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Evento Bordeaux 2011
Panic Box project

Evento Bordeaux 2011 was a sprawling art event that made a real attempt to reach out to the whole city. When I arrived for a one-week project, as part of the collaboration of Sound Res, the organizers suggested that I work in an area called Grand Parc. At first I felt like I'd been exiled to the outskirts of everything. But then I started to explore the neighborhood and meet the people there, and I realized it might just be the perfect place to produce a sound work involving lots of local participation.

Grand Parc is a relatively new suburb with lots of green areas. It is pleasant but rather stiff, somehow, not like a true urban neighborhood with gathering places, shops, street life. You feel a bit as if you are in a vacuum. Usually I don't want to add any more noise to urban situations. But this place was almost begging for a bit of positive disruption.

At first I set up shop in a sort of community center, a kind of after-school recreation place, mostly for kids. It was too quiet though... I did manage to record a lot of children one afternoon, but there was no ongoing passage of people in the place. I had to find more participants, so I installed a recording booth in a freight container at a crossroads of paths in the park between many tall apartment buildings.

The container was part of an area called "Central Park" where quite a few different people associated with Evento Bordeaux were doing things, in coordination with local social workers. They had set up a nice sort of living room on the lawn, with borrowed furnishings.

As the week went on this area hosted philosophy lessons (well-attended and interesting), art experiments involving local residents, concerts, picnics and the like. I spent every afternoon there, grabbing passers-by and visitors and asking them to record some sounds inside my booth. I asked them to make vocal, not verbal sounds. No words. Otherwise there were no rules, no suggestions. The participants could not hear what other people had already done, so their contributions were quite spontaneous and not influenced by any group dynamics.

The outdoor living room.

Art experiments conducted by people from Castello di Rivoli and Pistoletto's team from Cittadella dell'Arte in Biella, I think. A still photo doesn't really catch the effect. The ribbons moved in the wind and created an interesting play of reflections.

As the week progressed I managed to record more than a hundred individuals. Then came the editing phase, done mostly in the evening at the hotel, to clean up background noise and balance volumes, but without any effects or tricky cut-ups.

I mixed the voices into eight separate compositions with some overlapping, like eight groups of improvising vocalists. The mixes had different lengths so that in simultaneous looped playback they would always combine in different ways. I hung eight small boomboxes inside the container, which was also used as a storeroom, and tried to straighten things up a bit. I put benches inside so people could sit and listen.

The installation was not very loud, so changing your position in the space changed the mix. The overall impression was of quite good-natured fun and inventive personality, with none of the sort of "dark side" that often comes out in these experiments. The contributions of the participants are completely anonymous, and were made in total privacy. When I have done similar projects in museums or institutions, the voices often expressed anger, stress, sexuality, or infantile "forbidden" sounds like burps, retches, sillyness. Maybe it was because of the beautiful sunny weather, but the kids and adults of Grand Parc Bordeaux seem quite relaxed and not at all bent on releasing inner demons or anxieties.

for more on Evento Bordeaux 2011 see: