The Bridge adapts and tries to find answers to current crises

Le projet The Bridge crée des concerts-rencontres entre des artistes de la scène française et de Chicago. Alexandre Pierrepont qui coordonne le projet aborde les solutions et réponses qu’ils ont pu trouver, à travers ce projet, pour faire face aux crises actuelles qui touche le monde.

I wanted to take the temperature, to know how morally it was going and what is your daily life like on a personal level on this strange return to school ?

I’ll start by telling you that you phrase your question well! You use the adverb “morally”, it is hyper-revealing that you ask me how “morally” I am, I am not happier or unhappier than anyone else, but caring about morality – not just between friends or between members of the same family but also between members of the same socio-professional or artistic sector – it is hyper-revealing to have to ask the question in this way. It is simply humane to see how we resist each other. We have to resist, we have to hold on, and we have to eventually push each other back. That’s why it made me tickle right away to hear you use the word “morally”. This notion of “biopolitics” has been around for a long time and has never been so well verified. It is a health and political problem. These two problems are intimately linked.

And this biopolitical scourge affects absolutely all of us. Morale is linked to this too: how can we be morally well when wherever we turn, people are affected by the situation? There have already been crises in society, but unless there was a war that affected everyone, they were crises that seemed to affect only one category of the population. Like everyone else, some days ago I felt like fighting, finding solutions, projecting myself and telling myself that, for those of us who are concerned with adventurous and largely improvised music, we could have some answers. Not THE answers because no one has them, but answers in the face of such a situation. So some days I’m naive, other days I despair of the situation.

So, morally I’m a real yo-yo right now.

Can you tell us what happened particularly for you at The Bridge ? What news were you working on at the time of the lockdown? How did you decide to act afterwards ?

Mid-April there was a tour, we went with the band Sanglier (Peter Orins, Didier Lasserre and Christine Wodraska) in Chicago and in the Midwest to join the two American saxophonists of the band (Keefe Jackson and Dave Rempis), this band played at the Périscope. We were leaving for a three-week tour that was totally set up, totally ready. In our case it was postponed, it was not cancelled. We imagine, we hope that it can take place in spring 2021.

This suspension, it is imposed on us by the situation, whatever we think about it there is no point in discussing it.

Afterwards, a second phase begins and it is once again a biopolitical problem, which is to know how long it will last and what we are settling into. We were all mistaken, by a totally understandable naive hope, in thinking that two months after the confinement, things would return to normal. We know that society has been severely affected. Now it is perhaps the third time that is coming, so concretely we have tried to maintain the second American tour. The Bridge is always in the fall, so in relation to our calendar, in the spring and summer we kept this tour in close contact with our American partners and the musicians.

If you want a very concrete estimate, no club, no festival, no art gallery, no museum, no conservatory, no university will reopen its doors before 2021 in Chicago.

It’s very simple, we’re not going to beat around the bush on these issues, at the end of July when I go on vacation, two thirds of our American partners believe that this tour is still possible with us, but we’ll meet up again at the beginning of the school year to take stock and decide. We are still waiting for a little more information, a little more decisions. At the end of August when I come back from my vacations, I send an email on Monday morning, Tuesday evening it was folded. 100% of the remaining two thirds cancelled the events one after the other. If you want a very concrete estimate, no club, no festival, no art gallery, no museum, no conservatory, no university

will reopen before 2021 in Chicago. So in relation to our activity, the same decision as for the spring 2020 group, we are not cancelling but postponing because we are hoping to be able to double-turn: that is to say, to run two groups on the American side at the same time. On the other hand, we were able to maintain the French tours, those of January/February took place before the confinement so it was fine, and the one in October will take place in a slightly strange way, but it will take place. The Bridge exists since 2013, in September it’s the first time we won’t go to the United States. In 25 years of incessant activity between North America and France, it’s the first time I wouldn’t have set foot in the United States.

You announced in May that The Bridge project will not jump on the digital opportunity to fill the void and contribute to the digital hubbub that may have occurred at that time. How was this decision made as a team ?

