"The Grey City first appeared to me in dreams; dreams spaced far apart over a long period of years; then I learned to recognise it elsewhere, in films, video games, and in the streets of the towns and villages I visited in my daytime life. I drew some conclusions.
You can't map the Grey City.
You can't locate it.
It exists discontinuously in an unknown number of real cities, night dreams or fictions.
All it takes is for the light to change at the turn of a street, a shade of colour on a building, and I know I have just entered the Grey City. Whether I am awake or dreaming. And I realise that I had forgotten it once again, and that this rediscovery, this anamnesis, is just one more; that there have been a number of others that I am unable to remember.
This awareness of forgetting and remembering is an integral part of how one experiences the Grey City."
A few months ago, Pays Fantôme received an e-mail from an anonymous person claiming to have been a member of a certain Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est (Eastern Psychogeographical Group), who wished to send us an audio cassette containing about 17 minutes of music and various documents such as screen shots of a game on the Amstrad CPC 6128 or all sorts of texts, illustrated or not: dream stories, fictions, essays, material for role-playing games, etc.
After receiving and examining the material sent to us, it became clear that we had to republish all this, at least in part. Of course, there is no proof that this is not a hoax, but it does not matter whether the Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est really existed or whether this anonymous correspondent tired of inventing the evidence for an affair that never took place. In any case, it is by no means impossible that it existed. But if it didn't, the sheer effort to make it seem so is enough to make it more than a fake: a work of fiction in its own right.
We sent a number of questions to this anonymous person, and we offer here a synthesis of his or her answers. They are an integral part of the work, in our opinion.
The documents that accompany the release are provided with it when you download it on Bandcamp, or can be consulted online at Archive.org.
All the paragraphs below are extracts from our email exchanges with the GPE representative.
"The name Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est is almost a joke. We were a few friends from all over Champagne and Alsace, passing through Meurthe-et-Moselle and Meuse, and we attended the same campus (Lettres Sciences Humaines). One of us had somehow stumbled upon Debord's texts and various articles on psychogeography in the university library – there was obviously no Internet, and no Google of course, in France at the time, and discovering this kind of marginal hobby was a bit more hazardous.
We appropriated the term, putting it to our own use and stripping it of all the politicised aspect it originally had, but of which we were hardly aware anyway. We were clearly not interested in analysing, challenging or reforming society by studying the environments in which we lived.
We were already big walkers and big fans of urban exploration (not at all in the sense that urbex is understood today; we didn't go into abandoned factories or anything like that) and rural exploration. To put it in less snobbish terms, we liked to wander, to wander, to be surprised by the landscape, whether it was the city landscape or not.
The discovery of psychogeography theorised by Guy Debord simply gave us even more ideas, ideas to extend our experiences. In an intimate, playful and aesthetic way."
"The name Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est thus became the one under which we published, at first (in the form of small typewritten, handwritten booklets, or printed at the university when we had the possibility), accounts of walks, sometimes embellished with photos, and more general texts on the question of places in our lives, of their weight in the imaginary, in individual and collective psychic life, etc.
It sounds very theoretical and pompous and theoretical when you put it like that, but once again it was a visceral and intimate approach, for all of us.
There were no rules and no set methods. Each member of the group – there were about ten or a dozen in all, over the few years that it lasted – was perfectly free to define his or her own field of research or methods.
Some of them essentially took photographs during their explorations. And did not produce a written commentary or something very short. The photographs spoke for themselves. They were designed to capture not only the atmosphere of a place, its specificity, and the effect it had on the artist, but to reveal what was secret about it, invisible, perhaps, to those who approached it in their daily lives with a purely utilitarian eye.
Other members left with a dictaphone on which they recorded all their thoughts, their emotions, all the micro-events of their walk. They would then write either a synthesis or a complete, literal transcription of their recording.
Some planned their exploration exactly, using a map. Others (like me) would drive off at random, sometimes not even knowing which town they were going to stop in. They waited to see something, or to feel an inner signal that they should stop here or there.
