On Friday April 6th, at the IESA, Paris, Arnaud Rivière, presented and explained to the 2018 class in Performing Arts Practices and Management a great many details on the history, ideology, energies, organisation, running and funding of the highly acclaimed Sonic Protest Festival - dedicated to experimental music and art - that this year saw its 14th edition and of which Arnaud is one of the founders, organisers and programmers.
Sonic Protest is an originally Parisian URFOlk initiative that evolved into a European music and sound artfestival, which since 2003 has continued to transcend the spectrum of musical genres, auscultating and investigating each of them from within their most demanding and extreme margins. The festival's unity in programming therefore is typically in the requirement of a radicality in artistic approach. Academic electro-acoustic music is found rubbing shoulders with deviant pop music, post-punk noise, sound poetry and musical equivalents of art brut. A hallmark of the Sonic Protest festival is the large space given to artists whose work is truly unclassifiable, like that of André Robillard, a self-taught handyman born in 1931 and a psychiatric hospital intern since the age of 19, who could be seen performing at the festival's 2017 edition, alongside The Nihilist Spasm Band active in the noise music scene since the 1960s.
What follows is a near to complete, unabridged and very litteral transcription of the sound recording that I made of Arnaud's talk, for use by the students as reference and lecture notes.

SoundBlog PAPAM entries:

(2020, november 10) - Zingaro, equestrian theatre (papam18_5)
(2019, december 22) - Rendez-vous Contemporains de Saint-Merry (papam19_2)
(2019, october 11) - STEIM, Amsterdam (papam19_1)
(2018, may 05) - La Gaîté Lyrique (papam18-4)
(2018, april 30) - IRCAM (papam18-3)
(2018, april 20) - Sonic Protest Festival (papam18-2)
(2018, april 10) - La Générale Nord_Est (papam18-1)

SoundBlog entries around the Sonic Protest Festival:

(may 06, 2006) - hors temps (Cosmodrone - Orguanisation)
(april 08, 2014) - La physicalité du son. Tome 1.
(august 04, 2016) - Nicolas Collins - 2 April 2016, La Générale

53 min read 🤓

Sonic Protest Festival (papam18-2)

april 20, 2018.

« C'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron ! »

Sonic Protest 2015

[hs] « Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you for the second part of our morning session mister Arnaud Rivière, who I have known for quite some time. I think that the first time I met you, Arnaud, we were both performing aux Voütes. »

[ar] « Yes! »

[hs] « That was, how long ago? I don't remember. »

[ar] « Fifteen years or so.

[hs] « Fifteen years! ... And then I also remember one little project of mine - related to Karlheinz Stockhausen and his summer courses in Kürten (Germany) - which was called Vicky's Mosquitos, and then you came to play with us in the Espace Jemmapes... Arnaud is a gifted improviser who is working, for example, with all sorts of metallic objects and things. To start, Arnaud, how would you describe your musical practice? »

[ar] « First of all I am a musician, working about the non-music effect of the music. Let's say that music is not only what is usually understood as music. I do my best to speak as good as English as possible... I am not that trained. I'm French. But I do my best. So if there are some words that are too French, as again, and I will try to translate thanks to Harold. So I'm used to first eh, so let's try to talk about this. I'm working since 20 years in the field of sound art. It's a place that I would describe as a cross path between noise music, art - visual art - eh noise music, le bruit de la musique, eh... the silence itself and eh this is the field where I operate since twenty years on many directions. I organise some events, concerts, exhibitions. For example, I play as a musician, maybe first, I do workshops and try to share my experience, like today. And workshops are mainly about sound as well. »


[ar] « First of all because it is all about aesthetics, about the way things are done. So way things, this festival is organised is just because it speaks about certain aesthetics, certain kind of art, certain kind of musics and certain kind of sound. For my personal experience, I used to be a drummer in a rock band, rock bands. And starting with this rock first try when I was very young, fifteen years old, I've been connected to more and more experimental music. Because rock, with the punk influence you could say 'Okay, maybe I don't know this but I can authorise myself to try!' So you don't need to be very skilled to try to do other things than the things that are already eh that have been already learned to you. The way to do things for me were to authorise myself to go out of the field that was the first field that was eh made to be occupied by someone. So first if you are a drummer then I say 'Okay, maybe I play drum and then I add electronic sounds and then I add other scales, sounds that the...', the words that were written here on the board behind me here, like: electroacoustic sound. So when you are already in the punk rock scene and thinking about other kind, other ways to produce sound, like to record tapes and to play tapes when you play drums, then the music begin to be twisted and to open other fields. Then I was in touch with other kinds of musicians and, by the small movements, I just stopped to play áll the drums, and begin to play a reduced electronic kit with a kind of old turntable. Which used to be this instrument that the deejays are playing eh behind the MC in the hip-hop scene. And I played with the turntables and electronic stuff, that I used in other ways than engineers thought that it should be used. I thought about the function of the instrument, and I tried to make a transgression about the way the tool are used. For example, I used a mixer, to mix sounds, but I don't put sounds into the mixer to mix sounds, but I directly put electricity - voltage - in the mixer, so what we can hear, together with the audience is the way that, is what happens when you plug direct electricity in the mixer and you change obviously the, the nature of the sound. That said, my practice and my interest are mainly about noise, silence, sounds. And when you add all these things sometimes it can be music. So eh I was in my twenties, always in concert place, venues. Maybe one important thing, once all this has been said, is that my main interest is about performance, live action, maybe more than recording. When you are in the sound scene, maybe the two balance. One the scene, the stage, or the studio, the recording stuff. Now, in this, nowadays, I will add a third eh force: space. To play with sound is the sound art scene, the museum, the galleries, these kind of thing. One of my main interest is to put all these sounds out of all these spaces and to go more directly in the streets, to work more in the street art. In the sound street art. So it was all about performance and live, first. So I was always out to see things happening. I am not a trained musician, skilled or I never went to school of music, and I didn't really went to any school that made me go to a professional thing, at the opposite of the thing that you are, the, the... here. »


