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Les Déplacements du problème

by GRAND MAGASIN at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale

17 bd Jourdan 75014. Until 30 October.
Grand Magasin maintain a rather ambiguous rapport with technology. Founded in 1982 by Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler, the company has always shown more interest in what doesn’t work than what does. The title of their last show, dating back to 2003, and directly copied from a computer screen, clearly demonstrates this difficulty: 0 task(s) out of 7 have been carried out successfully.

Binary. That said, the subtleties of binary language have a friend in Grand Magasin, who would willingly recuperate Musset’s proverb, which was also the title of a play: The door must be either open or closed. An assertion that the troupe would instantly follow up with: “Or, maybe not.” A quick visit to their website ( shows the extent of what’s at stake. In an elevator shaft, a little sign has been photographed:

In the event that you have stopped between two floors:
– Press button “A”
– In the event that there is no reply
– Press button “B”

Well-behaved clown-musicians, Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler, joined by Phoenix Atala, are not troublemakers but they know how to sow the seeds of doubt. The result isn’t any less devastating. In Les Déplacements du problème, their show currently on at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale, they explain how the show will work: “Three demonstrators present a series of devices whose acoustic effects will disturb the presentation itself. They will have to do it over a few times.”
The devices in question clearly exist: they were supplied by the Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music), which participated in the new project. The goal of the show: “To use devices that emit sound in order to artificially multiply the obstacles to listening and comprehension.” Which more or less amounts to learning the science behind scenes we witness everyday without capturing its generaI meaning. Who has never tried to have a conversation in a train while your neighbour is yelling in his cellphone, when you enter a tunnel, the employee in the bar-car is having problems with his speaker and a baby is screaming? Among the Ircam’s devices, there is a series of microphones, including the “relativizing microphone,” which punctuates all of your sentences with your own recorded voice (“I’ll have to check”, “Unless there’s been a mistake”, “Or not”, “At least, that’s what I understood”… ).

“Absorbing rug”. In the same order of ideas, you’ll find the “contradicting mic” and the “negative echo mic”. But there is also the “absorbing rug” which muffles all sounds the second you step on it. And, let’s not forget the classics: vacuum cleaner, jackhammer, etc. You could lose yourself in it if it weren’t for the rope of the absurd Grand Magasin has generously tossed out to you.

RENÉ SOLIS[/one_half_last]



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They do not ingratiate us with a smile. The lecturers of Grand Magasin do not hide their obsessive side.

That has been their style for the past twenty-five years… Pascale Murtin, François Hiffier and Bettina Atala, egged on by Ircam, who have supplied them with technical equipment, have pushed their logic to the extreme, while clinging fast to their principles (tirelessly deconstructing obvious facts and theorizing). They question everything that scrambles our messages and invent impressive non-communicating machines. At a time when we are flooded with information, the idea behind it is appropriate, and some of their experiments, like the “doubt emitter”, are really hilarious. E.B.


Until 30 October at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale, Paris 14th arrt.[/one_half_last]

Le Point


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Grand Magasin, completely nuts!

Humor. Theatre de la Cite International, Paris 14e. Until 30 October. By Marie Audran

So who are these three weirdoes? Lecturers, auctioneers, crazy hosts of The Home Shopping Network? Who cares? This guy and these two gals have us rolling in the aisles. And that’s only saying half of it. Grand Magasin – the nutty name this collective of burlesque performers have given themselves – perform their hilarious numbers for a little over an hour (almost too short) at the Théâtre de la Cité internationale. On stage, you have the choice, it’s a smorgasbord! This infernal trio tests out the strangest products, like the doubt emitter with three pedals which complete your sentences with “That’s what I understood”, “I’ll have to check”, “at least, I think so…” a machine whose only purpose is to “minimize your arguments”. Another revolutionary invention: the “absorbing rug” which doesn’t absorb stains, but sounds. The second you step on it, you’re mute! There is also the contradicting mic, our favourite, which says the opposite of what you say, or even the negative echo, which can be heard before the sound is even made! Grand Magasin sure can be zany! And, above all, incredibly funny. The show, called Les déplacements du problème was made with the help of l’Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music). Among the essential questions asked by these actor-provocateurs is: am I understood when I speak? Have I really understood someone when I think I have? Gleefully, they use their new sonic toys to question logical incoherencies, as they say, sense and nonsense, the traps of communication, new technology, the recurring obstacles to listening and to comprehension. This could have made for a boring show that wasn’t much fun. But it’s fantastic and so clever, you’ll walk out smiling. It’s good show which, under the appearance being light-hearted and uniquely strange, has a lot to say about the lack of communication that pollutes our daily lives. See and hear this show immediately! A remedy for the blues whose only durable side effect leaving you in a good mood…


Les déplacements du problème by Grand Magasin. By and with Pascale Murtin, Bettina Atala and François Hiffler. With the help of Manuel Coursin…[/one_half_last]

Rue 89


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Over-the-top and Jubilatory: Grand Magasin, a praiseworthy adventure

By Jean-Pierre Thibaudat | Journalist | 22/10/2010 | 16H00



You can find just about everything in Grand Magasin’s shows, but first what we like: craziness, the unexpected, playfulness and, as always, an unparalleled way of playing with the logic of facts, gestures, objects and everything else to the point of absurdity.


