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robert filliou | art is what makes life more interesting than art
Sauve (France), 1926 – Les Eyzies (France), 1987
In 1943, Robert Filliou joined the Resistance movement organized by the communists and became a member of the French Communist Party during the war (he would later leave it after Tito’s exclusion for the Communist International). In 1947, he went to the United States to meet his father who he had never known. After working as a labourer for Coca Cola in Los Angeles, he began to study (while continuing to do “odd jobs” to earn his living) and achieved a masters in economics.
In 1951, he took dual French-American nationality. As a United Nations advisor, he was sent to Korea for three years to help write the Constitution and take part in the programmes for economic reconstruction of the country. From there, he travelled in the Far East . From 1954 to 1959, he lived in Egypt, Spain and Denmark, where he met Marianne Staffels, the woman with whom he would share his life and his artistic activity.
In 1959, he returned to France (he visited regularly after that). However, he was not attached to any country (as he himself said: nationality = poet, profession = French). In Paris, in the Contrescarpe area, Daniel Spoerri introduced him to the world of the plastic artists. This was in the middle of the boom of the 1960s, with the return in strength of Duchamp’s ideas, the appearance of Fluxus and the effervescent avant-garde of the Nouveaux Réalistes.
With his training in economics and Buddhist thought, he was not attached to any country in particular: “I am not just interested in art, but in society of which art is one aspect. I am interested in the world as a whole, a whole of which society is one part. I am interested in the universe, of which the world is only one fragment. I am interested primarily in the Constant Creation of which the universe is only one product.” For him, the work of art was a means of direct action on the world. Like the Brahmin who tries to integrate all the acts in life with the religious rites and duties, Filliou attempted to integrate them with artistic duty, “without worrying about whether the works are distributed or not”: “When you make , it is art, when you finish, it is non-art, when you exhibit, it is anti-art.”
In 1960, Robert Filliou designed his first visual work, Le Collage de l’immortelle mort du monde [Collage of the Immortal Death of the World], a transcription of a random theatre play comparable to a chessboard on which all sorts of individual experiences are expressed . In 1961, at the Addi Kôcpke gallery (Copenhagen), his first personal exhibition, Suspens Poems, was organized, made up of poems in the form of postal dispatches.
In 1962, determined to remain outside the exhibition circuit, Robert Filliou carried his gallery in his hat. He became his own exhibition space: “La Galerie Légitime” [The Legitimate Gallery]. His works, gathered together in his beret and stamped “Galerie Légitime Couvre Chef d’Oeuvre” [Legitimate Gallery Masterpiece Hat], circulated in the streets with him (the idea is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s suitcase). He then met George Maciunas, the centralizer of the activities of Fluxus. “La Galerie Légitime” invited several artists to exhibit in it. This was an art made up of attitudes and gestures, rather than saleable works. In 1963, with the architect Joachim Pfeufer, he created the Poïpoïdrome 4 project, a meeting place and centre for “Permanent Creation” located at the crossroads between two currents: action and reflection. There was nothing to “learn” in order to participate: what the users knew was enough.
In 1965, with George Brecht, Robert Filliou founded the gallery “La Cédille qui sourit” [The Smiling Cedilla) in Villefranche-sur-Mer, although it was usually closed because the artists were at the local café: "In my opinion, that's where you get your best ideas". They then founded "Eternal Network, La Fête Permanente" [Eternal Network, The Constant Festival]: “The artist must be aware that he is part of a larger social network, part of the “Constant Festival” which surrounds him everywhere and elsewhere in the world.” After the filmographical experiments of “La Cédille qui sourit”, he made Hommage à Méliès [Hommage to Méliès] with George Brecht and Bob Guiny to express their delight in their wonderment at the simplicity of the old silent films and, with Emmett Williams, Double Happening, Contribution for Happening & Fluxus, a performance staged in the women’s toilets at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts. with the König publishing company in Cologne, he published a “pluri-book”, Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts: happenings, events, action poetry, environments, visual poetry, films, street theatre, non-instrumental music, games, exchanges of letters, etc.
