‘composing’ the performance here: composer, performer(s), both, neither? Oh yes, and there’s no ‘master’ score either, only parts. Each player is independent, in a sense walled off from the others…perhaps?

Could the pharmakon be useful in overcoming boundaries, changing (challenging) the wall’s structure and function? If a binary opposition (included/excluded, free/trapped, etc.) can be overturned, i.e. have its function cast into doubt, then walls can become thresholds, conduits, zones of connectivity, not barriers. The pharmakon is one of the key concepts to be found in Plato’s Phaedrus, so let’s consider Derrida’s explication of the pharmakon, as found in Dissemination, “Plato’s Pharmacy”.

This pharmakon, this “medicine”, this philtre, which acts as both remedy and poison… (Derrida 2004, p75)


This charm, this spellbinding virtue, this power of fascination, can be – alternately or simultaneously – beneficent or maleficent. (Derrida 2004, p75)


If the pharmakon is “ambivalent”, it is because it constitutes the medium in which opposites are opposed, the movement and the play that links them among themselves, reverses them or makes one side cross over into the other (soul/body, good/evil, inside/outside, memory/forgetfulness, speech/writing, etc.). (Derrida 2004, p130)

So, the pharmakon is a space where oppositions can be overturned; a passage or movement of conjoining and interpenetration, the either/or, neither/nor, the ‘and’. The overturning of oppositions is not solely confined to speech and writing (although that is what Derrida is referring to here): it is equally relevant to other fields, e.g. architecture, the field par excellence of walls, the bastion of apparent solidity and structure, and yet also an important area of collaboration for Derrida with Peter Eisenmann and Bernard Tschumi during the 1980s[2]Derrida was somewhat dubious about such a collaboration initially, telling Tschumi “But how could an architect be interested in deconstruction? After all, deconstruction is anti-form, anti-hierarchy, anti-structure, the opposite of all that architecture stands for.” ‘“Precisely for this reason,” I replied.’ (Tschumi 1996, p250). Tschumi also remarks that deconstructive strategies in architecture were developing momentum throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, when architects began to

…confront the binary oppositions of traditional architecture: namely, form versus function, or abstraction versus figuration. However, they also wanted to challenge the implied hierarchies hidden in these dualities, such as “form follows function” and “ornament is subservient to structure”.  (Tschumi 1996, p251)

And Tschumi’s ‘radical’ pedagogical practice at the Architectural Association and at Princeton in the mid-1970s exploited the merging of domains (e.g. architecture and literature) from the outset:

I would give my students texts by Kafka, Calvino, Hegel, Poe, Joyce and other authors as programs for architectural projects. The point grid of Joyce’s Garden (1977)…done with my AA students at the time as an architectural project based on Finnegan’s Wake, was consciously re-used as the organising strategy for the Parc de la Villette five years later. (Tschumi, 1997, p125)

So Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette project (1982-98), the redesign and development of a large urban space (the former abattoir complex in north-eastern Paris), exploited cross-programming, a reappraisal of the ‘event’, the play of the ‘trace’, and various other deconstructive strategies in its composition of lines, points and surfaces. It is probably best known for Tschumi’s iconic bright red folies (multi-programme or programme-less structures within the park): one of the folies could be either a restaurant or a music venue, neither a restaurant nor a music venue, or, a restaurant and a music venue. So, the folies are pharmakoi, they are undecidable; they reject the ‘walls’, the containment, of pre-determined ‘programme’. They are empty shells – time brackets.

How does this plurality of undecidables play out in Four? What is undecidable in the work, and what implications might this have for overturning walls in pedagogy and praxis? To explore further, let’s turn to a recent performance of Fourwhich I instigated.

A partial list of the undecidables in Four could include:

  • Forces – who can perform the work?
  • Content – what will inhabit the time brackets?
  • Hierarchy – who is the composer?
  • Score – who is in control?


