The singing box


The singing box

It turns out embroidery has a voice, which comes to life with the help of the street organ. Musician (or, more precisely, sound artist) Alexis Paul tells about his project, which creates meditative melodies via this instrument for non-musician.
Text: Margarit Mirzoyan 


The street organ of the stranger

Alexis Paul, who at this moment examines the peculiarities of the street organ, first came to Armenia from France in 2016. He is a musician, but music is not his primary goal. Alexis views music as a tool for expressing one’s perception of the world close to the poetic and art themes.

He has played various instruments since he was a child. The first was the trumpet, and later he even played guitar in a rock band. But a couple of years later, he decided to concentrate on the street organ.

«L'Orgue de Barbarie» as they call it in France, literally means the organ of a stranger And so it is, this instrument can sound beautiful in the hands of an ordinary person passing by or a tramp. According to Alexis, it is a tool for non-musicians, he was interested in how, being a musician, he can use a tool created for non-musicians and get art. That is why he decided to carry out a project that would be directly related to that ancient musical instrument. The street organ is a folk instrument. We saw the simple organ in the church, and here it was taken out of the church and became a part of social life. In Alexis’s opinion, it was something like an attempt to "democratize" the music.

"The street organ is a very old instrument, it has a very long history, but I did not want to focus only on the past, I tried to find a way to revive this instrument, to connect it with the future," says the musician. When Alexis was just starting the project, he realized that it was necessary to expand the geography, moving away from Europe, because this tool is not European at all. Searching for unexpected connections, he decided that it was necessary to cooperate with folk musicians from different cultures.

In recent years, keeping in mind the idea of the street organ project, Alexis visited about ten countries for a different project. One of these countries was Armenia. In all of them he created sound podcasts for French radio working with local musicians. Returning to France, he began to study the street organ again, but now he knew where to look for the answers.



Inside the tool is a rather complicated mechanism, a whole world, to be precise. Musical punched papers are inserted into it, which have special holes on them- the notes. After getting acquainted with the whole structure, Alexis thought that a certain connection could be found between music and folk visual art. His choice stopped at embroidery. It is also a folk art, which keeps certain rhythms-patterns, we can even call them meditative sequences.

From that moment on, the idea was clear - to find a connection between the embroidered images and the notes inserted in the organ, paying particular attention to the repetitive images. He would put these on a piece of musical punched paper, create special holes with the help of laser cutter and  get sounds. Later he would have to understand how to make those sounds perceptible and interesting.

“Folk art is about people's lives, it is a way to understand culture and the people who carry that culture. Embroidery is also a way of preserving the memory, I just use modern approaches when working with it,” says Alexis, “The patterns that can be met in embroidery are also common in the music, especially in the music that I make.” Alexis plans to implement this project in four countries: France, Greece, Palestine and Armenia, as embroidery culture is very common in these countries.

"When people were embroidering, they were doing it with a certain idea, desire, or thought. "They created those images inspired by the love they had for their husband, child or parent," says Alexis, “Now those feelings and thoughts can sound loud and become a melody.”


A new approach

Today there are two possible ways to reproduce these musical punched paper tapes. To input it into the perforated cardboard of the street organ or, with the help of an optical system, "read" the sounds obtained from the combination of holes created on the basis of these embroidered images by means of a computer, and receive music from those simple sounds. That is what Alexis' project leads to.

He recently traveled to Armenia to conduct research, meet with specialists, collect materials, and generally tell the locals about this project. He has already returned to France to perform some experiments. He plans to come to Armenia again next year to present the result he has achieved and to perform some of the works, combining them with acoustic and electronic music.

Alexis also plans to hold master classes on this topic. "For me, this study is very important, because the street organ is unique, we can even say it is extinct," explains Alexis, "I want to preserve it, to get a mirror effect-  If I start playing, it will live.”


Street organ

Mechanical brass instrument without key mechanism, that consists of a box containing horns, a bellow and a cylinders, which are set in motion by turning the handle.

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