Introduction to the Baschet and Après-Baschet Work
One hundred years after François Baschet's birth, many people who would be inspired by the Baschet brothers' work still do not know much about them. The Baschet brothers are primarily known for the invention of the Baschet Cristal.4 One remarkable family of instruments in its own right, the Baschet Cristal is just the tip of the iceberg. The Baschets created a number of sound sculptures using their unique system of applied acoustics. Their story is amazing in itself and has been told in their own memoirs as well as in documentaries, countless reports and interviews, but we provide some relevant biographical information here.5
Bernard Baschet was born in 1918, and François Baschet was born in 1920. The Second World War kept them away from their passion for art and music. Their involvement with the French resistance and the years of François’ activity as a Nazi hunter in Latin America are incredible stories that we will not recount here. However, what is relevant is that their personal experiences during those times of war and totalitarianism had a deep impact on their future attitudes towards the social implications of art. Both brothers had a visionary attitude and were interested in experimental art and its potential to contribute to world improvement through a celebration of diversity.6 They had an optimistic, experimental approach in which possibilities of discovery were central to their process and extended to connections that were forged through a sharing of their work, including empowering audiences to make their own discoveries.
After the war, they began studying acoustics, devouring scientific literature, classic and contemporary. Bernard’s background in engineering and science provided the team with the capacity to understand acoustic principles as described by theorists such as Chladni, Bouasse, Rayleigh, Taylor, and many others. Bernard helped François decipher mathematically-formulated principles and translate them into more familiar common terms, thus developing an informed intuition as to how to operate and progress in their acoustic research. This process of making physics comprehensible for non-specialists became part of the Baschet ethos.
The Baschet brothers pioneered sound sculpture. They understood sound sculpture as a polysemic term: a form of sculpture that produces sound. But also, and especially, the actuality that sounds can be sculpted, modeled, and defined in their intangible morphology.
Bernard worked for a period of time as part of the research group led by electroacoustic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, Groupe de Recherches Musicales, during the development of theories on the morphology of sound and acousmatics.7 Both Baschet brothers collaborated by creating ad hoc sound devices to provide the research group with acoustic sources for recordings to be further modified. During this first period of experimentation, working with text sources, existing musical instruments, and common industrial materials, François conceived an intellectual system for conceptualizing and analyzing the functions of any acoustic device. This system allowed them to imagine and create new sounds by understanding the combined behaviours of materials, shapes, and actions (we will discuss this system in the next section).
The Baschets’ activity during this period gave them a deep understanding of sound, and at the same time helped them define their relationship with sound. Radical sound sculpting and timbral shaping were presumed to be the realm of electronics, but as the Baschets have proven since the fifties, there were and are still discoveries to be made in the realm of acoustic instruments (sound sculptures).8 The Baschets were passionate about experimental sound, but they missed the direct relationship between performer and acoustic sources. Acousmatics and musique concrète were exciting, but they felt that the relational aspect of playing – the control and improvisational aspects – were too dependent on technical skills and equipment, which most people could not easily acquire, creating a gap between the astonishing discoveries of a few specialists and large audiences who did not have the means to pursue similar explorations. The Baschet response to this challenge was to devote themselves not only to experimental luthiery, but to building sound objects that could be as interesting as experimental electroacoustics while preserving the importance of direct human interaction. This response was the impulse to establish sound sculpture as a domain for inclusive sounding activities in which any kind of person could engage without training, developed skills, or a particular background. Sound sculpture did not need to resemble conventional music instruments, allowing for a fresh approach. Explorations that created a healthy curiosity in the audiences who engaged in them without having preconceived musical expectations of the result were an invitation to play, free from the conditioning of music academicism. Sound sculptures could be used to make music if desired, but in the context of a Baschet sound sculpture exhibition, everyone was free to play and enjoy the sounds in any way, just for the fun of it, allowing for extremely diverse attitudes and activities, ranging from contemplative explorations to noise making with a group of friends or strangers. Baschet sound sculptures were conceived as elements in a sonic playground, a set of tools for people to amuse themselves, to communicate, and have direct experiences with sound objects. It was an attempt to claim everyone’s right to participate in the art world, not by focusing on the objects themselves as an object of adoration, but by employing them as a catalyst for human experiences, which was the ultimate purpose of the Baschets’ work.
There has always been an ambiguity in the Baschets’ use of terms such as instruments, sound sculptures, or sound structures: they sometimes used the terms without distinction, but in many cases the term used indicated the primary purpose of the object. Some objects were clearly made for musicians to play music with, so they were referred to as instruments. Other devices were not designed to produce any particular music but to appeal to a broad audience and entice them to explore and play, so they were called sound sculptures. When it came to sound fountains and sound windmills, the Baschets referred to them as sound structures. So, although these terms can be used to distinguish the intended primary purpose, the Baschets have written clearly that they did not intend to codify the terminology, and it made no sense to use the terms in a restrictive manner.
Of course there were others artists who created experimental instruments and sound sculptures, but the Baschets’ drive and contribution to the field has no comparison up to present times, particularly because of the consistency of their methodology and the range of social outreach they achieved.9 During Martí Ruiz’s doctoral research, more than 500 different Baschet pieces were identified and indexed.10 The prolific activity of the brothers and a long list of collaborators makes us think that there most likely exist many more pieces that could be traced back to the personal Baschet archives or other institutions, not to mention the pieces acquired by private collectors that were never documented.