Four⁶ – ART: Abu Dhabi, April, 2018

The art version was conceived as a way of stepping away from music, while still acknowledging its trace within the work (figure 1). Each performer was asked to individually design twelve art related actions. Time bracket execution could be either pre-planned and notated on the score, or chosen/performed ‘live’. I asked the performers to interpret ‘art’ in any way they liked, which resulted in a mixture of performance art, sound art, fine art, theatre,  performance-poetry, etc; and I also asked the performers to devise their ‘events’ in isolation, so that the live performance would be unrehearsed and all reactions would be spontaneous, potentially surprising to executors, co-performers, and the audience  ̶  (a nod towards Cage’s definition of the ‘experimental action’ as ‘one the outcome of which is not foreseen’, Cage, 1961, p39).

A 6X3 foot canvas sheet was used, mounted on a wooden frame and supported on blocks (to allow space for cutting) on a large table. The following items were available to all the performers to use if they so chose: tubes of paint (acrylic) in white, black and blue, tubs of paint in the same colours, chalk, charcoal, knives, glasses of water, glass bottles, pencils, screw drivers, paint brushes (varied sizes), knife sharpeners (steel), rags (for erasing/painting, etc.,). One performer also brought a light -sabre to paint with. Performers were free to use any part of the body during the work’s realisation. The choices made by players 2 and 3 were:

Player 2 – Sounds (Actions)Speak,

1. Speak, 2. Pencil, 3. Overpaint, 4. Wood blocks, 5. White, 6. Knife, 7. Black, 8. Screwdriver, 9. Blue, 10. Silence, 11. Sing, 12. Cough.

Player 3 – Sounds (Actions)

1.  Tacet, 2. Shred score & add to canvas, 3. Rattle brushes, 4. Splatter with brush, 5. Paint tube thrown squirt, 6. Charcoal writing, 7. Water splatter, 8. Bottle & jar percussion, 9. Erase, 10. Knife sharpen, 11. Shove other performers, 12. Slash canvas.

Figure 1: portion of the canvas immediately after the performance (April 2018),
showing wet paint and shredded performance part (centre).



The first pharmakon concerns the forces involved: who can perform this work? Does the work have walls that prevent participation and access? No, the boundaries of performance are very open. In other words, anyone can perform Four; no classical or formal music training from any tradition is required. Fouris music and is not music; it will accommodate performers from any artistic domain, from anywhere in fact, who are perfectly at liberty to stay within their own domain (although these domains will bleed into one another): artists, musicians, scientists, actors, historians, philosophers, vets…the list goes on. The wall regarding discipline  ̶  the ‘who?’ is the work for  ̶  is unstable and weakened; the performance can be a hybrid, a mixture of domains, a two (or four) way viral infection in every moment of performance. There are social and political implications here; there are no barriers (walls) to access, no hierarchy, and no pedagogical foregrounding is required.

If the players can come from anywhere, any domain, then the ‘content’ or ‘programme’ of the time brackets will be equally open. That is: the programme does not have to be ‘music’. The version I have outlined above has a rough focus, but no ‘theme’ is actually necessary, it is a container for events to take place in. The performers were drawn from the fields of music, visual arts, psychology, and classical Arabic, so we have a work that is music and is not music. The time brackets are like Tschumi’s programme-less folies, described by Derrida as ‘a writing of space, a mode of spacing which makes a place for the event’ (Tschumi, 2014, p115). The folies have a number of shared traits with the time brackets: a time bracket is a mode of spacing in time, and it can be filled with anything, with any ‘event’ that creates sound, drawn from each player’s lexicon of twelve, just like a folie has an undefined and open ‘programme’ with a variable lexicon of possible events[3]. The combination of the time-bracket events (programmes) allows the individual domains to merge, to infect, to overwrite, to hybridise, like our earlier example of a folie, which interbred a performance space and restaurant. In the ‘art’ version, the domains of music, art, theatre and philosophy all occupy the same time space.

Events have afterlives too, cinders, if you like. As the canvas dries out, the art version continues to change long after the performance is finished; it is not confined within those 30-minute temporal ‘walls’. It continues to evolve through changes of colour and texture (figure 2). The drying process both reveals and conceals writing (on the canvas and the additional shreds of the parts) and the modes of application and addition (charcoal pieces below). As the paint cracks and falls off, yet more traces of the performance’s own history appear, while the pages of the individual parts can become art objects in their own right (figure 3): an archaeology of performance. The cinders are carried along in the flux.


Figure 2: portion of the canvas one month after the performance (May 2018),
showing changes of colour and texture,
small shreds of parts (bottom left) and charcoal (centre right).



