No comments

Each year in the South of France Avignon hosts an annual theatre festival now in it’s 67th year. Having been first developed in 1947 by Jean Vilar, the festival has grown both in the number of plays that feature and the variety of styles performed. Today, the month-long festival is widely recognised as one of the largest theatre and arts festivals in the world.

There are two parts to the festival, known as the “In” and the “Off”. The “In” festival features the official selection of plays and is organised by a non-profit organisation with direct funding by the Ministry of Culture. “In” festival plays are shown at some of the most spectacular venues in Avignon, including the “Cour d’Honneur” at the Palais des Papes and hosts some of the world’s finest production companies. The “Off” festival is organised by a different non-profit organisation and is composed mostly of smaller theatre companies with performances being held in established theatres, in make-shift spaces (such as school yards) and in the street. In 2013 there were a total of 37 plays in the “In” program and 1150 plays in the “Off” program.

Street Ambiance
Apart from having the opportunity to see some wonderful plays, what I absolutely love about the Festival d’Avignon is the atmosphere in the city. Throughout the month of July, the historic city centre becomes a thriving hub of creativity with thousands of street performances every day. With so much competition around the “Off” festival, people involved in a production spend their time on the streets trying to drum up interest. And the way people promote their shows usually comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and sounds, which makes for some very interesting soundscapes.

Armed with my trusty handheld recorder, I headed into the city and tried to capture some of the more interesting promotion techniques I heard.
As we were walking along the very cute Rue des Teinturiers we came across Les Frères Brothers who were promoting their show that is part of the “Off” program. The show, entitled Nous Irons Tous Acapella is a comedy musical based around the notion of acapella singing, so what better way to promote this than to give a street performance.

Further along the same cafe-lined street I recorded the general walla of people. The unmistakable cicadas can be heard singing along, as always.

As we headed towards Place d’Horloge, the main square next to the Palais des Papes, we came across another street performance. This time, we were treated to two sax players and a percussionist who were walking through the narrow, high-walled streets. Their sound was beautifully carried along as it bounced off the walls of the buildings. I had my Soundman binaural mics with me so decided to do a quick recording using these.

– use headphones for optimised listening experience –

Having left the trio of musicians behind us, we continued forward but were almost immediately met by a beautiful piano performance. I’d just put my binaural mics away and wanted to capture this as quickly as possible, so I recorded in normal stereo. At first we could not see where this was coming from but as we turned the corner, we saw that this was not your typical kind of piano.

When we arrived at the Place d’Horloge, it was absolutely packed! There were about as many people promoting plays as there were members of the public so it made for an interesting soundscape. I used my Soundman binaural mics to record this street ambiance.

– use headphones for optimised listening experience –

We headed away from the crowds and took one of the small alleyways that snake around the Palais des Papes. I always find these alleyways interesting from an acoustic point of view. They are carved out of the rock on which the Palais des Papes sits, so are very narrow and have very high rock-faced walls, meaning any sounds that are created along them reverberate very interestingly. So I was really pleased when I heard a saxophone player as we walked along. I slowly caught up with the group and it turned out they were walking along in the same direction as us so I followed just behind, recording as they played.

The Festival d’Avignon 2014 runs from the 4th – 27th July.