Musical superspectives

Interviews 16.06.2022

Superspectives was born in 2019 from the meeting of pianist François Mardirossian and philosopher Camille Rhonat and takes place in the gardens of the Maison Lorette (South Terrace and North Terrace) overlooking the city of Lyon. This fourth edition, which begins tomorrow, June 17, and ends July 10, brings together artists as different and iconoclastic as Charlemagne Palestine, Clara Levy, Alvin Curran or La Novia. Let's meet the two young directors.

François, Camille, how did you meet?
Camille Rhonat: We met at school when we were 15! We used to exchange records and talk about them a lot. François introduced me to Philip Glass, whom he had been listening to for a long time. As for me, apart from classical music and jazz, I had a devouring passion for David Bowie. That was the beginning of my mental decompartmentalization of music, which we find years later in Superspectives.

So let's talk about music: how do you create a new contemporary music festival today? What meaning does the term "contemporary music" have for you in a period where this historical terminology is being questioned?
François Mardirossian: We asked ourselves a lot of questions; how to assume this term, rather than those of creative, exploratory or present-day music... but we quickly decided that we had to assume it because the historical references are far from us now: Boulez was in 1952, he is more contemporary with Shostakovich than with me!
We also wanted to show that contemporary music brings together other musics outside Europe, in the United States for example with jazz and American Indian music. If I had to define the great musical revolutions of the 20th century, I would put jazz first, and perhaps Debussy and Stravinsky. In 2022, it seemed more important to us to move towards these types of music. Towards the minimalist music that is only beginning to be accepted here, that of the dinosaurs like Phil Glass, Terry Riley, La Monte Young.
CR: It's a somewhat ambitious and greedy challenge to take on the main issue, which is to reconcile the public with contemporary music, even if it's a term that always discourages. We are trying to separate ourselves from the somewhat dated avant-gardes. I don't believe in an enlightened elite at the forefront of aesthetics that would legitimise the music of the future to educate the public.

How did the festival start in 2019? And why launch a festival in Lyon?
: We had the opportunity to propose a project to the Maison de Lorette which was born from a reflection on the local cultural habits of the people of Lyon. Indeed, there was no festival that took place every year in a single place and over a fairly long period (one month). We wanted to offer an alternative, festive and summery, to the academic and institutional approaches to contemporary music and at the same time propose more demanding or rare things than in most summer festivals. We also wanted to highlight minimalist music and hybridisation with other music than scholarly music.
FM: The festival came out of the bush in nine months with this incredible opening work by composer and pianist Frédéric Rzewski, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (1975), in this magical place that is the Maison de Lorette, on the Fourvière hill. And it was a strong gesture for us: political, musical, territorial.
We also developed a different kind of communication, with humour and self-mockery, which is not so usual in our very serious milieu, and we took care to write all the presentations of the concerts to make them understandable to everyone. And in four years we've already acquired a loyal (albeit modest) audience, who come to enjoy a unique place in nature, who discover music at all hours of the day and night and attend hybrid concerts.
CR: Hybrid in the sense of the public, because the important thing is to decompartmentalise the public; as for the aesthetic decompartmentalisation, the artists take care of that very well. The public in Lyon is still quite scattered, and our wish is to attract it through our transversality, as Opéra underground does, for example.

This is the 4th edition. How does it work? How do you build a programme in pairs? And what does "programming" mean to you?
FM: We try to make a programme that resembles both of us, with our respective tastes, for example with my culture that I also forged during ten years in Belgium. We try to bring in projects that we don't hear elsewhere, at least not in the Lyon region. The important thing is also to create concerts from scratch: we look for a composer, performers and we bring them together around a project; we don't do much broadcasting in fact. We each have our own networks, we mix them and we create encounters.
CR: For me, the role of artistic director is inseparable from my work as a programmer, I like to take a fruitful place in the creative process. It is also an experience of friendship and intellectual emulation. There is no shortage of ideas, but refining them together is precious and indispensable.
FM: Being alone is a bit megalomaniac, isn't it?
CR: And then we are also directors, so we also have to be accountable. We have a hand in everything, even if we have a small team with a permanent production manager, a communication manager and about thirty volunteers during the festival.

