Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lantence Manifeste : Informo

"Informo: disformous, informal and information is a space for reflection, meetings and experimentation that organises itself around a central theme through an invitation made to artists and thinkers from various fields of thought to put their work into direct view of each other".
On this afternoon of november 19th for 4 straight hours we could witness the fourth edition of Informo, a performance designed as a "live review". The basic frame is a space filled by white banners hanging all the way down from the seiling in a dark room (here in Instants Chavirés) through which the audience can wander and close in on the various artists spread around the venue. On this day they where Li-Ping Ting, standing way up some stairs with a pocket-light to illuminate her face inside a bird cage, she dances with various feathers, papers and sticks coming out of her mouth (and incidently from the cage's small door), a powerful play on shadows, meanings, unspoken, both dark and revealing. Thierry Madiot with his 10 meter long conic tube producing low frequency beatings, gurglings and shrieks on the full length of the side wall. Massimo Carrozzo with his subtle clarinet flutters. Martine Altenburger coverring the full spectral range of a discreet cello with occasional pizzicato attacks, glissendis and drones. Christophe Cardoen's mastery of light manipulation using the various angles provided by the hanging banners. Stéphane Lempereur would move around his photographical creations that look like miniatures in regard to the size of the banners, breaking the monotony of the banner's grey effect. Olivier Féraud's rotating installations producing both sound and light providing a constant audiovisual bottom line to the performance. Finally Yannick Dauby's diffusions of field recordings in two different places both around him and on the opposite side of the room, where we could here undistinguishable whispering and muttering sounds that we first confuse with the actual whisperings of the audience. Other sounds include the constant movement of the audience, coins when latecomers have to pay their entrance fees, occasional objects that drop, people's closes brushing the banners.
We are urged to move around, giving the performance a whole new equilibrium depending on where we are standing. For a very long period of time we are immersed in this alternate opening of time and space, creating a distortion of reality through which the few predetermined events of the review take place: a screening of videos by Chinese artist Song Dong "Picking the Moon in the Water" that adds further layers to our current distortion when a hand tries to pick up a flickering circle in the water in which we can see images of another "distortion of reality", that of adds extroted from Chinese TV. Other events include a very delicate performance By Carrozzo of a solo clarinet piece where a steady minimal "beat" leads to the emergence of breath waves that mutate into tones and back. Finally the the whole performance ends with a collective interpretation of John Cage's "Musical Sculptures".
A fascinating afternoon, a total breach of our conventional habits by some of the most "questioning" artists on the French scene.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lebanese improvisers hit Switzerland

Follow this link to check out our Al Maslakh Festival in the Reitschule in Bern and concerts in other cities and in Germany:

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lieux Communs : Schnack + Michel Waiswisz

A single concert in two sets for my thrid day in a row at Instants Chavirés
Schnack is a duo of Paul Hubweber on trombone and Uli Böttcher on laptop. Böttcher picks up the trombone's signal that he processes in realtime, so we get an alternation of acoustic trombone with amplified distorted digitalised trombone. On this date they had Michel Waiswisz with his singular MIDI controlled gloves as a guest.
They played numerous short or medium short pieces with sometimes Schnack operating as a duo, some small solo sections, several electronic duos between Waiswisz & Böttcher.
There where mainly 2 ways into the music: either Hubweber starts with his trombone and the electronics soon join in, drowning him at points but always allowing him to emerge again. Either the electronics start together and Hubweber sooner or later takes a dive into the music with his powerful sound, sometimes free jazzy, sometimes more into texture and extended techniques (if we agree that mutes are a kind of extended technique for the trombone). One of his mutes is a thick plastic glass that vibrates on the bridge producing a very fast beating that turns into a huge white noise when picked-up by the laptop.
The music in general is a maelstrom of digital and midi sounds, pierced by trombone erruptions, moving very fast, shifting from layers to broken rythms, digital explosions and tones, feedbacks, oscilating soundwaves, engine type sounds and doepler effects. Very agitated and on the very limit of chaos. Only at very brief moments did the music soften or lay down into more ambient or horizental soundscapes, the longest one being the very end of the concert with Waiswisz creating a hypnotising multiphonical slow pace drone that the other two could build or modulate on.
Some of the pieces where astounding, highly original and full of surprises, an overall very playful atmosphere between the musicians made the concert a big pleasure to watch. Naturally some pieces did not work this well and some inbalance between the volumes of the electronics through the 4 speakers where the weaker points of the performance. In the beginning of each set I am a bit sceptic but it keeps getting better in totally unexpected ways, sometimes the music would almost U-turn on itself. Big pleasure as well to see such lively electronics, Waiswisz using his whole body movement and Böttcher going from laptop to a joystick controller. Equally the cyber version of Hubweber gives us an obvious sound/movement equivalence.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lieux Communs : John Butcher solo

