The "4th wall" of sound

Spotlights 30.05.2023

What is a concert? That's the question we're asking in this dossier, which features ten texts and interviews, reminding us of the profound changes in practices that continue to take place on the musical "scene" - whether in artistic approaches and processes, or in the forms in which they are received - and which contribute to constructing (and, necessarily, deconstructing) our conception of the thing.

The concert and its double

If collective listening, at the same time and in the same place, to a piece played live, constitutes the most immemorial form of contact with music, the birth of the recording, the proliferation and the perfection of domestic listening devices have come for more than a century to propose an alternative model of listening, "private" or at least individual, domestic or ambulatory. And with it, an alternative to the canonical - and codified - form of the concert as we know it (and practice it, with all that the verb implies of "sacred") in our latitudes. Musicians dispersed throughout the space, immense works, even participative, river or brief, combining sound, visuals and movement, spatialization devices, ambulatory forms...

"What is a concert?" is the question that Bastien Gallet poses to us as he reflects on this very special experience, which is both a "moment dedicated to the works and their relationships" and an "aesthetic and social experience". It is also the question that all those pianists mentioned by their colleague François Mardirossian, who, especially in the United States, have never stopped transforming the way of making their instrument sound and the way of presenting it to the public - after Franz Liszt had laid the foundations of the "classical" concert (which it would be more accurate to call "romantic concert").

It's true that the aforementioned technological and cultural upheavals have profoundly changed the practice of artists, whether "composers" or not. Guillaume Kosmicki traces the centuries-old history of the relationship between seeing and listening, sight and hearing, right up to the end of the twentieth century, and the genealogy of those works and artists who, by bringing it out of the halls, have contributed to changing our perception of music and our use of sound at the same time. We are reminded that "in many traditional cultures, the difference between the musician and the audience is non-existent or much less rigid, and musical performance is essentially collective...".

The profession of the composer as much as the role of the instrumentalist, their respective creativities, have been constantly reconfigured as technological progress has accelerated the porosity between disciplines, and as the evolution of cultural practices, of the history and sociology of art have favored one or another way of receiving music. Indeed, it was because they were fed up with being treated as "performers" that flutist Christina Kubisch and drummer Christophe Fellay, each in their own generation and in their own way, abandoned their instrumental practice to turn to pieces conceived specifically in relation to the site that welcomes them (English-speakers call them site-specific, Latinists in situ), and become "sound artists".
Musicalizing places", creating listening situations, this is also the sense of the projects that Anne-Laure Pigache and Anne-Julie Rollet, passionate about voices, radios and magnetic tapes, imagine with Les Harmoniques du Néon. Trained by Michael Jarrell in particular, Léo Collin embodies in his own way this composer of the third type, this type of polymorphous artist thatHémisphère son likes to present to you: in multiple places in Zurich, he imagines with his Kollectiv International Totem "music-theater pieces" which allow him, he says, to "cure (his) stiffness of mind".

Sharing the moment

What is a concert? What does it mean to perform (or even create) and receive a musical composition simultaneously, live and in the flesh, in the same place? The questions of location and frontal format, and all the symbolic charge of which both are bearers, run like leitmotifs through this dossier.

Through the panorama drawn up by Anne Montaron of a certain number of festivals dedicated to creative music in rural areas, through the participative applications developed by Léo Collin for each of his pieces or the concerts for 1 spectator given by Gwen Rouger in his Caravan, another way of approaching the concert, and especially the spectator, takes shape: stripped of its sociological markers, more ecological, more natural perhaps, more Zen, more relaxed but no less intense, giving - in the manner of Christina Kubish and Christophe Fellay's pieces - an active role to the listener's ear and sensibility.

Combining the immersive with the collaborative is also the ambition of the team at Studio d'en haut, an unusual venue in Nantes dedicated to unclassifiable musical research. And in particular, percussionist Will Guthrie, a long-time advocate of more informal communication with people: "For 20 years, I've been playing my solos in the middle of the room and people, and the idea of being on stage with the audience in front of you has long been outdated. Playing on stage, away from the audience, is not satisfying. Experimental music is constantly redefining the relationship to the stage, intuitively, without even asking the question."

At a time when our senses and our attention are saturated with solicitations, it's crucial to create other listening situations, to create "temporary attention zones", spaces of receptivity and freedom where experience can take place as directly and spontaneously as possible: For Marie Jeanson, co-director of the Archipel festival in Geneva - interviewed alongside four programmers from different universes and countries - it's a question of"being in a kind of freedom, of wandering", of "taking charge of the listener while empowering them".

Michaël Dian, director of the exemplary Espace culturel de Chaillol, points out: "In my opinion, the front-of-house format is neither obsolete nor in need of replacement. I don't think we should turn our backs on three or four centuries of broadcasting in a classical format, where the artists are on stage in the light, and the audience in the half-light, listening in silence. These are privileged moments, which I value enormously, as do the audience. The important question to ask is: what is the quality of the relationship between artists and local residents? I'd say that this system needs to be complemented by spaces for interaction between artists and local residents, people who at some point choose to be their audience. This point of passage is very important. The 'Public' doesn't exist in itself. There are people living in a given area who, having spotted a proposal, find themselves able to cross the threshold of a venue or performance space. In his view, the future lies in "the hybridization of cultural resources in the same space" ; in unique and equitable moments of encounter in the strongest sense of the word.

Inventing "fluid" works, in the words of German artist and curator Kalas Liebfried, if necessary by moving them out of their traditional venues; creating fields of tension (and responsibility) between the works and the people who receive them, imagining other relationships to people rather than to "the Public ": More than the artistic forms themselves, the way in which they take into account the relationship and context that unite them with those who receive them, this benevolent relationship with an "emancipated" spectator, will be decisive in breathing new life into a "history of cultural practices (that) ultimately goes round in circles", as Frédéric Mazelly, director of programming at La Villette in Paris, observes... Aren't listening and paying attention, after all, twin notions?

Enjoy your reading!

David Sanson

Photo © Marina Rosenfeld


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