Martin Bril (1959 - 2009)

april 23, 2009.

[ podcast :: sbpc 30 ... s ]

martin brilA little over eleven years ago, on saturday january 24th, 1998, together with Pjotr van Moock, Tim Benjamin and Peter Mertens, I was in the - no rehearsals - impromptu 'in-één-keer-goed' band that backed the performance of Martin Bril during Dirk van Weelden's Orville-weekend in Theater De Balie in Amsterdam. The band was put together by Peter - on Martin's request - from members of a number of 'obscure and legendary' 1970s/1980s Amsterdam post-punk groups (Jan van de Grond Groep, The Young Lions, Rogier van der Ploeg Experience). Most of us had not been playing together for at least fifteen years, but as such things go, that evening - improvising a rocky context for Martin's reading of a number of his columns and stories (in dutch) - felt as if the last time had only been yesterday ... It was also yesterday, while searching for papers that I needed for the yearly ordeal that is the filling out of tax forms, that in a cupboard I came across a file that I had forgotton about. On it there was written "Bril & v/d Grond". And in it I found some print-outs of emails concerning that long-ago-event and print-outs of the texts that Martin was going to read.

There was also an audio-cassette.

Only few hours later I was reached by the sad news that in Amsterdam Martin had succumbed to the cancer that he had been fighting for so long ...

This podcast, "Witte knieën, rok 'n' roll", is an extract from the cassette that I found in that forgotten file, on which there was a recording of our 1998 performance in De Balie.

We will not forget Martin.

tags: Martin Bril, Amsterdam

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Junk me up, Scotty!

april 21, 2009.

Here's how captain Rébus pictured his crew, at the Orsay RER station this sunday april 19th, shortly after 16h, where we joined him to go out on a suburban junk hunt. (Click to enlarge)

junk hunting crew

At the flanks there's (left) Jodi Rose (over from Maastricht for the weekend, on her way to yet another bridge, in Besançon), and (right) me. In the middle there's Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki, who had just come flying in from New York (jet lagged and all).

Jonah and Katherine are in Paris to lead one of their Scrapyard Challenge Workshops, in which they guide the participants - who will not need to have any specific skills in electronics or experience with technology - in the process of developing a short electronics project, with as its goal the building of a simple musical controller out of discarded objects and junk. But the two did not come flying over from the States with boxes filled with discarded electric equipment, broken toys and other junk. Of course they did not. That's why we all were there at the Orsay station, around 4pm: led and guided by Rébus, we would go and look for thrown away stuff for Jonah and Katherine to use in their Scrapyard Challenge. Like in most Parisian suburbs, once a month the inhabitants are allowed to put their big waste outside (encombrants, we say in French; grootvuil, in Dutch), for the municipal refuse collection services to pick up the day after. For the community of Bures-sur-Yvette, april 19th was one of those days.

It had been a gray and gloomy weekend so far in and around the French capital, but quite suddenly the sun broke through, and chased away the clouds. Spring actually was smiling down upon us, as we set out on our junk-tour through the neighborhood, which I actually knew quite well, as until recently my parents-in-law have been living around here.

Straight from the station Rébus first took us on a tour of the Orsay University campus, where he knows the precise location of every single dumpster; of every single skip, as the British call them.


Besides being a mathematician, researcher, a musician, an artist and an inventor, like most of the other Ana-R's, also Rébus is a junk and waste-specialist. But whereas Cosmo and FlexRex will mainly harvest their goods in the far eastern regions of the capital, it is in these south-western parts that Rébus knows his way like no other. In his comprehensive and highly recommended uTube chronicles, you may view several revealing short reportages on the sometimes rather questionable habits of waste disposal as practiced by several of the institutes and laboratories on the green and very spacious Orsay campus. (Clicking the thumbs below lets you view three of Rébus 'Orsay Waste' uTubes; or, alternatively, click here for a list of all of them ...)

orsay waste 1 orsay waste 2 orsay waste 3

We went through almost all of the Orsay Campus skips, starting with those near the Institut Curie, and the Institut de Physique Nucléaire, and from there working our way around.