The second solo is by John Butcher. The concert is divided in two parts: tenor then soprano.
I have to say my favorite part was by far the first section where Butcher starts with a powerful agitated improvisation on atonal scales often exploding the notes with multiphonics or giving them a granulated texture. Shades of jazz, deconstructed, dislocated, shaky, with a powerful sound enabled by his masterful blowing that draws for his stomach up to his throat and mouth. The movement culminates into a long circular breathing topped with his unique multiphonics that was personally one of my first crazes in improvised music years ago. Brilliant.
At this point, and for the first time in my experience Butcher uses amplification on his sax, playing on close-micking effects. The result was severely anecdotal, often the process would turn into accidental feedback and the volume was never ideal, later on Butcher admitted that he has not yet found a way to master this method in a live setting.
He then switches to soprano with the same amplification, more effective, but again I don't see the interest in it appart from a few sections with high pitches reaching an almost aquatic quality with a significant enhancement of the sound. The concert ends with a "ballad" type soprano improvisation, kind of a distant homage to Steve Lacy, bits of Evan Parker, and again the destructured scales on which Butcher is totally at ease. The softness of the "ballad" then wares off to some more intense playing, but I hardly find my way back into the music.
At least one thing I have to recognise is that every one of his solo performances that I have seen is completely different, which requires a certain amount of risk taking that sometimes pays off, sometimes not.

Lieux Communs : Quentin Dubost solo

Second night at Instants Chavirés features 2 solos of very different nature, the first of which is a solo by parisian guitarist Quentin Dubost.
A lesson of what you can do with one electric guitar string (the low E string), a bow, and a few clips that serve as mutes. Almost the whole solo was played in this very restricted region of the instrument. Simple very precise gestures, variations through different string tensions and open/muted positions, modulations of frequencies and textures, occasional white and harsh noise interventions and cracklings inside an overall multiphonic wave created by the bowing that takes place near the guitar's neck. In the very begining Dubost uses a fan, not touching the string but who's rotation is picked up by the lower microphone producing a very subtle flapping that works as a supportive layer for the rest of the music.
The result oscillates between sheer beauty and noise, allowing all amateurs of untypical electric guitar to merge into the sound introspectively.
Halfway through the sound becomes more sparse and less drony and at some point it seems the amplifier looses it's power (this was confirmed to me by Quentin later on, some kind of connection failure within the amp.), a blurry section ensues and the concert seems to head towards a dead-end. But this is when Dubost plays one of his most beautiful sounds: a very low volume but high velocity beating on the guitar's mike, very discreet but quite unique.