In 1971, he created “la République géniale” [the Republic of Genius]: people enter its territory to develop their genius rather than their talent. Research is no longer the privileged domain of the person who knows, but of the person who does not know.
In Le Petit Robert Filliou, he defined, among other things, the principles of Poetic Economics for which a scale of values had to be worked out. Le Petit Robert Filliou served as the script for a Super 8 film that he made in 1972 with Bob Guiny. Un Eté de Films [A Summer of Films], and then Faites-le vous-même [Do It Yourself] for the first festival of Erotic Film in Copenhagen, are little stories acted out by the artist. His films are above all made of humour, derision and random elements, closely linked to the spirit of Fluxus. On January 17th 1973, with the idea of uniting people of all times, he celebrated the 1,000,010th Anniversary of Art at the Neue Galerie der Stadt in Aachen. “Art must return to the people to which it belongs.” As 10 years had gone by since Filliou had begun his “Histoire chuchotée de l’art” [Whispered History of Art], 1,000,010 years corresponded to the arbitrary date of Man’s appearance on Earth. The artist was working on the search for the origin and proposed a new concept, “The Prebiological Genius”. In 1974, he produced Recherche sur l’origine, a work made of cloth 90 metres long and 3 metres high, inside which the spectator could walk around: “What I wanted to put across was that everyone has their own territory and that we shouldn’t refer to a higher authority in order to form an opinion.”
In 1975, the project Poïpoïdrome à Espace Temps Réel P00 [Real Space Time Poïpoïdrome] was presented at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and then at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1978. The Prototype Optimum nø 00 was a 24-m2 matrix version intended for all audiences, a “Centre for permanent creation, of no public usefulness whatsoever”.
In 1977, Robert Filliou was living in Canada, where he made several videos. It was not the medium itself which interested him. The artist, who never worried about creating “works of art”, chose any material as long as it conveyed his ideas and thoughts, and as long as it linked the territories of geniuses one to the other. It was in this sense that he used video, not only to keep a record of his performances as many artists have been doing since the 1960s, but also so that he could circulate his work: “To contact the audience that we want, I think it’s video that will do it”. He imagined a “Video-Universe-City” 6 project as a means of propagating Constant Creation.
With his wife Marianne, Robert Filliou withdrew for 3 years 3 months and 3 days to a Buddhist centre at Les Eyzies in the Dordogne (France). In 1987, he produced his last work, Time is a Nutshell, made up of several walnuts emptied so that they could contain a few words. in December 2nd, Robert Filliou died, like a Buddhist, after seeking enlightenment through the texts of the Veda and through Fluxus. source
Christoph Gallio “Mösiöblö “
Sarah Maurer: mezzosoprano,
Marino Pliakas: guitar,
Thomas Eckert: Bb and bass clarinet,
Christoph Gallio: soprano & altosax,
Peter Schärli: guest, trumpet and flugelhorn,
John Halpern and Felix Klopotek liner notes
All compositions are by Christoph Gallio except track 5, 20 by Maurer, Pliakas, Eckert, Gallio, track4, 7, 17, 25, 34 by Maurer, Pliakas, Eckert, Gallio, Schärli, track 10, 26, 35 by Maurer, Pliakas, Eckert, track 16, 31 by Maurer, Eckert, Gallio, track 11 by Pliakas, Eckert, track14 by Eckert, Gallio, track 22 by Pliakas, Gallio, track 29 by Maurer, Eckert. Recorded at Radiostudio Zürich, 1999 July 3 & 4 by Martin Pearson. Edited, mixed and mastered at Elephant Château Studio Basel, 2000 July and August by Max Spielmann and Christoph Gallio. Graphic design by Anne Hoffmann. Cover Art: Emmett Williams