We are a team of three, so we made this decision as a team of three with perfect unanimity. It also seems to me very important in relation to what we are experiencing and in relation to the time to come, the fact that this is a biopolitical problem and that it concerns everyone.
Before answering in relation to music, I’m going to make a necessary detour on the whole situation and especially in relation to what is called today presential/distancial, or telework. Already before this crisis, we were spending more and more time in front of our screens for most human activities, whether it be texts to write, research to do, communications to have, contacts to make, relaxation: you can spend nine-tenths of your day on a screen. This is a reflection that already existed before this crisis accelerated and amplified this phenomenon.

I don’t have a reactionary discourse, they are great tools that are an integral part of our lives now and make a lot of things easier for us, it’s prodigious but like in some fairy tales, but prodigies are sometimes ambiguous. It’s important to remember that. So it’s not just about being against it, it’s about being for it. It’s about being for experiences that don’t need a screen. It’s indispensable and it’s a pleasure, but it’s not the only pleasure and it’s not the only activity, it’s obvious, but it’s fading a bit. In live music, whatever the genre, but even more in music that is invented in the moment, compared to music that is totally written. There is a need for the situation, the stage and the place around it: it is precisely music that allows us to escape from the screen. This is not their purpose, they existed before the proliferation of screens.

“There is a need for the situation, the scene and the place around it: it is precisely music that allows us to escape the screen. This is not their purpose, they existed before the proliferation of screens.

It is quite simple during the confinement in France and elsewhere much has been written on this issue. Let’s take advantage of this time of reflection to do something else! Besides, we all had the same conversation with people who finally experienced a better situation during confinement than for deconfinement in a situation that is not restored. We have these tools that bind us to each other and that is precious, but what do we decide to entrust to them and not to entrust to them in our daily lives? It’s not the streaming itself that bothers me, a debate for or against it would be ridiculous. Streaming exists and that’s fine. We need to use this technology and this possibility to communicate musical events remotely to those who can’t or no longer enjoy them.

It is necessary to reflect and work together, even in a context of health crisis, on how to preserve or re-invent these moments of fabulous sharing in a face-to-face setting. I find the adjective horrible, but what it means is very interesting, this dichotomy that now structures our lives a bit, it is not exactly an opposition in terms: we don’t say “present” and “absent”, we say “present” and “distant”: it does mean that in both cases there is presence. But it is not of the same nature. This presence in two forms, under two regimes, there is no need to establish a hierarchy, not to eliminate one in favor of the other. It is necessary, while being vigilant, prudent, responsible, to find forms so that the presential can continue to exist in parallel with the distanciel to which one unfortunately also has recourse.

And precisely this notion of presence seems to be something that is an integral part of The Bridge project, it’s something that is marked in your discourse. You said that The Bridge is creation but also a human adventure: encounters, a physical, geographical, temporal adventure. How do you see this logic of creation today when these parameters are out of balance? Do you place creation in an emergency situation, which requires us to rethink ways of creating today ?

I think the situation invites us all to be modest, in what we were saying about streaming earlier. What irritated me was to see so many people from the world of culture and not only music, rushing into this thing without taking the time to think about it, as if it was THE solution. What’s also peculiar about music, and especially creative music, is to play not only with rhythms and with what they imply, that is to say, speeds and durations. And in speed there is slowing down. So rushing to streaming, filling the void in a continuous stream as if nothing ever stops, seems to me to be a mistake.

One of the things I eventually like in the current situation (there aren’t many of them) is the obligation it puts us in to think about and in particular to think about the articulation between music and society. With my training as an anthropologist, I’ve always done that, but now everyone has to do it or do it again. The first thing I think about is not music, art or culture. I think about international exchanges, but also about the scale of a national territory. I think about the circulation of people and goods today.

“When a musician or an artist goes around, he seeds imaginations.”

For different reasons and not only that of the virus but also in relation to the climatic urgency that weighs on the whole species and on the planet. And so, since the deconfinement, there has been a certain amount of guilt talking, especially for musicians who would make ill-considered tours, for example “one-shots” to the other side of the world. In terms of the circulation of people and goods, those who do the most harm to the planet are not the few French or other artists who circulate in airspace. I think that in terms of circulation, energy consumption and the devastation implied by this consumption, the business community, the agri-food industry, the free trade treaties that are signed between France and Mexico have a much greater share of responsibility ?