Lieux Communs : The Contest of Pleasures

Day 1 concert 2: The Contest of Pleasures is a trio of Dörner with Xavier Charles on clarinet and John Butcher on soprano and tenor saxophones, it is probably the fourth time I see them perform, the first time being their Mulhouse concert that was later released on french label Potlach.
They start the concert with a very efficient "system". Silence, then the three of them simultaneously launch an idea independently of what the other is doing, the silence again and so on, leading us to successive combinations of, for example, high frequency with slaps and multiphonics, followed by another combination of a sliding tone with white noise type breath and sharp sigle sound attacks. After a while the system opens up, leading to more acrobatic or togetherness moments with occasional simultaneous tones (maybe the only easy trick they pull out) and high frequencies that play on the eardrum through a phasing phenomenon. Then the system builds up again in an attempt to create some new and powerful music.
Obviously three masters of their instruments, in the whole 50 minute set I think they gave us an overview of all the outer limit possibilities of sax, trumpet and clarinet. Towards the very end some kind of boredom can be felt nevertheless, probably because of the repetivity of the blocks proceedure and the relatively equal duration of silence that seperates them.

Lieux Communs : Axel Dörner & Robin Hayward

The first of three days I will attend at Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, part of their annual "Lieux Communs" event that lasts a whole month.
There was 2 concerts on that day the first of which was a duo of Axel Dörner on trumpet and Robin Hayward on tuba. Extremely low volume breath sounds, a whole catalogue: wind, rifles, whistling, percussive, cyclic, whispering, gurgling, high, low... sometimes barely audible, played with utmost precision with a predominance of silence. I counted exactly two single tones throughout the 40 minute set. At points the music would densinfy, or Hayward would burst into a more typical tuba register but always very briefly, stopping as suddenly as he emerged. Dörner is a true landmark of precision and clarity, every idea he plays is clear as ice, for me surely one of the best players as his vocabulary is absolutely unique and his intentions always find their way through.
Sadly I think this music needs some very special conditions to reach its full potential, since the beauty of it lies in the quasi-atomic details of the sound that requires an immediacy of the source/ear relation which did not work in my case. My biggest mistake was to sit in the back of the room. The other factor is inherent to the venue where I believe it is a bad choice to play on stage, specially for the very low volume improvisation, I would highly recommend using the center of the room with the back against the left side wall. Due to the odd shape of the stage section there is a tendency of the sound to stay built-in the immediate surroundings of the musicians with an invisible acoustic wall screening the sound from the nearby audience.
On another level I could experience a mixture of the duo with the noise of about 50 people trying to remain silent but occasionally releasing a muted caugh or repositioning themselves on their seats as well as a multitude of assorted sound of micro movements of keys, glasses, digi-cams (including mine)... I have to admit that I specially enjoy this kind of ambient listening.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

For Malachi

On friday november 3 Malachi Ritscher immolated himself near the "Flame of the Millenium" sculpture in Chicago. You can read about it here through the distorted mould of daily news, but I would rather suggest going straight to his website where he has a letter explaining his act (a "mission statement") and his self-written obituary. Peter Margasak also wrote a piece about him in his blog.
I would definitely prefer him to be alive at the moment as he was a unique listener of free and creative music as well as a devoted anti-war/pro-peace activist. He probably had his reasons to commit suicide, they do not concern us or the general public but we have to recgnise that the man was truthful to his passions and ideas even up to his final act. Think about it, he burned himself under the "Flame of the Millenium" with these words written nearby: "Thou Shalt Not Kill". As he puts it he spent most of his life fighting against his fears and at this moment he seemed to no longer fear death: "My position is that I only get one death, I want it to be a good one. Wouldn't it be better to stand for something or make a statement, rather than a fiery collision with some drunk driver?". And a statement he did make, here is the crux of it: "if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world", he is of course refering to the war in Irak financed by his own tax payments. He had a very hard time coping with Bush's election and the ensuing foreign policy of his country as you can read in three of his single page websites: and
He dreamt of being a writer and in his only book that "was under consideration by publishers" he advocated for the possibility of suicide after 50, today he would be 52.
He recorded more than 2000 (!!!!) concerts of improvised music, free jazz or alternative rock for no money at all, only because he was "just a big fan". Musicians in Chicago will probably feel something is missing in the upcoming year as they could spot at every concert sitting in the front row under his headphones. This is where I met him one day when I was touring the East Coast (I think it was at the Hungry Brain). He came up to me at one point, presented himself and spontaneously apologized for what his country was doing to my part of the world. I was totally surprised as I was begining to think after 2 weeks accross the atlantic that americans along cared and talked about america. I replied that he had absolutely nothing to apologize about, a passionate discussion about politics followed and slowly drifted into more conversations about free improvisation and life in general. We kept in contact eversince as he was the best person I was given to meet in the US who was not a musician.
It is specially painful for me to read these words: "If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country". It made me jump on my seat and want to go back to that night at the Hungry Brain to push this discussion further. Little did I know at the time that what I thought was an amusing sentence had such strong underlying strength and meaning... so long Malachi.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The world according to Jean Pallandre

