"An extraordinary document of an experiment in which three improvisers - Pascal Battus (rotating surfaces and found objects), Bertrand Gauguet (saxophones) and Eric La Casa (microphones) - played at a working building site in Paris, adapting their playing to integrate the sounds and gestures of the workers at the site."-Another Timbre
"Interview with Eric La Casa and Pascal Battus
'Chantier 1' clearly isn't an ordinary music recording. Can you tell us about the background to the project, and how it worked?
ELC: What is 'an ordinary music recording'? Probably this is the heart of this project. I don't make a 'clear' distinction between all the (sound) layers within the real. This means that my listening has no predetermined focus. Of course I have a long experience of listening and recording in many contexts. And this background forms the base of every new work. But I insist on this concept again: as a researcher (in humanities) I am always refining my recording processes when on site. I rarely have the answers before the recordings session itself because a site will often only reveal its density/complexity during the listening process, my survey. Channelling all those energies from the site, questions progressively appear and change...
I would say that this project is "clearly" (using your word) linked to my personal listening. I have been working on many site specific projects for 20 years or so... and especially with musicians in everyday contexts. In France, I have already made projects in metro stations, car parks, garages, houses, etc... And I think what is important to say is that I am involved as an improviser in all these projects. I am not making a technical recording; I use my microphones to improvise a relation between the context and the musicians... maybe the musicians become part of the context. I never consider my role as a technician. This is a huge difference when I start discussing a project with musicians. I am very active when I record and so am constantly listening to all sounds as part of a music in motion... a living music. Aim/intention and intuition/instinct are mixed up in one recording...
PB: Bertrand Gauguet and I have played together since 2006. There shouldn't be any differences between acoustic and amplified instruments, but our instrumentation (alto saxophone and rotating surfaces) has led us to pay close attention to the acoustics of the places where we were playing. Out of that came the idea of playing and recording in locations which have a strong sonic identity. Eric la Casa - who's familiar with both improvisation and phonography - was our choice for handling the recording.
After looking at several possibilities, we opted for a building site in Paris. The project had two phases: first the recording at the building site, then a recording at somewhere with a neutral acoustic, where we would try to recall our experiences of the building site.
The exact way in which things unfolded escapes me, because once on location it was a process of constant displacement. About twelve years ago a group in which I was active called TOPOPHONIE used to organise events at which about 20 artists of various sorts would go to a particular place ( a forest, a museum, a piece of uncultivated land, a laundrette...) and spend up to three hours or more listening and working there as dancers, musicians etc. In this sort of location-based work, and at the building site especially, I found myself on a completely unfamiliar ground, where I had to abandon my physical and mental habits to best capture the rich potential of the situation, and where concentration on sound alone had to give way to an attentiveness towards everything that was happening in the here and now (our effect on the workers, and vice versa).
Could you say a bit more about the interaction with the workers at the building site? I'd guess from just listening to the recordings that there was a mixture of different reactions to your presence and your music.
ELC : "Interaction" is a strong concept and I wouldn't use this word to describe what happened during the recording. Our relationship with the workforce was sincere but minimal because most of them were doing their regular jobs. As one of them said to another (who was watching and listening to us): "go back to work". And probably this was because we were all working as regular workers. But our musical presence on site provoked many reactions while playing / recording, and some questions during our breaks. Thanks to the manager, who helped out by following us around and briefly explaining our project to the workers, we finally made good contact with some Kurdish workers (mostly electricians) who were very interested in music and tried to demonstrate to us what music means in Kurdistan (sorry, Turkey). For example, at midday, during the break, a few workers sang a Kurdish song to us. And on the roof another Kurdish worker played some music (from his smartphone) to show us their traditional music and compare it with our improvisation (you can hear this on the last track of the cd).
Of course we needed permission to record in the building. So we'd met the manager and visited the site several weeks before recording. She agreed to allow us into any areas so long as we complied with the safety regulations (wearing a hard hat, for example). Her permission was given on the basis of her understanding of the project (she's a great fan of improvised music) and her personal choice. So the workers themselves didn't know about our project and recording. They only found out during the recording itself. As you probably know, there are so many different jobs on a building site that it wasn't possible to meet up with all the workers before the recording. Once on site, our relation with the workers wasn't an interaction, but a friction of different people with different aims: the music created a zone of influences. But this is a very interesting question: from where or what can I consider my work or my life as being in interaction with my surroundings?
PB: The workers are the heart of the building site, but the site is a Tower of Babel with different and distinct communities (Africans, Arabs, Turks...), and communicating with them wasn't always easy. The pressure to get on with their jobs was palpable, but didn't prevent some extraordinary exchanges. Beyond an apparent indifference, or the need to focus on the job at hand, some of the workers showed a curiosity that could be either mistrustful or amused. One worker (perhaps a plumber) while passing Bertrand, who was making breathy noises into his sax, said 'watch out, something's leaking'. And, as Eric said, later when we were playing on the roof, one of the workers asked what we were doing, and when we explained and carried on, he took out his phone and made us listen to the music of his people: a Kurdish shepherd playing a kaval flute.
I like the fact that although we were all focused on what we were doing, there was a mutual respect and from time to time there were interruptions and communications.
