Festival Piednu: Experimental Sound, Movement, and Image
Looking through our dusty archives, we found this hidden gem on the experimental arts festival, Festival Piednu, in Le Havre, France in April of 2012.
Music is always morphing and changing, adapting and expanding. The new wave of interest in electronic music seems to have caught some people by surprise. Skrillex’s multiple Grammy nominations brought up a storm of interest in dubstep and Ultra Music Festival has put electronic music in the US on the map. It makes sense, however, for this vast genre to explode onto the scene. Artists are always looking for new ways to create sound, to utilize both new and old techniques to create something new and unique that will peak interest in a certain audience. The most extreme of these barrier breakers were recently saluted in the small city of Le Havre, France at the Festival Piednu (“Barefoot Festival”) this week, April 1-7, 2012.
While the festival is meant to feature “new and experimental music,” it in fact hosted a range of artists, including dancers and film makers. On Wednesday, I attended one of the festival’s showings at Le Phare, a National Choreographic Center. The setting was modest with bare brick walls, a small stage, and plain white chairs and tables. When the first act commenced, we were called to sit on the stage floor in a circle and the curtains were closed behind us. The stage immediately became a dark and intimate room.
The first act featured music by Laurent Perrier and dance by Alban Richard. Perrier started off extremely minimalist, using just one low bass sound. I can’t even call it a note, since it was more like white noise. The vibrations from the massive sound could be felt up from the ground and into your legs. Perrier slowly made slight changes to the sound, adding and taking away at a very slow, progressive pace. After five minutes, Richard slinked onto the stage. His movements were painfully slow but strong, in conjunction with the minimalist yet loud sound of the musician. Richard gradually contorted his body into painful twists and difficult poses. To me, this part was the most beautiful and displayed the great skill of this dancer. As Perrier added new sounds, Richard too picked up speed, reflected in small spasms of the body that at first were jarring when sandwiched by his measured movements. Though the volume of the music did not increase, it felt as if it did as the intensity of the music grew. I want to point out though, to me at least, there were no discernible beats or tones and the “music” in many ways reflected different types of white noise. The savage-like sound was mirrored by the dancer’s movements, which began to elevate in speed and intensity. The dancer gave the appearance of having Tourette Syndrome, with spastic body movements and extremely wild and emotive facial expressions, ranging from sadness to rage to madness, even sticking out his tongue and opening his eyes as wide as possible. It was at this stage the artist began to become an actor without lines. After only about 15 or 20 minutes, Richard slowed his movements and left the stage and Perrier reduced the torrent of sound until it was nothing. In the silence, you could still fell the vibrations of the sound echoing in your legs.
The second act was a film and sound performance by Burstscratch. Burstscratch is a filmmaking collective from Strasbourg, France that was started in 1994. The artists (four on the 16mm film projectors and one on the turn tables) use only their own original images that they have developed themselves and manipulate the images by hand using water, lenses, and objects to create new and ephemeral projection images. This area of filmmaking interests me quite a lot and I was eager to watch. Unfortunately, most of the filmmaking was done behind me, as I was in the front, so I could see very little of the actual process. The performance was approximately forty minutes in total, about ten or fifteen minutes too long. Of the filmmaking I saw, I loved. One of the artists was creating in front of the audience and projected her images through a fishbowl filled with water. She then used a lens to further bend the light either in front of or behind the bowl. She also would take two sheets of slightly opaque plastic and play with them in front of the yellow beam. The best, though, was when she dipped her hand into the fishbowl and let drops drip from her fingers down the side of the bowl, giving the appearance of blood flowing from the earth to the sky.
This DJ played discernible electronic sounds from music that I could almost recognize time to time, but for the most part continued with the white noise effect, which was starting to become boring. At times, the music was actually too painful and I had to cover my ears for a bit. The film tended to have dark imagery (though not necessarily dark in color) and conjured up images of fire and water which were often manipulated in such a way that it became too difficult to really see anything. What I appreciate the most about the performance was the use of the old with the new: utilizing old school 16mm projectors with rolls of film they captured and developed themselves, coupled with new electronic sounds. Such manual filmmaking skills are an amazing art that you rarely see or even hear about.
This Barefoot Festival was certainly raw, bringing into light new techniques of experimental and daring art, music, and filmmaking. While it is not something I would want to listen to or watch every weekend, it is certainly worth a look at these new techniques that stand on the edge of the electronic music scene and to consider how electronic sound will be manipulated and implemented into all areas of artistic experiences.