Silent Talks

Creation of Bartabas, with the help of Manuel Poletti for the sound work

Intimacy, Delicacy & Subtlety - Artistic Issues

It's hard to imagine two universes more distant from each other: on the one hand, Bartabas, founder of the Zingaro circus, which later became the Zingaro Equestrian Theater, and on the other, IRCAM, at the cutting edge of sound technology. Yet they share an essential aspect: that of performance. Demonstrating a sincere curiosity for unique sound universes, the former has already tackled creative music, teaming up with Jean-Pierre Drouet in 1991 for his equestrian opera, for example, or taking up Pierre Boulez's Dialogue de l'ombre double to accompany the last part of his Triptyk in 2000.

When Bartabas and IRCAM came together for this particular project, entitled Entretiens silencieux (lit. Silent Talks), the famous horseman's idea was both spectacular and intimate: to highlight the ineffable dialogue that takes place between a rider and their horse - in this case, himself and his favorite horse, Tsar.

As work progressed, the concept of the performance evolved and became more refined, but the spirit remained unchanged: intimacy, delicacy and subtlety. And this is also true for the sound work, which Manuel Poletti designed and supervised.

Amplification & Spatialization - Technological Issues

The first stage of the work consisted in getting sound feedback from the horse itself using invisible microphones attached to its body. This sound system makes it possible to work with the slightest noise produced by the horse: the impact of its hooves on the ground, rubbing sounds from its coat and mane, the sound of its breath - without knowing it the horse becomes a musician, or at least a musical instrument, played by its rider.

"With this equipment,” says Manuel Poletti, “you can start by playing with the amplification of the physical sound, and slightly modify your perception of it, as you would visually when zooming in and out of an image, or dimming lights. This is also what happens in parallel with the amplification: the lights come on little by little, almost imperceptibly during the performance.”

The sound system attached to the animal obviously raises the question of the diffusion of amplified sound, which is carried out in the most organic and natural way possible, by equipping the circular theater with about fifty speakers and a handful of subwoofers - a little marvel for any spatialized sound enthusiast. The spatialization itself is deliberately light and airy, and is also connected with the horse’s movements: each gait (walk, trot, canter) corresponds to a state of amplification, as if to "make the show breathe", as well as each pirouette, whose rhythm is emphasized.

While Bartabas' desire is to stay as close as possible to the sound emitted by the horse, and therefore to transform it only minimally, some real-time treatments are used to reinforce the narrative in the manner of sound illusions. Delays, for example, (up to ten seconds) briefly give the feeling that another horse is following like its shadow or suggest that the horse continues its race when it has stopped...

The constant aim is to enhance the horse's movements. With spatialization, combined with the room’s acoustics, it is possible to artificially modulate the acoustics or the reverberation of the theater (by lengthening it or making it brighter for example), thus slightly modifying the perception of the space in which the performance takes place.

If the main part of the work is therefore very clear, a third layer of treatment goes a little further in the theatricalization of these silent talks: convolution or source filters, using SuperVP. The principle is as follows: pass the sound captured from the horse through the filter of another sound material. These can be sound effects— a rolling stone, a flowing stream, dead leaves— which immediately conjure up the image of the horse walking in a scree, crossing a river, or walking on a carpet of dead leaves in the fall. Like a soundscape created by the horse's footsteps.

These filters can also be music we know, or recognizable musical colors, passed through the granulation mill and then stretched to infinity, they can then be "run through" by the horse, as if he himself played them.

The muted conversation of the rider and his horse thus finds echoes that are as discreet as they are unexpected.

  • Bartabas and his horse Tsar  © Franck Fokerman
    Bartabas and his horse Tsar © Franck Fokerman