We came upon a huge pile of discarded computing and other equipment at the back of the electronics building, among which there was a heavy and impressive gray-blue box with meters, leds and knobs labeled "Analgic - Système modulaire". (See the first photo just below - click to see it larger.) None of us had nor has the slightest clue on what the thingy is, or used to be, for.


Besides the vintage Mac floppy drive that Katherine is walking off with in the second picture, in the last one you see Jodi carrying a Minitel, also found amidst the rubbish stored behind the Orsay Electronics building. Of course our anglophonic guests wondered what the funny little brown plastic monitor with the tip-up keyboard was. For how could they have known? Jodi will have seen one before, though she probably just didn't notice. When she stayed in Berlin she did frequent Madame Claude, one of the German capital's French (sub-)cultural strongholds, and there is a Minitel standing there in the hall, as a prop ... (There's a picture of it at the end one of the first of the SoundBlog's entries on last year's Tuned City festival). But of course one only really starts asking questions when things like this start popping out of university campus dumpsters ...
And they did ...
Here's another one, broken.


Between roughly 1982 and 1999 it was the Minitel that really distinguished France from the rest of the world. In no other country an interactive videotex telecommunication network succeeded to become so integrated in daily life as in France, where its ubiquity made it frencher than the Eiffel Tower or the Tour de France, frencher than Coco Chanel or Yves Saint-Laurent, frencher even than Pierre Boulez. There was a Minitel in almost every household, and at least one in every business. We reserved all of our places and bought all of our tickets, for whatever, by hitting '3615'-something on the Minitel. Throughout most of the 1990s me and my colleagues at home (or wherever else in France) used the Minitel, and not a computer, to log on to the university's Unix system. In terminal mode I read and wrote email, followed what was going on in my favorite usenet groups, ftp-ed stuff from here to there and from there to here, corrected errors in the papers I was working on (yes, in vi...!), then ran them through LaTeX again; or I just hung out for a while in some or other of the MUD's that were popular in those days. That was perfect. It worked flawlessly. Geen centje pijn.

The Minitel undoubtedly is the icon of end-of-20th century France. And though as of the start of the new millennium with the advent of internet broadband connections its use has strongly dropped, France Telecom actually came back on an earlier decision to discontinue the service, as it still registers some 10 million monthly connections for the couple of thousand Minitel service numbers that continue to be accessible ... Sooner or later most of the little terminals will end up in the streets though ... I must have at least two (different) models waiting for that moment to arrive, dans la cave ...

Other than Minitels? Well, we did get the impression that this sunday in the regions south-west of Paris it was sort of 'high-time-I-trash-my-old-printer' day. They were everywhere, all sorts of types and models, so many that we could easily have filled up more than one van with them. Of course we did not take them all, but Jonah and Katherine did pick some of which foremost the mechanical parts might be of use to the participants in thursday's workshop.

Jonah printer chez Rébus

After our tour of the Orsay Campus, we drove over to Rébus' house in Bures. There we emptied the back of the mini-van in his front yard, and contemplated the pretty impressive pile, with a drink and lots of good cheese.

Somewhat later that evening we continued our hunt, and again took the mini-van, now to tour the residential areas of and around Bures. Rébus took us on the trip that usually he does on bicycle, which has as its only disadvantage that it will be difficult to instantly take and transport big stuff. If - as is Rébus's as well as my case - your main interest is easy-to-carry-in-a-bag stuff (like tapes, photographs, letters, books ...), the bicycle gives you a lot of advantage: it is more flexible, and it gives you more time to look and judge in passing whether a certain pile of junk is worth stopping for and looking at in more detail.

What did we pick up? Too much to mention all of it really ... there were toys, lamps, pieces of foam, vacuum cleaners, dvd players, record players, a pair of skis, assorted pieces of metal ... I picked up a cardboard box filled with cassettes (tapes that I will 'recycle', as I do not include such massive finds in the Found Tapes Exhibition), at two spots smaller cassette finds (of only one or two, which I do include), and a pile of as-good-as-new Blueberry cartoon books, that I took for the kids.

cassette bleuberry

Jetlag got the most of Jonah and Katherine, while we continued to cruise Bures-sur-Yvette, and they fell asleep in the back of the blue mini-van ...

