They are strange, colorful, made of cardboard, tinfoil and glass sheets, this strings of metal. They are beautiful to behold. Above all, they make you feel like you want to touch them. The ambiguity of the verb “tocar” a term that in Spanish means also to play (a musical instrument) appears to have originated from them. It is sufficient to touch them with your fingers slightly wet. They will emit magnificent sounds, sounds that you could produce using a traditional instruments only after years of hard practice.
These objects go by the name of Cristal Baschet and other works produced by the brothers François & Bernard Baschet, to whom Museu de la MÃ¹sica di Barcellona is dedicating a solo exhibition, which will last until December 19, 2011. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baschet_Brothers)
Baschet‘s research starts in the 1950′s artistic turmoil, soon turning the two brothers into the pioneers of sound sculpture, in addition to making them highly requested by musicians, composers, experimental directors like Jean Cocteau and by avand-guard museums such as MoMA, directed in those years by Alfred Barr. The idea originated from an inflatable guitar built by Francois in order to transport it around during his frequent trips. The fact that the guitar sounded surprisingly well, brought him to question the principles of functioning of all musical instruments and to involve his brother Bernard to develop further the technology of high impedance acustic instruments.
Outclassing the classification of musical instruments in families, the two brothers focused on the common physical principles that enable instruments to generate their sound. In this way, they discovered that all instruments are based on vibrance, energy and amplification. Everything else depends on the creativity of the lute maker. The brothers never lacked this sort of creativity, accompanied by the desire to disseminate their findings and to share them with everybody, especially children and people with disabilities, abandoning the paradise of glory that the world of the arts was offering them. During their long careers, they were always devoted to the only thing they thought would give sense to life: make other people happy.Â
It sounds like they are succeeding exceedingly well in this task, since they even managed to transmit this generosity to others, as the Laboratorio di Scultura Sonora Baschet, demonstrates, a small miracle created at the Facoltà di Belle Arti dell’Università di Barcellona (UB the artschool of Barcelona) that documents and further disseminates the work and the principles of the two French brothers. After having seen Martí Ruids, Jordi Casadevall, Andreu Ubach, Peper Martínez (members of the Metalúdic Baschet Emsembla) and François Baschet performing at a participative concert during the exhibition, we visited them in the laboratory.
Barbara Sansone: tell me about you and what you do at the Laboratory…
Martí Ruids: The project of the Laboratory originated from Josep Cerdà, an extremely active sculptor and academic, who had a very clear vision of what should be the goal of an artschool, and continuously tries to generate projects and other opportunities for his students. He opened a foundry and a stone carving atelier, creating an active environment rarely existing within a University. Cerdà was always interested in sound and the sounding structures. As a sculptor, he is concerned with the relation between the artwork and the surrounding environment, collaborating with his wife, an architect and landscape painter.
At the artschool he has designed a new course titled Chaos Laboratory, where it is possible to talk about anything, especially about what does not clearly fit any specific discipline (chaos, fractals, the aleatory, poli-poetry, sound art, installations, listening, etc.). He proposes to record sound landscapes, to watch the environment using your ears, rather than using your eyes, he speaks of particular figures such as the brothers Baschet.
I am a self-learned musician. I offered to teach and edit the records. From there, through various synergies, we have built the Sound Art lab, an extension of the Chaos Lab. At the Centro di Cultura Contemporanea, we started by organizing a few workshops on “the sound landscapes of Catalunya”, which served to facilitate the contact between various people involved with this topic and to share means and possibilities. From then on, the Laboratory has continued to grow and to propose new courses and activities at the artschool, with record participation and interest by many students.
Barbara Sansone: Actually music, depending on how you create it, can be considered a plastic art…
Martí Ruids: Yes, for instance, in Tokio, the Faculty of Fine Arts and the conservatory are fused together in a transdisciplinary university, providing space to new media and more contemporary themes.
As a matter of fact, John Cage’s ideas have been assimilated more rapidly by those people interested in “diverse” arts, than by those who produced music in a more academic fashion. Here, many begin with an idea of art and then discover a space for digital sound (recorded, reproduced, manipulated) and acustic sound (the research on the instruments of the brother Baschet completes and exceeds the intangible aspect of sound). Every year, among the course participants, there is always someone who decides to stay and decides to join the Laboratory.
