I am writing this story while on a train from Angers to Paris. This is my first trip to France and a continuation of my liberating travels. I left Austin 5 days ago and traveled to Paris and then Angers by train. I intentionally booked a long leg of travel first thing, to get it out of the way while I was dealing with jet lag. Exhausted and delirious, Tamara and I made our way through the train station with heavy bags filled with ten days of clothes, electronic music equipment, and Design Sprint workshop supplies. Upon arriving at the entrance, we were greeted by the affable Vincent Fribault.
I met Vincent two years prior via an email introduction from Laurent Boulouard. Laurent was another Frenchman whom I had met 13 years ago via email. Laurent runs, Tavarn Keben, a small, boutique experimental music label and released some work by Book of Shadows, a band I was contributing to at the time. Shortly after meeting Laurent, I met Bruno Paris. Bruno operates the Ruralfaune label and is a board member of Austin Angers Creative. Laurent and Bruno both went on to release multiple Book of Shadows releases in addition to one of my solo works.
Laurent reached out to me in 2014 to invite me to speak and perform at Austin Week. Bruno Paris is the chairman of the board for Angers Austin Creative, a group dedicated to developing and expanding Austin Week and other Austin-Angers collaborations. Austin Week is an event held in Angers to celebrate Austin culture and create opportunities for collaboration between Austin and Angers artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, educators, and community leaders. Angers has hosted an “Austin Week” every September since it became one of Austin’s 20 sister cities in 2010.
I was both pleased and flattered to receive Laurent’s invitation and promptly accepted. Laurent, Bruno, and I started to prepare plans. We set a schedule that included performances, workshops, opportunities to sample the local cuisine, business meetings, and a bit of leisure. I was especially ecstatic about the chance to collaborate with Christian Vander, the producer of Magma.
After few months of discussions and preparations, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that the Twyla, an online art marketplace, launch dates conflicted with Austin Week and that I would have to withdraw from participation. With much regret, I emailed Laurent and Bruno to inform them that I could not attend. They were disappointed but understood my dilemma. After a month or so of silence, Laurent and Bruno came to me with a proposition: Would I be interested in working with two French artists on a collaborative project? Elated to realize that Bruno and Laurent were still keen to work with me, I requested a meeting with the two artists.
Vincent, Gerome, and I met on a Skype call about a week or two later. I don’t speak or understand French at all and Gerome had a hard time understanding me, so Vincent quickly took the job of translating. The project, Correspondance, is challenging to explain in your native tongue and here we were attempting to discuss it through a significant language barrier. After many questions and clarifications, I had a decent understanding, although I did have to clarify a few details over email after the call.
Correspondance is a collaborative video project involving the creation of 1-minute video clips. Clips originate from 1 artist creating either 1-minute of audio or 1-minute of video. Vincent, Gerome, and I curate the clips to specific artists whose job is to add the missing piece to the file. For an audio file the artist will add video, and for video files, the artist will add audio. The artist will also make an additional file which we will send to another artist, and the cycle continues. Since starting Correspondance in 2002, Vincent and Gerome have conducted four series with extended breaks between some.
Several weeks after accepting their offer to curate Austin artists for Correspondance Series 4, I received my first batch of files. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of who was working on each file and which files were completed. After 18 months and about 15 rounds, we have over 90 videos. We were anxious to share our work during Austin Week!
Our excitement was met with disappointing news as we learned that Austin Week would be canceled for 2017. In 2017, Angers hosted the World Electronics Forum (WEF). This was quite an accomplishment for such a small city. Founded in 1995, WEF is an international event that brings together over 100 CEO’s, directors, investors, and entrepreneurs of the worldwide electronics industry. Austin Week became a casualty of a small city hosting such a massive and highly visible event.
The set back inspired Vincent and Gerome to begin searching others ways of presenting the work. Later fall, I received an email informing me that Premiers Plans had accepted us into their film festival. I was super thrilled to hear this news and find that they also invited me to come to the Premiers Plans. After weeks of logistics, we decided that I would not only fly to Angers for the Correspondance screening but also perform afterward.
It had been over two years since I had performed live and I didn’t have a composition prepared, so I had my work cut out for me. My immediate first step was to figure out my instrumentation such that I could pack it up with minimal effort and travel to another continent. I decided to buy a new Eurorack case that would handle air travel. After a bit of research, I found the Intellijel 7U case, which was not only bigger than any of my current single cases but also could close with patch cables inserted and fit on an airplane.
Once I received the case, I moved a few modules into it and began to swap others in and out, as I rehearsed the various iterations of the setup. After a few weeks, I was comfortable with my module selection and how I had them patched. Simultaneously, I was collecting samples from other musicians who participated in the Correspondance project. Since I was unsuccessful in getting the budget to bring artists with me, I decided to bring samples from them instead. I loaded these clips into Ableton Live and controlled them using an Arturia MiniLab.
After arriving in Angers, Vincent escorted us to his lovely apartment just near an gorgeous looking market and two blocks from Le Centre des Congrès, the convention center. After settling in at Vincent’s, I did a quick test of my performance setup, to which he was pleased to see some French modules and the French controller. We then met Bruno for lunch at La Reserve at La Quai where we also met Ganaelle Guiter, Head of International Relations at the Angers Mayor’s office. She was super sweet and tremendously helpful in making our stay in Angers enjoyable.
