caroline de bendern’s a l’intention de mlle issoufou a bilma (1971), with its incredible barney wilen soundtrack

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A few days ago I was chatting with Bernard from Souffle Continu about their immanent reissue of Barney Wilen’s legendary album Moshi (an event I am very excited for). He mentioned that the edition would also include a DVD release of Caroline de Bendern’s film A l’intention de Mlle Issoufou a Bilma.

I’ve been hunting for a (vinyl) copy of Moshi for well over a decade, and was roughly aware of the events which led to its creation. The album is coveted by collectors of avant-garde music, legendary, and rare (not to mention extremely expensive). In 1970 Wilen led a team of collaborators to Africa to travel, learn, and record indigenous music. He returned to Paris roughly two years later, holding the material and inspiration which became Moshi. What I didn’t know, was that the trip had been filmed and released with a brilliant soundtrack composed by Wilen. Bernard happily pointed me to the fact that it was available online.

A l’intention de Mlle Issoufou a Bilma is a rare experience on a number of counts. It offers a look into Africa that is rarely available to ethnographers or anthropologists. At its heart is the spirit of interaction. It observes, but with the wavering eye of home movie, rather than the fixed formality of a documentary. You get the sense that presence of the camera was quickly forgotten by those it captured. Crucially, we see people from different worlds coming together and enjoying company with openness. There is little cultural fetish in either direction. Whatever curiosity is presents, is between those being filmed, rather than by the observer. It’s a film made by a merry band of hippies on an adventure, and is everything you might expect for that. It have no doubt it would be an interesting artifact were it silent, but it becomes another thing entirely with Wilen’s soundtrack. Not unlike Moshi, it’s a stitched a tapestry of sound – one where it’s difficult to work out where Africa ends and the composer begins. At points it’s comprised of the direct audio of what you are seeing, at others it’s out of sync, and could come from any moment of the journey, at others it has been intervened with in a number of ways – and that’s before you get to the music, which at draws its on Moshi and original material.

The totality is a fantastic piece of work, a window into another world (and time), as well as being a model for the open interaction with others. I thought I’d pass it along as a partial celebration of the reissue of Moshi (my review will be up soon), but also because it’s beautiful, stands on its own, and should be seen. I hope you enjoy.

-Bradford Bailey

 

Caroline de Bendern – A l’intention de Mlle Issoufou a Bilma (1971)

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