A tribute to the Fluxus poet Robert Filliou, from the consistently stimulating saxophonist Christoph Gallio. Gallio’s background was in free jazz and improvisation, where he has worked with the likes of William Parker and Rashied Ali. The seemingly naive imagery and flirtatiousness of Filliou’s texts couldn’t be further removed from the angst and tension of free jazz and has allowed Gallio to “begin again from the beginning”. His chirpy saxophone lines set the tone for Sara Maurer’s texts while Thomas Eckert (clarinets), Marino Pliakas (guitar) and Peter Schärli (trumpets) add a surreally animated backdrop, not too far in spirit from those oddball East European cartoons that Channel Four used to broadcast.WIRE, Philip Clark
“Mösiöblö (À Robert Filliou)” is the work of an accomplished composer, an opus of maturity, something to be remembered by. “Day & Taxi” saxophonist Christoph Gallio did not set a selection of Robert Filliou’s haïku-like poems to music, he worked them into the compositions, creating multi-referential ties between the two mediums, the musicality of the words triggering responses from the musicians. “Mösiöblö” takes the form of a suite of 36 short vignettes for mezzo-soprano and a chamber quartet (in lack of a better term) of guitar, clarinet, saxophone and trumpet. Approximately half of the tracks feature minute improvisations, the others are composed. Both categories of pieces remain very short, often under one minute, exceptionally over two. Sarah Mauer’s warm and precise voice and the art song stylings of Gallio’s writing recall Dagmar Krause’s various projects, from the similalyr miniaturized songs of “Commuters” to her albums with “News from Babel” and “Marie Goyette”.
It allies the purity ofthe motet with contemporary melodies. The accompaniment ranges from delicately crafted scores of new music to more animal outbursts. Restraint is the key. Marino Pliakas, best known for his tenure as bassist in the avant-core trio “Steamboat Switzerland”, shines on classical guitar.Gallio managed to condense a lot of things in these charming songs, yet they feel light, almost naive — exactly as in Filliou’s haïkus. A successful artistic endeavor, “Mösiöblö” is also highly pleasurable for the listener, who comes out of these 36 tracks (in 42 minutes!) with only one desire: press the play button again in order to hear every detail hidden under the apparent simplicity. Delightful and strongly recommended.All-Music Guide Canada, François Couture
Mixing jazz with poetry probably reached its zenith in the beatnik era, with such hip versifiers as Langston Hughes (with Charles Mingus) and Jack Kerouac (with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims) recording with instrumental accompaniment.Since that time, the concept has been tried with various degrees of success by musicians as different as Julius Hemphill, Steve Lacy, Steve Swallow and Don Byron. Most attempts have been less than triumphant, as the portentousness of the words either deadens the music or the vigor of the instrumental sounds buries the poetry.
Swiss saxophonist Christoph Gallio has tried a different approach. For a start Gallio, who would probably bristle at being called a jazzman rather than a European improviser, has created an instrumental setting for a small chamber jazz group made up of his alto and soprano saxophones, Thomas Eckert’s clarinet and bass clarinet and Marino Pliakas’ acoustic classical guitar.
Text is made up of the words of French-American poet Robert Filliou (1926 – 1987), a member of the irreverent Fluxus movement and a follower of Tibetan Buddhism. Although Filliou considered words and language an artist’s primary material, the poems used here are short — mere haiku length — and reproduced in 23 tracks that range from 18 seconds to little more than a minute. Instrumentals make up the other 13 tracks, which considering the entire disc clocks in at a tich over 42 minutes, makes the results even less than minimalist. Classically trained mezzo-soprano Sarah Maurer takes the primary role using her lightly-accented voice to alternately speak, sing or dramatize the English words, which sometimes offer little more than one pithy thought. Around her the instrumentalists create breezy backing which seems to take more from baroque and other earlier chamber musics than pure improv.
