the city – a gigantic composition

Anya Leveillé: Interview Alexandre Babel Les Amplitudes La Chaux-de Fonds 21.-25.10.20

The 9th edition Les Amplitudes, conceived by percussionist, curator and composer Alexandre Babel will be presented in La Chaux-de-Fonds from October 21 to October 25.

Geneva born Alexandre Babel, currently lives in Berlin, from where he travels the world as a soloist and with numerous ensembles, exploring contemporary, improvised and experimental music as performer, composer and curator.

Artistic director of Eklekto, percussionist-drummer with the KNM Berlin ensemble as well as the experimental trio Sudden Infant, performer with Mio Chareteau in the Radial collective, composer for various instrumental ensembles (including a snare drum choir and a cello-piano duo) or Delia Hess’ animated films, Alexandre Babel extends his sound research through multiple artistic practices which will be reflected in a series of events mixing concerts, performances, conferences, projections and sound walks at Les Amplitudes.

Alexandre Babel Portrait © Martin Baumgartner

During my phone call (or rather “Zoom” call) with Alexandre Babel in his Berlin rehearsal room, we discussed the atypical Les Amplitudes festival. Its monographic dimension makes the event unique within the galaxy of contemporary music festivals, allowing the public to discover the guest artist’s creative workshop, whose programming reveals La Chaux-de-Fonds’ urban spaces as well as architectural heritage.

How did you approach Les Amplitudes’ programming?

Les Amplitudes allows me to combine my three main activities – instrumentalist, composer and programmer – within a single event that fits into a precise framework, namely La Chaux-de-Fonds. The town becomes stage for a gigantic composition that begins on the first day of the festival and ends with the closing concert. This “composition” is made up of musical, social and urban parameters, which I perceive as one single entity formed by a constellation of concerts, events and encounters.


Alexandre Babel, the way down pour violoncelle et piano, Duo Orion 2020

You refer to the city being transformed into a huge composition. Was it to compose this urban score that you chose Alvin Lucier’s “Memory Space” for the opening of the Festival, given that the piece plays with the sound spaces of a particular place?

Alvin Lucier’s piece is programmed as part of the event entitled “I listen to the city”, developed by the artistic director of the KNM Berlin Ensemble, Thomas Bruns. This project, which creates a kind of live urban postcard, invites participants to be guided, blindfolded, through the streets of the city and discover it not through looking, but through hearing. In “Memory Space”, Lucier provides the interpreters with a text as score indicating the interpretation procedure. The musicians go to a place whose soundscape they will have to memorise by various means (recording, note-taking, drawings), but for the concert, they are asked to reproduce the sound imprint of the place from memory and with their instrument. In La Chaux-de-Fonds, these wanderings will disclose several listening layers, with participants walking around listening to the sounds of the streets and musicians musically reproducing what they have heard in the past.

the city is transformed into a gigantic composition

What do you consider to be La Chaux-de-Fonds’ specific sound characteristics?

After having participated in the production of the “I listen to the city” project in many cities, La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me. Sometimes, it is even difficult to find a noisy place, but when you walk through the streets, your hearing opens up and you start to perceive sounds that are more sustained, more distant. This project is very interesting because it allows to really express something regarding the city.

J’écoute la ville / Nicolas Masson

Besides from the sound walks, has La Chaux-de-Fonds inspired you for the other events programmed at Les Amplitudes?

Of course, because it’s a place that inspires a lot of images, starting with its urban plan, which is really very special. The “Pod”, this huge central avenue, and the town’s division into squares made me want to create one or more walking projects. Then there is all the heritage of music- and art- related buildings, which is remarkable for a city of this size. The Music Hall, the “Heure bleue” Theatre, the “Usine électrique”… These exceptional places led me to a lot of questions: what was the story this hall was telling me? What could I do here? How could this or that score combined with another piece “reveal” a specific place?

La Chaux-de-Fonds seemed extremely quiet to me.

You haven’t only scheduled concerts for this eighth edition of Les Amplitudes…

I am interested in sound vibration, in sound as a priority, but the question of this sound vibration can have different implicationsthat are not necessarily and always achievable in concert. At Les Amplitudes, I have, among other things, programmed a conference at Club 44 with visual artist, Latifa Echakhch, and composer and philosopher François Bonnet, director of the GRM.  With Echakhch, I just started a collaboration focusing on an exhibition where the question of sound vibration will not lead to a concert or another type of sound representation, but take on other forms through plastic and conceptual work.


Thomas Kessler, 5+5: Eklekto, 2017

This is actually where Les Amplitudes’ uniqueness lies! Focusing on an artist, but by exploring different aspects of his or her practice or thought. A process that allows to build a journey during which we discover many different angles that, put together, will create and shape an image of an artistic proposal that one can make his or her own.
Interview: Anya Leveillé

Delia Hess, Ensemble KNM BerlinSudden Infant, Mio Chareteau, RadialEklekto Geneva Percussion Center

Broadcasts RTS:
2.10.20.: L’écho des pavanes, éditorial Anya Leveillé: Alexandre Babel aus Amplitudes
21. et 24.10.20, 19:03h: L’écho des pavanes: Live sur place aux amplitudes
19.10.20: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: Portrait Alexandre Babel
26.10.20.: Musique d’avenir, éditorial Anne Gillot: concert finale en live

