To provide a measure of my ordinary sound environment -- its properties (its singularities, or on the contrary, its banalities, its obvious features) -- while investigating my status as inhabitant.
A measure that is neither too close nor too far from that which happens: an investigation into the threshold.
Only sounds recorded into my appartment
Recordings : January 2013 – March 2015
mixing : January - November 2016
Inhabiting : A story of an ordinary environment
In contrast to a virtual address (email…) what is the significance of living here at this address, in this building, said to relate to my existence, to my life, in this time of listening?
Living in Paris
When we raise questions about sound in or of Paris the archives generally provide a series of motifs that depict typologies of wholly stereotypical events: the metro, the bells of Notre Dame, la Place de L’Étoile, waiters in the café, etc… Like many Parisians my daily environment is the object of no representation found in these sound librairies. My premise therefore involves an exit from these emblematic constructions, from these commonplaces that participate in the major historical accounts of Paris.
Starting with only my immediate environment, one which possesses weak symbolic value, my project is to explore its sounds from my apartment’s windows. It represents a kind of temporary and deeply localized inventory that, when given a narrative form, solidifies the impression of my listening, which is the listening of an inhabitant.
Après s’être posé la question de l’écoute domestique en compagnie de Jean-Luc Guionnet (Home: Handover), Éric La Casa interroge les bruits de son propre quotidien. Replaçant ses micros à son domicile – XIXe arrondissement de Paris –, il capte des bruits qu’on ne soupçonne pas puisqu’ils ne sont généralement pas, de Paris, ceux qui « intéressent » (cloches de Notre-Dame, métro, garçons de café…, écrit-il).
Paris Quotidien est, en conséquence, d’un concret saisi, et parfois saisissant. Le ballet qu’on y trouve – « récit qui structure mon arrière-monde et fabrique mon échelle domestique », écrit-il encore – va au son de la rumeur du trafic routier, d’oiseaux ou de véhicules de passage, de travaux en cours, de bourdons d’appareils électriques… En trois temps principaux (Les saisons du bruit de fond, Les événements extérieurs, Le monde intérieur), La Casa arrange des sons qu’il semble, dans le même temps qu’il les met en boîte, apprendre à reconnaître.
Dans ce lieu qu’il n’arpente pas en promeneur – ce que l’auditeur sera, par contre, d’un genre qui papillonne pour ne pas être toujours intéressé par ses découvertes –, il met au jour et un espace que lui, Éric La Casa, habite et les sons qui l’habitent, lui, Éric La Casa. C’est ainsi, en tout cas, que celui-ci procède pour – comme l’écrivit Henri Lefebvre cité par Jason Kahn dans l’introduction à son ouvrage In Place – « arriver par l’expérience au concret ». [guillaume belhomme, le son du Grisli n°2, éditions lenkalente]
Here we have a release of France's finest when it comes to field recording, mister Eric La Casa, who this time keep things close to home, the city he lives in, being Paris. A beautiful city no doubt, yet this is not about the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower, but rather about the direct environment of La Casa, his apartment in the 19th arrondissement, which is not near the centre, so no familiar tourist audio snap shots there. There are three lengthy pieces here; in the first one La Casa follows the sounds of the seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn), while in the second it is about the surrounding of his apartment (the street, the garden, the alarm) and the final, longest, one is
about being inside, listening to non electrical devices, electro magnetic fields, and the central cooling system and so on. The release comes with an extensive (CD-sized) booklet of pictures in which we see the microphones set up and taping the environment. La Casa writes there are no effects, just editing and that he choose to record sounds in quite a simple way, i.e. no complex sounds that one normally doesn't hear. It is stuff you could do as well, but if you would arrive at an equally interesting release is to be seen. Much of the power of this music goes towards the use of editing, placing sounds in certain places, maybe doing a bit overlap between them, and thus create a dialogue between them, and that is something that La Casa is pretty good at. Some of the sounds are recorded from afar, and gives you the notion of an open space, especially in the first piece that is the case, which is twenty-three minute rumble of hiss that at one point is brutally disturbed by thunder. Here the editing is quite 'slow', if you get my drift, unlike in the other two pieces that show more editing, going from event to event, sometimes with an abrupt cut in the
middle. There is also more 'noise' in here, especially in 'Les Evenements Exterieurs', where we are witness to some machinery noise in the garden. This is all totally fascinating music, I think, and best enjoyed with the windows closed so you can fully concentrate on somebody else’s environment. Maybe it will make you perceive your immediate surrounding, inside the house as well as outside, in a new way, hopefully. (FdW), Vital weekly 1082, www.vitalweekly.net/1082.html