[ar] « So I was studying history for the... I was writing history thesis just for the beauty of the, eh the knowledge. So I learned a lot of things. But history was the only way to do a professional things was to teach. And I didn't want to teach history. So I was during the day at the school, at the university, learning history and then all the nights out to see concerts to see what, so my, my real school was to see people play music all night long every night. Basically, once I had to chose about professional path, I forget about history and said 'Okay, that's something that I will be able to read at home, I will, then it will be like a kind of leisure. And I want to try to something more about music.' So it was more difficult to think about just eh being able to earn money just by the way of playing music. I thought that it was too much tension between freedom of creativity and the way to earn money. And I wanted to, I was already very influenced by the punk scene, by the DIY, the Do-It-Yourself ethos, philosophy, that said: 'If you don't find someone who is interested to put you on stage, then you have to organise your own concerts.' So. I was not really in the squat scene. I thought it was quite, eh in Paris at least it was a little closed on certain aesthetics. The post-punk thing or punk thing, not even post punk, it was the punk played like twenty years before, and I was not interested at all in this kind of music. So I thought that if I want to put people on stage that I don't see often on stage then I have to organise concert, and I tried to, I then get in touch with a venue in Paris. Or in Montreuil, not in Paris, that is really important. What was happening in Paris was not that generous. It was at the beginning, it was last century, it was the end of the last century, more than twenty, twenty-five years ago. Paris was quite poor for the cultural offer, mainly the musical cultural offer. Now it's quite hard to imagine that twenty years before there was maybe half of the venues [that you find there now] »

Instant Chavirés

[ar] « I had heard about this place in Montreuil, the Instant Chavirés, and when I went to this place then thanks to improvised music I discovered a much larger kind of music that I was expected to know before. It was something that you must have in mind, it was before that internet was available in France. So it changed everything for the way information was eh circulated. It was a lot of paper, fanzine and tapes and CD's. So everything was much eh slower. Much, much slower. So when you found a kind of source, then if you... when I found this source, and then it's open to various ways, it was like a library that was closed before. And I get close to these people and I was engaged thanks to the eh arrival of internet in France. They were in their forties or fifties, I was in my twenties and they said 'Okay, this thing, internet, is arriving in France so we have to eh someone who is younger than us to understand what is happening with that thing.' So I began to work with them on graphic design and - web design and we eh quite eh soon after the beginning the artistic director said 'Okay obviously you know some stuff that we don't know about music, so maybe it would be good if you can do some proposals.' And after one year I was also co-booking the shows at the venue. It lasted for eight years and during these years of course we made a lot of connections with the venue with other partners in the city and there was at this period a very, very important record shop in Paris, in Bastille, called Bimbo Tower. It was, it has been open for... eh, it's closed now but it has been open for seventeen years, and this was this kind of source, pre-internet source where you can go and discover. You know two or three names in the shop, and then there's all these things that you don't know but that are connected to the thing that you already know. And we were beginning to work with that guy, Franq de Quengo, who was running the shop and eh in that shop it was basically eh .. a venue, a record shop and, thanks to the record shop and the, the venue we were in touch with a label, a recording label called Textile Records, and being three - Arnaud Rivière, Franq de Quengo and Benoit Sonette - with these three point of views about experimental music we thought that then we have a kind of global coverage of what would happen in Paris and we thought that there was something that were not already happening and in 2003 we eh we we actually we had the idea in 2002 to make it happen in 2003. We already were in that venue organising nights with this record shop or from time to time with this label, and the label was selling the records at the record shop of course. So we already worked as duo's and we thought it would be good to close the triangle and to have this global view about the field, the aesthetic field we were interested in. And we've heard about ehm an Argentine, an Argentinian band - Reynols - coming for the first time in Europe and leaded by eh, eh someone who has Down syndrome. The drummer - Miguel Tomasin - is the leader is a Down syndrome kid and he was working in an institution with two musicians and then he begans to be, it begins to be like a marvelous band for us, that was really eh breaking all boundaries between gender, eh kind of music and eh, more than music. And so we thought that this unique band should be welcomed in a unique event. Thist was the starter for us. And we thought that it was good to begin the festival for the first edition in 2003. »

