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Interview with Emmanuel Mailly and Elie Blanchard, authors of the unclassifiable performance Rodeo Ranger.

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Issuing from the noise scene in the 90’s, Emmanuel Mailly is one of these self taught and instinctive musicians who knew how to step back from music considering that each object hides infinite sound matter.  He tirelessly sculpts vibrant, shouting, noisy, rubbing, caressing, hitting strata, a raw bursting forth that deliciously combines and entwines.  Guided by intuition, he shares this frantic search for the moment, for the gesture and the exploration of margins with Elie Blanchard.

Elie Blanchard, also known as Yro in his performances, explores a new cinematographic language, maintaining a special relationship to matter, to deformations, to the process and to a narrative dimension covered with traces, vestiges and sensations.  In this performance he makes the whole film from photographs that he manipulates.

I met them in January 2016 when they were in residence at the Grange à Musique in Creil (after some time working at Asca de Beavais last year) to finish the writing of their first performing collaboration, a poignant assembly of fragments of a journey conceived with young refugees from Aisne.   It’s a sort of cine-concert but the sound and the image are created live and the story is more a documentary essay than a fiction.

What was the starting point for this creation?

Elie Blanchard: I met Emmanuel Mailly at the Visionsonic festival that I co – programmed with Robin Kobrynski from the V-Atak label.  Emmanuel was giving a performance with the artist Haythem Zakaria.  His process of sound creation by piling up live created material spoke a lot to me of my experimentations at the time in my performance Eile and in my rostrum device. The opportunity to work together arrived 6 years later when Emmanuel was finishing the writing of his album Rodeo Ranger, a bluesy sound track to an imaginary, noisy western.  He was looking to make this album longer on stage and I was seduced by his experimental but also narrative compositions, an invitation to discover wide spaces and travel.

Emmanuel Mailly: Elie had worked with photos in his precedent project Triangles Irascibles and it seemed important to me that the stage version of Rodeo Ranger should prolong the cinematographic aspect of the album.  When we started writing together, we rapidly wanted to connect the music of the album to what’s happening today in Europe and the Mediterranean. We had met young refugees via the association Boussole and after a discussion with two of them, Thierno and Mamadou, we asked them if they wanted to participate in an artistic project with us.  That day we met two enthusiastic adolescents.  We were touched by their energy, their desires, their personal stories and what they had been through to arrive here.

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We can feel that in the first minutes, over and above the aesthetic and sound work, Rodeo Ranger carries a commitment and a strong message; and this several weeks after an historic growth of the extreme right during the regional elections (particularly in the North where the young refugees you worked with live) and in a worrying international situation where millions of people try to cross every day. 

Emmanuel Mailly: In this creation, we chose to tackle these complex current themes with the participation of these young people, with our words, borrowing their own, with our instruments and our experimental practice.  In our artistic career we felt the need to deliver a different view on the images that the medias feed us, to present these fragments of unique journeys.

It’s not new for me to take these positions but it’s the first time that they’ve telescoped like this in my artistic work.  Through my second profession, that of teacher, I am regularly confronted with the sudden departures of students whose parents, refused asylum, have to leave the French territory or change regions to try and escape expulsion.  In 2004 I decided to create a collective in defence of illegal immigrants in Aisne and I managed it several years before passing it on to others and concentrating on the communes near to me such as Chauny where these young people live.  I accompany people in their administrative procedures, in access to housing, I try to guarantee scholastic supplies (books, calculators, bags…) or sometimes organize mobilizations in the department to save people from expulsion.

Elie Blanchard:  At the moment, more than when I started creating, as an artist, but also as a citizen, I feel the need to take up “political” issues.  For several years I have been developing a lot of collective or collaborative projects, regularly questioning the notion of “doing together”, with artists but also amateurs (adolescents, elderly mentally disabled…).  In Where do you come from? (with Cheveu), using the photographic archives of the town, I talked about the construction of Saint-Ouen by immigrant workers.  It was a view of the northern suburb of Paris where I now live.