I think it is more and more the mission of a musician conscious of the world in which he lives to oppose this kind of trade, which has Dantesque proportions rather than, on its small scale, to feel guilty. When a musician or an artist circulates, he sows the seeds of imagination. They give perceptions, representations that can be seized by individuals and which in turn will have creative actions on the world. The first scale for me it is there, otherwise French musicians will play with French musicians and do streaming concerts with New Zealand musicians. Is that the world of tomorrow? While free trade treaties will still allow minerals and food to circulate indiscriminately? There is nevertheless, in my opinion, a certain urgency to resolve this paradox.

How did you grasp this question with The Bridge in particular ?

With The Bridge, we have responded in a certain way, without pretending to be ahead of the game. In France, of course, we work with Jamon Lopez, Will Guthrie or Mike Ladd, so we are on the scale of a territory. We make them take the plane only once, they arrive in France and we circulate by train or car. And when we go to the United States, we do the same thing in an American state which by its size, population and excitement is the equivalent of France. That is Chicago and Illinois. We make people stay for two to three weeks to build social ties on the bangs of the musical events we organize.

It is possible and others do that: when Charles Gil sets up his tours in Finland with French bands, he does something equivalent. We certainly have to rethink the circulation of people and goods, but this circulation is absolutely essential. You can’t imagine a world, especially in today’s world, where the only way to be connected with the other would be through fibers and satellites. I don’t want that world.

You have a look at both the United States and France. Can you bear witness to what you have seen of the lives of artists and cultural actors on both sides of the Atlantic ? Are there points of comparison, differences and similarities ?

I don’t want to caricature by generalizing but to answer quickly: the impact of this health and biopolitical crisis is much more dramatic for Americans than for Europeans for obvious reasons that everyone knows. Many stages, programmers and journalists, many representatives, from the world of jazz or improvised music, in France and in Europe, have complained in recent decades about the omnipresence of Americans, whose legitimacy is being questioned today on the artistic level by some and whose aesthetic or historical legitimacy is being called into question by the advent of European jazz, French, European improvised music. And which would nevertheless still be there to collect proposals and programs in Europe. This is just a reminder to say that we have forgotten to consider the conditions under which these musicians live and practice. With the exception of a few, places at the top of the ladder are rare (a dozen). For the rest, all North American musicians, especially African-Americans but not only, are subject to the law of the market, without any protection or guarantee, with miserable fees since this music is still not taken into consideration.

In American society, they are forced to multiply gigs and opportunities to make a living and if it wasn’t for Europe or outside markets they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. So not being able to go to Europe or elsewhere is dramatic for them. Without naming names, for the last three or four months I have had a lot of contact with musicians who are desperate: musicians who have passed their age have had to take up odd jobs. I know musicians in their sixties and older who have taken up delivery jobs. They are not just passive or victims. They know because they were born into this American society. They know how to do it, they know that they live with their backs to the wall. Nor should we make a miserable portrait of them. Once again, perhaps they have more courage than European musicians who still have protections (by the way, and in relation to the progressive dismantling of these devices, the situation is tragic). It is currently complicated by a situation that in many ways resembles, in addition to the health crisis, the eve of a civil war. And regardless of the reasons that caused the American tour to be cancelled in October, we have also had feedback from musicians and partners who have told us not to come anyway, because it looks like it’s going to get scorched.

Raison de plus pour se battre !

So how is the fall 2020 tour going concretely?
We obviously have to postpone the fall tour. Not at any price or under any conditions and preserving the presential, cultivating it. First of all it was only possible with bands that already knew each other, that had already toured. You can’t make people meet each other at a distance who don’t know each other yet. So we don’t exclude streaming, we exclude the screen, we work with sound. So we thought we’ll ask the musicians who can’t come, the Americans (Jim Baker & Jason Roebke) to come to the studio at home to record improvised music together so that the French musicians can appropriate this material – not necessarily by listening to it and working on it before the tour, since it’s improvised music, but by injecting it sometimes with the complicity of the sound engineers, by injecting parts, never forcing the whole and in a different way each time and playing with this sound shadow or with this sound ghost. It’s a way of pointing out the absence of American musicians.