In this programme, there are names that we know well at Hémisphère son - Lubomyr Melnik, Gavin Bryars, Charlemagne Palestine- and other artists that we are discovering, such as...
CR: ... Chassol, with "Six Pianos Ultrabirdz & More" (2 July). A lot of festival-goers knew us thanks to Chassol, who we programmed last year with Ludi, his latest album. We wanted him to express his attachment to contemporary music as much as his attachment to the environment (through his work on field recording). The heart of his work is "ultrascore", i.e. the harmonisation of recorded sound sequences, a very direct method of creating music which allows minimalism and pop to be mixed.
FM: I would also mention the harpsichordist Jean Rondeau (29 July). We already wanted to invite him last year. I discovered him ten years ago in Brussels and the release of his Variations Goldberg (UNDR) on Warner Music gave us the opportunity to invite him to revisit these Variations Goldberg with his drummer friend Tancrède Kummer and a prepared piano. 

Precisely, what place do you give to the younger generation, to young artists? And what is your position on parity in the programmes?
FM: Right from the start we have given a real place to young people, as in this carte blanche evening for young students from the composition class of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (CNSM) in Lyon. We try to mix the older generation with the younger generation of 20-25 year olds.
CR: On the question of parity and youth, I would like to emphasise that we are already concerned to balance creation and repertoire through commissions. After this effort, we are also concerned with opening up to the emerging scene. In Lyon, we have therefore established relationships with students from the composition and keyboard classes of the CNSM, but also with the Conservatoire de Région and the École Nationale de Musique de Villeurbanne. Moreover, there is a whole local alternative scene here, which is quite far from institutional venues and which is very active, as can be seen, for example, in places like Grrrnd Zero.
In this year's programme, I would mention Othman LouatiA young composer and percussionist who will come on Saturday 18 June to play Nocturnes, an improvised electro/ambient rewriting of the Prelude to Wagner's Die Walkyrie

And what about the place of female musicians and composers in the programme?
FM: Since the beginning, we have really tried to create parity in the festival. At the beginning, we programmed female musicians and composers for a whole evening, but the formula was not satisfactory and we were reproached for making them invisible by bringing them together on a single evening. In fact, I have to admit that we still don't find many female composers, and when we call for projects, it is still mainly men who respond.
FM - CR: For this edition, let's mention some of these women artists: Clara Lévy ensemble Chakâmwith Christine Zayed, Sogol Mirzaei, and Marie-Suzanne de Loye to celebrate Persian music (1 July) and the creation of La mer by the composer Margaux Dauby with the ondist Cécile Lartigau (8 July).
CR: In any case, there is a real awareness this year and we are trying to find ideas that go beyond an accounting approach. For example, Clara Levy was initially planned for the Ambient weekend and we finally took the risk of offering her a whole evening.

Is it risky to programme young people and women?
: Actually, if you look at the box office, we take more risk programming Alvin Curran who is another dinosaur of contemporary minimalist music than Clara Levy!

Can you tell us about the Groovedgelabel, with which you are organising a weekend around ambient music on 25 and 26 June?
CR: Groovedge is an independent label dedicated to alternative music that straddles the line between drone, noise and post-punk, and at the same time crosses over into minimalist and concrete music through its experimental approach. They are part of the Lyon scene through a network of musicians who travel around several quality underground venues. This is our first experience of co-programming. 

What does ambient represent for you: a contemporary music genre?
CR: We thought of ambient as an echo of the minimalist night that we had programmed in 2021 because we were looking for another immersive project for this edition. We wanted to highlight this musical genre and remind ourselves that its boundaries are blurred and uncertain in the face of the success of relaxation and meditation playlists; to remind us that above all it is experimental music.
We wanted to privilege the acoustic side of the beginnings with the utopia of Brian Eno's Obscure Records (1975-1978) with Gavin Bryars, David Toop, Harold Budd...
FM : David Toop couldn't come, but we're going to have some great musicians like Yannick Lestra, MTUA, Camille Heim, Felicia Atkinson, Laura Lippie...

To conclude, you write in the presentation of Superspectives that you want to develop an honest experience of culture ... what do you mean by this?
FM: Maybe I meant dealing with experimentation in programming itself, with false notes and possible failures. Life is full of false notes and so is music! Facing our ideas and not making concessions.
CR: I think it's also a critique of festivalisation and the tyranny of profitability. A way of being sincere, loyal and oriented towards the music and less towards profitability even if it is difficult, especially today.

Interview by Sandrine Maricot Despretz

Photo © wiil
Photo © Jérome Moreau


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