By the villagesJulien Desailly

Interviews 08.06.2023

For the Festival du Nouveau Printemps, multi-instrumentalist Julien Desailly (bagpipes, flutes, percussion, etc.) and visual artist Camille Grosperrin have designed a sculptural and sound installation in the heart of the Chapelle de la Grave (June 2 - September 3, 2023). An explorer of the traditional repertoire, Julien Desailly is a member of Pancrace, Dix-Sept Saturnes, Gésir, Duo Decaze/Desailly, Mafila Ko and Hexagonal Pipers Club. He is also developing a whole series of projects in close proximity to local communities, such as bike tours with A Spurious Tale and the film La fête de Boissières n'aura pas lieu.

Julien Desailly What is the place of the instrumentalist in art?
I've never tackled this question head-on. It's true that I define myself as an instrumentalist, concentrating in particular on an instrument that follows me everywhere: the bagpipes. It's not a trivial way of presenting myself, but it gives an outline to my practice of music, and it mainly involves this object made of a bag, reeds and pipes, which takes on a particular charge to the point of becoming an object of power, in an animistic sense.
I'm interested in the relationship between instrumentalists and their instruments, and we sometimes forget just how important a part it is in the music we produce. There's a tendency to concentrate on what we want to play, and then forget the nature of the relationship we have with our instrument.
In fact - and perhaps this answers your question a little - I think that all too often, we confuse the instrumentalist with the performer, i.e. a kind of executor with more or less freedom in relation to his score (whether written or not).
What appeals to me and best defines the instrumentalist, in my opinion, is this human-object duo, and the fact that everything we say passes through this object, as the sole channel. Hence my interest in instrument making: the making of sound begins with the making of the instrument. And the object is not necessarily fixed; it can always be modified, evolve, like us. 

At what point in your career did this place become a question?
I carry my bagpipes around in a wide variety of contexts, but I come from a traditional music background, and that's where I first learned to play my instrument.
This is important, because the place one envisages occupying as an instrumentalist and musician is very different within traditional music. Whether it's to accompany important life events (funerals, weddings, parties...), to get people dancing (balls), or to play in places where social life is played out (bars, pubs in Ireland), each time you share codes with a community that understands them. If you don't have a place in the art world, you immediately take on a social role.
Even if I tend to experiment with and distance myself from this territorially-anchored music, it forms a foundation. This translates into rhythmic issues that basically come from dance. And it also steered me towards a certain way of conceiving variation - the same but different every time, like the ritornello in Deleuze's "Mille Plateaux" - which is very present in the traditional music I love.
In groups like Pancrace, Duo DesaillyMaurel, or Gésir, I build on these concerns, stretching them, even though these forms have no apparent connection with traditional music. In fact, most of the time, my comparses have no connection whatsoever with traditional music.

On the contrary, in A Spurious Tale, Dix-Sept Saturnes, Mafila Ko, Hexagonal Pipers Club, I play with people who evolve in the world of traditional music, and whatever their geographical origins and cultural differences, we each have one foot on the pedestal I mentioned. 

Later, when I was more confronted with the concert format, this question of posture took on a new twist. The concert is a device that has often bothered me, perhaps precisely because it distorts what traditional music originally was. Indeed, it's a completely different relationship: you come to listen to music (which is actually quite bizarre), there's a space for the audience and another for the performers (and there's a big gap between the two!), and the performers are placed on a pedestal.), artists are placed on a pedestal, musicians and singers are artists (which is not at all socially obvious), the social stakes are lower and, what's more, the concert is only for a small caste, it's dark in a dedicated hall, it's a show. Traditional music is not a show, or not only a show, and I think that's where some of my questions come from.
And at the same time, the concert format allows you to hear very fine, precise things, to develop ideas that wouldn't have their place elsewhere, and a certain concentration is possible.