Birth of the Sonic Protest Festival

[ar] « Here you see the, this kind of eh design that we used have on internet in 2003.Sonic Protest 2008 It was a very small festival, of two days only, in that venue, made by the three of us. It was just the start, but we really did not have in mind that it will be that long. So it was not like eh.. I was talking about this DIY energy, so it was the mix between DIY, professionalism, as I was engaged by this venue to work, and it was, is a day job. The label was volunteer. It is really important to speak about the economical way to do things, and it was half volunteer and half paid, but mainly all the money that we, eh, grabbed, was just to pay the artists and the sound system and the travels and that's it. And it was mainly paid by the tickets of the entrance, so it was a very small experiment, a very, very small economical... thing and since the beginning the idea was to mix very different kind of experimental music. As long as you go to art scenes, every art scene is very eh... the more you get specialised on an art scene, the more you have divided field and maybe it was more of use fifteen years ago thanks to things like internet, it is more easy to get connected with various kind of things, but for these artists, they made maybe fifteen years of research in one direction and then they've been isolated from the other scenes. And the audience who was following some of the artists they were in that scene. So if you were in the electroacoustic scene, made with tape machine, then you were really connected to this kind of technique and this kind of sound and this kind of products. And some who were in the electroacoustic scene, but using computers, because of the tools these two scenes were not speaking together. And of course if you were maybe playing with a guitar or drums kit you were seen like someone really far away from the, from the other artists. So since the beginning the idea was to mix very different kind of experimental music and really fastly to forget about the eh name of experimental music. Because 'experimental' is a way to do things, it doesn't speak about things, the way things are. So we had these two editions all together with the venue, and then I left the, the venue. I decided to quit and with the team that stayed in the concert place we decided that the festival that was produced at the venue, was belonging to the three people that founded the festival more than the structure. So we said: for the Instants Chavirés it's Arnaud, myself; for Bimbo Tower that's Franq and for Textile it was Benoit. And we say, 'Okay, we forget about all these structure that was before and then we found our own structure.' And we begin in 2006 totally autonomous from the others structure. And we've been working since the beginnings with them as partners, but at one point we were independent from them. So eh eh I was not still paid by the venue, I was working as a freelance musician and eh -all the other were working as freelance, so we had to find the finance by ourself to eh to produce the event and the event was getting bigger. After the two and first editions of only two days we begin to do editions of four days. So it was possible to get more and more artistic diversity. And it was still autofinancé, self-financed. And that was the, since eh 2008, the thing was just growing, Sonic Protest 2008growing, growing and taking more time, more energy and being more and more on the edge, and with difficulties to balance the time that it was consuming to do the festival and the, the, the, it was energy consuming, time consuming and at the end, we, we, we... »

On being intermittent and paying the artists

[ar] « As an intermittent de spectacle, if you do fifty official gigs par year, then you have unemployment money the year after, so the one hundred euro that was given for the taxes, then you have it the year after. So for those that are in the system, that's quite good. It helps. We can, we could have debates around, about this for hours, but if we get close to the kind of artist that we have in Sonic Protest, maybe eighty percent of them are not, are not concerned at all by this system. Because we have a lot of foreigners and eh, we have foreigners that are eh self-, that are freelance. We are working as less as possible with eh booking agencies, because we wanted, we didn't want to wait for this artist to be on tour, then we can welcome him. The idea with the two partners was to be able to write by ourself a kind of, let's say, meta-composition, something: 'If we invite this artist and this artist and this artist in the same event so together with the audience we will eh we will follow a path, a musical path that will go from extreme noise, extremely loud to something very silence.' So that, are then, this is, these are some stuff that you do. Here, in one concert, if the musicians want to, or the musician want to open the field but if you experience, if you - I will try to say it differently, in another way... As a festival the idea was not to have one night after the other and one group after the other, and you can take whatever you want, the idea is more that if you can experience the whole thing as a piece of music then it turns, it begins to be more interesting then just some concerts following the one after the others. But it turns to be like an aesthetic experience and a social experience. So we wanted to be able to invite someone from China and then someone from Spain and then someone... So we had to find some money and eh it was not possible to do it in, under the radar. And then we thought that there, all this public money is money from and for the people so all these subsides that were possible to get, it's basically our money, it is the money of everybody, so, why not us? So in 2008 we made the first... so it was always four days edition, and in 2007 we lost our partners from Textile, and we eh, we decided to eh to keep on doing this. In 2008 it begins to be like a massive festival with eh one, two, three, four, five... six, seven day, one after the other, so it was quite compact. It was already with part..., at least with real partners that begins to give money and we more or less found the approximately form that we wanted to have, mixing nights of concerts eh exhibition, sound art, performance - performance is not the same as concert - and this edition is really like the, the, the, the second verse of the festival. The first one was a kind of draft, all the other one was kind of draft, the eh, the, we were, one after the other the idea was get much precise and doing things make other people come and see, 'Okay, there's this energy that is happening once a year, can I help you or can I get in touch with you?', and then in 2008 we had something that was starting!
So we stopped.
For two years.
Because it was eh frightening to have, okay, we were enjoying the experience itself, experimentating the... it was not only about welcoming experimental art on stage, it was also about experimental, experimentating the way to organise things. So we thought in 2008 that maybe it is too serious. It begins to be like a job so we, we were not paid, but it begins to be like a job with all these obligation. So we stopped basically for two years, in 2009 and 2010. But we... then it was the, the, because as I told you it was not a plan to make it happen to make it as a...
It was not a start-up plan.
We didn't thought that eh 'Okay, we will do that, so in two years we will be able to pay each other.' It was like eh very volunteer activity, like it was more or less the, the same time that as a musician you spend with others to play and to rehearse in your studio. It was just to spend time all together to organise things and to share with at the end a kind of idea about how things should be. And in 2008 we were exhausted by all this thing but we thought that, 'Okay, something really happened after all these years we achieved to do something that was, it was impossible to eh for the Parisian scene to say 'Okay eh, nothing happened'.'
The last event that year, on the 14th of December, was the first official concert in Centquatre, the, this big eh venue in Paris. They had the opening concert in November, I think, or October, with Tricky, this eh artist, and we did the first official concert, and it begins to be a kind of riot at the end of the concert because it was eh really tense between the audience and the security agents and the... They made a lot of mistake, we also did, so at the end it was really like a, between a kind of riot, a party and a riot. But eh when all the audience left the room it was really like a total disaster. There were some boots, woman boots on the floor, so we said 'Okay, eh...' »

