Pierre Bastien is a musical inventor who, through his delicately anachronistic creations, opens nostalgic spaces for reflection.
Mecanium, Bastien’s orchestra, is an assembly of individual, home-made robots designed to play music mechanically. Constructed from meccano and recycled turntable motors, and numbering more than 80 at last count, the oldest dates back to 1977. The robots are set loose on arcane instruments to hit, pluck and bow via an intricate network of gears and pulleys, producing hypnotic loops. The rudimentary, fragile patterns drawn from instruments like the harp-lute dousso'n gouni from Mali, the rubab mandolin from Uzbekistan, the angklung from Indonesia, the Chinese lute, the Morrocan bendir, the Javanese saron, the Japanese koto, the sanza, the harmonium, and the violin, give us a glimpse of analog sequencing from a pre-digital age.
But Bastien does not make purely automated art. Building his loops with the robotic rhythm section, he adds additional melodies, basslines and tone colour for recorded material, and in live performances the musician himself sits amid his mechanised instruments accompanying them on cornet, violin or musical saw.
Bastien, born in Paris in 1953, has forged a life filled with music, invention and surrealism: he made a two-string guitar at ten and a metronome at 15; wrote a doctorate on 18th century French literature from the Sorbonne University, his thesis on the pre-surrealist Raymond Roussel; has written music for string quartets and ballets, and ultimately combined his interests and talents when he created his industrial-era orchestra – the strains of Dadaism permeating all aspects of his project.
In the 90s Bastien and his mechanical orchestra took part in music festivals and art exhibitions in Norway (World Music Days'90), Australia (Tisea'92), Japan (Artec'95), Canada (Fimav'95, Sound Symposium'98), Poland (Warsaw Autumn'95), United States (Flea Festival'96). They have collaborated with a wide range of artists Dominique Bagouet (ballet), Pascal Comelade, Jac Berrocal, video artist Pierrick Sorin, fashion designer Issey Miyake, dj Low, Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, British singer and composer Robert Wyat, the Trottola circus.
Recent works include Musiques Paralloïdres
(Lowlands, 1998), Mecanoid
(Rephlex, 2001) and the more recent Sé Verla al Revés
(G3G, 2005), Téléconcerts
(Signature, 2005) and POP
> CTM.07 > Opening Concert
photo: Micha Broer