Cirque [Circus]: Compact-compact 6

Michèle Bokanowski

It’s as if the piece is made up of various short versions of itself, a truly fascinating idea, and much fun to listen to. Asymmetry Music Magazine, USA

… listen and let you imagination do the rest. SAN Diffusion, UK

CD (IMED 9525)

Out of print

This item is not available through our website. We have catalogued it for information purposes only.

  • Label: empreintes DIGITALes
  • IMED 9525
  • 1995
  • UCC 771028952526
  • Total duration: 36:40
  • Crystal case
  • 125 mm × 142 mm × 6 mm
  • 70 g

On the web


To Michèle Bokanowski

An astonishing route of Life to which Michèle Bokanowski invites us on the pathway of Cirque (Circus).

The galloping of time, turns, turns and disappears behind the curtain of reality, the only visible opening of the outlined circle, genesis.

Infancy carried off in the clamor and the laughter of a heady exhilaration of life, suspended by the thread of its derisive precariousness. Destiny appears, in filigree, obsessive, sneering in all its power, eternally close to the drama.

Ephemeral victory.

In her heart is born the subtle beating of the song of the soul revealed in her delicate harmony gloriously affirmed.

Scintillating dichotomy, crackling with iridescent bursts, coalescing in the fatal race up until its ultimate resolution:

A choir in which everything is melted, intermingled, becomes a playful mirror of illusion, the essence of life, the gravity of being, forever recovered in the primordially unique, reflected in the galloping of time.

The magic of childhood ever-present in the heart of man even beyond his abrupt end.

To Michèle Bokanowski for Cirque.


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In the press


Michael E Karman, Asymmetry Music Magazine, February 12, 2007

Cirque consists of five named movements, Allegro in three parts, Andante, Scherzo, Galop, and Finale (Parade). The Allegro is the longest of the five and sets forth the musical materials for the whole piece: galloping hooves, laughter (kids and adults), crowd and circus sounds (other than laughing and hooves, things like cheering and cymbal crashes. Allegro also establishes the loop as the principal principle of presentation. The Andante opens with low, rumbling sound—through that emerges first the hoofbeats (softer, muted) and some dark judderings on the accordion (played by Jean-Louise Matigner). The Scherzo, as one might expect, consists largely of laugh loops. What one might not have expected is the honky-tonk-ish piano chords that make it seem as if the laughing people were in a bar not a circus (a clever person would be able to make some witty comment about entertainment here.). And while the loops make some of the laughing sound sinister rather than jolly, I do think you’ll find yourself grinning from time to time. The shortest movement is the minute Galop, which is a minute and a half of gradually louder hoofbeats, fairly natural (only a little bit of added reverb) and then about ten seconds of quite stunningly altered hoof sound. The opening of the Finale (Parade) sounds like the opening of the Scherzo from far far away. But only the opening. It is the grand summation (as the Allegro was the introduction) of the whole piece. It’s as if the piece is made up of various short versions of itself, a truly fascinating idea, and much fun to listen to.

It’s as if the piece is made up of various short versions of itself, a truly fascinating idea, and much fun to listen to.


Philip Martin, SAN Diffusion, April 1, 2001

Coming to this recording, I knew I was going to experience something strange. Cirque (1994) pays a more direct homage than most musique concrète to the Schaeffer / Chion school of paysage sonore, with ghoulish scenes forged from looping horses, laughter, applause and angular cutouts from what must have once been a real scene. Over the 36 minutes, 5 movement work (prefaced not surprisingly by: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, Galop and Finale (Parade) following the tradition of Schaeffer), we are a witness to the dance of a strange mannequin formed out of spare parts from an otherwise used image. What makes this work special is this method (if you can call it that) of representing the outside environment in such a way as to conjure the inner spirit of a circus long passed. This mechanistic approach of loops, irregular montage and unnatural envelopes gives the work its disembodied feel as well as offering us one clear level of audible structure albeit at a primitive level. Cirque is primitive but hints at the mythical in the same way as Wishart’s Red Bird (1973–77) and the mystical in a manner similar to Jacques Tremblay’s La robe nue (1995). Even the cover design of the same name by Christian Daninos tends towards the grotesque: Scaramouche and the commedia dell’arte mixing not always that comfortably with Barnum, Cooper and Bailey. Francis Dhomont talks about the psychology of depths: the intersection of projected mental images and the imagination (cover notes to Forêt profonde). Bokanowski points us towards these paths of suggestion.

