Friday, 1 August 2008

a favourite place: Halle Saint-Pierre by Julien Skrobek

a Favourite Place: The Halle Saint-Pierre

One of my favorite places in Paris is the Halle Saint-Pierre, a beautiful piece of Baltard architecture giving on the gardens of Montmartre. It is literally at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur. It's a place dedicated to Art Brut, or Outsider Art, but it's not only a museum, as the gallery, book-shop, auditorium and café are on equal footing with the exposition. The architecture creates a natural reverberation, and spending an hour in this place is a lot like listening to a recording by Akio Suzuki: the sounds, while clearly identifiable, warmly reverberate all around you.

Of course I love all the great expositions that have been held here. I am especially grateful for the Jephan de Villiers expositions. He's a sculptor who has created a miniature civilization out of things he picks up during his walks in the forest. It's interesting that Eric La Casa has made an 'audio portrait' of Jephan de Villiers called Voyage En Arbonie (Editions Mémoires). It's a great record. Jephan de Villiers talks (in French) about his art, but La Casa introduces many sounds in the portrait, obvious ones like rustling leaves, or the wind, but also strange drones which can act as a subconcious expression of the artist's discourse. I can understand that because when I visited the exposition at the Halle Saint-Pierre, I could really hear voices and noises that seemed to come from those little creatures. To me, art brut, naïve art or whatever you call it, has this in common with sound art: its practitioners often collect pieces of material when the time is right (autumn for Jephan de Villiers) then process this material, by altering it or by making juxtapositions. Sometimes, art is in the choice of material itself. I think Morton Feldman said something to that effect...

I have never experienced such things in other museums, because the Halle Saint-Piere offers an incredible mix of sounds that are unintentional. I'm not too interested in sound installations in general, but it's a thrill when sound pervades life and art and provoke unsolicited emotions.
It's not unusual to see couples or families spend some time in the café, or people reading the papers, or wandering through the bookshop. The place never falls into the “silent sanctuary” mode of museums.

There are children crying on Wednesday afternoons (no school in France on that day), and it never fails to connect in my mind with the kind of art exposed. After all, those children are visiting a place where childhood holds a special place. Sometimes children's work are exposed, there are wonderful books of children's drawings at the bookshop. It reminds me of the clichéd reaction to art brut: 'a 2 year-old could do it!' Well, there are workshops organized for children and teenagers, so they can give it a try... I know I spent hours looking at children drawings in the bookshop.

Of course there is the noise of the café, the percolator, the voice of the guide, the waitresses taking orders in all languages, the creaking staircase leading to the first floor's exposition and the constant flow of tourists coming back from their visit to the Sacré-Coeur... To me that's the soundtrack of art brut, because I've been there so often. Isn't it funny how we come to associate certain sounds with concepts that sometimes have no real connections for anyone else, all because of our individual context ?

Concerts are sometimes organized at the Halle Saint-Pierre, but not too often, and frankly I much prefer the unsollicited concert of noises that take place there everyday.
Of course, it wasn't too long before I got the idea to use those sounds in my music. I started coming to the place with a minidisc recorder. I wanted to use them as a background for a piece I was doing at the time called Membra Disjecta. I wanted the final result to sound like a live recording, except that all the elements would be separated. Many rock bands used to do this in the 70's and 80's: record in the studio then add some crowd noise to pretend it was done live. I thought it was a pretty cool example of deconstruction from an unexpected musical area...
Eventually I did not use those recordings. It turned out the place completely dominated the composition I had. I could have accepted this, because I knew and loved Taku Sugimoto and Radu Malfati's 'Rhizz' piece on Futatsu, where the sounds from the venue are much more prominent than the notes played. I think that the place simply didn't need my sounds to be a piece of music. For the first time, I understood how an unedited piece of field recording could really be considered as music.

nb: in order to retain Julien's written 'voice' I have not adjusted any grammer issues for English - it is not important to subject us all to these obsessions (JrF)

1 comment:

Maxime said...

This place sounds familiar to me, because I remember discovering it and drinking a coffee there, thanks to an old friend named Julien Skrobek, when I used to hang around Montmartre with him. And I must say I fully agree with his description of the place, I liked it very much because of the atmosphere and its quite eclectic character.

Isn't it funny how we come to associate certain places with a friendship that sometimes have no real connections for anyone else, all because of our individual context ?

Anyway, I would indeed recommend this particular place to anyone.