Broadcast SRF 2 Kultur:
21.10.20., 20h: dans: Musik unserer Zeit, éditorial Florian Hauser / invitée Gabrielle Weber & neo.mx3

Neo-Profiles: Les amplitudes, Eklekto Geneva Percussion Center, Alexandre Babel

Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva – Experimentation and legacy

Interview with Serge Vuille, Artistic Director Ensemble Contrechamps Geneva

Serge Vuille

Gabrielle Weber
After
spending ten years in London, Serge Vuille, percussionist and former director of the contemporary music ensemble WeSpoke, is back in his native Romandie (French-speaking part of Switzerland), where he has taken over the artistic direction of the ensemble Contrechamps”. In this interview, he tells us about the ensemble’s positioning within the contemporary music scene and the first concert season under his direction (starting in September 2019)  

Serge Vuille, as a young musician-percussionist and programmer, your background is rather experimental. Now you’re leading the most important as well as steeped in tradition ensemble of this part of Switzerland. What is your position regarding the ensemble’s tradition and history?
Contrechamps40-years strong history is a legacy I consider to be very important.
The historical side of a contemporary ensemble consists in regularly playing and fostering important masterpieces of the repertoire, which is crucial. On the other hand, the ensemble’s take on creation, research and experimentation is a critical aspect too. I enjoy combining and linking these two angles in my programmes.

Contrechamps being an instrumental ensemble in the traditional sense, how do you position yourselves in relation to the interdisciplinary and multimedia trends?
This is a key point within the regular activity of an ensemble like Contrechamps: What place do acoustic instruments occupy within the scope of 21st century sound and music experimentation? I’ve noticed that there is still great fascination for such things as instrumental music, the concept of virtuosity and even simply acoustic sound.

“There is something that remains absolutely magical about sitting in a silent room and hearing the sound of an instrument.”

It is important to find a balance between the repertoire, which is part of the history and DNA of the ensemble and innovative solutions in order to create instrumental or hybrid music, in a musical landscape that went through major revolutions over the past ten years. For this upcoming season, we will not only invite classical composers, but also artists and dancers approaching the concept of composition.

Concert, Maryanne Amacher, Geneva, May 7, 2019, Ensemble Contrechamps

In this current season, you have scheduled two concerts that will be linked with two of the main aspects of your work during the past few years: the collaborative space between visual arts and instrumental music…
The first one is called Sculptures sonore (Sound Sculpture), for which I invited the sound sculptress Rebecca Glover. The musicians find different placements around the audience during the concert, while Rebecca interacts with her electronic instruments. The programme also included works by Rebecca Saunders, Alvin Lucier and Paula Matthusen.

Rebecca Saunders, Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Contrechamps 

The second concert featured Marianne Ammacher, an American composer working with sound perception and the physiological awareness of listening, with a significant part of electronics, in a unique combination with the instruments.

“If I had to name the things I like best in a programme, those would be the kind of creations that are highly risk-taking and focused on experimentation, but still framed in  contemporary music’s  historical context and relating to its  canon.

One thing that is clearly noticeable when looking at your programmes, is your commitment towards gender balance. 

Gender balance is more of a general, societal issue, not specifically related to contemporary music. Arts must also act as role model in society. Finding balance, however, requires a target-oriented approach. Being convinced by my research’s findings, I believe that the quality of my programme is achieved through this balance.

You are particularly interested in the social aspect of the concert, the ritual that comes with it…
The social side of artistic approach is constantly neglected in the contemporary music world. We have to find formats that encourage daring contents while allowing spontaneous exchanges. My experience as curator of the Kammerklang series at the “Café Otto” in London has proved that it is possible to create a relaxed atmosphere, whilst keeping the necessary focus. But one must pay attention to it. 

Concert Sculptures sonores, Genève 1.11.2018 ©Samuel Rubio

What can we expect from the upcoming season?
The season is called résonance par sympathie (sympathetic resonance), a physical process through which instruments placed close to a sound source begin to resonate even if they are not being touched. In Geneva, I was able to meet with many partners and I could feel this kind of resonances taking place and starting to vibrate. A major part of the season is based on this concept.

There will be twelve concerts, many creations and a lot of experimentation, for example an opera by Mathieu Shlomowitz, in collaboration with the Grand Théâtre de Genève. 
As for the compositions, we invited Christine Sun Kim, a deaf-mute visual artist, the electronic musician Thomas Ankersmit, Geneva composer Jacques Demierre, Canadian Chiyoko Szlavnics, the Geneva-based Punk-Rock band Massicot and many more. For three concerts the ensemble Counterchamps has been invited to the “Gare du Nord” in Basel.  

The season will start with a pre-opening, on August 25th, at six in the morning at Les Bains des Pâquis with Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps; at sunrise, by the lake, outdoors, in a truly magical atmosphere….

Any wishes left for the Ensemble?
My wish is to present the scene in all its diversity and richness, paying attention to the balance between past, present and future, between genres and formats, as well as between the artists and the public. 

Interview Gabrielle Weber

Ensemble Contrechamps: concert ouverture saison: Messiaen, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, 25 août 2019, 6h, Bains des Pâquis

Emission SRF:
9.10.2019, 20h: “Musik unserer Zeit”

neo-profiles:
Contrechamps, WeSpoke