In july 2004 Christine & I spent 2 weeks in Lebanon with Jean Pallandre. We played one concert at Rue 24 but mostly we travelled through Lebanon to record various soundscapes, both typical and un-typical, urban, coastal and in the countryside and mountainside. Sometimes actually playing acoustical instruments in these soundscapes at improbable hours (dusk and dawn). We have kept on performing as a trio using these field recordings and sometimes inviting other musicians to perform inside of this specific sound world. The recordings in great part determines the shape of the inmprovisations in an attempt to inscribe the acoustics into the soundfield.
This time we decided to finally record the trio's work in the optimal conditions of the GMEA studios in Albi so the music should finally be available on record sometime next year.
We performed it live in Bergerac in a theater festival in immigrant areas of the city to an audience mostly composed of kids and people who have never experienced any similar music. Always a very challenging task. But obviously the trio's music is very attractive to them because of the familiarity of sounds, simplicity of movements and mixture of different layers through which the ear can navigate through even without proper training.
The next day we where at La Maison Peinte, where Jean decided to surprise us all by not using his phonographies, but, for the first time of his life, only his own voice. A very radical shift for someone who is so used to working with other people's voices as musical material. In front of a very reduced audience (under 10), it seems that we did a very powerful set, precise, dynamic, playful, with Jean's low pitched voice providing sounds and poems that both fit into and bolstered the music.

Later on Jean confronted us with his thoughts about phonography: why is it that phonography is not recognised by the major art institutions? The french SACEM rejects it as being mere 'sound effects', while it represents to the ear the same relation as photography (hence the name) to the eye. Photography was quickly instigated as a powerful and promising art form (I can think of Munch and Strindberg's experiments for instance), while phonography is still widely unknown or rejected as an integral art form. Another example of the lower status of our ears in humanity's general appreciation of art?

Picture courtesy of Zéhavite Cohen.

Alto Duo @ La Maison Peinte

La Maison Peinte is by far the most impressive place I was given to perform or see concerts in in France. It is in no way a venue but in fact the living room of Heddy Boubaker's house, however it is not an ordinary house, it is his wife Zéhavite Cohen's master work of art. She is a painter and visual artist and this room is certainly her most impressive work. There is no point in describing or picturing it. To see it, even experience it, you have no choice but to actually be there.
On that night Heddy played a duo with Christine, both of them have worked together extensively, often with Jean-Luc Guionnet in an alto trio setting. You would expect a very mimetic concert from the two similar reeds but in fact since the very first sound they reflexively move in separate parallel directions, creating a distorted atmosphere: aquatic, aerial, creeping... There where some weaker moments when they would both try to create some very distinct breath or percussive sounds that would sound untypical of the alto, in an attempt to avoid the obvious ground on which they could operate on, but they would quickly find a new path towards other strange equilibriums. Wath else to say? They coverred the whole sound spectrum of this instrument and beyond, both with and without the mouthpiece.
Three years ago I used to consider Heddy as a good post-aylerian saxophonist, maybe I was wrong, but still I am amazed at how much ground he has coverred in a totally different area of the saxophone since then.
A great set in a great place.

Picture courtesy of Zéhavite Cohen.