Figure 3: player 4, part with paint additions
acquired during the 30 minutes of ‘performance’.



…begin and end at particuLar/points in timE…[4]

Cage explains variable structure very succinctly, in the form of a mesostic:

These time-brackets / are Used / in paRts / parts for which thEre is no score no fixed relationship / … / music the parts of which can moVe with respect to / eAch / otheR / It is not entirely / structurAl / But it is at the same time not / entireLy / frEe (Cage, 1993, p35-6).

Note that Cage says the ‘parts of which can move with respect to each other’ (my italic), not that they must or should. And what could respect mean here? Literally that they respect each other’s space, each other’s boundaries (walls), that they do not interfere, overwrite, erase, infect or cross-programme; or the opposite, that they can move because the others allow free passage, permit themselves to be infected, erased, grafted, hybridised or overwritten, that they allow interpenetration because there is ‘no score, no fixed relationship’, no controlling hand?[5] Again, the wall is weakened, it’s function is heterogeneous, open to change, but its trace, its ghost, is still there.

If there is no score, only parts in a timed dance drawn from a variable lexicon of forty-eight moves, then who is the composer? Who has overall control? Who holds the key that allows passage through the walls (if they exist) of this work’s creation, of its direction? It is another pharmakon; John Cage is the acknowledged author (his name is on the front cover), but is he really the author, the author of the content? We only have parts, no score, and our parts have no substance; as yet they are unformed, except in terms of variable lengths and their order, e.g. player 1 starts with sound event 2. It’s like a drama without a unified script, with characters who do not know their relationships to the other characters (back to actions with unforeseen outcomes), and dialogue that is both secret and disordered. In Four⁶ we have ‘stage directions’ (instructions), and we have a variable temporal ‘choreography’ which tells us approximately when to put the things that we, as performers, have found. But wait a minute, aren’t the fillings of the time brackets ours? We found them, after all, we devised the sounds, and we decided precisely when and where we were going to put them, we decided that sound event 12 was going to be coughing or canvas slashing and we decided when we were going to cough or slash the canvas within that time bracket – so perhaps it would be better to say that John Cage is an author of Four⁶ rather than John Cage is the author of Four⁶?

So, the hierarchy is undecided, there is no single controlling presence in the performance, there is no ‘master’score. The performers have a very considerable amount of agency as long as they play by the ‘rules’ (for Cage was never one for a free-for-all). Even so, it’s a very generous and egalitarian way of composing, always remembering that rules can be outmanoeuvred (whilst still remaining within them), interpreted in new ways[6]. All those hierarchical ‘walls’ that can block (or at least make it one way only) the passage of communication between performer and composer are open; the walls are porous (are they even walls anymore?), so neither the composer/performer interface nor the performer/performer interface is fixed. In the art version, the audience/performer interface is also more open – paint can fly everywhere. The performer is a composer/performer hybrid interpreting within a composition, composing within an interpretation; the composer (Cage) has opened himself up to the viral communication of the performer; the performers have opened themselves up to independent/not independent forms of grafted praxis; all interact while retaining their individuality, all can overwrite each other’s work (in sound and/or paint), all can graft gesture and expression, opening themselves to the virus, conversing in many ‘languages’ across domains, allowing themselves to be penetrated at a quasi-cellular level.

As Derrida says

…all I have done, to summarize it very reductively, is dominated by the thought of a virus, what could be called a parasitology, a virology, the virus being many things…The virus is in part a parasite that destroys, that introduces disorder into communication. Even from the biological standpoint, this is what happens with a virus; it derails a mechanism of the communicational type, its coding and decoding (Brunette and Wills, 1994, p12)

The virus unsettles things, makes them tremble, and shakes them up, disorders communication (messages get lost or ‘wrongly’ delivered, they are open to a multiplicity of interpretations), makes a space for unpredictable interventions, introduces aporia. In Four⁶ we can see the evidence of this virus through its trace, the way it leaves marks (imprints) behind in the dust, in the ashes (charcoal), in the paint, in the sound. So we have a viral melding of actions in performance (altering another’s actions which leaves a mark), of ‘persons’ (performers/audience/composer), and domains (art/music/theatre, etc.): in the art version of Four⁶,art, music and dance are all present, as is theatre[7].