The problem with this approach is that the entire structure rises or falls on the strength of the individual poems, which to be frank, often seems to promise more profundity than they deliver. Filliou’s creations, at least in this case, are shaped around word play, irony and often the reiteration of the obvious. On the printed page, perhaps, bookended by other verses, the triviality of many of these thoughts wouldn’t be as apparent. But recorded, Maurer arching tones promise wisdom that a close listen to the words doesn’t reward. More dividends appear on the remaining tunes where the mezzo’s wordless tones, mumbles, rambles, sighs and repetitions are mixed with extended instrumental techniques. You can then appreciate the laid-back, protracted reed explorations indulged in by Eckert and Gallio — Pliakas confines himself to accompaniment — but then the whole point of including the poetry in the first place seems to be lost. Gallio obviously thinks enough of Filliou’s work to have already written and had recorded a session of piano music honoring him in 1992. This time out, though, like other attempts at multi-media, the intent of mixing French-American, Japanese-influenced poetry with Swiss-composed or improvised music, appears to have been lost in translation.www.jazzweekly.com, Ken Waxman
Jazz composition has come a long way since the contrafacta of show tunes and the blues which dominated bebop, or the skeletal melodies of free jazz. Today, the composed element of jazz may extend in many different directions, from graphic scores to through-composition, large-scale harmonic structures to combinatory melodic modules. Christoph Gallio is probably best known for his work with Day and Taxi, a free-blowing but laid-back small group which uses compositions in the more conventional sense, rather good though they are. This project is far more ambitious, setting texts by Fluxus artist Robert Filiou for a classical mezzo and a wind-based group.
In keeping with Sarah Maurer’s very proper enunciation, the group sound during the written passages like a small chamber ensemble; only during improvised passages (in which Maurer does not participate) do the players move away from clean, “straight” execution. The mixture is odd, even incongruous, which is presumably exactly what’s intended.
A clue to the reason why the music sounds the way it does is found in the texts, whimsical and extremely brief meditations on Japanese characters. The jokey and deliberately un-intellectualised content is typical of Fluxus works, which tended to be amusing rather than profound, or rather they attempted to use triviality and lightness of touch (not to mention weak puns) as an alternative route into profundity to that offered by the po-faced and serious abstract expressionists.
It was inevitable, then, that the music would also have these qualities about it if it was going to work as a setting of Filiou’s words. The resultant CD is as infuriating, puckish and silly as it ought to be. Very few tracks aspire to two minutes; many last for less than one. The music is poolytonal and reminiscent of Stravinsky’s so-called Neoclassical writing, with interjections from the contemporary avant garde. One possibly idiosyncratic note: it’s wonderful to hear the splendid Peter Schaerli again, who this writer has not heard a note from for a considerable time.musings, Richard Cochrane
Gallio is a self-taught saxplayer and composer from Switzerland. Since 1977 he played with Irene Schweizer, Urs Voerkel, Stephan Wittwer, Peter Kowald, Charles, Bern Nix, Michael Lytle, Kalle Laar, Robert Dick, Werner Lüdi, Urs Blöchlinger, Fred Frith, Phil Minton, John Russel, Chie Mukai, Takashi Kazamaki, Samm Bennett, a.o. In 1986 he started the Percaso-label. On many of these releases Gallio himself is present as a solo artist, in a duo or as a member of an ensemble like Day & Taxi. With this group Gallio makes his own mixture of modern new music and impro.
This also defines the music of his new cd ‘Mösiöblö’. On many pieces the esthetic comes close to the music of Lindsay Cooper, Dagmar Krause, or Art Bears and the like. In other words it expresses a post-Eisler and Weil kind of style. In other pieces this is definitely not the case. They are more abstract, free and improvised. All 36 pieces have in common that they are very short: going from 0:18 seconds to about 3 minutes. Together these miniatures form a suite. Gallio was inspired by texts of Fluxus artist Robert Filliou and composed this suite as a hommage to this french-born artist who died in 1987. A quote from the liner notes: ‘But at the moment Gallio uses Filliou’s texts, that is, concrete material, Gallio produces concrete references. Where references are produced, so is distance, which allows him, on the one had, to compose around the texts and even more, to compose with the texts. On the other hand, he can integrate the resulting art songs in a larger frame, e.g. in a suite”.VITAL WEEKLY, Dolf Mulder
In the middle of the 80’s Ekkehard Jost was still able to title a book Europe’s Jazz, which dealt with the emancipation of European Jazz and the improvised music originating in the 70’s. Since the 60’s and the American role models, from Ayler through Coltrane up to Shepp, were still present (but as role models and not as untouchable icons), it would seem that what Jost characterized as “Europe’s Jazz” should be understood as an adaptation of Afro-American Free Jazz and as a concomitant demand to make something one’s own.
