Behna films re-opens after 50 years

Old files from Behna Film
Old files from Behna Film

A very interesting article (available here) about one of Gudran’s latest projects. I had the pleasure of being here at the (magical) soft opening organized by the foundation during which we discovered the office of Behna Films which remained closed for 50 years. The place will become a hub for visual artists in the next months.



An interesting analysis of how ideas such as Le Bon’s Psyhcologie des Foules are used in the revolutionary Egypt

Intellectual Basha


During the last Egyptian revolution, a very special kind of intellectuals started emerging in media to generously share their comments on political affairs. I have in mind psychiatrists. It seems that most of media channels have their own experts of the human mind, who in times of political crisis comes out, as an oracle, to teach common mortals some truths on what is going on and what is awaiting them. Ahmad Okasha’s kindness-beaming face, the head of the Psychiatry Association, should be known for all. He was appearing on Masry’s pages to explain that the revolution was due to the feeling of « frustration », that the origin of dictatorship was a a simple “mental illness”, that the characters of presidential candidates can be easily undisclosed by a quick glance of a vigilant psychiatrist, and that revolutionary hungover could be overcome by an all powerful feeling of love. 

But Ahmad Okasha is…

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The Social Structuration of A Collective Musical Improvisation, Followed by Three Remarks on Alexandrian Musicians

A musical “jam”, a collective musical improvisation, can be defined as a social interaction. As any social interaction, some variables govern how this interaction will evolve. This doesn’t mean that we can predict what will be the outcome of the interaction, but on the other hand, we cannot pretend that the outcome is fundamentally spontaneous. Let’s say that we can understand the course of a musical improvisation by crossing two elements : contextual factors (factors concerned with the interaction between musicians) and dispositional factors (factors concerned with personal characteristics  of each musician).

First of all, we can mark out a series of variables that we could call “objective” variables : Among these we have the Key signature (are we playing in C or D ?) and the Time signature (is it a regular 4/4 or an odd time like 5/4 ?). The musicians may also decide beforehand of a chord progression (let’s say Bm, D, A, G). In these cases, none of the musicians can derogate to these rules. If one does, the jam would be ruined. We can see here the rules of the interaction.

Then, we switch to dispositionnal variables (meaning what a musician is disposed to play, or can play). This means that the outcome is also limited by the personal skills and knowledge of the musician. His understanding of the musical theory, of different genres, his knowledge of the scales, of the different styles of composition but also different instrumental techniques.

Finally, we have the degrees of interpersonal acquaintance and familiarity from which stem degrees of predictability. Musicians used to jam together can read each other. They can understand the direction one of them is taking very easily. Acquaintance and familiarity in jamming can also be achieved even if musicians don’t know each other very well if they are familiar to a certain genre. For instance, jazz musicians who are familiar to certain classics (take 5, my favorite things, etc.) will automatically be able to jam by their knowledge of the internal rules of a certain genre or style, etc.

While observing a musical jam, we can observe how these different components or variables interact depending on objective variables, personal skills, interpersonal familiarity, etc. Looking at a musical jam can actually teach us a lot more about a revolutionary event than a broad macro-social analysis because it suggests that different elements must be looked at simultaneously : the “rules” of the event (interaction between a multitude of actors), the dispositions of individuals protesting (who they are, what do they know, what do they fear), and the differential interactions between them during the event. We cannot predict what they will do, but we can understand the sequences that lead them to play this or that, do this or that, by this cross referencing of different data.

Three remarks on professional musicians of the alternative scene in Alexandria

Spending time with alexandrian musicians of the alternative scene, I was interested by some of the words they used to describe some situations. These words made great sense to them while it seemed to me somewhat out-of-place.

Every time two musicians would evaluate the performance of a third one, if the evaluation was positive, they would use words such as “mezaker” (studied well) to describe him. Mezaker is a word that is normally used in the case of studying at school. For me, that showed a tendency of these musicians, as they evolve in their musical career, to value above all the real understanding of music, as in the understanding of musical theory, which is achieved by the reading books rather than practicing an instrument.

A second remark stems from this first one. There is an identifiable pattern in a musical career, at least as I observed it in Alexandria since I started playing an instrument in 2004. The manner in which a musician’s perceptions of skills evolve with his musical career (musical career does not mean a musician’s career in the professional manner, but more how his relation to the instrument subjectively changes with time). I mean here – if we take the example of guitar –  that a novice musician will usually define skills with reference to speed in playing. Then, skills will be defined by a set of techniques and tricks (sweeps, tapping, etc.). After that, it will usually become theoretical knowledge and an interest in the history of the musical genre etc.

My third and last remark stems from the observation of musical jams bringing together very skilled musicians. In these cases, it is relatively obvious that the interaction is less concerned with the production of a certain sound directed at a public. The interaction is rather oriented at the musicians themselves, it’s a performance. Its quality will be measured by the number of scales, time changes, technical tricks played : all elements that will show the musicians’ skills to each others, and also to themselves. The jam is necessarily auto-centered.


The Presentation of the Everyday Revolution

I participated last october in an international seminar tackling the issue of “events” in social sciences organized in the University of Lausanne by the Department of Religion Studies. During that seminar, I gave a talk (in french, the video is available here) presenting some remarks and observation I already had suggested in a paper published in the French review of political sciences, titled “The roads to Revolution” (available here, still in french, sorry!). The talk is entitled, in reference to the seminal book by Erwing Goffman, The Presentation of Everyday Revolution (which, I have to admit, sounds better in french : “la mise en scène de la révolution quotidienne”). Hope you find it interesting.


Processus politique, processus révolutionnaire : un point de méthode

Les mots, les concepts, les notions qu’on utilise dans les analyses de sciences sociales ne sont pas à prendre à la légère. Dans mes différents terrains depuis le début de la Révolution, nombre de mes interviewés formulent une distinction, particulièrement évidente à leurs yeux, entre la trajectoire politique ou le jeu politique (al-massar al-siyassi, al-lu’ba al-siyassiya) et la trajectoire révolutionnaire (al-massar al-thawri). Ce sont là, pour eux, deux choses qui ne relèvent pas du même ordre. Ces interviewés sont des militants révolutionnaires, c’est-à-dire qu’ils ne sont pas des intellectuels professionnels (journalistes, écrivains, chercheurs). Ce sont des acteurs de terrain engagés dans des luttes très différentes (au niveau artistique, pour les droits des médecins ou dans des mouvements politiques par le bas).

Le processus politique renvoie dans leurs mots à la pratique conventionnelle de la politique, autrement dit, aux enjeux et luttes de positionnement du champ politique au sens strict (les élections, les institutions de l’Etat, le conventionnel en somme).

Les chercheurs pourront refuser cette catégorisation indigène par peur de reprendre  à leur compte les analyses des enquêtés. Ils n’ont pas tort. Néanmoins, ils gagneraient peut-être à y réfléchir. La “révolution” est elle le paroxysme de la politique ? Est-ce le prolongement “naturel” de la révolte ? Selon l’orientation politique de l’énonciateur, on pourra voir des lectures excessivement politique, économique ou sociale des situations révolutionnaires.

Ma remarque de méthode est la suivante, et, évidemment, je ne connais pas la “réponse”. Il se trouve simplement que le questionnement me hante.

Si l’on prend n’importe quelle analyse de la révolution égyptienne ou de tout ce qui se passe depuis, plusieurs mots-clés apparaîtront : Frères musulmans, manifestations, sit-in, El-Baradei, Socialistes révolutionnaires, etc. Ces mots-clés sont exactement les mêmes que ceux que l’on aurait pu trouver dans une analyse de la politique égyptienne en 2010. Ou 2008, si l’on exclut El-Baradei. Etc.

L’étonnant le 25 janvier 2011 n’était pas de voir un Hossam El-Hamalawy ou un Ibrahim Issa dans une manifestation. Mais c’était de voir tous les autres inconnus, participant parfois (souvent) pour la première fois. Or, si l’on essaie de comprendre et d’expliquer ce qui est advenu durant ces jours-ci à travers l’analyse des mêmes acteurs, mêmes dynamiques, mêmes logiques qui menaient des acteurs politiques à mener des actions politiques, qu’apprend-on de nouveau ?

The Alexandria Streets Project

Take a look at the Alexandria Streets Project. It is a radio and audio art project in three parts, conceived, organised and realised from October to December 2012 in Alexandria, Berlin and Cairo. It proposes a sonic map of Alexandria, made of different recordings with alexandrians, then uploaded and pin-pointed to the location they were recorded at on the map.