Le son de l'art à sa naissance (Art's Birthday 2010)

march 18, 2010.

It was only at the very last moment that I realized the scope of Ars Acustica's Art's Birthday event organized in cooperation with the European Broadcast Union. ab logo I was impressed: 17 European national broadcast organizations had commissioned audio works, each of a duration of 20 minutes. At the occasion of Art's Anniversary, on january 17th, these were presented live on location in the participating countries, between 20h and 00h, according to a strict schedule. The EBU had set up two satellite channels, via the European Radio Satellites Ravel and Verdi, which offered all these contributions ready-to-broadcast, along with signature tunes and broadcast identifications, to the participating national radio organizations, which could use and mix them 'live' and ad libitum, each in their own, national, 4 hour Art's Birthday broadcast.

It had been a nice surprise to learn that the Swiss radio, Radio Suisse Roumande Espace 2 had granted me its 2010 Art's Birthday commission. Also - but not only, of course - because very early on january 16th it had me easy-jet over snow-covered mountains, from Amsterdam to Geneva, and then roll on by train along the lake, to Lausanne.
The Swiss live Art's Birthday party took place there, in Lausanne, at Cinéma Oblo, co-produced by Rue Du Nord.

You may know that the idea of an Art's Birthday was proposed in 1963 by the French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou. One million years ago, Filliou decided, there was no art yet. But then, on a january 17th (which, btw, is also Filliou's own day of birth; but that is logical), someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water, and art was born. From 1963 onwards Filliou has been celebrating Art's Birthday along with his own. It was only after Filliou's demise, in 1987, that more and more artists and organizations world-wide began celebrating Art's Birthday, in many different forms and formats, always on the 17th of january.

It is of course no coincidence that Robert Filliou was a close friend of Daniel Spoerri's. A long passage in the Topographie Anecdotée du Hasard consists in a transcription of a tape that - as Spoerri writes, 'almost by accident' - captured a conversation between Filliou and Spoerri, on october 7th, 1961, in which the idea for the Topographie, as it then was executed by Spoerri ten days later, is taking its definite shape. At the time the Swiss radio commission was confirmed, I had already planned that this spring, with A Table!, we would re-construct Spoerri's table as it was on october 17th, 1961 at 15h47, in room 13 of the Hotel de Carcassonne, Rue Mouffetard in Paris. This will be our A Spoerri Table! (demon-table, car ça sonne). The table and the documentation of its re-creation will be realized with support of Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels (Belgium) and Extrapool in Nijmegen (the Netherlands). The re:table will be exposed, explained and used as an instrument in a series of performances later this year.

Early on I knew the subject/title of my Art's Birthday present: "Le son de l'art à sa naissance, était-il le même que le son de l'art aujourd'hui ?". It was this question that I clearly remember someone asking me on a cold late december morning last year, while I was barely yet awake. But what in the end then became my answer was quite a surprise. Also to me. The piece developed into a 20 mins 10 secs audio-faction, a sonico-musical reflection on the concept of being born. Its abstract & summary could be thus: "Art's birth - like any other 'coming into being' - corresponds to a fall and to its dual: a hole. It is a passage, from an α/ω to an ω/α; it is as much an end as it is a beginning." All the sound and music that together make up the piece either literally or metaphorically correspond to at least one of these three notions: fall, hole, passage. Key-ingredient is a recording I made one summer night in 2003, when I suddenly found myself tumbling into a hole in the floor of a dark garage somewhere in Paris, while my dictaphone was running and recording.

At the Cinéma Oblo in Lausanne, during the broadcast, I live 'subtitled' the part of the piece that re-counts my adventures during that night in Paris, for the local viewers to read along. If you click the image to the left, it will bring up the little picozine that I made to accompany the piece. Clicking the larger pictures below leads to the corresponding pdf-file, which you can use to make your own physical copy of the 'Le son de l'art à sa naissance'-pico.