Their activities ranged from making music themselves with the formation of the Lasry-Baschet orchestra, touring and playing concerts, collaborating on radio shows, accompanying dance and poetry, making soundtracks for films, and collaborating with other composers and artists such as Alexander Calder, Jean Cocteau, Ravi Shankar, Toru Takemitsu, Stomu Yamashita, and Jean Michel Jarre, to mention some of best-known. Again, the invention of the Baschet Cristal, mastered by musicians like Michel Deneuve, opened many doors and inspired amazement and awe throughout the world. The intuitive way to play the Cristal (rubbing glass rods with moistened fingers) was perfect for the inclusive purpose of Baschet sound sculptures, since everyone could produce interesting and compelling sounds with no training required.
At the same time, they pioneered participative exhibitions from the early 1950s, presenting their sound sculptures all around Europe and the United States in art galleries and museums – such as the MOMA, Guggenheim, and Barbican Center – and participating in massive events like the Cultural Olympics in Mexico City (1968) or the Osaka Universal Expo (1970). These participative exhibitions became incredibly popular, and millions of people enjoyed them during the sixty years of the Baschets’ artistic career.
Their aim to reach and engage with people, allowing for a dynamic open work led them beyond music and participative exhibitions as they gradually focused on pedagogy in various ways.11 They, particularly Bernard and his team in St. Michel Sur Orge, developed the Baschet Pedagogical Instrumentarium, a standardized and commercialized palette of sounds that can be used in many ways by many kinds of people, from babies to elderly as well as those with a disability, for ludic, sensitization, or therapeutic purposes.12 The Instrumentarium is a tool to engage with sound intuitively, to learn to listen and play individually and as a group. Nowadays the Baschet Pedagogical Instrumentarium is used by many professionals and institutions, and the French association Structures Sonores Baschet is still devoted to developing and commercializing it as well as training people to use the Instrumentarium for group activities.13
Over the years, François offered many workshops in many countries, teaching applied acoustics for creative endeavours, instrument and sound sculpture making, particularly as collective activities, even organizing exhibitions and events showing the work of his students. François’ willingness to share and foster other peoples’ creativity also led him to publish two books explaining his knowledge and experiences of sound sculpture-making: The Soundsculptures of Bernard and François Baschet and Klangobjecte as well as a book of memoirs and several papers in journals, such as MIT’s Leonardo.14
It was this same unflagging passion for sharing that made the birth of our Baschet Sound sculpture workshop at the University of Barcelona possible. We had the privilege to meet François in 2010, when he was already ninety years old. Despite his age, François made weekly visits to our university and helped the Sound Art Laboratory (directed by Jep Cerdà Ph.D) and some younger professors (amongst them Martí Ruiz) to establish a platform to preserve the Baschets’ work and continue with the research and development of the field of Baschet applied acoustics. Some of his Catalan collaborators, Andreu Ubach and Jordi Casadevall, joined the project, and within the past ten years many students and other artists have also joined. Before both Baschet brothers passed away, we discussed with them how we could distinguish the original, historical work from the new creations and discoveries that we were already working on, also including future developments, since we were acting as the Baschet workshop, while at the same time there exists a Baschet association as well that is licensed to produce official Baschet instruments. Additionally, there are other individuals learning from texts and courses in many countries who might have no direct involvement with Baschet collaborators. We agreed upon the term après-Baschet (meaning “after Baschet” in French and “learned from Baschet” in Catalan). It is a flexible term that we have proposed for everyone using the Baschet contributions, whether the results resemble original Baschet pieces or differ from the historic Baschet achievements. With this term, we are able to invite people to learn the Baschet intellectual system as the method of understanding applied acoustics and to appropriate whatever technical solutions are useful for their purposes. Of course, there is no way to impose the term on anyone taking advantage of the Baschet contributions, but still we propose the label as a tribute and a way to create markers to identify an increasing number of people interested in such creative approaches.
François always insisted that tastes and fashions change, just as aesthetic and creative needs change, so it is always possible to find new applications for the laws of acoustics.
Currently, our discoveries have already taken us far from the original historical Baschet works, in terms of shapes and sounds, but we are proud to label them with the après-Baschet denomination as proof that the Baschet system allows us to continue inventing and delving into the myriad domains of acoustics.15
Since it is always possible to expand the dimensions of the Baschet contribution, we are personally devoted to teaching, research, and dissemination projects, and we intend to contribute to both the preservation of the Baschet work, its continuation and ramifications, as well as to open new fields of activities that remain close to the central ethos of the Baschets’ activity. We hope Baschetological expositions like this one offer valuable material for contemporary scholars and sound lovers, by offering insight into their reasoning, proposing terminologies, and sharing multimedia files to widen the collective endeavour in connection with the scientific method and the creative commons spirit.
After six decades of exploration and development, the Baschets’ primary contributions to the fields of musical instrument design and sound sculpture are a conceptual system that explains the relationship between matter/shape/action and its emerging sound properties and a clear and radical positioning in favour of inclusive public participation. The knowledge the Baschets gathered was applied to the creation of objects (musical instruments and sound sculptures) that were made available for people to engage with, regardless of their educational or socioeconomic background. Besides their musical collaborations, their productions, exhibitions, and activities in sound sculpture were driven by the intention to fight elitism in the art world and to claim the audience’s experiences as the most important aspect, not the objects themselves. While the social/political implications of the Baschets' work are certainly worth writing about, this exposition focuses on the application of the Baschet conceptual system to the ondotophone family of sound sculptures which exhibit unique sonic properties as a result of the complexities of systems of clamped rods. This system (discussed in the following section) allows anyone to analyze existing sound devices and also facilitates imagining and creating new sonic inventions.