Sonic Protest 2008 - Ich bin

[hs] « But why was there a riot? Was it because of the music? »

[ar] « No, it was a whole afternoon, of music that started at two and ended at midnight, so ten hours of music with really kind of different scenes and the more we get to the end, the more the music was violent and the more people were drugged, basically. And the band who played last was giving free alcohols since the beginning of the afternoon eh, to have people in a certain kind of eh state, state of mind, a kind of violent state of mind, because it was strong alcohol. And this band was eh a very specific band, it was called Ich bin. In France one of the main hip-hop historical band was called IAM, from Marseille, NTM from Paris and IAM from Marseille. And so in Mulhouse... Marseille is the first opposite city to Paris, and in the east of France one small city who has a strong identity is Mulhouse. And three of them, three people from Mulhouse begin this kind of, this project, called Ich bin. Ich bin is the IAM in Deutsch, in German. And they were not playing hip-hop at all, but it was a kind of, eh, and we were not supposed to know who were the musicians playing in the band. And it was announced as the last concert of this band. And so they were really do, they really want, they, they made a teaser one week before: 'We come to Paris to burn this venue!' and eh, it was... well done. It was well done. There are still some videos online of that show... But, so, for us, it was too exhausting and we, we, it tooks two years to realise that we still wanted to do things together and to do it the way we wanted to do it. And eh, in 2008, as I told you, we, we began to found some sponsors or some supports. And ehm, with this volunteer energy it was really possible to get focused. When you have this event, it was December, so we had all the year to get focused on the event and to put energy in doing this thing. But when you are volunteer the hardest part is after the event. After the last day, when you have this riot, and you had good fun with friends and you have few weeks of the after show eh work to eh you have to write all accountment, to balance, to pay and to... All these weeks that you have to do after the event, then all your energy is done, it's gone in the event itself. And for us, then we, we discovered that this size was too big, this size was too big for our eh moyens, for our means.
And then we eh take the decision to try to structure this organisation. So it, we had to begin to write some texts about eh... what we have to do, what we want to do, who we are. Because we were already quite experienced about these activities. Two of us are musicians, so we were touring a lot. We were able to compare what we live as musicians and what we live as eh organisers. That's the same with artist run eh organisations, for art or for music. It's not the same at all when you have professional that are curating, professional curators or artist-run eh programmation doesn't mean the same. It doesn't says that some are more valuable than others, but it is not the same.
In 2011 we had our first big subsides and I think it was eight thousand euros, so it is not that big. It was five or eight thousand euros paid by the city council of Paris. And we decided to eh hire the services of an administrator. In French we say an administrateur, he is doing all the books and accounts, but not only, he is also the one who is eh building the structure for all the applications and all the budget preparation to be able to say to the city council of Paris that we are serious. Basically, we thought that eh instead of paying ourselves for what we do, we first take the first money to pay someone to do what we don't know how to do. We had emotions, we had ideas, but then, as I told you, after the festival there is all these hours of doing things that are not that fun. It is always more funny to think about how, 'Okay, this artist with this artist together in this space is gonna be quite funny so I...'
Everybody want to spend time with this.
But not a lot of people want to spend time, free time, volunteer time about 'Okay, I will make all this eh payment system', and all these kind of things. So we found someone, basically, who, who was not totally interested in this kind of music. Eh, so he, he was not a friend of us. So it was the, the first professional, professional act was to hire the services of someone who was not a friend, was not interested in the music, but who was ehm, when we presented, we've, we talked to someone and we talked to someone and we talked to someone and we said 'Okay, this guy should be free for this kind of small eh mission'. Because it was small money, so it should not take a lot of time. And we meet, we met him and eh he felt that something was possible with this kind of thing and we worked together for three or four years. And with this guy, who in the end take, took a lot of fun to discover all this music. I think he doesn't, nowadays he doesn't listen to this music anymore, but during the few years we spent together he really got into that, in discovering all the energy that was behind these scenes and eh when he talked to us at the beginning he said, 'Okay, I was really eh totally ignoring that something that big was possible in Paris and eh happening in the world.' So, eh, for him it was a way to eh, it was a challenge to take eh this eh very disorganised people, to help them to organise their stuff.
Very disorganised is the way to, caricature de, de...
It was not the really way.
We were self-, we were half organised. »