Cirque opens with a horse galloping round and round the empty circus ring with a disembodied crowd emerging and re–emerging as if contained within an old viewing carousel. Sounds hover in the air like trapeze artists awaiting the moment where time stands still. This is a circus of long ago, a dark time where one gasped in horror at the devilish beauty of the performing troupe as they defy the rules and conventions of normal life. There is a strange empty suspense; the street just outside the butchers shop in Delicatessen or the ballroom in The Shining seem fitting analogies. The Finale (Parade) is perhaps the least effectual of the movements as it tries to present some conclusion to the previous sections while being continually hindered by the pitched underpinning of material. Maybe much is meant to be left unanswered; our imagination balancing tentatively upon the high wire. I do not mean to do Cirque an injustice by suggesting that it harkens back to a musique concrète of the past. On the contrary: In a time where much electroacoustic music seems to be an exercise for the sound–system, Cirque comes as a drop of Mr. Schaeffer’s magic elixir.

… listen and let you imagination do the rest.


Esteban Lago, Hurly Burly, no. 12, January 1, 2000

The first Cirque concert took place in France on May 1994 during the Festival Futura. The accordion playing in this recording was carried out by, Jean-Luis Matigner.

A curious sound scape related to circus-like scenes with motives of insistent accumulative image scratching which disappear and come back in an elaborated rhythmic system. The pace of the whole piece is permeated by certain narrative mysteriousness.


MP, Vital, no. 192, September 24, 1999

A fistful of new releases arrived from peerless Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes a few days back. Two were full-length CDs and two were recent additions to their ‘compact compact’ series which consists of CDs shorter than 40 minutes. This particular item contains one composition titled Cirque; 37 minutes of of electroacoustic music divided into five movements and constructed, it seems, almost entirely from recordings made at a circus.

This journey back in time tears at the tangled cobwebs of adulthood, disturbs the dust of cynicism so that it rises into the air, obscuring the view for a moment, and when it settles once more we are captured, willing prisoners of magic and wonder. Remember the first time you went to a circus — how huge the tent seemed, colourful caravans scattered close by, distant cages, the promise of candy floss and clowns. And inside, how much bigger the tent seemed when you were inside! The ring, smoothly raked, virginal, holy sawdust, and on the other side of the caged ring, the curtain and the wire animal tunnels.

The circular tiers of seats — those closest to the ring were always covered with velvet and boasted slightly frayed golden braiding and tassels — which seemed to rise like a giant’s staircase, floating high up in the semi-darkness. The sweet smell of straw, the pointing, uniformed ushers speaking in strange tongues, and oh! the anticipation, such anticipation. The whole tent, full of children (accompanied by an occasional adult), is illuminated by the excited gleam shining from hundreds of bright, wide eyes. Every mouth an ‘O.’ Neverending drumrolls acrobatic loops taut accordion. The invisible band strikes up. There are nervous flurries of spontaneous applause. Suddenly and from nowhere, a horse starts galloping around the ring in tighter and tighter circles, all the while the rider assumes increasingly more complicated positions, until he hangs upside down underneath the horse, his hair brushing fine furrow’s in the sand. Crackling whips, the urging clickwhistletalk of the animal trainers working fierce beasts into a snarl. (I once saw a man put his head in the lion’s mouth, honest!) Suspended breath holds the trapeze artiste aloft — if someone were to exhale, he would plummet to certain death. Rolling clowns dodge pies shoot stars waddle in and out of soap bubbles lose stuff find it fallover disappear. And then, when it seems that time really has stopped, the entire multifaceted cast leapfrog out from behind the curtains, whirling round and round like a spinning top until they are vaporized by the loudest cymbal crash you ever heard. And slowly because you are exhausted, you leave the tent, this temple of delight, cheeks stickysweet, faceflushed, ringing ears. In the car you fall asleep immediately filing a memory with each deep breath. These wait, sometimes a lifetime, for that knock on the creaking door which guards their innocence. And when the door opens, and the show begins again, every sense is satiated by the treasures we thought we’d lost, and for a moment we are slowly rehearsing our last dance. This music, by Michèle Bokanowski, is a knock on that door…

… we are captured, willing prisoners of magic and wonder.

La musique électroacoustique résiste au temps

Philippe Tétreau, La Presse, June 14, 1997

Machine à sons

Quant au Cirque proposé par Michèle Bokanowski, les procédés minimalistes utilisés déçoivent quelque peu. Un thème comme celui-ci aurait pu donner lieu à une remarquable réalisation mais celle de Bokanowski demeure associée une chorégraphie de Bernardo Montet. Aussi, la trame sonore qui nous reste, offre trop peu d’intérêt pour qu’elle puisse se soutenir toute seule. Elle n’est pas non plus sans rappeler la jovialité un peu mecanique du film Mazeppa.

Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones

Dwight Loop, The Sun-News, no. 9:3, February 1, 1997

Cirque (empreintes DIGITALes, IMED 9525) from French electronic composer Michèle Bokanowski shows the development of her musique concrète approach. She studied at an early age with Éliane Radigue, at the ORTF in Paris as well at the Faculté de Vincennes. Cirque is a superb recording of depth and stunning beauty. Adapted for a dance piece, this is fluid and graceful music for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

… a superb recording of depth and stunning beauty.


Pär Thörn, Storno, no. 3, January 1, 1997

More texts

  • Voir, February 13, 1997