Hors-champs, 1992

2 video projectors, 1 synchronizer, 1 doublesided
screen, 4 loudspeakers, 2 videos, PAL,
black and white, stereo sound, 13’20”
Produced by the New Media Department,
Centre Pompidou

Stan Douglas's installation Hors-Champs (1992) deals with the visual representation of a musical performance. Four jazz musicians – trombonist George Lewis, saxophonist Douglas Ewart, bassist Kent Carter and drummer Oliver Johnson – play Spirits Rejoice, composed in 1965 by saxophonist Albert Aylor, a Free Jazz enthusiast. This piece brings together four different musical elements: Gospel, call and response, a fanfare and the Marseillaise.

The Free Jazz movement, which emerged in the 1960s in Afro-American musical circles, where it was called 'The New Thing', is marked by simultaneous improvisation of several musicians and harmonic freedom. While it was initially associated in the United States with Black Nationalist movements, it attracted the most attention in France in the ranks of the May 1968 generation. It was in fact at the height of the Vietnam War that Free Jazz appeared on the French musical scene, when many American musicians chose to exile themselves in Europe to escape the many pressures generated by the politics of the Nixon and Johnson governments and their repression of all forms of expression coming from the Black communities.

Thus, like Albert Aylor, who arrived in Europe in 1962, the four musicians films in Hors-Champs all lived in France at one time or another. Through the political implications of Free Jazz, Hors-Champs thus touches on the themes of exile and rejection; in this sense, it prefigures Douglas's installation Pursuit, Fear, Catastrophe: Ruskin B.C. (1993), which takes as its point of departure the 'organised' and unsolved disappearance of a Japanese traveller exiled in the town of Ruskin, British Colombia, during the 1940s following the attack on Pearl Harbor.


The main element of Hors-Champs is a screen suspended on a slight diagonal in the centre of a room. Each side of the screen shows a different version of the performance, which was filmed with two cameras: on one side, a linear edit, like classic television jazz programmes; on the other, a version composed of all the out-takes, which privilege emotion and reveal the soul of the music. Through this second version, which also preserves the rapid scanning of the cameras coming back to their position, viewers discover images of the musicians at rest and the few words they exchange when they are not playing – all the elements which, in principle, remain off-camera (hors-champ in French).

From this standpoint, this second version does not exclusively service to bring out the main action but, on the contrary, seeks to introduce the waiting times within the performance, thus creating discontinuities. Designated as a 'counter-narrative' by the artist, it thus ignores the codes of the traditional visual narrative and in this way redefines the viewer's position in relation to it. The exclusion of the single viewpoint within the installation set-up and the co-existence of two versions of the same performance thus offer the viewer a multiplicity of levels of involvement in relation to this filmed concert.


Frédérique Baumgartner

Translation: Miriam Rosen