Sonic Protest 2011

[ar] « And in 2011 we, we did a like a one week event, I think. And the, the first... so it was first of with someone... Ah no! That's not true, I miss, I do disinformation in the history. In 2011 was the last one of the, so after two years of pause we, we thought that we should keep on doing that. We do this 2011 edition with the same system as before. Then we thought that we should stop doing this way, because at the end of this week we, we thought that we were too fragile and that's why we began to meet this guy in 2011 to prepare 2012 and to find eh what is more or less... I told you that in 10 it was eh closed, but in 9 it was totally closed and in 10 we tried to do some events, to do if it was still making sense to do some stuff. 2011 was the first festival back and 2012 is the third birth - let's say it like this - of the festival. We really were eh into the way to eh to do things in another way, not only to have a few days of music in Paris. Then we get in touch with people in other cities in France and we get in touch with the Palais de Tokyo, because we wanted to eh not do only concerts. We wanted to have eh, to have a sound art exhibition as well, so we proposed to them an exhi... eh an art piece and eh we... Since 2012 to nowadays more or less we are doing this event with this direction: concerts, art exhibition, and not only in Paris. And not only in Paris and suburbs but, but all, a lot of cities in France. In Europe. We are working with people in Switzerland, usually. And we did some stuff with people in Belgium, Netherlands and UK. Ehm... So, at, in 2012 that was when the, this administrateur helped us to get a stage one step further. And that was the. We, we, began in 2003 and in 2012 when we get to the, to the subsiders, to the people that were able to give money, then we had already nine years of experience to say 'Okay, now this is what we do'. So we were not able... There are two ways, I guess, to do some artistic or cultural projects. You can think it before and the you go to the subsiders and say 'Okay, we thought about this and can you give us some money to have it done?'. And if you don't have the money maybe you don't do anything. That's a way things are done. But the DIY scene make us do things with energies more than money. And at one point we thought, 'Okay we gave a lot of energy, and if we want to be able to invite people from China, from the States and from Russia, then it will not be possible to remain only self-financed with tickets'. So after nine, almost ten years of eh activism, it was possible to go to a lot of possible partners, we got connected to a lot of them, and eh every single people who were requested to give money for the festival said 'yes'. So it was really encouraging. »

Sonic Protest Partners 2012
Sonic Protest Partners 2016

[ar] « Okay, all these people are not giving money of course. It's a mix between, let's say, eh some giving money, some are media partners, a lot of media partners, and the venues we were working with, the places. And - I make a kind of a digression - all these media partners, it makes really sense, because I told you that at the beginning the idea was to mix different scenes of experimental music and to have the, the audience from one see the others. And another very important idea was to say that this experimental scene is very dark and obscure and very small eh, very small venues, it is made for those who already know that it exists. And we wanted to be more generous and to share what we felt that was like a jewellery. So if you find something which is very shiny, you can keep it for yourself, or you can say 'Okay, let's share this thing'. And eh nothing in my path, in my way to meet these things was eh made for...
I told you before that I was always convicted that things must be done not the way they are supposed to, but by your own way. And I thought, we thought that 'Okay, this kind of music, it can be played in a, in front of eighty people.' So we are eighty, we all know each others. So the artist is not challenged, he plays in the kind of, in the kind of same audience situation that he already knows and he will have the same, in Paris, or in Vienna, or in London. So we thought that we have to find other kind of eh venues. So eh and other kind of audience. So that's why we begin to, we began to talk with a lot of ehm medias to... so one maybe is very, speaking usually about rock, and another is very about electroacoustic, and another is really about sound art, so, in each of the very specific fields that we talk to them about this event, that is breaking boundaries and, years after years, the, the information spread and we began to have eh full packed venues, but not in a one hundred capacity place, not in a two hundred but in a... We began to have shows played in front of five or six hundred people. And that is totally, that was more or less undone. It has never been done before. At least in Paris. So we found the way to get connected to people by the, the, let's say the quality of the artistical choice. Eh, the way of mixing different stuff. For example, in one and the particularities of the place where the things were presented, we are working, we were working and still do in very various kind of places... I will show you some video's after, not all the video's but some of them. And as I told you, this edition - I am trying to get focused on the Parisian edition first - ehm, so this Parisian edition was mixing very different kind of places eh with all the previous editions we visited a lot of venues in Paris and suburbs and eh it was as I told you a kind of draft of what happened now. So it was possible to eh to get eh keep on being to still work with these old partners like Instants Chavirés were everything started, with new partners like Gaité Lyrique or Institut Néerlandais that is closed since now, and Eglise Saint Merry. Eglise Saint Merry is this big church, when you are in front of Centre Pompidou on the right you have this gothic magnificient building, and we started in 2012 to do shows in that place.
And the first one - Tony Conrad, Kim Fowley and Keiji Haino - it is exactly a very good example about the mix that we are trying to do. Tony Conrad is a prominent artist of the minimalist music in the, from New York. He, he did his last concert in France in that context[ * ]. Eh, Kim Fowley is coming from the garage scene, he is a producer from the rock scene. And eh Keiji Haino is a Japanese eh noise artist. So it was really like a total mix. Some people, most of the people come for one of the artists, they don't know the three of them, and during the night they meet other things. So it was the, this kind of places. The church, we are still doing concerts and eh, as I told you, the exhibition with the, with this first eh big piece of art. It was made by this artist from Australia called Lucas Abela, and he did this eh... It is called Vinyl Rally. »