Not far from Rébus's house, near the end of our little tour, we came upon two big cardboard boxes, filled with pictures, postcards and letters. Rébus and I each took a little sample, leaving the bulk behind. Especially the letters caught my interest. Most of them were letters to Denise. There were letters in French, letters in English, letters in Spanish, and letters to Denise in Dutch ... The eldest ones I took (in French) are dated end 1946; the most recent one (in Dutch) was from 1998. So the letters in those boxes out there on the Bures' pavement must have spanned pretty much all of Denise's lifetime ...

defenceAmong the letters to Denise there was also a small 20 page manuscript, pretty old from the sight of it. It is the text of a lawyer's defense, in a lawsuit filed against a medical doctor, who was named sole and universal heir by his wife, but only in the course of the latter's short and fatal illness. Whether and how this lawsuit is related to Denise, of course I don't know ... I particularly liked page 5, in which the defense argues that not only a medical doctor, but any husband whatsoever, has ample means to poisson his wife: "Tt mari même non médecin est capable s'il le veut, de percer une boîte de conserves de champignons quelques jours avant de la donner à sa femme. Il obtiendra ainsi du botulisme dont l'effet est appréciable et recommandé." (You may click the picture to enlarge and read the original.)

wies' diaryIt reminds me of another somewhat peculiar story related to a find that Rébus did, last year, near the Jourdain tube station in Paris, where he picked up a diary from 1976, written by a then 9 years young girl, in Dutch, together with a sketchbook containing fine fashion drawings, by the same girl, but then obviously older already - all of it in a box containing lots of tissue, if I remember rightly. The diary is that of perfectly normal 1970s middle class dutch girl, living a happy 1970s middle class dutch girl's life, and writing excitingly about school, friends, family and about her first ever trip to Paris. During the Ana-R Found Footage event in La Miroiterie on september 10th last year, I used the diary in a short performance, reading out loud some of its Paris related parts, in Dutch.
The girl's name is Wies Schulte, and she was easy to find on the internet. Wies actually is living and working in Paris as a fashion designer, and I phoned her up, telling her that a friend had found one of her old diaries and a sketchbook in the streets of Paris. What was somewhat curious about that phone call, is that she neither seemed surprised by that fact, nor particularly interested in it. I later sent my son over to her Belleville office, to bring her the diary and sketchbook back. He unfortunately did not insist on handing them over to Wies in person, and left them with a secretary. We never heard from Wies again.


Okay, back to the Scrapyard Challenge, as by now Jonah and Katherine will be wide awake again ...


HP La Hacqui


It was getting late, and we went back to Rébus's house, where we added the second load to the stuff already stocked in the front yard, for Katherine and Jonah to make a selection of what they'd want to keep, and what we'd just put back onto the street.

Bures Bures

With the mini-van packed with junk, we then drove into Paris, where we dumped all of it in the back of the conference room of the Palais de Tokyo. Because of course it is there that the adventure will continue, this thursday april 23rd, when Jonah and Katherine will be there to lead their Scrapyard Challenge Workshop. I'll be there as well, and mighty curious what will come out of all the stuff we picked up in Orsay and Bures this sunday ...

[ The Scrapyard Challenge Workshop is part of the series of events organized by Dorkbot Paris in the Palais de Tokyo on the occasion of the current "Gakona" exhibition. It is going to happen on thursday april 23rd, from 14h-22h. Participation is by reservation only, and all places have already been taken. But there will be a public and free-of-entrance presentation of the results of the workshop, also on thursday, starting at 21h. (Palais de Tokyo - 13, avenue du Président Wilson - Paris XVI) ]

[ added may 12th, 2009 : Rébus compiled a short uTube video-portrait of the Orsay junk-hunt. ]

next: Strange things with or without electrickery

tags: found footage, found tapes, scrapyard challenge, Paris

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