Monday, May 29, 2006

Nantes - Breweries, Old Cookies and the Hub Collective

It all started with a toilet problem. John Morin of the Hub Collective communicated me this little inconvenience via mail. In my imagination I saw a rusty coloured yard full of old bicycles, cartires and the remains of a schoolbus and in a corner the concrete rests of what once was a toilet. The toilet problem got solved. Portable cabins had arrived. But soon another mail revealed another problem.
The door of the Blockhaus had been damaged. And in the same niche of my imagination a 30 centimer thick iron door appeared, blown out of function by thirty kilo's of
dynamite. Also the door problem got solved. But yet another mail arrived: the equipment had been stolen. The courtyard in my imagination remained the same, but
this time it rained and the raindrops looked like stainless steel. John had left. Night fell over my fantasy, but not over the HUB-collective.

When I arrived in Nantes I noticed that I was ahead of springtime. I was struck by a fierce wind, majestic light and huge clouds. I was hosted by Carinne and John in their petite residence, who told me a petite histoire of Nantes, city of shipbuilders and breweries, and once a port to the many who sailed the ocean to find new life and also to the few who sailed out to join in on old cruelties.
They also told me the story of HUB. A collective of local musicians who had rented an WWII sheltering bunker near the river. Not exactly the rusty courtyard I had
thought of, but located in an area with vanishing commercial activities, alongside a railroadtrack, where the hardest work was done by nature. A building site added some temporarily desolation. The good point was that it might help the HUB finding public: what now looked like concrete geometrics, was meant to house students in a
year or so.

I was there two days. Those two days gave a nice illustration of what HUB was capable of: I did an illegal concert in the last shipyard of Nantes. Equipment, recording gear and documentation were provided by John and Carinne. Then I did a concert in the Blockhaus (over John&Carinne's private stereo) with -surprisingly- a
very nice and warm almost pluchelike atmosphere and did one of the most relaxed concerts of the tour; Last, an interview and live radiophonic production for the local JETFM-radio, also this meeting being arranged by John and Carinne.

Again I encountered musicians who were willing to spend time and energy in producing some kind of music, host soundicians, maintain contacts with soundicians abroad,
produce CDr-'s, try to get more visibility. They get some support from the local council, that serves to pay the rent; it's not enough to finance other activities.
Apparently most of the money goes to the Lieu Unique, an organisation that resides in an old cookie factory. Also they do good work. But the artists that they invite don't belong to the margins anymore. And since this blog is all about the ultramargins, and the importance of supporting and stimulating the ultramarginal soundicians in order to keep alive the base where it all comes from, I decided to
write a letter to the people of Lieu Unique.


When I was in Nantes last april, I didn't have the time to visit the old cookie factory. Maybe I will do so another time, because I am very interested to see how a factory got transformed into a centre of the arts. The website gave me some impression of the character of your place: it seems that it aims at making the new and somehow still experimental arts more accessable to a broader public.

I sincerely hope that you succeed in this policy, because it also gives some sense to the activities of people who are way ahead of you. I don't mean that these pioneers are way ahead in taste. They are exploring the very limits of the arts, and can do so, because they don't feel the pressure of a programmer or curator who will judge these activities by their commercial but surely also their artistic value. These judgements define the distance.

I know from first hand information how staalplaat started almost 25 years ago in an Amsterdam squat selling cassettes that were handed to them by the musicians. From that point onwards staalplaat developed itself into a shop with a worldwide network.
It took staalplaatsoundicians 25 years to become what they are, including worthy of being invited to the I.D.E.A.L. festival.

I write to you, because I am part of a sonic world, and as such have been hosted by the HUB collective in your town. They operate in the margins, with marginal help of
the town council. The lack of money puts limits to their activities. Through their network they could be able to attract soundicians from outside France.

And it is in this respect that I write to you. I would like to ask you to study and consider the possibility to host Hub collective at the Lieu Unique every three months. Give them some financial help and artistic freedom and see what kind of programme they can present. It will surely give you a pleasant insight in the activities that take place in the ultramargins of the sonic world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bordeaux - The Bicycle Orchestra and Other Stories

Before I knew that Bordeaux was synoniem to wine, it was a town where the Tour de France would pass every year. In Europe this great cycle tour de force is followed by millions. On television its reputation is so massive, that more millions stay two hours or more in front of the television. The nice summerdays can wait for a while. Last century Bordeaux had a name to be a Dutch city. Almost as a tradition it had a Dutch cycler that won the etappe there.

After Bordeaux the Tour would proceed for the Pyrenee mountains. The real heroes were born there. When coming from Bilbao, I expected to cross these mountains. Don't know much about geography, and don't know much about the French I took. But I do know I felt some regret and some faint nostalgia when I saw the traffic sign `France`and realised I had to leave Spain. There were no mountains.

Empty spaces get filled up very fast. My host for the day was Jonathan. He materialised out of a story that Pati told me back in Vigevano. Such are the little mysteries in life. When I walked out of the trainstation a little guy with black sunglasses and a moustache came cycling towards me, leaded me through the inner city to an anarchist's cove, and much later to his house on the Rue de la Croix

The next morning I woke up with a bag full of souveniers. Breakfast was had in the garden, where objects of other times composed a structuralist's dream of a shipwrecked society. Fortunately also the philosopher had gone. The sun was out, birds were singing their springtime melodies, in a nearby house some work was done.

