When I was young, I realised I had a little artistic talent. I wanted to be a sculptor or an illustrator. But my father said, "Both my brother and brother-in-law are painters. There's only one word to describe the beginning of their careers, and that's starvation. Every artist needs to pursue studies in a more practical field first so he'll have something to fall back on. Finish school first, then pursue your dream."
    I took my father's advice and decided to major in business. It's colourless, odourless, tasteless field that one can drop without qualms. History, in the form of the second world war and post-war activities to ensure the peace, taught me more valuable things. But it had interrupted my formal schooling, so in 1952, I made a trip around the world to complete my education. I took my guitar with me, not because I was a great musician, but because I knew a guitarist was always welcome. People are happy to invite him for lunch, hoping for a little concert afterward.

Francois Baschet "French Monument
born on 57th street" 16' wide 9' high
sound sculpture

7 vertical cones sound sculpture

    The world is supposedly a big place, but that's not so when you travel with a guitar. Everything is too small train compartments, taxis, cars at rush hour. That was a problem I wanted to solve before leaving. I knew a guitar was like a banjo. The banjo's sound is produced by a membrane stretched over a metal frame and it's the frame that's heavy and awkward. I needed to find a replacement and thought of an inflatable plastic balloon. The air was enough to keep the membrane taut while the balloon was light and could be deflated when travelling. The neck still had to be constructed of wood, but I hinged it so I could fold it in two and added a flat bridge to transmit the sound. When the balloon was deflated, I could pack the entire instrument in my suitcase and carrying it everywhere was easy. The inflatable guitar continued to serve me well once I returned to Paris. It allowed me to earn a living playing in the cabarets where I parodied the songs I'd learned in all the countries I'd been to. This was the extremely creative era of "the roaring 50s" in the Latin Quarter, when post-war Paris enjoyed an outburst of artistic activity similar to the 1920s described by Hemingway. I shared billing with other young performers, one of whom was a tall Belgian who also sang and accompanied himself on a guitar. His name was Jacques Brel. My inflatable guitar was a technical mystery. String instruments like the violin and cello have openings from which the sound issues. The plastic balloon had none. I sought the answer to this mystery. Since my life as a cabaret performer left my days free, I used the time to take sculpture courses and haunt the technical libraries to study acoustics. I learned that the 18th and 19th century experts had discovered a large number of acoustical phenomena that had only been applied to the saxophone and several electrical acoustic instruments so that 20th century music was being regularly played on 18th century instruments. It was like travelling by horse-drawn carriage in the era of air planes. My brother, Bernard, a great music lover, said to me,

Sculpture with resonating tubes,
wires,glass rods and plastic

    "Since these acoustical phenomena have been classified, why not apply them to your ideas for sculpture. " We devised our own system of classification, knowing that every musical instrument is a combination of at least three of the following elements:
    1) a means of producing periodic vibrations;
    2) a means of creating and maintaining the vibrations;
    3) a means of playing the scale and modulating the pitch;
    4) a means of amplifying the sound. For example, the violin uses all four elements- vibration is produced by the strings, the bow maintains the vibration, the length of the string determines the pitch, and amplification comes from the sounding board.

    On the other hand, the flute uses only three with the reed for vibration, the player's breath to maintain it and the holes to determine the pitch yet no means of amplification is necessary. By listing every instrument according to the four elements, we obtained a table of instruments similar to Mendelev's Table of Chemical Elements. To be thorough, we added a fifth column for resonators, that is accessories that move in synchronisation with the sound such as a bass viol's strings which vibrate to add their sympathetic echo without the musician touching them.


Francois Baschet
Making the piano wheelbarrow 1964

    Once the table was established, the rest was easy. We had already decided that metal had the best resonance. All we needed to do from there was purchase supplies and assemble the instruments we'd designed. We'd come up a myriad of possibilities feeling as if we'd stumbled on a miracle. But before butting the first piece of metal, we took a little time to develop a philosophy. I got help from an unexpected source when I encountered a charming, young woman in a train compartment. She was reading a thick volume of Eckermann's conversations with Goethe. I assured her Goethe was a particular passion of mine and she read me a passage in which Eckermann asks, "How does one know that something is real, valid?" Goethe responds, "If it produces something else."
    The passage struck me as the definition of our work - to invent forms that are not only sculptures with a decorative impact, but that produce music, thus letting people express themselves whether by playing them or by taking advantage of the sculptures' capacity to be modified for the pure joy of creation. I asked the woman to jot the passage down for me. She had barely finished when we arrived in Bielefeld. She grabbed her things and disappeared, making the encounter seem somehow providential and I call this young woman 'the angel of Bielefeld' who left me the message which became the principal of our work.


