The invention of acoustic instruments or sound sculptures generally consists in the re-adaptationor amelioration of classical manufacturing procedures long grouped into three main families : percussion, string and wind instruments. ln resonating a solid block of wood by a simple caress of the hand, the arbrasson represents an unexplored instrumental category : a wooden idiophone that is rubbed. It uses that same simple, sensual gesture of a hand spontaneously attracted by a handsome curve of polished wood or a rugged flank of bark. With one astonishing difference : here, the solid block of wood actually responds ta this gentle solicitation with whistling and singing, thanks to the scarification of notches that form vibrating reeds. What surprises and adds to the magic of these non-identified sound objects, is the disproportion nature of the gentle stimulation ta the power of the sound.
This procedure, discovered in June 1997 by sculptor José Le Piez, was indexed by the National
Gallery of Washington and the Library of Ottawa in 2006. Wikipedia presents his work in an entry devoted to the history of the interactive arts. The arbrasson is not the result of deliberate technical reflexion. José has sound emerge from the hidden face of the wood, without looking for it, like the creations of gardener Gilles Clément who cultivates breeding-grounds that are also fertile to apparitions. José's intuitive approach belongs to this same spirit of mushotoku (without intention), a concept derived from Japanese martial arts and Zen.
Improvisation, more than a field, is a philosophy he applies to sculpture, to his incalculable instrument-making and ta his musical journey. Forms and sounds spring from a calligraphic,
choreographic gesture, a perceptual approach tying space and volume to sound and visual
vibrations, like an encounter between Henry Moore and John Cage. The scutptor's gesture
is correlative to the improvising musician's gesture. The arbrasson is less an object, an instrument, than the materialised narration of this adventure.
José Le Piez collaborates with the Musée de l'Homme, the Musée du Quai Branly and the Cité
de la Musique. His ethno-musicological research enabled the rediscovery of the only ethnic cousin of the arbrassons in music history. ln his "Origins of musical instruments", André Schaeffner writes of "certainly one of the strangest ever invented by man", the Nounout or Livika, a "friction drum", from New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, a funereal instrument serving to imitate the voice of both the spirit of the forest and that of the deceased now arbitrating the sharing of riches within the group. Despite these musicological and philosophical correspondences, arbrassons develop free of any ethnic or aesthetic appurtenance as autonomous entities inhabited by their creator. Their originality even makes them into a universal instrument which above ail questions the essence of our relationship to the tree. Through its genesis and musical development, this discovery raises the possibility, in our own relationship to the world, of receiving fruits offered without any spirit of gain. Each arbrasson is a unique piece with its own melodic line, a sculptural score providing a theme for the musical improvisation of José and Patricia Chatelain who interpret these complex sounds as a "cosmic scale." These sculptures are dreams incarnated in wood that sing of wind, earth, sun and moon.