We all know that God lives in France, and not in the machine as some nihilists want to believe. On that spring day God picked me up and swirled me through the days, as if He had decided to do some jeux de boules. I got to know the city by bike and recognised all the streets I had seen in my childhood when watching the Tour de France on TV with my father.

I had have to write a series of poems to honour those days at the house on the Rue de la Croix Blanche, but I am not a master of words.

Dear Chrystèle Palvadeau ,

If I remember right, the bicycle was a French invention. It was a machine that combined the love for circus and poetry. You enter into a state of wonder when you step on a bike and start driving, fearlessly balancing on two thin wheels. On a bicycle you are only twenty centimeters above the earth, but it is enough to hold the promise that one day you might fly. Poetry starts just before the day that your
longings get fullfilled.

On my first day in Bordeaux I was brought to the narrowest street of the city. At the end of it was the Athenée libertaire. In one of their rooms a fundraising festival took place. I was surprised at the great variety in sound and different approaches to music that I encountered.
One of the groups, but here it is better to speak of orchestra, looked like a bicycle repair place. Twelve bicycles stood in a circle, upside down, as if twelve people had run through glass at the same time, puncturing their tires.
This was not so. They were making music. And they used every piece of the bicycle to produce sound. And in every soundbit the love for circus and poetry was expressed. The onlookers smiled. The enthousiasm of the musicians changed the day.

A few days later I was a member of this orchestra, not as a musician, but as a recorder. We went to visit three schools at the other side of the river. There one of us rang the doorbell, spoke to the teacher, explained the scope of the visit, and made a sign that we could walk in.

The bicycles were put in a circle on the playground. The teachers called the kids. Ten minutes later some fifty children aged 8-10 years were listening. Twenty five minutes later those children were laughing, shouting and banging on bikes with spoons. The teachers were surprised and satisfied. The courtyard got cleaned and after forty minutes the whole action was over.

Please, Mademoiselle, consider this. Contact one of the members of the group, and ask for more information. And then, excuse my little attempt to be poetic, consider that a little grant to the group, in return for a visit as the bicycle orchestre to more elementary schools in Bordeaux, would give a great sense of recognition and stimulation to the young musicians in your town, and –not to forget – it would
bring joy and an unforgettable memory to the children.

With upmost respect and kind regards,

Rinus van Alebeek

Chrystèle Palvadeau:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

SpanishTrilogy - Bilbao - An Idea for a Toilet Music Festival

Txema and Josu belong to musica ex machina. The name proves that some time ago they must have encountered the illusionist's trick of the writer, who uses God to save his story. MEM organises concerts all through the year and a festival every december. Txema is involved in organising for twenty years now. Political recognition has brought the organisation yearly grants. Thanks to this support MEM can invite groups and persons from outside the Basque region.

I performed in the Bullit Groove Club, a nice darkshaded bar with a furry seventies touch. The concert was for free. The audience was at the other side of the blinding light, but among the regulars who stayed at the back, or walked out when I got too loud, I could recognize a few rows of attentive listeners.

After the set Txema stormed the stage and put the volume to the maximum. Another short piece he ordered with a wide grin. The reward was overwhelming: grilled fish in a restaurant around midnight, and a few local grappa's in a bar after midnight. One of the things we discussed were toilet music and friends of God out of the machine that recently had come to live with the Bilbaoans: The Guggenheim's.

Dear ,

During one summer I worked in a restaurant as a cleaner. It was a busy restaurant, and one of the things I had to clean were the toilets. You can imagine what I encountered every day. Nonetheless the very doubtfull fame a toilet cleaner has, I took pride from my work. The toilet is one of the key zones of a habitat.

When the Guggenheim Museum came to Bilbao, they, I imagine, had to find some cleaners in the city itself. Other positions were for people with special talents, and those are a bit harder to find. Bilbao is not New York, nor is it Venice; it is just a city in the north of Spain.

Whatever politics are performed in the direction hall, the bathroom remains the most down to earth zone of the museum. In a physical way it is here where the museum is in direct contact with the city of Bilbao. You need some metaphysics to escape from downearthlyness. So why not upgrade the bathroom area?

I would like to suggest to you an all year round toilet music festival. The idea is quite simple. Get a soundartist to compose toilet music. Put up some speakers in the bathroom. Connect them to a stereo. Depose the CD. Set the controls on `replay´. Push `play´.

As an experiment I would like to suggest to engage Txema and Josu as the curators for the toilet area of your museum. They combine two excellent qualities: they are from Bilbao and they have an immense network of soundartists that could fit in into the low-profile territory. Musica ex machina could serve to help transit the gloria
mundi: musica non olet.

If you think a whole year round festival of toilet music is too risky, you could have a try-out coming december by participating with the MEM-festival and ask the MEM – guys to take care of your private parts.

With respect and kind regards, Rinus van Alebeek


Guggenheim Bilbao:

Laptop Variations:

Been There, Done That - First Movement:
Been There, Done That - Second
Been There, Done That - Third Movement: