MaMux, Paris

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and for that my humblest apologies (hmmmm, going a bit Stephen Fry there!). In that time I have collected many notes of subjects and themes, for essays and other writings, but it seemed appropriate to make my first post after my hiatus, and my first in 2012, as Circus Geeky as possible, and thus I shall devote this entry to the recent “Séminaire MaMux: Mathématiques, musique et relations avec d’autres disciplines”, which took place in Paris last Friday, January 6th, with the subject “Théories du jonglage et applications musicales”.

To go into detail about any single facet of the day would demand much more than a single blog post, and so I shall content myself with giving an overview of the day, rather than a detailed study of the lectures and demonstrations.

Quick background: IRCAM, in their own words, “carries out research and development into the symbolic representation of musical structures, languages and computer paradigms adapted to music.” They are a Paris based organisation, with their own (Piano and Rogers designed!) building adjacent to the Pompidou Centre. For some ten years they have organised and hosted a monthly meeting “MaMux” – which explores the relationships between music, mathematics and other disciplines.

This month the theme was “Juggling Theory and it’s Musical Applications”, which came to life thanks to the work of the minimalist composer Tom Johnson (who has been based in Paris for some years). I began an exchange with Tom in 2008, and he has since been involved in collaborations with various jugglers: including teaching for a week on the Juggling and Music research course in Stockholm, and composing pieces for the Gandini Juggling group.

His own compositions are usually mathematically based, and it happens that he has been particularly interested in recent years with the mathematical phenomena of tiling, which relates very directly to juggling’s siteswap notation. This is what drew him into the world of juggling.

On this occasion, the seminar moved from it’s usual (low-ceilinged!) room to the Petite Saal of the Pompidou Centre, to accomodate the juggling patterns that would be demonstrated. In the course of the day people came and went, but around 30-60 people were always present in the audience (a big audience for MaMux, largely made up in this case of the Parisian juggling scene).

The seminar (whose usual themes include “Systèmes évolutifs à mémoire”, or “Langages synchrones”) began at 2.30pm with a lecture from Jean-Christophe Novelli and Florent Hivert, of the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée and the Université Paris-Sud. After a general introduction to juggling theory they jumped quite quickly into the deeper mathematics lurking behind, in the form of combinatorics. This was clearly a lecture by mathematicians with an interest in juggling, rather than the other way round, and that was to be the feel of most of the rest of the day.

A particularly elegant state map, and a particularly geeky jumper: both modelled by Jean-Christophe Novelli of the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée.

Following their presentation, Tom Johnson took the podium, accompanied by the mathematician Franck Jedrzejewski, the juggler Jonathan Lardillier (a recent graduate of the Fratellini circus school in Paris), and myself.

Tom spoke about the mathematics behind his work, and showed how the maths could become juggling, and the juggling could become music. He described the compositional processes behind some pieces he had worked on, and some current projects, before Jonathan demonstrated his solo version of Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” (2 balls in each hand, phase shifting with one hand), and I spoke briefly about the piece “Dropping Balls” that Tom composed for me, and which I would perform later in the evening.

Franck Jedrzejewski went even deeper into the mathematics behind music, especially the “well-formed scales”, which form the basis of Tom’s current compositions for jugglers.

After a brief interval, the day finished with a showing of the video from the Premiere last September of Tom’s piece “Three Notes for Three Jugglers”, written for Gandini Juggling (and played on electronically triggered sound emitting balls), and my own performance of “Dropping Balls” (a spoken word / singing piece).

It is hard to know how much importance to place on an event of this kind – a subculture of a subculture colliding with another, specialists of such precise subjects meeting others. But that an organisation of such prestige as IRCAM, with the support of the Pompidou Centre, could host such an event, and bring together such people, is, in my opinion, something extremely valuable and important in the continuing story of juggling, of circus and of art. I am proud to have been part of this event, and feel that we have taken another small step forward in blurring the fake distinctions between art and science, between mainstream and intellectual art, and find ourselves moving ever onwards to greater things in our work.

Luke Wilson, Jan. 10th 2012, Cologne

The event:

IRCAM on wikipedia:

Tom Johnson:

Clip of “Three Notes for Three Jugglers”, written for Gandini Juggling:

The STEIM sound balls in progress:

Clip of “Dropping Balls”, written for Luke Wilson (the piece starts at 9mins 35 secs):

2 thoughts on “MaMux, Paris”

  1. Thanks for posting Luke. Great stuff. How long is the full D Word show?

    If “maths could become juggling, and the juggling could become music”, can music become maths and is it the same maths that became juggling in the first place?

    What does this teach us about static electricity?

    1. Full show is around 30 mins.

      “Can music become maths?”: probably not, in the same way that juggling cannot “become” maths. The maths is there behind it all, im- or explicitly. Music is mathematics based, even though our understanding of it was not always so.

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