Sonic Protest 2012 - Vinyl Rally

[ar] « It's small cars that you can drive like in the arcade eh game, but you drive them on vinyl circuits and eh you play sound with the car that is eh...
Finding another way to have eh means to do what we want to do was to find some subsides, for sure, was to share costs with others, organisers. That's why we began to work with others, producers in other cities. It was quite small, Marseille, Reims, Tours and Dijon. So we invited musicians to play in Paris and then, for this Tony Conrad New Yorker, it was possible to share costs with other people. And then it was possible to have someone come crossing the, the, the planet not only for one exclusive concert in Paris. As the idea from the beginning was to share on a much larger scale, then we shared with a much large, with a lot of more people in Paris, in suburbs, and in other cities. And it was, it was not, we didn't share the artistic choices, it was still made by Sonic Protest, but we shared the production of, of some events in other cities, in eh in France and in... So the festival more or less found this eh this way to do things for the 2014, it was the tenth edition of the festival. So that's why we did some merch. A lot. You can still some buy some, if you want. »

[hs] « Ah! You should have brought some! »

[ar] « Yeah! But I'm too lazy... So, we more or less found the form that we, we wanted to have, with the, eh, exhibition. We found a very good place in Paris, called La Générale, an old factory. We were working in regular venues, for some kind of acoustic situation in this church, where the acoustic situation is totally different. We were working in the circus that is called Cirque Electrique, that is at the east of Paris, at eh Porte de Lilas, and eh we found good partners, and the beginning of money, and then we eh began to have someone working for real and been paid each month for the, for the organisation. So it, it turns to be like a real kind of structure... In 2014 I think we had one young girl who requested in 2013 for a, for a stage, an internship. And then we found money to eh to get her paid with public, with eh state money. And she worked with the eh, the legal format of Sonic Protest is eh association, a non-profit association in France. And then we had a bit of money to hire someone for all year long and then it opens new field, and not being only producer of a festival but eh to be able to produce some eh artist, artistic projects and to begin to work on eh action culturelle, cultural action, I don't know if it's the eh, on workshops made with eh to keep on developing this idea about sharing this kind of art with other people that are not aware that it happens, we began to work in schools, where this kind of art is not showed at all, and in eh psychiatric places, and in 2014 we began to do workshops with autistic people, and eh scholars, because we had someone... »

Sonic Protest 2017 - Sarah Kensington
Sarah Kensington performing with/in her Sonic Protest installation, at La Générale, March 20th 2017.

[hs] « That is a very different part, a different pole of the festival then: an educational pole. »

[ar] « Yes, it was not a festival only any more. We now were able to talk with artists, and to say 'Okay, we know how to get subsides, we can accompany, go with you from the idea to the production of your piece, and then you are going find some eh subsides to eh have things eh built together with the artist and. not only to welcome some artistic proposal that are already produced. That's the, the diffusion... The main activity of a festival is usually just to show what is produced by other, by artist of by other eh but so we began to be able to do more things with artists, not only to welcome them one time. We wanted not each year to have a kind of 'Okay, it's our team of artists, so eh' ... In the beginning we had this Argentinian band, and we could have welcomed him each year and say 'Okay, this is the very specific artist that we had', so we had a kind of rule that said 'if you played Sonic Protest once, you will not play any more'. So as each rule it was made to be broke once, so eh... But we, we didn't want to have eh our kind of team. So eh, because it would have been like eh the end of the curiosity. And each year it was possible to open the field more and more... people from the Sahara playing kind of Nigerian rock, two guys from New York that played in this very famous band, Sonic Youth. In the same year we had Zeitkratzer, which is German contemporary music top band, Brigitte Fontaine and Areski Belkacem are come of the most important people in the French way to sing songs. We of course still are most of all trying to find more the hidden stones. But, Sonic Youth or Brigitte Fontaine, these, they are the headliners. We try to forget about the notion of headliners or newcomers. We are trying to not have too big headliners. We are trying to balance, between newcomers and to have much... a lot of newcomers. »

[hs] « What I find especially interesting about the festival is that it covers the whole five, six decades of this so-called 'experimental music', and presents artists that have already been playing for forty, fifty years to someone that only has been playing for a year. »

[ar] « We are interested in history, the history of music. It is quite good to have people who are in their twenties, doing very fresh, new stuff, but it's good also to have it connected with some people who are working for forty years. And then they discover that some of the ideas that are playing now are, have roots in the 1960's. »

Morton Subotnick

[ar] « For instance, this year we welcomed Morton Subotnick. He is 85, he is still traveling, he is still playing music. And he is one of the most important people in the electronic music. In the States. But as the States are eh influential worldwide I would say that he's the, one of the important, most important people, person, in the electronic music field. Because he had, he is the one who invented, though he was not building it, but he was the one who has the idea about the modular synthesiser. I don't know if you know this instrument. You already you will, for sure you saw that on images. it is this instrument with a lot wires, many colours, and it, it looks like a computer play more than a regular instrument. And this tool changed the way to produce sounds in music, it was really like a kind of revolution in the, because it was then possible, all this ehm, electrical eh devices before had keyboards like it was a piano with other sounds. But this guy was a clarinet player interested in other sounds and so he didn't felt comfortable with keys. And so eh it makes a jump in his mind to find another way to eh play music without any notes or this kind of eh... So he's a kind of genius. And so he was in Paris three weeks, one weeks ago. So it's really important to have this connection with history and for the and with the scene that are alive right now and as much as possible with the local scene connected to the international. »