Barbara Sansone: how did you get in touch with François Baschet?
Marti Ruidis: We are working to create a collaborative radio with Radio Evolució, a non-mainstream radio interested in the scientific dissemination in the area of music. We want to create a program to introduce students to research. The topics are whatever has to do with sound and listening. The goal is to get to know popular figures from all walk of life and discipline and to interview them and ask them what they do. By doing so, we plan to expand the Lab rhizomatically. The encounter with François Baschet was born this way, while we were looking for contents for the program. He has been living in Barcelona for a few years, and he accepted our proposal with great enthusiasm. The experience we started together has allow us to enrich the Laboratory with a new direction towards the physical aspects of sound, an aspect that attract many students interested in a tactile relation with the arts.
Barbara Sansone: How did you meet Andreu Ubach?
Martí Ruids: Andreu is a percussionist who has been working with François for several years. thanks to him we have started a project that collects all the documentation of the instruments of the Brothers Baschet in a database (photos, drawings, screens, rules, records, technical details, patents) . We decided to make this database freely browsable to everybody. François is a big fan of the Creative Commons licences and wants to open up all information to everybody.
Barbara Sansone: that’s great, especially because right now, the information one can gather online are a bit scattered on various websites and not always easy to navigate…
Martí Ruids: it is true. That’s why for the moment we have created a blog where we are publishing videos and other material. When we met François, the initial idea was to gather all the material digitally and collect it on a website. Hence, we sought help from Uli Zinke e Ana Sanchez Bonet, both working in France to the revise a comprehensive catalogue on the work of Baschet. At the moment, we are trying to coordinate all the protagonists of this story, including Michel Deneuve, the “Chrystallist”par excellence, and Frédéric Bousquet, the actual builder of the pedagogical instruments used for children with and persons with disabilities. By recuperating the spirit of Baschet, an attitude that was not always respected by the successive generations, our intention is to create a space for the diffusion e sharing of this apparatus of knowledge and a space of exchange with those who plan to make a good use of them.
Barbara Sansone: Is the exhibition at the Music Museum an idea of this Laboratory?
Martí Ruids: it is partially an idea by Miquel Calvet, a physicist professor at the lycee, who has been conducting an interdisciplinary research on the construction of these instruments for a few years, and the instructors of plastic arts and music: an empirical study that examines sound and construction materials to which Francois himself is participating. For years, Miquel wanted to organize an exhibition at the Museu de la Mùsica: the desires of Catalan collaborators, the brothers Baschet and the present director of the l Museu, Oriol Rossinyol, have converged. Rossinyol had already worked with the instrumentarium pedagogico of the Baschet in the late 1980s.
Most artworks in the exhibtion belong to the Baschet Foundation, with which we are starting a collaboration, as well as with the Music Museum. Other artworks in the exhibitions are by François or by Bernard, while the ‘Instrumentarium pedagogico was provided by Frédéric Bousquet. The exhibition will also feature a prototype from the Kit Multitimbrico realized here at the Laboratory as well as a Cristal built by Miquel Calvet and his students from the IES a Castellar of Vallès.
Barbara Sansone: Was Bernard involved in this enterprise?
Martí Ruids: Yes, of course, however, at some point in his life he started to work primarily on pedagogic applications and on music therapy. The brothers decided to take different paths. Bernard got married, built a family, and settled in Paris, while François decided to have a more adventurous life, traveling around the world, directing laboratories virtually everywhere and getting to know artists and thinkers. He went to the universal exposition in Osaka in 1970, fought in World War II and went after the Nazi in Argentina. Even if it appears that François focused more on the sound sculpure, his work has not been less pedagogical than Bernard’s.
When we went to meet Bernard in Paris and we explained to him what we were planning, he looked very happy. For this occasion, the brothers agreed to meet after all this time (Now Bernard is 93 and Francois is 91). Bernard opened his archive for us: fortunately, maybe because he is an engineer, it is much more orderly than his brother’s.
Barbara Sansone: At the Music Museum one can watch the documentary Baschet: The Transfiguration of Daily Life. Did you participated in its realization?
