Pierre-Antoine Badaroux and Sébastien Beliah
in conversation with Hannes Lingens, July 2013
Saxophonist Pierre-Antoine Badaroux and double bass player Sébastien Beliah have been working together for several years in various – often collectively conceived – projects. As part of the musician’s collective Umlaut Paris they are responsible for the organization of the Umlaut Festival Paris and other events.
(HL) You are co-leading/playing together in a number of ensembles with quite differing musical orientation: Ensemble Hodos is devoted to the works of Philip Corner, Christian Wolff and other composers of “open-form music”, r.mutt is an improvising trio and the Umlaut Big Band plays “authentic” swing in original arrangements. Where do you see a connection between these different ensembles?
(SéB) What comes to my mind first, which could sound a little bit pretentious or even a little bit disappointing as an answer, is that the only thing that could be the link between all those things you mentioned, is me. I don’t think there’s any particular connection between all of them.
(PaB) You’re the link for yourself.
(SéB) Yes. The other thing that comes to my mind: It’s interesting you mention these three projects, but if I think about it, I’ve always been involved in a big variety of other musics. For example, I’ve been playing classical music, baroque music, more “conventional” contemporary music etc. And I realized quite recently that I’ve always been more interested in how people organize themselves to achieve something than in aesthetic questions, which are much more personal questions for me. How do people organize themselves and what does it imply on each group? I think these questions make a connection between all these projects.
(HL) I imagine the social aspects of playing baroque music or contemporary music very different from those in improvised music for example.
(SéB) Playing in the Big Band implies some social network between the musicians, and we have to organize ourselves in a very different way than in a classical orchestra for example. This is what interests me. To be involved in very different social situations.
(HL) Is in that sense the experience of playing in an orchestra as interesting as playing open-form compositions or improvised music?
(PaB) From my point of view the reason I play all these different aesthetics, I have all these different musical practices, is a cultural one. It’s part of my background in music, what I like to listen to. The link really for me is listening. The music I’m listening to has a broad range, contemporary music, free improvised music, jazz, traditional musics of different kinds, etc. And the way I link them is how I can listen to them. So some kind of music implies a certain way of listening, historically and culturally. I find it interesting to imply a certain way of listening which is implied to a certain type of music to another kind of music.
(HL) Where do you see that happening?
(SéB) I think Ensemble Hodos is a good example of this. Since we are both coming from the field of jazz music, we have this background of how we listen to music and how we talk about it. Sometimes the music we are playing is not directly linked to jazz, like John Cage or Christian Wolff or Haubenstock-Ramati for example, but maybe because we are jazz musicians, we are thinking the music differently in terms of listening.
(HL) Different from classical ensembles?
(PaB) Yes. Of course it depends on the musicians. Everyone has a different approach and a different culture according to that. But for example from a rhythmical point of view, I think to practice so called free improvised music and jazz gives a different rhythmical approach to how we perform contemporary or open-form music. It’s a different perspective than someone who has been trained only to play compositions for example. And I also think that one interesting aspect in playing this open-form music is that there’s no – or i don’t think there is really any – formal training for this. If you want to play this music, you have to deal with a lot of different knowledges and fields – of improvisation, of being able to read and being able to have a certain attention to sound qualities, and to interaction, among other things. The broader a scope you have, in some way, the more interesting it might be.
(HL) Do you think you are playing these compositions in a more personal way, than a contemporary music ensemble would do? That’s kind of a cliché of course, the Jazz musician being more of a character and the classical musician being the medium.
(PaB) I think it is very dangerous to oppose the classical and the jazz musician.
(HL) Do you think that’s an outdated idea? Are there more musicians today who don’t care about these categorizations?
(PaB) I don’t know if they don’t care, but there are a lot more musicians with a wider background and it doesn’t make sense now to speak in terms of “classically trained” or “jazz trained”.
(HL) Is that a recent development?
(PaB) Yes, although a lot of people have been dealing with this for many years, like people from the AACM1 or people around AMM2 in England. They’ve been dealing with this and they’ve been training themselves in some way. For me, Anthony Braxton is a good example of someone who learned out of necessity, because he wanted to have many different approaches and methods. So he had to learn the skills to develop his music. I guess this is becoming more common. A lot of people are more trained in different methods and ways of doing their music.