Between the exhaustive exploration of a place and the hazardous dérive (drift), content with a single journey through a city, missing most of it, everything was possible. Even explorations limited to night-time dreams... And even fictional explorations, not just from the writer's imagination, but from meditation and daydreaming. Or exploring a city through photographs of its streets.
I can imagine what we could have done at the time if Google Street View had existed."
"Personally, as I said, I used to do a lot of driving alone. I had just lost my mother, when I was twenty, and I had inherited her Ford. For a long time I had a very strong need for solitude. I spent at least a year of my life taking, as often as possible, a whole day or a night, without telling anyone, to wander around the region in my car, driving randomly for dozens or sometimes hundreds of kilometres. I took pictures in the towns and villages where I stopped, or sometimes just through the windscreen."
"The name Souvenirs de la Ville Grise (Memories of the Grey City) also comes from the fact that I took a lot of black and white photos at the time. I developed and printed them myself, at a friend's house who had the necessary equipment. A number of prints were considered to be part of the Group's official inventory afterwards. I sold some of them, mostly to acquaintances and friends, to be honest. Two or three were reproduced in local fanzines at the time."
"There is something indefinable but very intense for me in the fact of being alone at the wheel, in an unknown city, at nightfall or in the early hours of the morning; a city where I have nothing to do, no one to see, where no one knows that I am. With the windscreen as a screen, that is to say, both as protection and as a medium (like a cinema screen) that allows me to have an experience of the world that is not direct but aesthetic above all. It is a type of mental state that I discovered by chance and that I voluntarily sought out afterwards. The others have had the same kind of evolution; first pure experience, then you theorise, you systematise."
"I no longer have the originals of our brochures but that doesn't matter much, at the time we used an Atari to archive all our texts with Writer software, and as it saved files in .doc format I still have all our writings. Maybe it will be republished one day in some way, I don't have any definite plans for it at the moment. Not on paper, I think, there's no audience for that, but today any blog or Archive.org account allows you to reach out to the whole world."
"We lived mainly in medium-sized cities or small towns. Our explorations were essentially in these types of environments, including villages. With very large cities like Paris or Lyon we have almost only had imaginary relationships, through books, cinema, etc. The Parisian drift interests me moderately.
I'm not very interested in the Parisian dérive (drift). I had the opportunity to practice it, in an involuntary way, since I lived in Paris for a few weeks and during my free time (I was working in a small supermarket on Place Léon Blum and had my afternoons free) I wandered around the neighbourhoods around mine, discovering for example the Jardin Naturel and a few streets that were not very interesting but that attracted me for this precise reason, near Père Lachaise. An interesting experience, but Paris was still too big, too crowded, too hostile for a provincial like me.
As a young student, I loved the film Death in Venice, for example, and this city (which also appears in a video game I liked as a teenager, called Masque) obsessed me for some time. I would dream about it at night, dream that I was exploring it and getting happily lost in it."
"Even though I know it's beautiful and I'm probably missing something, I don't want to see the real Venice. Just as I'm content with the Lyon that you can see in Bertrand Tavernier's L'horloger de Saint-Paul."
"Our region has a strong industrial past, mining, steelmaking, etc. Many of our cities are very marked architecturally by the boom of the 19th century but also by the decline of the last few decades. The Grey City is also a city grey with pollution, grey with grime, which the captains of industry left us after abandoning us. But again, even if it was part of our imagination, we were not interested in denouncing this situation. On the other hand, we were aware that living in this kind of environment produced a state of mind, even particular states of consciousness."
"We were big fans of video games and role-playing games. When I say video games, you have to remember that this was the late 80s/early and mid 90s. Most of us had a microcomputer culture and not a PC or console culture. I played a lot, as a teenager, when they came out, Lankhor's adventure games, for example: Le Manoir de Mortevielle, La Secte Noire... some American games, too, that were never translated, like Zork. I already mentioned Masque, too."
"Several of us were involved in a municipal computer club. It was still the great era of the Atari and the Amiga."
"Our playing of video games also influenced the way we approached the world and the real places we explored. Exploring the real had become a kind of game in itself, an extension of what we were experiencing in the video games – and vice versa."