The virus infects the moments when the the surface of the canvas is created, when colours blend to become new colours, are overwritten, are grafted, are erased; it leaves its mark through the accretion and revealing of layers, through writing and overwriting, through deconstruction as the knife slashes through the surface, exposing the underside of the canvas which in turn becomes a new surface, through the intentional alteration of another player’s ‘event’ by physical interventions – shoving, scrubbing, cutting and covering. So, Derrida’s parasite destroys (or should one say it ‘fixes’?); but it only destroys a moment’s possibility, an eye-blink of the painting’s ‘history’ (of this performance’s canvas). It forces a change, a mutation, and who knows where that will lead?

There are other traces in the ashes too; ‘il y a là cendre’ (Derrida, 2014, p3), intertextual traces, hypertextual traces, of other works (in multiple senses: the current canvas’ own history, its possible history that could have been, the history that is yet to come, and the histories of the domains to which it now aligns itself). The lexicon of 48 sound events is a net of traces; of the Greco-Roman muralists, of baroque religious painted interiors (whose collective endeavour will always raise questions of authorship[8]), of Fontana, Kiefer, and Hantaï, the Situationists, Vienna Action Art, early Fluxus, Heiner Goebbels, Robert Wilson, Heiner Müller, the traces of post-dramatic theatre, of the dance-theatre of Lindsay Kemp, and other works by Cage of course. These traces refer to other traces, in chains of infinite resonance.  The traces of our own experiences will always be present in any endeavour as well – how could they not be? Walls are omnipresent, for good, for ill, make of them what you will, but they are not merely barriers. Perhaps it is better to acknowledge their functional heterogeneity than to attempt to break them; to strive for weakened versions (as nets), to allow their transfiguration, to embrace their undecidability, for then walls can be barely perceptible, almost transparent, they can be s[wall]owed.



1. This is equally applicable to the sounds themselves.

2. Cage found a new appreciation for the city and new ways of looking at its constructions, its traces, its interactions, after taking a walk through Seattle with the painter Mark Tobey. (Cage & Charles, 1981, p158)

3. In one sense they could be considered heterotopias.

4. Cage, 1993, p34.

5. Derrida’s use of ‘Animadversions’ in texts such as Glas, Cinders and Tympan (Margins of Philosophy) are another way of looking at the presentation of, and commentary (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, sometimes silent) on, simultaneous, parallel and sequential actions across the same surface, i.e. the canvas.

6. As Cage said: ‘We are not free. We live in a partitioned society. We certainly must take those partitionings into consideration. But why repeat them?’ (Cage & Charles, 1981, p90)

7. Regarding theatre, one of my co-performers almost cut the canvas in half at one point during the performance, and I was quite shocked – wondering if there was both enough surface left to work on, and whether the whole thing would unravel-, but on the other hand, I thought it was very funny and had to stifle my desire to laugh for the rest of the performance, and that brings another trace into play, that of the theatre’s tradition of making co-performers ‘corpse’.

8. As early as 1934 Cage found the group endeavour of what he termed medieval or gothic art appealing. (Kostelanetz, 1993, p.16)


Brunette, P., & Wills, D., Deconstruction and the Visual Arts: Art, Media, Architecture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Cage, J., Silence, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961.
Cage, J., Four⁶, New York, NY: Edition Peters, 1992.
Cage, J., Counterpoint (1934) in Kostelanetz, R. (ed), Writings about John Cage, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Cage, J., Composition in Retrospect, Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1993.
Cage, J., & Charles, D., For the Birds, New York, NY: Marion Boyars, 1981.
Derrida, J., ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ in Dissemination, trans. B. Johnson, London: Continuum, 2004.
Derrida, J., Cinders, trans N. Lukacher, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Derrida, J., ‘Points de Folie – Maintenant l’architecture’ in Tschumi, B., Tschumi Park De La Villette, London: Artifice Books, 2014.
Kostelanetz, R. (ed), Writings about John Cage, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
Tschumi, B. Architecture and Disjunction, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996.
Tschumi, B., ‘Introduction’, in J. Kipnis and T. Leeser (eds.), Chora L Works, New York: Monacelli Press, 1997.
Tschumi, B., Tschumi Park De La Villette, London: Artifice Books, 2014.

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.