Today, 15 years later, the history of improvised music in Europe–as a fragmentation and adaptation–can no longer be simply told like this. Not only because there is a European Jazz that refers to its own particular folk traditions and understands exactly this as the “European” in its music, but also because, nowadays, it’s difficult or even impossible to still dig up the roots in jazz among all the radical improvisers. These roots don’t exist any more. To a certain degree, Derek Bailey became famous in the 50’s and 60’s as a British Jim Hall.
Thus it may be legitimate to attribute a jazz continuity to him, even though everything he published after 1968 refers to an autonomous design. It is simply impossible, however, to demonstrate an inner connection to (Free) Jazz among the younger musicians who adopt their role model not from Django Reinhardt, but from Bailey. Here, instead of “Europe’s Jazz,” one must speak of “highly differentiated improvised musics that all originated in Europe and of whom a few still refer to Free Jazz.” Sounds rather torturous. And unsuitable for a book title. One cannot, however, capitulate in front of the (musically quite productive) chaos emerging from the varied styles and stories; one needs, rather, to expand the perspectives. Reasons to do this are present everywhere: look at Peter Brötzmann, who was as much a visual artist as an angry musician. He worked in Wuppertal with Nam June Paik and took part in diverse fluxus manifestations, now legendary. Or check out the Dutch: Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink also participated in the fluxus happenings (Breuker’s “Lunch Concert for Three Barrel Organs” from 1969 is a direct expression of such an action). The alternatively laconic (Mengelberg) or manic (Bennink) anarchism of their music today shows how this involvement lives on. A little play of thought isn’t enough to empirically prove this thesis–that what was Europe’s Jazz and then very quickly mutated to this improvised chaos derived from the spirit of fluxus. Or perhaps it is?
What then, if next to Free Jazz (fading more and more, however, as a power of imagination), fluxus were the decisive source of inspiration? Not as a role model, of course, that one needs to imitate in order to overcome it, since fluxus immanently presents its own questioning, destruction and overcoming, and permanently prevents itself being understood as a “role model.” Rather fluxus as a realm of possibilities that one can take as one’s own.
“Mösiblö à Robert Filliou” is a suite composed and conceived by Christoph Gallio that exclusively uses the texts of the fluxus artist Robert Filliou and that is fundamentally inspired by them. This is quite unusual, since, as far as I know, there has hardly been any direct (reverse) connections to the heated phase of the fluxus movement within European improvised music.
“Mösiblö” is both reconstruction and homage, continuation and an independent work. Nothing would be simpler than to offensively incorporate the process-oriented, extremely open, but never non-committal working methods of Filliou for improvised music. His legendary “Permanent Creation Tool Shed” could be a place where improvised music is made, a place that embodies that what Filliou was so occupied with: an art that makes its rules and processes of its changes distinct.
Gallio, however, does not leave it at this short sighted idea. Then it would have been enough to simply bind “Mösiblö” to Filliou’s work. But at the moment Gallio uses Filliou’s texts, that is, concrete material, Gallio produces concrete references. Where references are produced, so is distance, which allows him, on the one hand, to compose around the texts and even more, to compose with the texts. On the other, he can integrate the resulting art songs in a larger frame, e.g. in a suite.