"One of us had written a small program in Basic for Amstrad CPC. At the beginning of the 90's, this machine was becoming obsolete but was still very widespread and had its fanatics (who still exist, by the way). It was a kind of interactive, text-based walkthrough, but with some illustrations, in an imaginary city inspired by several of our explorations. It worked with multiple choices, like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book."
"It was a relatively chaotic game, with a storyline of bits and pieces, which tried to exploit as much as possible our notes taken during wanderings, or from our reflections, etc. It was sewn with white thread and in the end the game has a dreamlike, slightly surreal and bizarre side, sometimes a little sinister too, I must admit. There weren't really any puzzles, objects to manipulate, or NPCs to interact with, because the programmer was incapable of doing that sort of thing; in the end you just wander from place to place and see what happens. A bit like ourselves in our real lives at the time...
This game also had no title. It was shared with the few members who were interested, and that was it. I have it on floppy disk but a few years ago I took the time to copy all the code."
"Some of us were doing some music, or at least had keyboards and synths, and started working together. This resulted in a tape, which was untitled by the way. It wasn't really a demo, even though it was called a demo; it was just a collection of songs recorded one after the other over the weeks and months that we had no intention of ever reworking and offering to a record company.
The version I'm sending you is just a small, incomplete and damaged edit (a few seconds of music are missing here and there) of tracks we recorded at the time.
The main influence, I would say, was Désaccord Majeur – and to a lesser extent État des Stocks. Désaccord Majeur is a French project that has been around since the late 80s and is a kind of French answer to Zoviet France or Rapoon; basically, post-industrial music with a strong ethnic slant. Personally I was an absolute fan of the tape Le Point immobile vibrant.
It was also a label. For example, they released the first demo of Moments Présents, which we liked a lot but which was much darker. We wanted to keep a certain lightness."
"As for État des Stocks, it is a Belgian project, electronic and experimental, more abstract. But these two projects had a side that was both very realistic, through the use of samples from the television news or historical audio documents, and very surreal, timeless, unclassifiable, through their mixtures, their collages of sounds from very different sources.
The mental effect produced by the passage from one atmosphere to another, in a city in particular, is one of the pillars of psychogeography. One can therefore almost speak of sonic psychogeography, concerning them."
"As for the instruments, we used exclusively analogue synthesizers and keyboards such as the PSS 390 which uses FM synthesis. The songs were recorded directly onto tape. We didn't even have a 4-track; we used the family hi-fi system with its line-in as a tape recorder. The samples were played at the same time, from another tape player where we had recorded them beforehand.
The tracks are quite repetitive, by design. Most of them are totally improvised. We would play together, each with his own synth, and when one of us would find a pattern and repeat it, another would follow and play the same musical phrase over and over again, and so on. This avoided making too many wrong notes or getting into cross solos that wouldn't work. We were not great musicians and we were well aware of that.
But we liked minimalist and repetitive music anyway, for its hypnotic, meditative, dreamy qualities. I listened to the tape quite a lot, on my bed, alone, in the dark, or trying to put myself in a state between waking and sleeping, and visualizing things; places, people, scenes. Our songs had this slightly utilitarian feel to them, like music on a new-age relationship tape can have."
"We sampled, among other things, the TV news and reports that were on at the time. The old working-class Paris, the France of yesteryear, the dirty, grey, dilapidated streets, the near-taudis that still constituted, only 40 or 50 years ago, the reality of working-class Paris. I could have loved that Paris. Nowadays you can find it very easily on the INA website and it's a real relief to be able to go back to it."
"Archival videos today allow us to immerse ourselves in this magnificent greyness, in these old working-class neighbourhoods of Paris or the provinces, whose ugliness and misery, dilapidation and dilapidation, seem today to be miraculous, precious, desirable – I can't say exactly why. Perhaps simply out of nostalgia. Perhaps also because they bear the patina of time and reality, when our cities are more and more non-places, staged scenes, empty amusement park sets. In any case, there was something about these old, grey and sad neighbourhoods that obsessed us.