"Le son de l'art à sa naissance" is many-layered, with lots of intricate inter-relations, meanings and cross-references. It combines dictaphone/field recordings and found sounds from my archives (some dating back as long ago as 30 years, some from only yesterday), and music I composed in the 1990s, the time that I was not-a-musician; these are curious pieces, that live in a temporal vacuum, unrelated (in my personal history) to all music that was before and all that came after. It is a not-music; or rather, sort of a musique-de-passage, that perfectly fits the story of my fall on that summer night in Paris, some ten years later.

pico 292 / 1
pico 292 / 2

Art's Birthday's event at the Cinéma Oblo in Lausanne started with a live performance by the German duo Pirx (Marion Wörle, laptop, and Maciej Sledziecki, guitar). My piece was broadcast between 22h40 and 23h local time (GMT + 1), on Swiss Espace 2, and relayed by the EBU satellite Ravel. I missed the second of two short performances by the Ensemble Rue du Nord (for this occasion consisting in Luc Müller, Dragos Tara, Raphael Raccuia and Jonas Kocher), as Espace 2 director Alexandre Barrelet drove me up to the RSR studios in the Avenue du Temple, to participate in the last half hour of the Art's Birthday emission, presented by Anne Gillot and Yves Bron.

rsr studio

In the studio, with Anne and Yves, we embarked upon a long chat - about sound, tapes, music, meaning and blogging - that was a pretty much seamless follow-up and elaboration of the live telephone interview I did with Anne for RSR Couleurs 3 last summer, and which concentrated on foundtaping and the story of Greek Eloise and Dutch Abelard that was on the blog around that time.

Oh, and à propos foundtaping: the next day Lausanne bathed in mid-winter sunlight. I took the metro down to the lake, which is an interesting thing to do by itself, if only to hear the customized jingles announcing each of the metro's stops. These short 'stop'-sonifications were made by a Lausanne artist. That's laudable. Other cities should follow Lausanne's example. And then why not change the sounds on a regular basis, say yearly, and every year invite another local artist to sonify the city's public transport?

Lausanne in mid-winter

From Ouchy I walked in western direction out into the suburbs. From there I made a big round before descending again in the direction of the center of town. Underway in the streets, I found an electronic drum-pad, a nice black umbrella, and a brand new iPod/iPhone USB Power Adapter. But, as during my earlier visit to Switzerland, not a single tape was waiting there for me.

That of course is the way it is. Hardly a disappointment, but a - more or less remarkable - matter of fact, as finding can not be forced.


My Swiss Art's Birthday party started at Cinéma Oblo already on saturday, with the second edition of OHRWURM, a micro-festival dedicated to radiophony and the arts of sound co-organized by Oblo, Kabak and ARN. Special guest at the OHRWURM evening on saturday january 16th was the Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine, with Jérôme Noetinger, Christophe Auger and Xavier Quérel. As part of their 'carte blanche' that evening, the Metamkine's projected a couple of classic sound pieces: extracts from Pierre Henry's "La ville. Die Stadt" (1984), Hildegard Westerkamp's "A walk through the city" (1981) and Walter Ruttman's "Weekend" (1930). The (Oblo) cinéma proved to be a great place for concentrated listening to these classics, that were preceded by a projection of Luciano Berio's "Visage" (1961) and followed by two radio-documentaries produced for Arte Radio: "La Muette", by Mehdi Ahoudig (2008) and "L'usine et ses fantômes" by Nicolas Ruffault (2005). The pretty obvious 'sonic difference' between the radio documentaries and the sound pieces we had been listening to before, gave rise to a lively discussion on musicality, musical listening and the creation of sound based works, a discussion that hit upon thoughts and ideas that you may have encountered before here and there in these SoundBlog's writings and that for now I will leave you to reflect upon yourself. We will surely come back to this, one way or another.

OHRWURM came to an end with a spectacular sono-cinematographic presentation by the Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine, who to this end had brought with them an impressive collection of - mostly vintage - sound- and image-machinery, well-suited to emerge victorious from the fiercest of audiovisual battles.

Whether they did unbruised and with little or no collateral damage shall have to remain a matter of opinion. The battle is not over yet.


[ related: amazing 'son de l'art à sa naissance' t-shirt ]

tags: Art's Birthday, Lausanne

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