Serial application

[ar] « Eh ... we made a lot of eh ... And that's the, I told you that at the beginning the idea of being connected with other cities - for this 2014 edition it was already like ten, twelve other cities. It was really good to share costs of the people who are coming from away and to then the local promoters began to trust Sonic Protest enough. So it was possible to have also the small newcomers on tour as well, and to have a festival that is for something about ten days in ten different cities. So it was, the, the, the size was quite eh was quite funny, and in 2015 we, we, we began to think that all this was not enough, so eh we began to produce concerts all year long. Before the festival, after the festival. And to produce some records. And 2015 is the, we had something like eh seven. big projects. And we had two people at the office, and certain, like me, half paid by the, or third paid by the, by the festival. Economically that means that we were, we were and we still are, after all these years, only eh supported on projects. We don't have structural funding, it's only incidental. So we are obliged to applicate between fifteen and twenty eh different eh things all year long, mainly for the festival. ... »

[hs] « Twenty applications for subsides, twenty different ones? »

[ar] « Yes. We are dealing with the territorial eh territorial label, that means the city council of Paris and the region of Ile de France. We also deal with the musical thing that's the Sacem (Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique), CNV (Centre national de la chanson, des variétés et du jazz ), Adami, that's, they basically took some taxes when you play music, when you buy a blank Cdrom, and they give back money for this kind of thing. And we are, we found money from eh the art scene, or the multimedia scenes. And we are trying to get some money from the private partners, also, but it is very small money... »

[student] « We learned about Creative Europe, and that is programs focusing on supporting digital and technologies involving programs. Is this something you have applied for? »

[ar] « We have never applied to Creative Europe yet. »

[student] « It's only running until 2020... »

[general laughing]

[ar] « It is also good to let some money for the others. We, we, as I told you, we, it's still half professional. Even if we have some people that are working, we had, I will explain how it is now, we had some people who's day job it was to work for the eh association. But it were still people that were not really trained for. We, there is a kind of social aspect. I was talking about this girl who asked for an internship, and so we worked well for two years together, or a little more than two years. But she was not skilled and she was not trained for, and so it's always a mix between the professional, the professional aspects and the just, the basic human things that are happening when you make some people meeting all together. So, I think it's much lore clearer, more and moire clear for you. I told you, it was not like a plan, a professional plan with people we know that they have skills and they will be able to do things. We are always doing it one step after the other and the, the, the first administrateur we worked together with during three years he left the, he left France. He moved away from France. So it took more than one year and a half to find someone else to work good. So, everything is slow, so it's not like we are increasing that way, it's always lie: 'Oh!' It's more chaotic. And all these European moneys, it's much more hard to... You have to go to a kind of a formation to, to... there's a really specific training for European money. And you have to be able to say that in three years you know where you gonna be. And that's something that we can not. But it's a like a... I, I don't think, it's not to say how good we are, it's not to say we are, you know we are artists, it's not, it's really something that we are paying... we are obliged to make big efforts on other sides because we are not able to do this kind of prediction. So we are trying to learn, we are trying to learn. We are trying to improve it. It is still under way. So eh, I guess it is part of the answer about why we don't have structural funding. Because the project itself, Sonic Protest, is very well seen by the people who are able to give money. But they say 'ok, it's still fragile. So after all these years, it looks quite fragile. It still looks like an artistic run energy experience. So we give ten thousand euros' - and then thousand begins to be, it looks like it begins to be eh not big money but average, on average. But the biggest subside that we are getting is fifteen thousand euros. So that's the city council of Paris. And maybe we have two or three others around them. And it's still self-financed on sixty, sixty five percent. So it's still... »

[hs] « What do you mean exactly by 'self-financed'? »