This suite, which is closely related to fluxus works, deconstructs itself, since it fundamentally exists out of vignettes of improvised music that do not simply bridge the gaps between the likewise intimated, sketchy art songs, but rather provide a connection that goes far beyond the possible reason, the musical setting of Filliou’s texts, and thus cancels the actual suite and transforms it into something all its own.The dialectic is about proximity and distance, so that the music approaches Filliou’s intentions more than is a epigonous, “close” homage; hence this suite corresponds all the more to the fluxus spirit. Of course, a lot of the history of this music is found in these improvisations, e.g. doing without conventional instruments, the (outward) suggestions of chamber music (which, of course, does not mean that the musicians don’t care anything about chamber music conventions), the expressive love of details (which stands out in the subtlety of guitar and voice), but also the reminiscences on Free Jazz, which one hears particularly well in the powerful, eruptive insertions of the woodwinds.
But all this is made relative, or better, is recontextualized through the texts. Although both are fundamental elements of this music, the art song and improvisation, each perfectly worked out (not, however, formulated), they do not function in the, let’s say, environment, as Gallio designed it, without each other; they support each other by questioning each other. This music becomes its own perpetuum mobile. We can begin again from the beginning. Felix Klopotek. Translation: Bruce Carnevale
Robert Filliou is a person many people would have wanted to know. Were it not for our beliefs of ‘this and that’, we could know him today. That’s the way Robert was. For as it is, we could meet him one to one right now, if we were mentally open to it; emotionally and spiritually prepared. Robert was an unusual human being in his lifetime. In his death his character may be felt as we turn a corner, bump into and old friend or wake up and realize “what a perfect rainy morning, why am I being so hard on myself?,” or deciding that instead of going for the big ‘deal’ today, the career or social function tonight, maybe I should just take a day off to walk in the forrest… Robert Filliou was dedicated to life, to being human and to giving his best for those around him. He was a life master and mastered among other talents, art, simplicity, kindness and love, Yes, he did become successful in his profession, but he was blessed by a self awareness as inquenchable as a mountain spring. He disperaged fame. He was humble.
Another accomplished artist, in his later years, told me that Filliou saved his life one day. This artist told Filliou that he feared he was loosing his mind. Filliou, already and expert in finding answers in rocks said, ” I lived my whole life as a madman and it’s beautiful….the only problem is not knowing that we’re mad to begin with, but once we realise that, then everything is ok”. So it was.
Here are some facts and maybe rumors about Robert’s journey through the world:
Born in poverty in the South of France, Filliou participated in the French underground in WWII. Later, in the USA he was a laborer for Coca-Cola, put himself through college, hosted a radio talk show. He worked for the UN as an economist, and travelled around the world. In Japan he came in contact with Buddhism. Returning to Europe, he developed his work as a writer & artist, living within a community of European artists whose careers and work are still powerful influences today. Through his art connections, he was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism and eventually died within the simple surroundings of a monastery, in the French countryside to which he returned, after a very rich and eventful journey through life.
In the 1970’s, Robert’s friends in Dusseldorf all chipped in and created a stipendium for he and his wife Marianne and their daughter, Marcelline (then known as Marcel). It was like the community actually helped them enter a new phase of life and a career was launched from their help.
The Fillious placed the values of being human ahead of ‘getting ahead’ in the typical, social sense. It was this principal that inspired Robert and his art is a reflection of this inner human activity. The world responds to it. His art is a simple, universal language that we all understand, when we become more simple, too. “Innocence & Inspiration” two words that occur in one of Robert’s works, can be translated as: emptiness and form, or female and male, or death and life…. Playful, profound, generous, affordable and simple. Filliou’s art is like our responses to life, purified and refined to philosophic playthings, making our lives more precious and fantastic.
Filliou’s inner work maybe his greatest gift to us though. His journey and discovery of spiritual well being and freedom reinforce a mythic desire within each of us to embrace spirit and live in truth. Thanks Robert, your success is ground for hope!
And about this Gallio CD on Filliou…Christoph found fruit on the tree and left a garden of its seeds. Enjoy Gallio’s, Filliou inspired tracks!! All the best, John Halpern in the USA