How have these questions inspired you to create new forms? What forms?
In fact, I think we're having trouble getting rid of the legacy of elite music, and I think we're all trying, in very different ways, to restore meaning to concert practice. Whether it's artists, festivals, cultural policies, concert halls... There's a lot to be said for concert halls, it's an architectural problem too.
It seems to me that we've reached a point in France where there's a profusion of musical offerings, but ultimately the places where they can flourish are sometimes hard to find. Now that most people only listen to music through loudspeakers, I find it relevant to create listening contexts that make use of the acoustics of instruments and places.
With our collective Le Mange-Minutes, which links together several groups on the frontier of traditional music, we're experimenting with different formats in Auvergne (Haute-Loire). For example, we produced the musical film La fête de Boissières n'aura pas lieuin collaboration with the inhabitants of the hamlet of Boissières (freely available on the Internet). This year we're organizing a village-to-village tractor tour in the Haut-Allier region. The tractor will pull a farmer's platform transformed into a stage, all powered by truck batteries. Some of us in the collective come from rural backgrounds, and we try to offer forms that are adapted and demanding for this often forgotten audience. 

In this vein, with the band A Spurious Tale we embarked on a bicycle tour from Strasbourg to Brest, playing over twenty concerts in a month along the way. We did this for three years running. We'd go from a squat, to a media library, to a fully-equipped hall, to a tea room, or even an outdoor concert... For us, these are concert arrangements that make more sense than playing every night in a big black hall, aiming for neutrality (a standard not unrelated to the white cube de rigueur in artistic circles), then waking up the next day in a hotel with the same picture on the wall (poppy, New-York in black and white or zen-stones).
I get a real kick out of finding the posture that suits me best, that seems right to me, to respond to a given context, to adapt to other artists, to another audience. It's all part of the game of trying to understand where we are and who we're dealing with.

In what way do these new forms you're experimenting with question the place of listening and the audience?
I'm working on several fronts. There's this concern for context, for people, and that's a real challenge. There's a lot to be done in this area, but listening can't be summed up by the public coming to consume what we produce. It starts with us, as musicians and sound engineers... It's in our interest to position ourselves on this question of listening, which is very concrete, but also very intimate.
For me, listening is closely linked to space. The bagpipe is a wonderful tool for making places sound (outdoors too), and the piper is called a "ringer". I use it a lot to trigger spaces, to explore their acoustic properties. Some time ago, I recorded a solo album in a water tower in Alsace (iii! on the Soleils Bleus label), and the bagpipes acted as an acoustic revelation of this monstrously reverberant place, altering certain frequencies and erasing certain sounds. Zoé Heselton and I carefully chose a fixed location and two microphones. To each piece I recorded, I associated a movement, sometimes a real journey. For example, by playing repetitive music while gradually ascending and descending in the water tower.
With Léo Maurel, a luthier-inventor with whom I often collaborate, we set out to develop different acoustic phenomena in our music. This has led us to pay greater attention to the physicality of sound, psychoacoustics and research into the timbres of our instruments (hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes, organ). We no longer speak of notes, but of frequencies, beats, harmonic selection, microtonality... This led us to the exploded organ of Pancrace, a group with whom we're releasing our third album this year (Penultimate Press).

As an instrumentalist, it's easy to fall into the trap of hearing only notes! Our ear, deformed by the training we have undergone, is accustomed to extracting only one precise frequency from a sound (which is handy for making complex harmonic arrangements). This often leads us to perceive only that, and to forget what constitutes the sound in its entirety. And when you have an instrument in your hands, the making of sound begins with the materials you use and their acoustic properties... Bagpipes quickly immersed me in the world of instrument making. Adjusting my instrument, making my reeds, adding a new organ... the bagpipe is not a finished instrument. I often work with luthiers, notably Léo, whom I helped make a motorized bagpipe (the TUI).
More recently, I made an instrument for a choreographic piece by Céline Cartillier. Haut-Fondperformed in Paris on June 8 as part of june events. In this piece, Céline turns clay on a potter's wheel, and she wanted the wheel to be able to become an instrument, producing her own music. With ceramist Camille Grosperrin, it seemed logical to extend this research to the exhibition at the Dôme de la Grave in Toulouse, as part of the Nouveau Printemps festival.