Yes, I really like that moment you both refer to - in fact I really like the whole of that long last track. I didn't realise till now that you were out on the roof at that point, but it makes sense because the track feels like an overview (metaphorically and literally) of the whole project. I find it quite magical the way that the 'musical' sounds Pascal and Bertrand are making now seem thoroughly integrated into the overall environment, one element amongst others. Does it feel different from the other tracks to you too?
ELC : There were two major differences. As you say, the first one was the position in the building; we were on the roof, and this made a big change in our perception of the whole site. The second difference was the workers themselves, who are directly interacting with us during the first minutes... they were also around us, looking at and listening to us. If I remember correctly, this was one of our last recordings, and it was mid-afternoon. Most of workers wanted to have a break (as we did). It was sunny and quite warm. On the roof, 6/8 men (no women) were moving around all the time at the beginning of the recording: some of them around us and others working on the roof and at the top of facade. The acoustics were very different from inside the building : no walls, a flat roof and a large courtyard... and wind. It was clearly an open space and a new context (in relation to the city, and its sounds) as compared to all the other recordings which were done inside the building (from the car park to offices and the atrium at the centre). This was the only recording we did outside the building. So there are a number of reasons why this recording was different, and why these differences renew our listening to the building and modify our understanding of the project.
PB: This track was the last recording on our journey. We were coming from a take inside the building which was rather trying both because of its length and the amount of energy used, and also because of the level of surrounding noise. So to come out onto the roof was in itself a welcome breath of fresh air. Sounds were no longer confined by four - or rather six - walls or surfaces, but seemed to be swallowed up into the sky from where they'd return as part of the general hubbub of the city. This is what gives the impression of the track being an overview of the whole, but is in fact just a real depth of sound which is perfectly captured by Eric: from the closeness of our sounds (and those of the workers around us), the voice of the Turkish labourer who spoke to me, to the cries of those working further away, and the distant crashes which came to us with a strong reverberation, along with the surrounding sounds of the city.
So let's go to the studio tracks. Although they're placed at the start of the disc, they were recorded later, and you said that you wanted 'a neutral acoustic where you could recall your experiences of the building site'. Could you explain how this 'remembering' worked in practice, and why did you choose to put these later 'memory' tracks at the beginning of the disc?
ELC: How to briefly speak about memory and its role in music? ...
Firstly it's important to say again that the Gauguet /Battus duo was formed years before these recordings. So they already had a history of working together both in the studio and in concerts, so in fact their main issue was how to record with me and with the workers on the building site! This changes your question. For a musician a studio is more "natural". He can control all parameters and has no disturbance. In this case they'd had a strong sound experience on site and probably had a "score" in their memory... some of their gestures, sound situations, and feelings. You are probably right when you speak about a recall of a previous experience but it's mixed in with their way of playing together in studio and live. The studio recordings were made after a period of a few months; they had to focus on just this experience, and to "forget" all the other ones. In my own mind I can still feel this experience, but I also realise that my memory of it is disturbed by many other experiences I've had both since and from before it. Improvisation was used as a trigger to reach across this lapse of time.
PB: The concept of 'remembering the building site' was left deliberately imprecise and offered a wide range of interpretations. Memory could be a point of departure or a driver, or it could be a modulator of our playing. And of course we'd already listened to the recordings, so they were also superimposed over our memories and might have denaturalised or even supplanted our sonic memories of the lived experience. At any rate for my part I regarded my own memories as being stretched synaesthetically to include my visual and tactile impressions of the building site. There the sounds a worker was making stopped whenever his task was finished, so I tried to find different logics for playing...something closer to making gestures than sound-production. And I have to say that for me it was relatively easy to consider the rotating surfaces that I was using - which can be really messy - as an activity in a workshop.
As to your second question, I think that the decision to put the studio tracks first allowed us to foreground the nature of the overall project, and perhaps to defy the expectations of the listener - which seems to have worked for you!
I find your project a particularly fruitful way of combining environmental sounds with music, and I notice that it's called 'Chantier 1'. Does this mean that you're already planning other projects in different environments along the same lines?
PB Yes, we're looking for other sites where we can further deepen the experience, and we're also thinking about ways of realising such a project in concert... And I'm currently working on another piece which combines pure field recording with on site sonic gestures/playing, using trees as the common ground or meeting point.
ELC This is a very important question. When we start a project we don't think of all its consequences or its endpoint.; working on a project has no predetermined aim ... And during any particular process we are constantly inventing new paths or questions, which stretch our listening and test our tastes. The end result will take place within these collective- and self-explorations ... all these drifts into life. We experience our own capacity to travel together in one direction, maybe without any compass - improvisation as a social act. This is why we are all actively involved in improvisation: to find ways in which to surpass ourselves. I try to multiply my connections with the world and so with the people around me... to enlarge my little self. And when you find people with whom this is possible, you start a dialogue. With Chantier we touched on something that we had all ignored... something we are still trying to explain and to experience again. Because our trio is based on this site-specific sound experience in real time."-Another Timbre
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At The Squid's Ear!
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1. Track 01 9:14
2. Track 02 10:25
3. Track 03 5:58
4. Track 04 6:01
5. Track 05 5:35
6. Track 06 9:21
7. Track 07 15:36