Aluminium Piano
Art Deco 1964

    T h e  L i m i t a t i o n s  o f  A r t
    Once Rembrandt added the last stroke to a painting, the work of art was finished -- unalterable and immobile, a window on a scene from the past. Of course, it has its magic, its perfection, and the ability to evoke a response from the viewer. That's a lot. But that's all. Other than changing the frame or adjusting the lighting around it, it can't be modified. The painting is superb butsterile, like a mule. I'm not the only one who thinks this way, but it's a thought that can land you incourt. I'll give you an example. We had gone to New York to give an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) followed by another exhibition at the private gallery of Dick Waddell. We had sent the sculptures in crates. U.S. Customs sent a Mr. Sam Lacher in person. He was the Director of the Art Section. He asked, "Do your sculptures make music?" Proudly, we answered, "Not only do they make music, but we're going to give a concert of Bach, Vivaldi, Bartok ..." "That's too bad," Mr. Lacher interrupted. "Here in the U.S, art is defined by its uselessness. If your sculptures make music, they're no longer art, they're instruments and there's a 16% customs charge on their retail value." Dick Waddell moved heaven and earth to mobilise the art world for us. Alfred Barr, founding director of MOMA, circulated a petition among the city's gallery directors. John Canaday, the critic for T h e N e w Y o r k T i m e s who had written a very favourable review about us, applied media pressure. The "Brancusi scandal" was resuscitated, because, the first time Brancusi sent his sculptures to New York, customs declared, "These aren't works of art. They're rocks that don't resemble anything. There's a charge for that."
    The art world mobilised for Brancusi as well. He went to court and won. Thanks to the Brancusi Amendment, abstract art became duty free. We also went to court ... and won. Dick Waddell announced the news to us, adding that not only had we changed the United States law, but there was now a Baschet Amendment on the books. We are very proud of that. Our "sculptures that make music" might have landed us in court, but they also prompted us to go further in our artistic research, allowing us to open doors to new means of artistic expression.

    A  N e w  C o n c e p t   i n   I n s t r u m e n t s
    Classical instruments are as light as possible. They work like a fan, giving off little gusts of air. The ear hears a sound when these gusts have a frequency greater than 20 per second (1/20th of a Hertz). It's therefore imperative that the fan be light. Our instruments are based on another principal. They create vibrations along heavy metal rods. Additional metal elements placed on the rods produce accessory sound, such as harmonics, echoes and resonance's. This allows us to "cook" the sound the way one adds fine herbs to a lamb stew. This specially seasoned sound is amplified by cones much like a trumpet's bell but enlarged to accommodate the sculpture. The larger surface and it's elasticity create ample vibrations that play the role of the above-mentioned fan. By changing the vibrating elements, one obtains an acoustical synthesiser. But the form, the size, the material from which the cones are made also influence the sound. This allows for an infinite variety of possibilities. Furthermore, there is enough liberty in choosing the form of the cones to bring them into the realm of visual aesthetics thus qualifying them as sculpture.

Jacques Lasry playing 3 octave
glass rods, amplified by plastic
balloons 1956

Large 3 coned sculpture with metal rods

    S c u l p t u r e

    In 1966, Ludwig Glaeser, curator at MOMA, invited us to New York to give an exhibition that lasted four months. Alfred Barr purchased one of our sculptures for the Museum saying it was the only new thing to arrive from the Old Country since the Second World War. The sound sculptures' adaptability allows for sculptures of any size from a cathedral's bell tower to amusical clock. The cone's rounded, folded form led us to perfect a kind of origami for sheets of metal. We were happy to discover that the technique could be used as well for the amplifiers, the blades of our musical windmills and the bowls of our sound fountains. The book, K l a n g O j e k t e, published by Eberwald (Munich) and illustrated by Alain Villeminot, describes the construction of sound fountains and windmills. The book is used in German trade schools for job-training courses that teach the students physics, acoustics, the dynamics of liquids and even the plumbing involved, and helps them develop their creativity. My brother, Bernard, putting his virtuosity at folding sheets of stainless steel to use, has come up with another application in another form of sculpture for our exhibitions. His metal origami doesn't produce any sound. The harmony of its form is sufficient in itself. Bernard calls these sculptures his "silences." Based on the acoustical principals Bernard and I have established, I came up with another concept, having developed and copyrighted do-it-yourself kits for sound sculptures. As described in the brochure:
    "It will allow the enthusiast to make 'non-electronic synthesisers.' By adding or combining resonators, damping elements and sound radiators, it will be possible not only to create the sound you want, but also to give to the sound sculpture the shape and degree of complication you desire." Alas, I am a better artisan than a businessman and have yet to find a distributor for the kit.