A caveat: For about a year and a half, including some of the time when these recordings were made, I lived right around the corner from Eric La Casa, in Paris' 19th Arrondissement. Leafing through the photographs included in the accompanying booklet (which includes a short essay, in French and English, by La Casa), I see many familiar sights and, more, am well acquainted with the general sense of architecture in that area — bland but comfortable apartment buildings put up in the early 90s on the sites of former stockyard housing — and, to be sure, I recall the daily life there. La Casa does field recordings but his work is different from most. He doesn't seek out exotic places or unusual sound fields. He doesn't hyper-amplify small sounds to reveal hidden sonic worlds. He doesn't tweak what he finds (at least not overtly) to render the sounds more intriguing to our ears. He simply presents environments, often, as here, ones with which he is very familiar, but presents them as heard by someone with very sensitive ears, not just to the aural characteristics of the sounds themselves but to what they mean, what they imply. The disc contains three sections, each lasting between 20-30 minutes. The first, "Les saisons du bruit de fond" ("Seasons of background noise"), covers sounds made over a period of a year, seemingly recorded from the windows of La Casa's apartment. There's the constant hum of the city, wheels on roads and engines; there's a thunderstorm; there are the distant sounds of people voices on the streets, the clangs of construction, the ringing of phones. It's at once dense and transparent and perhaps tinged with sadness, the day to day that always changes on the one hand but operates within restricted boundaries. As difficult as it may be to imagine such a recording as being poignant, it somehow is. Next we have "Les événements extérieurs" ("Outside events") and the immediate concentration is on the industrial: a very loud and assaultive wave of drills boring into metal and concrete. It gradually shifts to a more spacious context, but no less active — sirens, bangs (firecrackers?), people yelling, children laughing. It's difficult to determine what's going on; sometimes it seems like a sporting event, other times a demonstration. Maybe both, or neither. It ends with a distant marching band amidst bird calls and dull pounding. The final track, "Le monde intérieur" ("The inside world") might be, oddly, the most difficult as its elements are the most quotidian, an array of truly everyday sounds with little inherent drama but which still, slowly over its 29 minutes, build in subtle intensity to make for a riveting experience, There's a scouring sound that could be water flushing through a metal tube that is especially gripping. A strong sense of Luc Ferrari pervades in the diaphanous creation of structure from the most ordinary of materials — it's all stunning.
La Casa has, for a number of years, been one of the premier practitioners of the art of field recording. Paris Quotidien is yet another exceptionally strong addition to his catalogue.
Brian Olewnick, Squid Ear, September 2017
Eric La Casa’s latest release is a praise to the beauty and the sound charm of his beloved city, Paris. Paris Quotidien is produced by Swarming, a label founded in 2009 by La Casa with Philip Samartzis and Jean-Luc Guionn and includes three long suites, all lasting more than 20 minutes. The album package is an elegant cardboard artwork, including a 64 page photo booklet. The concepts Eric La Casa explores in his research on the French capital’s sound DNA are the themes of living, which he defines as “a story of an ordinary environment”, without having the rhetoric or grandeur of a typological (or, even worse, historical or touristic) exposition. The author highlights that “in contrast to a virtual address (email…)”, he questions “the significance of living here at this address, in this building, said to relate to my existence, to my life, in this time of listening.” What is the meaning of living in a specific place? Is the symbolic value of a big city somehow related to an intimate and fragmented experience as the recording of audio tracks from his own domestic and living environment? Eric La Casa is sure of this, despite his position seeming political, rather than being representative of a metropolitan imprinting related to some specific “vibes” trends, a kind of “sound genoma” different from city to city (according to a psyco-geographical derivative model). Eric La Casa has created a temporary and localized archive of minimal events, structured in a storytelling and abstract way, mediated by his own audio experience, according to the definition that “the listening here is the living of one year.” Eric La Casa knows how the perception of reality enlarges what it means to make music today and after this theory of evolution he is able to take some freedom. For example, feeling free to start from himself, to put into music the places and the situations of his daily life: the apartment, the flow of the days, his harmony with the outside environment, the “body” of listening and its position, the sharing of a living place, because, as he highlights: “living in the city first means accepting to be a co-inhabitant there.” Aurelio Cianciotta, neural.it/2017/09/eric-la-casa-paris-quotidien/
Mon milieu sonore quotidien
Paris Quotidien (SWARMING 006) is the major new release from Eric La Casa, French sound artist extraordinaire. Last dug him on Home:Handover, eavesdropping on tenement dwellers in Glasgow with the help of fellow Frenchman Jean-Luc Guionnet, a musician whose performance Eric has on occasion documented with his special mic technique. And who can forget Eric’s memorable recordings of a bell foundry, and also of the bees in Dundee? Today’s offering is far less exotic than bells and bees though, and is probably closer to the interior worlds of the Home:Handover record. He did it all by sticking his mics outside his apartment window in Paris and capturing what sounds might came his way. This method has a long pedigree, and even in my short life I have heard Gen Ken doing it outside a New York City window, freely admitting I think he was directly inspired by Harry Smith, also of NYC, the beatnik film-maker and hermetic genius, who did it sometime in the 20th century probably for magickal reasons or such like. And I expect both of them would be content to be placed in a line leading directly to John Cage, who wanted us to pay more attention to our surroundings. La Casa however has evolved and articulated his own complex set of reasons and motivations, and indeed something approaching a personal philosophy, to produce Paris Quotidien. He explains these in his extensive notes in the extensive (60pp) booklet of annotations and photographs.
