A day with Rafaelle Rinaudo at the Atlantique Jazz Festival

Concerts 24.10.2023

Rafaelle Rinaudo has long had a wandering harp. Becoming a soloist in a symphony orchestra was not for her. Early on, in search of freedom and new experiences, she set out on the path of improvisation. In the course of her studies, she became resolutely involved in the underground scene, eventually opting for the electric harp, which she augmented over the years with numerous effects pedals and various utensils, such as inner tubes, plastic card, brushes, mallets, sticks and fans. This adventurous harp travels through a wide range of styles, from learned music to experimental music, as well as demanding rock and electro. Rafaelle Rinaudo is the associate artist of Plages Magnétiques in Brest for two years. We followed her throughout the day on October 18, 2023, at the Atlantique Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

At 12:30 pm, the first Heure Magnétique of the festival takes place on the university campus, in the Salle du Clous. This event is organized in partnership with the Nautilis ensemble and the cultural service of the Université de Bretagne Occidentale (UBO). The aim is to bring together artists who have never played together before for a time of free improvisation. "Magnetic hour, hypnotic hour", promises the program. Rafaelle Rinaudo is joined on this occasion by trumpeter Sylvain Bardiau and guitarist Christelle Séry.

How is it possible to convey the richness and diversity of free improvisation without the medium of a recording, and is it really necessary? Indeed, this is essentially the most ephemeral music there is, and to want to capture the moment in writing, to relate it in all its stages, is in truth to betray this experience. We're convinced that some music is better suited to analysis than others. All the more so as the musicians played the game, as Rafaelle Rinaudo assures us: " There was no cheating, it was as announced on the program. We've known each other for a long time, because we've met at festivals. I knew that Christelle's work is quite similar to mine, her work in preparing the strings and augmenting the instrument. Sylvain, on the other hand, is more distant, in that he has a much greater mastery of certain jazz idioms. But there was room for everyone, and that's what's so crazy.

It was a real plus for us to be present at the preliminary discussions between the musicians. They come from very different worlds. TheOrchestre National de Jazz, the trio Journal Intime for Sylvain Bardiau; the ensemble Cairn or Nautilis for Christelle Séry (among others); and numerous projects on the frontiers of worlds for Rafaelle, such as Single Room or Nout. Just an hour before the performance, they met, discussed their installation in the space, assessed the possibilities and made their choice: the harp would be central, the trumpet on the garden side and the guitar on the courtyard side, a " merging block of strings on one side and Sylvain on trumpet on the other ". Sylvain Bardiau, who didn't bring any effects with him in view of the musicians' pedal debauchery, asked for a second microphone with a reverb to play on two planes. But above all, he and they say nothing more about the performance to come: " In this kind of music, there are no rules. You can define a framework, but as it happens, today wasn't like that. It was wide open ears, a toolbox with all the effects and sound palettes at your disposal, and then what happens..."

And a lot happened, many stages, sequences, tableaux, complicities, links, escapes, tensions, ruptures, interrogations, suspensions, reunions... Two long improvisation periods followed, in which Sylvain Bardiau changed instruments, trumpet in the first, flugelhorn then soprano trombone in the next. For his two acolytes, numerous objects and effects were used, such as an inner tube rubbing on the harp strings, brushes, electronic bows, drumsticks... The first track began with spaced-out interventions, giving way to the trio's slow, general breathing. Then a noisy stage preceded a mysterious-sounding passage, like a calm before the storm, during which Christelle Séry cut the attacks on her strings with a volume pedal, plunging listeners into colorful harmonies. The journey begins...

What's remarkable about this improvisation is that the musicians didn't follow a logical tension-climax-resolution axis, but constantly proposed forks in the road, breaking away from pre-determined paths. In this way, the territories explored allowed us to traverse fields of friction, caresses and breaths, passages of violent lightning, surges of matter, and even meditative quasi-silences. The more nervous second track began with Sylvain's roaring flugelhorn. This husky voice set the tone for nervous tremolo responses. Later, Rafaelle Rinaudo made a lengthy mark on a low ostinato, akin to a metal guitar riff, allowing his two companions to express themselves solo on this electric carpet. It's also a characteristic of this moment shared with the instrumentalists: in the midst of the sonic magma, here and there, we surreptitiously latch onto a familiar stylistic branch - a jazz gimmick on the trumpet, a blues phrasing on the guitar, a classical arpeggio in the high notes of the harp - before it all disappears almost immediately.

Leaving the stage, we feel that many of the sequences could have been reworked and structured into real songs, which we'd be happy to listen to. Rafaelle Rinaudo agrees, adding: " You can be frustrated when you leave the stage, saying to yourself that you would have liked to have done it like that, but obviously in the moment you can't think of everything. It's galvanizing and frustrating at the same time. It opens a door for what's to come. It's never really a one-shot, there are always 'comebacks' in other contexts." She adds: " Often, this creates musical affinities that end up in more permanent projects. That's how I met Fanny Lasfargues. Some musical love at first sight is obvious. And that's where this duo came from, to be heard at 8.30pm on stage at Espace Vauban, Brest's legendary jazz venue. Five38 is a name taken from the number of strings on the two instruments involved, Fanny Lasfargues' five-string electroacoustic bass and Rafaelle Rinaudo's thirty-eight-string electric harp (thirty-six today, in truth, she whispers, but it's a secret!). The duo had been dormant for ten years, and the harpist had the idea of reawakening it on the occasion of this two-year collaboration with Plages Magnétiques.

It's a rich idea, as the two musicians have a lot under their fingers to reveal, and their sound palettes work wonderfully well in combination. This program unfolds under the regime of the loop, atmospheric loops, heady loops, energizing loops, percussive loops... Patiently, the musicians build new sound edifices in each piece, starting from the void. The beginning is like a little invention of music, from the muffled sounds of mallets and brushes shocking the instruments, to the noisy sounds that gradually lead to the most sparkling harmonies. One sublime passage blends the subtlety of the bass's harmonics with a mini-fan caressing the harp's high strings. This same bass is capable, with a few well-chosen effects, of embodying a drum kit/drum machine. The tone is set. Even the cliché of classical harp arpeggios (there are some!) is reinvented, emerging in unexpected sonic architectures.

There's the resolutely rocking second track, with its martial rhythm based on brushstrokes on Fanny Lasfargues' bass and the fan's blades clawing at the harp's low strings, producing distorted, roaring sounds. Then there's the piece with its mineral tones, all tinkling, scratching and crunching, before a harmonic feeling intrudes on the journey. Then there's the plastic-card track that strums the harp strings into a chunky metal riff, which Rafaelle Rinaudo loves to play (yes, she does!), and which veers towards the indus and the noisy, while Fanny Lasfargues makes the infra-bass frequencies sing as they swirl around the room. The concert ends in extreme saturation on a beautiful concluding ostinato.

There's something else that emanates from this program, a feeling that any music lover accustomed to premiere concerts has already encountered. As we said, Five38 is a re-creation, ten years on, between two musicians who are renewing their artistic relationship. When faced with such a moment, the flight of a work in progress, which still needs time and stage experience to mature, this first gesture and this laying bare are particularly moving. The listener has the impression of seeing the music being born in front of him/her, and of participating in its genesis through his/her presence, with all its little imperfections, its touching fragility, but also its honesty and the risk-taking assumed by the artists. In the course of her projects, Rafaelle Rinaudo has established herself as a harpist who is curious about everything, and actively contributes to breaking down barriers. 

Guillaume Kosmicki

Photos © Hervé Le Gall
Photos © Guy Chuitton


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