The Hearing Games of Attentifs, ensemble

Concerts 11.04.2023

Composer Elsa Biston and the Strasbourg-based ensemble HANATSUmiroir share a poetic spirit that leads them to divert the conventional forms of the concert, to make each moment of music a full and complete experience of sharing. This taste for detour is at work in Attentifs, ensemble, a singular performance offered to the public of La Pop in Paris in early April. 

Attentives, together: we all remember this message of call diffused repeatedly in the subway, a security injunction so trivialized by these times of constant tension and violence, that we wonder if we still have ears to listen to it.
"Listening", precisely, is in the heart of the performance ofElsa Biston and the trio ofHANATSUmiroir, and it is not a truism! For it is indeed a particular listening; a guided, oriented, deep and collective listening, beyond what we imagine when we think of the traditional "actors/listeners" relationship.
We are very close, in some respects, to the deep listening of the American Pauline Oliveros, who envisaged listening as a deep process, which engages at the same time hearing, attention, full consciousness, sensation, and consequently all the sensory organs of the body.

Follow the guide!
The collective experience of listening necessarily passes by what one could call the address. It supposes injunctions, or let us say instructions, materialized here by sentences projected in height, in the center of the device, kinds of silent voices. It is these texts that direct the attention of the listeners, distributed in mirror on both sides of the playing space.
On the stage, four musicians, surrounded by "vibrating objects", made by the composer Elsa Biston, which she operates from her computer. Sometimes, the musicians also manipulate the objects.
These "vibrating objects" - a combination of raw art and sound research - dialogue with the musical instruments of HANATSUmiroir: Ayako Okubo's contrabass flute, Olivier Maurel's percussion and Louis Siracusa 's double bass.
The first sentence projected gives the LA: "Tonight we try a collective experience rather than a concert. It will be a question of crossing together different modes of listening, as the music unfolds. On this screen, indications will be projected; invitations to different ways of listening. You will be able to follow them as you wish, at your own pace...".
The collective is first of all this "you", then very quickly a "we", because the public makes road with the musicians: "We release all muscular tension. Let us become aware of our seat..."

Immediate boarding!
Attentifs, ensemble is a dive into sensations. This sound journey directed by Maxime Kurvers superimposes two realities. On the one hand, there is an evolving form, almost a sound sculpture, thought by the composer Elsa Biston, in interaction with the three musicians of HANATSUmiroir. And on the other hand, everything that the listeners invest in this sound journey, by letting themselves be guided by the silent voice: "We can guide our attention, focus it on what interests us, ... for example the flute", then: "Ayako is about to play. Let's listen to the sound, before it happens", or "What are the musicians thinking? What is their inner state?", and on another register: "Does your presence matter to the musicians? "Let's try to listen through the ears of a person sitting next to us...", or "Do we feel the sounds only through our ears or through another part of our body? Our stomach, our left foot, our neck? ". Further on in the experiment: "Our bodies are vibrating surfaces. Let the sounds create an imprint on us...", "Can we remember how far we have come since the music began? "Let's try tosynchronize our movements, our breaths. Let's try to imagine that we are one organism."
And toward the end of the performance, "Let's gradually return to our public posture, in controlled silence. Let's look for the listening plane, or the mobility between listening planes that works for us."

During this one hour journey, the hearing is solicited, but also the eyes. First of all because there are the famous vignettes projected above the musicians - these sentences that we can't help but read -, but also because the light work of Raphaël Siefert and Léa Kreutzer highlights the beauty of the "vibrating objects" with their mobile parts: a quantity of heterogeneous materials (plants, sticks, papers...), which come to dance and resonate on the surfaces (thunder plate, skin of drums, cymbals...). This dance of the elements also contaminates the musicians, for whom Elsa Biston imagined a sound world which makes its honey of non traditional modes of play, explored together upstream: plays of paper-alu, crumpling of plastic, whistling of sticks..., the whole often in the low register, that of the instruments put in presence.

Lovers of floating, passive listening, or solitary reverie, Attentifs, ensemble is not for you! Because if you accept to play the game, you are nothing more than a ball of attention entirely directed towards the present moment and towards the world. Moreover, you become the author of the sounds, in equal measure with the musicians!

On the barge La Pop, Elsa Biston and HANATSUmiroir invited us to a nice challenge: a delicate balance between letting go and paying attention. One thinks of yoga (yes!), or of the Sonic Meditations that Pauline Oliveros composed in the 1980s. She too had this poetic attention to the world. Witness this radical and magnificent injunction: "Go for a walk at night, and walk as silently as possible, with the sensation that your soles become ears! "

Anne Montaron

Photos © La Pop