Lise Barkas/Kreis CollectiveThe World in a Circle

Interviews 02.05.2021

Lise Barkas is a musician living in Strasbourg. She plays the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes out of a passion for these traditional instruments and the sound effects they produce. She co-founded Kreis / Collectif continu and performs in a number of experimental bands, including L'Écluse and the duo Lise & Lisa.

Interview conducted on 19 February 2021

What makes a young musician choose the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes to express herself? When did you make this choice? How did you learn to play these instruments?
I started with the hurdy-gurdy in 2010. I had never played music before. I didn't come to it through the repertoire, but because I liked the sound of this instrument by hearing it on records, both traditional music, Malicorne for example, and experimental music, like the group Coil, with the hurdy-gurdy player Cliff Stapleton. I was already listening to Coil, but this instrument appealed to me. I asked around, because I knew that this band used modular synthesizers and electronics, but this sound seemed very different, more organic. When I could identify it, I looked for all the possible music with hurdy-gurdy, and I spent two years listening to it. As a child I had heard someone playing the hurdy-gurdy regularly in the street, so maybe my attraction came from that distant memory too?

And the bagpipes?
That came later. I moved to Lille, where I took part in the end-of-year concert of the music school. We played with the bagpipes. The drone and the sound of these instruments had already appealed to me since I discovered the festival Le Son continu, but to play in their company, to see them working on their instruments, to feel the effects and the sensations, I wanted to approach this instrument. That was in 2013. Then I took lessons from Edouard Bauer.

Do you still play traditional music today, dance music for example?
A bit less than in the beginning, because traditional dances were the only place where I could play music. But I still play it. It's something I like to do, even though I've never been particularly attached to the repertoire.

What I know of you is mostly in the field of performance music and experimental music. Where did this particular interest come from?
It predates my interest in old music. I was listening to a lot of experimental music for a long time. I was also interested in film soundscapes. I discovered a lot of music through this, like in Tarkovsky's Stalker, especially traditional music by Paradjanov. One thing led to another and I listened to experimental rock and electronic music like Coil. I kept this approach when I had my hurdy-gurdy. Again, it was for sonic reasons that I chose this instrument, not for the repertoire. Once I had mastered it better, I looked for new and unusual playing techniques. I also listened to Yann Gourdon around 2012, who showed me that it was possible to bring together these two things I liked: my instrument and experimental repertoires.

How do you relate this experimental practice to traditional music?
For me, there is a similar feeling. I find something that speaks to me in the same way, but that I can't explain.

On your website, the music of L'Écluse is described as trance music. Could there be a link between these two worlds?
The description of L'É cluse on our site was not written by us but by a journalist, Michel Henritzi. I never used that word myself, although I know what you mean. In balls, with dance, as in our music, even if it is not to be danced to, one can indeed find this same quest for another state of consciousness.

Let's talk about Kreis/Collectif continu. You founded this collective in 2017 with Félix Chaillou (multi-instrumentalist, in particular hurdy-gurdy player and instrument tinkerer), and Léo Maurel (luthier specialised in hurdy-gurdies and many derivatives, such as drone boxes). Here is their presentation on your website: Kreis "has forged its identity around the idea of continuous sound, inherent in certain instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, while at the same time being interested in experimental and improvised music, trance music and various traditional repertoires. "It is also reported that Kreis "has forged close links with both local and international musicians and collectives. "What does Kreis mean?
Kreis is German for 'circle'. Félix and I had fun finding a word that expresses both something circular like the hurdy-gurdy wheel and the idea of a sect, because we felt a bit apart with our hurdy-gurdy stories and we wanted to take on this image. We also liked the word German, and Lisa Käufert, who plays the bagpipes with us, is German.

You told me that much of what you do is related to the activities of an alternative venue and the Tunnel. You also told me that "the only testimonies at the moment are a few scattered cassettes and a single three-minute bagpipe recording", which "makes a whole part of our work inaudible for the time being". What is this alternative venue and what is the Tunnel?
It is an alternative concert hall in Strasbourg. This venue is preserved because it is on the fringe and does not want to draw too much attention to itself. This venue is an association, and allows a great deal of freedom in the organisation of concerts, programming, deadlines, etc.
The Tunnel is a generic name, even though there is a real tunnel in a forest, which is not an official venue. We have kept this name for different parties we organise in abandoned places. People go around a lot, for example in the old forts around Strasbourg, to find interesting places and organise alternative meetings there. We have two regular places, but many other ephemeral and nomadic places. The organisation is totally DIY(Do It Yourself), entry is free, drinks and food are often shared for free. The artists also play for free, or by the hat. This allows you to experiment with many things that you wouldn't be able to do at a festival like Musique Action, for example.

You attach great importance to places. On your CD of L'Écluse, published by Soleils bleus, you write, for example: "We started L'Écluse in 2016, at the foot of Strasbourg cathedral, with a bagpipe and two guitars, among the swirling winds that are said to be the devil trying, in vain, to penetrate the building. "I saw you occupy the spaces of the MJC Lillebone in Nancy during the Musique Action catch-up festival last September. At one point in the performance, the two guitarists came down the stairs equipped with bells and passed through the courtyard in the middle of the audience. The sound came from all sides and merged with your drones, it was very beautiful. Do you have a particular relationship with the places you use?
It's quite personal for everyone. It's not possible with the hurdy-gurdy, because I have to sit still, but I really like to move around with the bagpipes, to hear how the sound transforms itself, resonates in certain places, and to play them. It's the same, I imagine, for Ross Heselton and Léonie Risjeterre, who can move around with their guitars during L'Écluse sets. I think there's also something aesthetic in their vision. Léonie has an artistic background in illustration and is very interested in the visual aspect, in the way we arrange ourselves. For me, it's more about feeling and appreciating the sound of the instrument. Léonie, Ross and I formed the core group. As we played a lot in the street at the beginning, we invited a lot of people: a didgeridoo player, Felix, Lisa... A lot of musicians also joined us when we played in the first part of a concert, for example at the Mine. La Mine is a hall in an art school in Strasbourg, where Léonie studied. I don't know if this defines L'Écluse, but a lot of musicians have indeed passed through the band, even if the core has remained, and Lisa and Félix have become full members.