    H a n d s  O n
    From our very first concerts in 1955, we've noticed that our audiences have been as interested in the sounds and music as in the structure and function of our sculptures. We began to invite the audience to come up on stage after our concerts for a chance to try the instruments out. Furthermore, in the exhibition rooms where most museums display "Do Not Touch" signs everywhere, we post signs that read, "Please Play." It's one of the reasons are exhibitions have always been successful, and it's led to interesting reactions. In 1965, we had an exhibition at Stockholm's museum of modern art, the M o d e r n a M u s e e t. The main room was crowded. Entire families, form grandparents to children, came. The noise was considerable. Everyone was playing the different sculptures with the exception of seven or eight large, blond Swedes who stood watching, mesmerised, in the midst of all the racket. Their immobility seemed so out of place, I approached them and asked,

    "Are you waiting to play something?"
    "Are you simply listening then?
    "Well, what exactly are you looking at?"
    "We've never seen so many happy Swedes in one place unless they were drunk."
    During an exhibition at Barcelona's Miro Foundation in 1978, I'd become a good friend of one of the guards. At the end of the exhibition, he said to me,
    "I want to ask you something that you'll probably find silly, but, for the last month, I've watched hundreds of people enter, looking tired from their daily cares. Fifteen minutes later they leave laughing and happy. How do you perform this miracle? Are you an extraterrestrial?"

Jacques Lasry
Yvonne Lasry
Daniel Ouzounof

    T h e  M u s i c
    For all the musical possibilities our sculptures create, musicians are necessary. In 1954, my brother and I were lucky enough to meet Jacques and Yvonne Lasry. Jacques was a pianist and composer. Yvonne was an organist. Her solid Alsatian background had also given her a moral equilibrium like no one else's that provided balance to these otherwise very different artists. Their task was difficult. It wasn't merely a question of performing. The Lasrys also had to adapt old techniques and invent new ones to play instruments that had never existed before.

    An association was formed and we began to get contracts. But we needed to find a name. These were more than either sculptures or instruments. We finally chose to call them the "Lasry-Baschet Sound Structures," after deciding to designate the creations in which sonority was the dominant feature "structures" and those in which the aesthetic aspect dominated "sculptures" for our exhibitions in galleries and museums. Our group was a success from the very start. Electronic music was still in its infancy and our structures, with their resonators that produced long, mysterious tones, were deemed "cosmic." It was the era of the launching of the first Russian sputnik and every time a radio or television station wanted music for a science fiction programme, they came to us. Our biggest thrill was being asked by Jean Cocteau to do the music for his film,

    L e   t e s t a m e n t   d ' O r p h e e.
    The group toured often. Our U.S. agent, Robert Gewald, booked us on The Ed Sullivan Show three times, and we made the circuit of the American universities. In the 1960s, the Lasrys immigrated to Israel. After their departure, Bernard assured that our musical efforts continued,but his main interest had become education. Fortunately, luck stayed with us and, during a workshop in 1977, Bernard met a young, talented musician named Michel Deneuve. Michel already knew of us and had been especially intrigued by our keyboard instrument, the 'Cristal'. A new association began and Michel worked with Bernard to perfect the instrument. He also became familiar with our other instruments, but, in the 1980s, when he and Bernard began to give concerts all over Europe, Michel decided to dedicate himself to the Cristal.

Veronique Vaster
playing the latest variation
of harp 1999

The Lasry Baschet
performance group as they appeared for 'Life'

    He's been very important to the Cristal's development, not only technically, but artistically, having discovered its full range of possibilities from classical to contemporary music and that the instrument not only has its place as a solo instrument, but, like all our instruments, adapts perfectly to a symphony orchestra. He continues to work with Bernard to improve the technical and acoustical performance of the Crystal, but the virtuosity he has shown has attracted other musicians. Television and radio programmes, as well as movie soundtracks, have made it famous and Michel's next venture is to create the first Crystal School.

    E d u c a t i o n
    At one time, during art classes, children were forced to faithfully copy a model -- a vase, flowers, an antique moulding. When the drawing was finished, only then would they add colours. Today, with the advent of such things as felt pens, children are free to apply colours right away according
    to their own sense of design so that drawing comes together with colour. However, nothing of this kind had been tried with music. Children have to start with scales - a very intellectual concept which can be compared to the restrictions of drawing. Bernard found a solution to this problem and his experience with thousands of children has shown that it is possible for them to use sound structures in the same way they use felt pens - to express themselves freely as they build their own music without preconceived ideas. He organises classes in which the children are free to experiment with the structures. Once they are comfortable with the instrument, they are encouraged to listen to the music the others are making in an effort to achieve a kind of harmony. Playing together, children learn collective co-operation. Yet they also learn that art is order and are faced with the necessity of imposing their own rules on this musical game while respecting the freedom of expression of each child in the group. His "instrumentarium" is currently used in hundreds of schools in countries throughout Europe and Asia - not only for education, but also for music therapy; Very good results are obtained with handicapped and disturbed children.

    We took a certain risk when we decided to stop concentrating on art aimed at the collector. But when we watch the reaction of people as they discover our sound structures, as well as their own artistic and personal potential, we know the risk was worth it. We are asked why we don't use electronics. We think there is more poetry, more sincerity, in natural sounds. All natural sounds -- bells, bird song, echoes among the mountains -- are connected to some unconscious memory.
    Electronic music is to acoustical music what chemistry is to cooking. It is acoustical music that nourishes the soul.

    Francois Baschet
    translated from the French by Candace Lyons

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