This isn't your first collaboration with Camille GrosperrinHow does this fit in with your work?
I did the music for her film Diving Horses, which takes place in New York State and is about the last diving horse, the old amusement park that houses it and the employees who look after it. I like making music for movies. In this film, there's a rather long musical sequence in a tunnel, which is important for us and which testifies to the fact that the music and images were made at the same time. We often write the music once the film editing has progressed, or vice versa in the case of music videos. Camille, too, is versatile: she's a ceramist, a designer and a filmmaker. We work together in a variety of ways, although so far we've mainly collaborated on films. With Léo Maurel, again, we did the music for his video Pale Horse video in 2013. And more recently, together with workers from the Fayet cane factory, we took part in a video presented in Thiers at the Centre d'Art du Creux de l'Enfer. We also sometimes draw together, a practice we share. But in Toulouse, this is the first time we've created a sculptural piece together. Over time, our collaboration becomes more refined and deeper. It's something I try to nurture with other people, like Julien Moneret with whom I play in several groups, Céline Cartillier in the choreographic field, Léo Maurel whom I've already mentioned, Jean-Luc Guionnet with whom I now improvise in several projects, Fabienne Wagenaar for whom I'm doing the music for an animated film, Adrian Smith, Jan Vysocki, Adama Koéta... and I'm forgetting.

DIVING HORSES from Camille Grosperrin on Vimeo.

How did you come to design this installation together? Can you describe it?
The designer and artist Matali Crasset invited us to exhibit in the dome at La Grave. I think that when she visited this place, she thought that the particular acoustics might interest me, and it did! But for a variety of reasons, the sound component became less important as the project progressed. Firstly, for technical reasons: it's a historic building and I couldn't place anything high up on the cornice (no speakers, for example). Of course, it would have been interesting to make full use of the acoustics of the building, but that would also have meant reaching a certain volume.
The room, "les invisibles", has to be activated for three months, and there are people working there every day and welcoming the public, so we tried to be mindful of their mental health too! We also didn't want Camille's sculptures to be reduced to an illustrative role, so we had to find the right place for sound in this project. So we decided to make some of the ceramics sound. A motor regularly rotates a ceramic, setting in motion a large shoot of alder that rubs and strikes the ceramic at one end, and on the other end of the alder, Camille has designed a kind of large, organically-shaped ceramic bell. Each end of the alder produces sounds of a very different nature: rubbing and percussion on one side, and an almost crystalline sound on the other. As you move beneath the dome, the balance between these two sounds changes. We invite visitors to move around and listen to this changing relationship, depending on where they are. The whole is supported by a raw wooden framework, which contrasts with the building's sleek decor. Camille has developed a universe around the flora and fauna of the Garonne. Indeed, the dome is built on the banks of the river, on a former gravel pit. She has a great affinity with the animal figure, and her sculptures are partly realistic, dotted with faithful details of catfish, eels and pondweed, from which she extracts motifs that she repeats. Catfish fins become shells, eel bodies cubic. Some of her models remain rough, the collages visible, contrasting with the finesse of certain elements. As the dome was historically flooded in 1875, it's not entirely incoherent to bring back fish, shellfish and seaweed. This gives the chapel a deliriously wet crib feel. There's an element of humor, which I hope will come across. These ceramic pieces are sometimes fixed to the framework with wooden pegs, but they also blend in with the wooden pieces, and we took great pleasure in combining these two materials, wood and ceramics. The piece will be on view throughout the summer. And we've scheduled two special concert-like activations of the piece: on June 24, with Gésir (with Camille Émaille and Jean-Luc Guionnet) and on July 1, Les Autonautes de la Cosmoroute, with Pol Small and Julien Moneret.

Interview by Anne-Laure Chamboissier

Photos © Damien Aspe


buy twitter accounts