BRÉTIGNY A contemporary moment

Why the hell were we going to Brétigny ?

Doubt was sneaking in on the R.E.R. platform as a thirty minute trip from Châtelet was about to start. Exotic from the boarding onwards, the journey opened by discussing with a white-collar worker, familiar with the complexity of public transport, who tried to convince us of the advantages of fresh-air-suburban-life.

In Brétigny-Gare, a cheerful communication with local shopkeepers showed us the way to the contemporary art centre where a presentation of performances was waiting for us within the context of a “Noise & Capitalism” event. By coincidence, an acquaintance from Berlin had been invited to perform. Despite his very doubtful air on what could this story of Noise & Capitalism be all about, I had decided not to miss this, and to take Constance with me, delighted to “travel at last out of Paris”, had she said with a childlike look while staring at the flashing-by trees through the train dirty window.

The C.A.C (contemporary art centre) was standing in the middle of anonymity. We could have been anywhere in France (but certainly in France), in front of the cemented high school, by the gymnasium, opposite the parking lot. Strangely new, well laid out, well equipped, it was impatiently waiting for us, if we were to believe the intrigued and happy eyes of the group of male adults, trendy clothes and hairdos, in front of the glass doors. A smaller group of Emokids was facing them. We were clearly in presence of the artistic professional team on one side, on the other of its only audience, freshly coming out of the aforementioned school. Our arrival was undoubtedly bringing a touch of enthusiasm to the thirty-year-olds smoking in front of the small poster, that was attempting to entice the teenagers with a “Tonight noise concert”.

The first performance, from the Berliner acquaintance, was presenting to the nearly empty room the doubts of its performer concerning the validity itself of his presence amongst us. Seated, crossed legs, in an international English mixed with a strong Argentinian accent he was slowly listing Wikipedia extracts and series of questions on the whys and wherefores of noise, every now and then interrupting the reading of his paper to glance at the room with dark, inquiring or intense eyes, it was hard to say. To take his revenge for his perplexity maybe, or for lack of a better idea, he then had undertaken to invite the festival curator to comment a selection of quotations that, he was to reveal only at the end, came from the next performer on the list. The curator-artist started thus to publicly denigrate one of his guests. I turned around, fingers stuck in my ears, while the Berliner with the Argentinian accent, now standing up, was hitting a small metallic object with a stick, to prove to us he could be very noisy too, if he wanted: the room had entirely emptied from its audience, apart from us and the professional team, the Emokids having strangely disappeared without us noticing.

The next on the list, the noise Polish musician, and a loyal stooge already fairly soaked, got down to work. Very ill-prepared for the event, we had to make a swift move and evacuate the room. I was soon sneaking in again, two pellets of kleenex firmly stuck into my ears. The sensation must had been the same immersed in a 747 jet engine. The experience was not totally uninteresting: I was seeing more clearly the link with capitalism. I had spent several years of salary work in school dining halls, and always well believed the studies comparing the sonic level there to precisely the one of a landing runway.

After a short break, we prepared ourselves to brave the third performance. A bowler-hatted young man, swirling between the speakers, was hurling as much noise as he could, helped by various accessories, mimicking rock stars’ grin, spiting into the air, falling on his knees… I confess, I was experiencing focusing difficulties: on the glass doors’ side widely opened onto the granite-like pavement, some minor events were occurring.

A group of joggers in full fluorescent gears, the five faces turned by the surprise towards the sonic epicentre, crossed the space in slow motion.

A lady walking her yorkshire was starting a conversation with the Polish bruitiste. She was visibly exhorting her dog to listen to the performance. The latter, however, gave up.

But a few minutes later, in the distance, a mob of women over sixty was approaching, their yorkshires anticipating them from their leashes’ end (I insist, these were yorkshires only, even from this distance I was well aware of it).

Alas, just like with the Emokids, the next peek revealed a scene entirely emptied from its actors.

In my back, the Polish’s loyal companion had dozed off in a large white pouf, a sherry bottle by his side, a put up rolled cigarette between his fingers.

Adopted by the professional team, the evening went on for us in the Asian restaurant of Brétigny. We were clearly for the owner an unexpected windfall, she got the tables moved. All this had an air of costume drama, the inevitable scene when they enter the inn. Jugs were ordered ; she was trying, order book in one hand, to convince us to take the all you can eat menu. The two noisy musicians, completely drunk for the loyal stooge, harder to say for the noise master, were insulting the staff behind their back, sending back the rosé jugs to ask for red, the sherry dregs stashed at their feet under the table. The more conceptual artists were worried about their vegetarian diet: should they take sticky rice ? The French menu was confusing… I had to choose for some, others produced a “vegetarian passport”. The latter was presenting with simple drawings the authorized ingredients. The owner burst into uncontrollable laughter, and ignoring the aggressive muttering in alcoholic Polenglish at the end of the table, came back asking with a radiant look on her face: “Who wants more beer ?”. I was keeping an eye open on the vegetarian menus, but probably lacked vigilance concerning the non-alcoholic drinks. An exuberant diabolo menthe1 substituted thus for the original order – a plain lemonade. The Scotsman’s expression, discovering with his first sip the very existence of diabolo menthe’s concept, betrayed his concern about the matching possibilities of this beverage with the sticky rice’s more subtle notes.

In front of me, the Berliner Argentinian was starting a dialog attempt with the Polish seated two chairs further. “You are confused and dishonest !”, hurled the latter with the anger of a man that might have been drunk but was still fit enough to charge very literally into him.

Alas, I lacked courage and left them there to their burgeoning friendship, and I freely admit, thus also abandoned Constance to the doomed end of the table’s clutches ; and turning myself casually to the right, I focused on more gentle and civilised conversations.

Things, in the end, cooled down. We ordered the bill, we said good bye.

The last R.E.R. headed for Paris.

1Mint and lemonade


.A Bretigny