To begin with, he’s not especially interested in capturing “interesting” sounds. The majority of field recording / phonographer types – and sorry to use these terms, which I understand are fast becoming deprecated – go out of their way to find something that interests them in the world, and then frame it within the space of their field recordings, using the best possible mics and technology to secure an authentic capture. For this project, conversely, La Casa is deliberately in pursuit of the banal and humdrum – the term “quotidien” carries more meaning than just “day-to-day” in French – and found that his own living space, in the third floor of an apartment block in the 19th arrondissement fit the bill for his needs. To put it more plainly, there was nothing special here; the content on offer “possesses weak symbolic value”, to use his own expression.
Further, the mic placement was deliberately set up to match as closely as possible the listening posture and experience of a human being who might be sat at this window for days on end, much like a fixed camera with no zooms or pans to “direct” our attention. In fact, it seems he didn’t even feel obliged to press the record button all the time. All of this is in pursuit of what he calls “a precise and transitory phenomenon in which I survey the space without any goal”. Part of this enforced indifference – something which I bet Andy Warhol 1 would have recognised, although he was much more prolific and less precise about it – was a reaction by La Casa to what he perceives as the clichés of most Parisian audio recordings, which he dismisses with a contemptuous shopping list of favourite audio snapshots which includes the sound of the Metro underground train and the bells of Notre Dame. When he puts it like that, you wonder if he yearns to destroy every kiosk in Paris selling picture postcards. But he succeeds; if you want to hear the “real” Paris, I imagine you could do worse than start with Paris Quotidien.
La Casa goes on to ruminate on the ramifications of his proposal, his own relationship to this listening / living space and the rest of the world, in a clutch of highly intellectual annotations. These indicate the rigour and strength of his work. The same can be said of his colour photographs, of which there are several reproduced in the bound booklet accompanying this release, showing unremarkable views of architecture (both exterior and interior), city scapes, and people – mostly workmen – doing ordinary things. Some of these images show the microphones sitting in place, silently crouched like alien cockroaches monitoring the doings of us puny humans. These images may not have much aesthetic value, but I think they are part of the deliberate banality of the project, and they also serve to document and authenticate the method being used in visual terms. Eric La Casa spent several months working on Paris Quotidien, and noted how his listening habits and his outlook on life changed profoundly during the process; it became “more connected to whatever events take place, to the way in which they establish themselves in the space, interior and exterior, and thus change my consciousness of the territory, of my home, and of inhabiting.”
This may sound very dry and theoretical on paper, and after ingesting all the above intellectualisations you may spin this record and find yourself somehow underwhelmed by the slow, quiet, and mostly uneventful recordings on offer here. Secondly you can’t help but notice the total banality of the subject matter, no different from what might be heard in any other urban/suburban conurbation. Yet for all that this record can be a compelling listen. At one level, there are at least three distinct views and sound-worlds to be found in these three tracks, where the middle episode is probably the most outdoorsy – noisy / audible and eventful (workmen, machinery, children, laughter) – and the final episode the most inward-looking, allowing us to glimpse the four walls (mostly sounds of the apartment, phone, fax machine or printer, even some human speech). The first episode is a bit harder to characterise – mostly the sounds of open air with very little substance or grit to get your ears around – but we’ll get there after a few more spins, I’m sure. This alone indicates the work has been structured and composed to some degree, illustrating aspects of the project and La Casa’s thesis. Listen further, and you too may find yourself undergoing the same mental changes as he did, inside your own four walls. Could you ask for anything more from a work of art? Ed Pinsent, www.thesoundprojector.com/2018/01/05/mon-milieu-sonore-quotidien/
1. I’m thinking of his early film experiments, especially Empire; I read one assessment of how Warhol “advertised his indifference” to the conventional mechanics of film-making by refusing zooms, pans, etc. and leaving all the mistakes (light flares, end of reel markers) in the final print.