In terms of samples there are a few seconds of sampled screams from the film Themroc, too. And the screams of a woman who was probably on the verge of mental illness, yelling at whoever it was, which one of us had recorded discreetly with a tape recorder in the street. It was something we did often. I kept this habit, without trying to find a use for it.
On the penultimate track, I think, there is the voice of a man praying in Hebrew; a Parisian Jew, in a random TV report from a few decades ago. There was no spiritual component whatsoever in the productions of the Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est, but as a purely atmospheric element we liked anything that sounded even vaguely esoteric and mysterious."
"The reception of the tape was almost nil, which is normal since we only released it privately. No reviews and almost no distribution, except in two or three record shops that agreed to sell demos, such as Ombre Sonore in Strasbourg, or the bookshop La Parenthèse, in Nancy. WAVE, on the other hand, sent us packing. A local radio station broadcast a song during a programme devoted to the Eastern scene. That's about it. I remember that the tape was priced exceptionally low because it was so short and very amateurish, very messy.
In total, I would say that about twenty or thirty copies were put into circulation; most of them were given to friends. We had copied fifty, in advance, thinking that would be enough, and in the end we didn't manage to sell them."
"This is the only tape recorded by the Groupement Psychogéographique de l'Est as such, but I know that at least two members have released other demos in a rather similar vein, or a bit more influenced by the Middle Ages, role-playing games, symbolism, that sort of thing..."
"The Group lasted four or five years. The time of our studies...
We were not active, or let's say, productive, all the time. As I said, it was almost a joke, a role-playing game in itself: playing the little avant-garde group. It's always been a specifically French game, it seems to me. But it seems to have been lost over the years.
As for me, I have lost contact with most of the members of the Group, but I have kept a solid friendship with some of them. Having said that, we no longer have any activities in common, and even less that are linked to psychogeography, which cannot be said to have made many fans in France, unlike in the United Kingdom for example.
No one, to my knowledge, has broken through or sought to break through in the world of music or art. Many have gone into teaching or the civil service.
I continue to wander around, like everyone else, in the end, and I report my discoveries in a little diary that serves no other purpose, but that's as far as my approach goes."
"I am not at all interested in the current revival in Anglo-Saxon countries for psychogeography. Or to be exact I stopped being interested after doing some research in this field. It's far too politicised on the one hand, and from the little I've seen, on the other hand, it's stuck with the old techniques like drifting, all that kind of cliché. Once again, I'm not interested in exploring with the aim, admitted or not, of passing judgement on society. Whether the world is beautiful or ugly, whether it is fair or not, whether it is a paradise or a prison, interests me as a citizen but not as a walker, not as a dreamer.
As for the fashion for rural psychogeography, as with the fanzine Weird Walks, I find it all too marked by a rather grotesque neo-paganism and the search for a land of plenty to reconnect with when the interesting reality to explore is rather that of the death of the countryside; deserted villages, the destruction of ancient communities and traditional ways of life, inhuman agriculture, etc."
"The new visual proposed today with the demo is a painting showing a commedia dell'arte scene; it did not exist at the time, but I always wanted to use this kind of imagery one day. This painting has the advantage of showing a rather heavy sky; it remains in the theme of grisaille. I have been told that this picture could be read as a saucy image; I must confess that I did not realise it at first...".
"This sky also makes me think of the northern sky, of course; of my youthful trips to Bruges or Ostend. Of the Bal du Rat Mort (Dead Rat Ball). Of authors like Ghelderode...
I love masks and carnival. I still have a vivid memory of a nightmare I had as a teenager when I was wandering around an old town with narrow, winding streets and came across a kind of Pierrot with his throat cut, sitting on the cobblestones with his back against a wall. This kind of aesthetic is for me inseparable from the imaginary of the city in general.
There are several cities that have left their mark on my imagination over the decades, and it seems to me that they form only one, although they undeniably take on masks to appear to me – in the waking state, or in my dreams at night. That's why the record is now called Memories of the Grey City, and not of the Grey Cities."