Martí Ruids: No. I think there are about four documentaries on the brothers Baschet. This is the only one that didn’t required us to pay huge copyright fees. The director, Eric Marin, is professor at UCLA. We took care of the subtitles and obviously we agreed to let him have them.
Barbara Sansone: The exhibition is beautiful. However, I think it has a few shortcomings typical of traditional exhibition spaces. Among others, it is not very clear that the concerts in the program are very participative spaces: when we came we were able to play improvised peaces realized by us and by the public in-between each explanation. It’s a pity that the museum does not underlines the importance of such an innovative format, a format that today is highly needed.
Martí Ruids: … and by the way this is a format that has always been used by François; at the end of the 1950s he was doing these performances at MoMA so much so that from then on, the exhibitions have gone from the “don’t touch” policy to “please play”. François wants that the public had the opportunity to touch and play, and not just watch, his instruments at any time. Unfortunately, in museum’s environments, this is not possible unless someone is there to invigilate.
For me, if something breaks, it is always possible to fix it. it is an approach that I prefer to creating a great distance between the public and the artwork. For instance, in this period there is an exhibition at the museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, with works by Tinguely and the brothers Baschet. They can be touched on specific days only, when they are invigilated. They are being treated like historical works that need to be preserved. We have a different logic as we build these instruments and we want them to be played by whomever. In any case, the Museum is very satisfied with the workshops we have conducted during the exhibition with kids, and persons with disabilities. It is clear that it is interested in becoming more interactive, in getting closer to its public, in offering activities and not just placing the artworks for display only.
Barbara Sansone: Why do you think that these instruments work so well with people with disabilities?
Martí Ruids: some of them, for example, the little ones you saw at the museum in the dydactics room, are explicitly built to facilitate their participation. Normally, the instruments are built with accessibility in mind, and with the goal to be less intimidating than the traditional one. The melodic percussions then work always well with people with disabilities, not only because of the immediacy of gestures they require to work, but also because of the richness of a type of sound that captures the attention and stimulates the curiosity.
With the Cristal, we also wanted to offer a rich and qualitatively superior sound, with the minimum effort. With the violin, for instance, you have to practice a lot and consistently in order to be able to obtain a pleasant sound. With these instruments, on the contrary, everybody, even a beginner could produce a beautiful and clean sound. The response is also physical and tactile: when you play these instruments, they vibrate, you are able to perceive immediately the feedback of your action on the instrument directly on your fingers. You are able to determine if the sound is loud, if it’s long, if it forms a crescendo. This aspect is very interesting for both experienced musicians and for those who have never playd an intrument in their life. People with autism who interact differently with the external world realize that their action on the instrument affect the external environment. After a few days you can see them enjoying it.
Barbara Sansone: Beside the instruments, François created musical sculptures and the so-called “miils” …
Martí Ruids: Yes, and the “little animals” too, which reveal a great sense of humor. In François’ lab, I even found little doggies, elephants and rabbits made out of tin cans remaining. In his book Les sculptures sonores, which elucidates the principles of acoustics in a very accessible way, you can see works realized by his students: they are all very diverse but function by following the same principles. For instance, one emits sounds by operating a water pump. Then there are the inflatable instruments too. The first Cristal were all inflatable, being operated vertically through whiskers generating harmony according to the affinities with each other. sometime later the instruments became cones and tinfoil’s, but I think that the inflatable parts have a very interesting plastic potential with makes me want to study them throughout.
Sometime ago Jordi Casadevall traveled to Japan to meet the Geinoh Yamashirogumi, a group of experts in worldwide traditional music, who discovered that the gamelan produce a so-called hypersonic effect, that is, they produce sounds reaching circa 10.000Hz. these sounds are not audible but they might probably affect us in some way, since they appear to contain the same frequency of our nervous system. These experts are interested in finding out whether these instruments reproduce such frequency.
As you see, the instruments produced by the Baschet have almost infinite potential, and this is exactly what we want to activate in our lab. By the way, we are planning to found a “metaludic” cooperative of musicians and lutists who can take advantage of a shared space where to work and to gather any individual with a desire to play and listen. For example, we would like to open our doors once a week and create an open orchestra like the gamelan.
Barbara Sansone: I think they are telling us that we should leave.
Martí Ruids: Yes, I am always the last one to leave. Why don’t you play for a bit while you wait for me to gather my things?