How would you define the music of L'Écluse? Is it a modern form of traditional music, linked to the drone folk movement? Is it music to rave about?
I'm not sure exactly what " drone folk " refers to, but in our music there is indeed drone and folk. The little ostinato I play on the hurdy-gurdy comes from a traditional Hungarian piece. So you could say that it is a distant reference to folk music. However, when talking about our music, I wouldn't refer to traditional music. I would point out the repetitive aspects, common to both folk music and American minimalism. Perhaps this is where the connection is made. Furthermore, we agreed on the question of temperament and microtonality, on the notion of rightness and wrongness. Finally, we like long durations. I like to take the time to get into a piece, to feel things differently.

Let's talk about your label, Soleils Bleus, described as "a microlabel and publishing house for folk & experimental music", based in Strasbourg, founded in 2015. It also publishes comics and poetry. Can you introduce it to us?
The label was created by Ross and Léonie. Long before L'Écluse was founded, they started recording concerts by friends of theirs, to document what was happening in and around Strasbourg. The label works a lot on emotional ties, it's not just about music. They are very small editions based on DIY, made on CDRs, at home.

But these 'handmade' records are beautiful objects, with their folded papers, their design.
They put a lot of care into them. I have organised concerts where musicians have been recorded by the label, I have recorded for them myself. They are the ones who take care of the record, the object.

You record quite often, it seems to be necessary. Is it important for you to set milestones on your journey?
Yes, keeping a record seems important to me. Ross and Léonie work hard on the plastic quality of the records. If it were up to me, I'd be content with cassettes and drawing on the case with a felt pen. What interests me most is the memory of the concert. Not necessarily a very faithful recording, but a trace that can evoke an impression or a feeling in someone who was not there: a testimony. These are often live recordings. Ross made a studio album, but the records are mostly concert recordings.

In your universe, we often come across the name of another collective, with more or less the same musicians, notably cellist Stéphane Clor: Dreieck Interférences. What is this collective? What does its name mean? What is the difference with Kreis?
Dreieck Interférences is Stéphane's baby. It is an ensemble of about twenty musicians, mainly from the East of France. Stéphane wanted to create a network rather than a group, open to experiences, like during the first confinement, with the Confinement Compilations. They brought together many artists from a distance. It is a sort of reservoir of musicians, many of whom are improvisers, but also a structure for presenting projects. Kreis is a concert organisation collective, without an associative structure. This collective really began around the hurdy-gurdy, with musical affinities. Even if Kreis has evolved, going beyond hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe drones, Dreieck is much more varied in terms of aesthetics. 

Can you tell me about the duet with Lisa Käuffert, Lise & Lisa, on Central France bagpipes?
I started playing with Lisa in 2014. We met at the vielle festival. We first played ballroom repertoire, but I was trying out different tracks on the bagpipes then. My journey on this instrument has been much the same as on the hurdy-gurdy: learning the technique and then looking for new experiences. When I met Lisa, I was looking to see if a combination of bagpipes would maximise the effect. We first played at La Mine, invited by Soleils bleus. We had prepared a piece with three or four notes, very repetitive, not extremely structured, leaving a lot of room for improvisation, while remaining in a rhythm. The influence of the dances was still felt, with the bourrée rhythm very present, but associated with foreign motifs, which created interactions between the two bagpipes, with very similar sounds. At the beginning, we were still very much in the melody, which we abandoned little by little. I would explore different processes: altering the pitches of notes or discovering new timbres. We integrated these elements into the duet, playing with microtonality.

With L'Écluse or Lise & Lisa, you recently played at Météo in Mulhouse, Musique Action in Nancy and Musica in Strasbourg, three festivals that are part of the avant-garde, historically in distinct domains: jazz, performance and improvisation music and scholarly music. It seems to me that this is very revealing. Today, the chapels have fallen. What do you think of this?
I admit that I don't know much about "chapels". I have the impression that this is a response to the programmers' desire not to have artists from the same backgrounds and the same currents. Mathieu Schoenahl, the future director of the Météo festival , was present at the first concert of L'Écluse at La Mine. He witnessed the birth of the band and apparently had kept in mind the idea of having us play somewhere. He was the first to suggest that we play at a festival of this size. He told Olivier Perry, the director of Musique Action, about it. I personally got closer to the Musica festival in Strasbourg because I like to follow what's going on in my city and create links, and because the arrival of the new director, Stéphane Roth, marked the beginning of a programme that interested me more. It seems that our work could also fit in, as we were invited to the closing concert of the last edition. Perhaps the effects of confinement have pushed the festival to programme more local artists?

Interview by Guillaume Kosmicki

Listen to Par monts et par sons on RBG (Radio Bro Gwened), sound portraits Part 1 and Part 2 with Lise Barkas and Guillaume Kosmicki
Photo article ©Laura Sifi