Monday was my tech day, and I met with ALDEV, the Angers Loire Métropole’s economic development agency. Along with the Austin Angers Creative, they were instrumental in setting up my Angers Workshop. Yoann Digue was crucial, helped me organize the most aspects of the workshop. After breakfast with ALDEV, I met with Yannick Bourdin, from Angers French Tech. Angers French Tech is a local chapter of the broader French Tech initiative.
That evening, Gerome and his wife Katia hosted Vincent, Vincent’s girlfriend Félicie and her son Corentin (the little lion), Bruno, Tamara, and I for dinner. It was so lovely to meet Katia and their daughter Solune. The wine in France was spectacular, but this night it was extra special. They even made me a Paleo dinner! We all had a great time and some good laughs, especially when we bestowed the superman mug on Bruno because he is a superman after all.
I enjoyed spending some quality time with Gerome. Although his English is quite good, he isn’t a confident English speaker, so he tends to defer to others, and I hadn’t had the chance to get to know him as well as Vincent. We reviewed the game plan and how we would organize the films, translations, introductions, intermission for the screening the next day. During the discussion, I discovered that Gerome is a runner and had plans to hit the trail in the morning, so I jumped on the opportunity.
Gerome & Michel arrived at Vincent’s apartment at 9 AM this next morning to pick me up. We drove to Pignerolles Park located in the city of Saint Barthelemy, about 20-minute drive from Angers. During World War II, the Chateau de Pignerolles was requisitioned by the Polish government-in-exile. Later in the war, as the Germans invaded France, they took control of Pignerolles, and the park now features several German bunkers. The running path circles the entire park and is about 2.5 miles. We ran the loop twice for a total of 5 miles. The air was crisp, and the scenery was gorgeous. What an incredible way to start the day.
After the run, Gerome, Vincent and I met at Vincent’s to talk about some potential changes to the Correspondance website and put a plan together for next steps. Then we headed over to Chez Remi for lunch with the AAC board, local organizers, and visiting Austinites. Tamara and I both agree that Chez Remi was the best meal we had in France. We even got to meet Chef Remi Fournier and talk about his visit to Austin to work with local chefs as part of an AAC exchange.
After lunch, we gathered our equipment and headed down to the venue to greet two elementary classrooms. They each had a turn watching the films and then asking questions. It was a treat to have kids asking me incredible questions after having seen their first ever experimental films. My favorite question/remark was “It felt like we were in outer space.”
Once we finished screening the films for the children, I set up my equipment and we tested levels. I was happy that everything worked well and was sounding great. We had about 90 minutes after sound check before the Premiers Plans screening was scheduled to start and we used the extra time to run through last minute prep. We updated the video sequencing and reviewed our plans for intros and the overall flow of the screening.
For a rainy night at a venue a bit off the beaten path, we had a fantastic crowd. We nearly filled every seat! After a brief description of the project, we started the first set of films which lasted about 25 minutes. During the intermission, Vincent, Gerome, Bruno, and I answered questions from the audience. The second and final set of films directly followed this Q&A.
After the last set of films, the audience took a smoke break while I brought my synth and other systems back online. I started the performance with a piece featuring samples from a local artist Lisa Cameron. Before each piece, I announced the contributing artist(s) and gave a brief explanation of the inspiration for the next track. In all, I performed seven pieces for a total of 40 minutes. I don’t usually have children in the audience and was amused that they especially liked the piece using Dylan Cameron’s rhythm tracks. Who doesn’t like to dance?
Vincent and Gerome organized an aperitif immediately after the performance for all of the Correspondance artists. Many of the French Correspondance artists were in attendance and it was an excellent opportunity for them all to gather and provided me a chance to meet most of the French artists that participated in the project. I got to meet the artists who I had remotely collaborated with on pieces of Correspondance. I was also delighted to finally meet Laurent in person. He had been busy with work and hadn’t been able to make it out earlier in the week and since this was my last day in Angers I was pleased he was able to make it.
After the aperitif, we dropped off our equipment and then headed to a late dinner. This was our last night in town, so it was nice to be able to sit down with Vincent, Gerome, and Bruno one final time. After another delicious traditional French dinner and drank too much wine. We said our goodbyes and headed back to Vincent’s to get a bit of sleep before grabbing an early train to Paris.
While writing this, I couldn’t help but think about how much this place and its people have touched me. Tamara and I are even talking about how we might visit regularly. Attempting to write about all of my experiences, I realized there was so much to say, so I’ve got a few more Medium stories to share. I will also write about my Angers Workshop, Austin Angers Creative (ACC), and French Tech. In the coming days, I will publish them as well and will link to them from this Article.
Voltage Control facilitates innovation workshops and we specialize in Design Sprints. Please email Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in having us facilitate your Sprint, coach your team on how to run an effective Sprint, or are curious to learn more about how to adapt Design Sprints or other workshop techniques to help your company or product.
If you are in or near Austin, come visit us at the Austin Design Sprint meetup. Each month we have a guest speaker share their experience participating in a Design Sprint . If you would like to be a future speaker please email me.d