Giving a voice to those who have none, doing things together, starting a debate, a reflection, these are things that motivate us to present this project that has been a human adventure over and above an artistic adventure.

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During the performance we feel, in your exchanged looks, a constant search for a dialogue between you.  A sound dialogue when the two of you interpret the musical score that abounds with details and contrasts.  But also a more subtle exchange when it’s about measuring silence and intention with precision.  We can guess the difficulty involved in keeping a narrative form whilst only having a few photos and some instruments as sole recourse.

Emmanuel Mailly: Sometimes myapproach is called a form of slightly deferred live electro-acoustic.  Deferred because it’s always replying to the other: dancer, actors, poets or in this case visual artist, with the image, the intention, given by Elie in his visual poetry.  So a dialogue is naturally installed.

When I was a child I often went to the cinema alone.  It was the only cultural place I visited and I was fascinated by the musical scores of the films that shaped my conception of music, especially in the narrative aspect of the music I compose.

I use objects of everyday life and explore their sonorities in front of a microphone, from these experimentations I make a sort of sound palette that I use when playing live whilst also leaving room for chance, for accident.  I need to put myself in an uncomfortable situation, destabilized, in order for my music to exist.

I arrived at the residence with the music already written, the album Rodeo Ranger had been released a few months before.  I rapidly had the feeling of being a prisoner of my compositions.  We tried to rewrite some things but after a few days we swept it all away.  We just kept the essence of the album, the blues guitars, the noise and other more contemplative moments to make the musical score for the film made by Elie.

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Elie Blanchard: Making a cinematographic experience with photos means accepting to tell a fragmented story. I would like the spectator to enter into these spaces to reconstitute the missing pieces with his own experience and personal history (so that there would be as many interpretations of the story as there are people in the audience).

This work of entwined writing permitted a link to be woven between us.  Each composition is a sort of response to the image, the strength of the image was guided by the sound,…We constructed the performance brick by brick by presenting many stages of work in the places where we were in residence.  It’s during these presentations that we were able to construct the breathing and the rhythm of each moment, whilst leaving ourselves freedom in the interpretation.

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The young adolescents are not on stage with you although they contributed to the image by their presence.  We mainly follow two of them in their journey, how did you work with them?

Emmanuel Mailly: We met Thierno and Mamadou one afternoon in June in a Chauny park where they usually played football.  These two young Guineans told us their family history and the stages of their incredible route: millions of kilometres by jeep, by bus, on foot, the smugglers, the living conditions, the crossing of the Mediterranean, the hard times when they at last arrived in the city…With energy and confidence they conveyed to us their hopes and wishes.

Elie Blanchard: After this first meeting we started to define the stages of their crossing that we were going to put into images and prepared the film shoots to recompose the fragments of this documentary essay.  For these images we went to Brittany, in the sea, along the shore, and also to the places they frequented on their arrival in Paris, in their hotel in Chauny with the ten other young refugees who were placed there with them,…Each meeting was an opportunity to know a little more about them, to take the time to know each other, and for us, to find accuracy in what we were making.

Emmanuel Mailly: Some time ago (in January), the association La Boussole helped us organize a presentation of the performance.  They were obviously very touched and we were able to exchange about what they’d seen while presenting them our visual and sound device. They could try out the music and we took some portraits that Elie hopes he can use in the performance.  They did the development themselves with a procedure called cyanotype.

Elie Blanchard: We’ve just learnt that the department council said that they would be moved to apartments in Laon.  We won’t be able to do the last images with them that we wanted to at the hotel.  We’re happy, it’s a new step for them, closer to their school and at last in a place they can invest in, cook food, and try to reconstruct after this long journey that is, unfortunately, only just starting.

Rodeo Ranger was presented for the first time the 21st January at the Agnès Varda cinema in Beavais.  The next coming dates are on avoka.fr and you can find more information here.