(SéB) For the Umlaut Festival Paris we always try to invite people from older generations, like Jean-Luc Guionnet or Betrand Denzler or Jean-Sébastien Mariage, who really dedicated themselves to improvised music. And when i discuss with them, I think they are quite amazed, that we – I would almost say – “allow” ourselves to be involved in such various projects. I got the feeling that for their generation, if you wanted to be an improvising musician, you would have to get rid of the jazz conception or the jazz approach, because otherwise they would have been considered as “not really involved” in improvised music. And I got the feeling that our generation is getting rid of this. That now people like us can be involved in an equal way in different projects.
(HL) Do you think that this is also happening in this slightly older generation? I have the feeling that this need to make a clear separation between jazz / free jazz and improvised music was important to some people 10-15 years ago, but now it seems to be less dramatic.
(SéB) I do have the feeling that these are not such strong issues as they might have been before. If you read the Derek Bailey book3 for example, he seems to be really concerned with this problem, to define non-idiomatic improvisation as a genre, that has to be separated from jazz etc. and I don’t feel that is such a strong issue for our generation.
(HL) Can you say something about how your work is perceived by the audience and by the different musical scenes?
(PaB) It’s a different audience for the Big Band and Ensemble Hodos, but I think the borders are blurring. We had some people who came to hear the Big Band first and now they come to Ensemble Hodos for example, because they know our work.
(SéB) I think the fact that all these projects are related to Umlaut has an effect. I would say that in our concert series some people are coming to an Umlaut concert rather than exactly to see this person or that project. So some people who would usually go to jazz concerts will listen to Ensemble Hodos and vice versa.
(HL) Is that something you are doing in the festival programation, that you combine different projects and then some people come to hear Jean-Luc Guionnet4 and then they also get to hear a polish folk singer?
(SéB) Yes, that’s really important to us.
(PaB) To me it’s a very logical thing. It makes sense and it’s not a problem at all. Because it’s part of my culture and all of us in Umlaut and a lot of people around us have this very diverse background and wide open mind to a lot of different things. Which also leads to not opposing non-idiomatic improv to free jazz, written to improvised etc. I think it doesn’t make any sense to oppose all these different practices and methods. From my point of view it is more interesting to use these methods as complements. For example with the Big Band I don’t think we are working in a very different way than with Ensemble Hodos. We’re not trying to play “authentic” as you say, we’re just playing transcriptions of original arrangements.
(HL) What I hear in the Big Band is not historic authenticity, but it’s very alive, because you are playing the original arrangements without any obvious intention of bringing in a contemporary point of view.
(SéB) I think playing this music today, from our own perception, is already a contemporary situation.
(PaB) When I said we’re using the same method as with Ensemble Hodos, that is because we’re basically trying to make the music sound good. Sometimes historical questions arise, like you’re listening to the original recording and you think this phrasing is very typical and sometimes it’s good to use it to make the music sound good. So, we’re trying to make it sound good to our ears, which are not the ears of people from the 30s. In that way it’s not authentic.
1 The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is an African American musicians’ collective formed in Chicago in 1965. From the beginning it has been devoted not only to performances of original music, but also to workshops and music classes held by its members. ↩
2 AMM is a free improvisation group formed by Keith Rowe, Lou Gare and Eddie Prévost in London in 1965. With members coming and going through the years (Prévost is the only original member in the current line-up), they are regarded as influential for the European improvised music scene and beyond. ↩
3 Derek Bailey’s book “Improvisation, Its Nature and Practice in Music”, originally published in 1980 and updated and extended in 1992, deals with improvisation in such various traditions as indian music, baroque music, flamenco, rock, jazz and free improv. It has been called “The most important book on improvisation – the craft, the edge, the leap – you are likely to meet” by The Wire. ↩
4 Jean-Luc Guionnet is a french musician, visual artist and theorist. As a saxophone player he is active in various formations of free improvisation and free jazz. He also plays the church organ, piano and electronics and is active as a visual artist, composer and writer. ↩