BEATS AND PIECES
- OTHER SIDE, ÉD. LA POMME À TOUT FAIRE, P14 -
The installation by Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin , Other Side, Break, creates extensions and movement using space and sound in a visual display whose postures, techniques and materials are taken from the universe of the DJ. It would be impossible to understand the issues raised and the range of this work without first considering this domain. This in turn encourages us to analyse the term «break», part of the title. It works on various levels : on the one hand it is a cultural reference - «breakbeat», as a primary element in rap, present in all the musical elaborations on this form. But it also functions as the technique employed by Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin for this installation. «To break», is thus also be understood in an almost literal sense, «to break away» but also «to cut», «to slice», break or cut, done to the vinyl records here.
FROM ONE BREAK TO ANOTHER
To go back to the history of the breakbeat, if only to its initial arrival on the scene with DJs in the Bronx (one thinks particularly of the trio made up of Kool Herc, Africa Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash), in local festivals (or block parties) in New York at the beginning of the 1970s, would require long explanations. This is a practice which comes with a range of multiple heritages (social, historical and musical). It developed in a collective way : cultural, technical and technological ideas came together in its evolution. The principles are however simple. A breakbeat is obtained by the selection and the repetition of a short sound extract resulting from music recorded on a vinyl disc. These extracts, generally selected from soul or funk music – but sometimes also from pop music records – are based essentially on dynamics. In the pieces selected, they are built around moments where the refrain or the transition is purely rhythmic. The breakbeat must thus be understood as a musical practice involving intensive playing, for a sustained period, of a selected rhythm of music to create tension to make people want to dance (breakbeat will find its echo in breakdance).
This practice of the break brings together two central actions : a rupture with the continuity of a piece recorded on a record, with which creation is associated, through the repetition and the continuous loop used for the selected extract, a pattern on which will a new musical idea will be based (in the early days of rap music, the voice of a master of ceremonies was placed on the breakbeat and adapted to the predetermined rhythm). These two operations are associated with two complementary gestures: one consists of brutally stopping the turntable mechanism and the vinyl disc, the other in restarting the record in the tempo and the rhythm of the sounds selected.
These two gestures (interruption, restarting) and these two requirements (cuts, continuity), are given new meaning by Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin in a visual arts context. A rupture which tends towards a cut (material fragments of cut up records) and repeating through an assembly (a circuit made up of pieces of vinyl records).
By disuniting the rigid alliance of hand and machine, which determines the record play speed and the opportunities fro the DJ to make breaks, the two artists concentrate primarily on the record as object, placed on the floor. They use the breakbeat in ways subject to other approaches, with other operating modes, since they are primarily concerned with considerations of space. A last point: the new temporal and spatial forms here offered to the break are associated with a practical innovation: the possibility, for DJs, to use recordings of breakbeats on discs produced exclusively for this use. Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin have chosen to use this type of record, with a maximum format of 45 rpm, as the framework for this work with vinyl records, or rather with their records(1).
SELECTION AND MOVEMENT
The breakbeat records have a particular status in this installation: on the one hand, since the fragments obtained are never smaller than a half-circle (they are cut in two, at the centre); in addition, because each one of the fragments has a size and a duration which gets longer (a strict space/time ratio is applied to each element in this installation) they function at the same time as an visual and sound boundary stone in this work, like one element in a viewpoint diagram. As for the other records chosen by the artists, their musical taste is broad. They have included many French popular songs, but also “pop” music (2).
The extracts are short – fragments which sometimes only allow a twelfth of the record to be heard, impeding identification. They take part in the exclusively rhythmic construction of a sound screen.
One key point that needs to be emphasized is that the installation by Cléa Coudsi and Éric Herbin obeys a final rule as regards its structure. It is laid out over two separate but adjacent spaces, formed by cut up lines of vinyl records. These two circuits, although occupying independent spaces, are connected through the sound fragments as they use the same records: the first circuit plays on the A side, the second on side B. This parallel structure, using inversion and a mirror image, means that the records’ position echoes the way DJs mix records with two turntables. Here a new way of mixing is proposed. This «cut» mix, obtained by placing record fragments end to end, supports the assumption that only by selecting can one make a collection coherent. The status of the untouchable record-object is disputed and invited to relinquish its
status as possession to rediscover its original use.
On a formal level, « Other Side, Break », involves bringing together visual and sound elements in one single dimension. The work is presented on a white surface about 50 m2 long and 20 centimetres off the ground. This choice marks its territory in a very explicit way. Here the idea of selecting records is given form by the cut sections, fragments connected to each other. We are offered music we can look at, or a sculpture we can listen to.
As part of this use, closed circuits are produced in space, new loops spread themselves over a vast area. By putting the cut records next to each other, a sound-based circuit is created between them. The records are played by a scale model of a truck, its speed regulated by a light source (the weaker the source, the faster the vehicle). The aspect of these toys, used by DJs (and known as Vinyl Killers) gives the installation a very childlike dimension, like toy car circuits with small remotecontrolled cars. The viewer listening to and watching these vehicles will quickly revise this first impression: the connections imposed by cutting and reassembly are of a radically different type. Two operations which are most closely linked to the various stages in the production of a film (as well as other media already evoked). But this should not come as a surprise in an installation which harnesses visual elements and sound.
These installation elements are both musical and visual. They work simultaneously with space and sound and the route taken by the miniature trucks, meandering and strewn with obstacles, continually raises new possibilities for connections between space and sound. These two circuits are thus frameworks with a potential for growth, brought out by the each of travelling vehicles in a personal way. Many parameters vary depending on the route : the groove selected is rarely the same, the speed differs for each of the trucks, and the time taken on the circuit is never constant. When the two tracks are mixed the result is never quite the same. The principle of inversion and parallels embodied in this work is thus replayed in the forms of variations. These steer this aesthetic project towards the production of versions and cover versions, far from any form of straight repetition.This idea could, consequently, evoke generative music.
The brittleness and the approximation of these assemblies, the accidents and the unforeseen opportunities they allow, determine the possibilities for invention of new forms. Wear and eventual destruction will inevitably limit the time span. This space-time musical experiment summons up, for this reason, a single movement, its memory and its own disappearance.
(1) The series includes «Needle Thrashers», «Breaktionary», «Dialogue and Random», «Utility Phonograph Record.
(2) Among others Paul Mauriat’s big band, Den Harrow, A-ha, Toto Coelo, Space…