[ar] « By selling tickets. We also do some eh bar activities during the concerts. And we were contacted by other festivals that were not able to do the bar activities by themself. So we basically sell the service of doing the bar activities.
As I told you, years after years we polarised some energies, so now around one edition of Sonic Protest there are many, there are most, there are approximately one hundred person, volunteers working on the edition. We need some people to go to the airport to run, to drive the artist from the airport to the hotel. We need eh some eh we move a lot from places to the others. So when we had the church playing for one night, the day after we would be in another venue. So during the day one in the church we are playing, there is another technical team who is organising the other venue. So it's between eighty and one hundred person for each edition that are giving time. Some of them are paid. No one is well paid. But artists are. Artists were the, the, the first money was, has always been to pay artists and to pay a bill that is, that looks like no others. It doesn't mean that we feel that what we do is the best festival in the world... even if... Maybe. Maybe. But. That's not the point. The point was to do an event that looks like no other at all. So at least I think we achieved to do that. There are some mix that are not done in other stuff, and this kind of audience. Something is really happening. And we have people who are taking holidays. I was talking about this kind of energy, volunteer energy. There are people who are not doing the fun, the funny things, to do the, to do the artistic choices. But they take holidays, and buy their ticket to come from Brussels to Paris to be with, to, to share the experience and to eh to do this kind of eh non-funny task about controlling the tickets. For one night. So eh it means something. What more to say? During this, since we, we, we, we, we began to do this educational aspect with autistic people. It took a lot of importance, in the association. And we did, we did organise, since 2014 I think, or 13, a weekly workshop with autistic people in a hospital near Paris, in Antony. And from this experience we built a group of people working all together on radio aspect, there is a radio show, each three weeks, on Radio Libertaire, and they play music all together. This is this band called Les Harry's. And the Harry's, after all this weekly workshop, recorded eh in the studio what was produced as an LP, and they toured. My partner called Franq, the one who came originally from Bimbo Tower is really dealing with that, and this part about mixing the mental, mental disease and sonic activities is the kind of newest aspect on the all the fields that we are covering, and since two years a part of the festival. So it's... Last year was the biggest edition of the festival, that was 2017, it was, so it was as big ... I think it was seventeen, no fourteen nights in Paris, between films, exhibition, concerts, conferences as well, since few years we are trying to have time where each artist is talking about their work. Like this guy Morton Subotnick that I was talking before, this legend of electronic music, we had opportunities to eh to have him coming as we shared some costs with the Mona Bismarck Institute Center in Paris, the American cultural centre in Paris that is very near the Palais de Tokoyo, and he had eh he had one night to speak about his historian works. And we also worked with the University of Chicago in Paris. And they share the costs of the tickets, of the flight tickets. So the artists who is welcomed for the festival is also having one night of conference there.
And all of it happened in Paris and suburbs. It is always important to have this articulation in mind that Paris... like if you go to Berlin or London, it is quite obvious that the metropole is as big as it should, 'cause London, the scale is ten times, ten ,time bigger I think than Paris or Berlin, and in Paris you are always closed in this very small area by the périopérique and the, the official border of Paris. There is a way to think about other venues that are beyond the périopérique, there's a lot of venues and a lot of things that happening now. In the suburbs other things are able to happen. And we worked in other cities also. It is of course not possible to speak about all the artists that played. Sonic Protest dot com is online. Everything is well documented. You have text, image, video's to present every artist and on Youtube dot com there is a specific channel about what happened during the festival. It is made by a professional team of people filming. Non-paid professional team of people filming. So you have a lot of shows that for this year that are already online, and you have all the history of the festival. It's going on and on and on and on, so you can, you can eh spend a lot time if you want to. And, I was speaking about the size of the events, the Sonic Protest Ailleurs series of events that are not happening in Paris. It was in seventeen other cities, on twenty si other nights, really something big. And that, that was, that was also the end of some public money that was helping for the cost of the people who had their day job at the association. So it's a kind of contradiction: we did this biggest thing the same that everything cracked more or less. Because we have a kind of croissance crisis, a growth crisis. If you're too big your legs have to be strong enough to... »

[hs] « ... carry the weight... »

[ar] « It's not a mystery with all the things that I told you that we were not eh... We were always able to produce things but not to project things. And eh we were eh more or less trapped by the way we are thinking things. And we are still able to produce things, because we had, in 2018, a very nice festival, but we had to face kind of reality. It was always the idea that 'Okay, if it is impossible then we have to do that'. Usually experimental music is not supposed to self-finance anything, it is only about getting subsides. Or not having artists paid. So we thought that it is possible to have artists paid with the kind with the arts that is not able to produce money eh basically eh you are able to get money to sell tickets very on high price by more than twenty euros and if you have more than five hundred people in the audience... and usually, I told you, that some shows are played in front of more than six hundred. But we also have shows played in front of two hundred in small city, in a small venue. And the tickets are between ten and eighteen, is the biggest price. So once we had to face that the reality is eh stronger than dreams. »

Musique brute, pratique brute

[ar] « But we did things that seems impossible, and since two years we are organising these encounters, international encounters about pratiques brutes de la musique, that is connected to art brut. You may be familiar with this notion. Art brut is the space in art that is devoted to visual art and connected with mental disease. It is more or less... Jean Dubuffet who told, who formed the name. L'art des fous. The art of the... the fous... of the insane. And with the history that we were building one step after the other with this autistic people it made us meeting other people who are working on these two sides of the, the, the, of the thing. And these improvised music that are taking a part, important part of the aesthetic that are showed in the festival are also called 'free music', what is 'freedom' and 'music' all together and when you see some people who are not ehm, so some autistic or some Down syndrome people, some of them are not totally aware about what they are doing now. They don't think about 'Okay, if I make this kind of, if I have this kind of attitude on stage then it is going to be perceived this way'. So we ehm we thought that it was a good way to eh to see what is freedom, be connected to these people. I would have said 'this kind of people' but it is 'these people'. And now we have a part of the volunteers that are eh helping at the bar, who are some new autistic people. So it's a mixing more and more people. And since two years this dimension, music and disability, is quite important. So this year, in 2018, it was a smaller edition, but it was still seven nights - so it is not that small for a festival - eh and it was twelve others in France and Switzerland. And we had this very important things, which was about this eh mental disease and music creation. »

[ar] « And to keep on talking about the structure that is beginning to ... As we were not able to found some resources to compensate the end of the public helps for the day job money - it was a public funding that only could be asked for a limited number of years - eh it's now only a team of four. We are the two founders, myself and Franq, there's one administrateur and one eh production manager. And we hired the services of someone for the communication thing. And we, it's something like, we are trying to pay each other eh it's four, a quarter of what would be eh necessary to be intermittent, this French eh thing, and so it's still about, there's still a lot of people being volunteer on the, on the production of all ... this ... »


notes __ ::
(*) Tony Conrad died in 2016 [ ^ ]

tags: festival, Sonic Protest, papam18

# .475.

SoundBlog entries around the Sonic Protest Festival:

(may 06, 2006) - hors temps (Cosmodrone - Orguanisation)
(april 08, 2014) - La physicalité du son. Tome 1.
(august 04, 2016) - Nicolas Collins - 2 April 2016, La Générale

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