In the company of those who defy categorization

You’ll love the show put on by the unclassifiable artists, Pascale Murtin and François Hiffler if…


  • · you like Georges Perec (beginning with “Les Choses”),
  • · you have a special spot in your library reserved for Lewis Carroll’s “The Game of Logic”,
  • · you were a fan of Pierre Desproges’s “minutes necessaries de monsieur Cyclopède”,
  • · you aren’t indifferent to “L’Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien” by Charles Dantzig, or Pierre Bayard’s works,
  • · you never get tired of the films of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati (whom Grand Magasin is presently referencing),
  • · you love visiting Eric Chevillard’s blog.


In a word, if you like theatre that isn’t theatre.

Their latest opus, “prepared and finalized” with the wonderful Bettina Atala, who joined the duo, has fdor its title, “Les Déplacements du problème”. A trio, a golden triangle, triplets out of nowhere… Let’s stop being biased: the problem with speaking about this show without revealing its exquisite events, is that one must speak about it without speaking about it. In other words, one must say nothing whilst saying everything, beginning with everything we like about it.



Let’s just say that, since 1982, they function perfectly together as a duo, François Hiffler loves the color green, usually shunned from the stage out of superstition, while Pascale Murtin adores Buskin-style shoes, colored stockings and a hairstyle that she must have patented since she is the only person in the world to have her hair like that.

Time seems to have slid off their backs without touching them, as if being strong in the degree zero of irony-free art has preserved them in an undisturbed jar of formaldehyde. Almost thirty years after they began, they still look like children caught red-handed in the schoolyard. Moreover, some of their performances resemble classes or demonstrations of products (household and others).


The hilarious sounds of Ircam

This is what you will find in “Les Déplacements du problème”. Initially commissioned by the Ircam (Institute for the Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music), which proves that this institution, despite its air of seriousness and state-of-the-art technology, also has a sense of humor. The three accomplices that make up Grand Magasin accepted the commission – sound plays an important role in the show – but by displacing it:


“At the time, we asked ourselves some fundamental questions: am I understood when I speak? Have I truly understood something when I believe I have? Have I truly understood nothing when I think that’s the case?”

This is what they write in the succinct program handed out to the audience. The show, which has an answer for everything, answers these questions and many others with the help of machines and hare-brained objects:


  • · the absorbing rug
  • · the circle of inattention
  • · the untimely vacuum
  • · automatic hesitation
  • · the contradicting mic


This last device – my favorite – appears like the ideal Christmas gift for our elected officials and politicians. No, don’t ask me to explain what the names of these rare birds might mean. I won’t say another word.


Grand Magasin, Complete works

If one day, a well-advised theatre or festival director commissioned Grand Magasin for a retrospective in the form of an anthology of their works from, let’s say the last 25 years, we would see that these players have been peerless in their capacity to grasp and travel through their era, to grab it by the scruff of its banality, polish the mirror of its tautologies, extract the substantive marrow of its mundaneness, and share all of it with us, in all modesty and in all simplicity, on a stage.

Les Déplacements du problème by Grand Magasin at the Théâtre de la Cité Internationale[/one_half_last]

La Provence, La Marseillaise…


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La Provence – Saturday 24 October 2009

(newspaper – French)





Problems solved Grand Magasin-style


    Jubilatory, as always, the new show performed at La Minoterie by Grand Magasin, the company which, since 1982, has enjoyed mixing absurdity and science, object theatre and grand sociological concepts. Zaniness that makes you think while entertaining you at the same time.

Les déplacements du problème – the name of the show – does not break with tradition. This time they are playing with the problems of communication between human beings: technical problems, linguistic misunderstandings, a prankster echoing microphone, abstraction… Any excuse is good for 75 minutes of rather short sketches on a scattered stage cluttered with microphones, a ladder, podiums, and a white table.

Let us not forget the sound-absorbent rug and the rather regular and untimely eruption of a jackhammer.

All this is done with a real-fake detachment on behalf of Pascale Murtin, François Hiffler, Bettina Atala, their new recruit (and the help of Manuel Coursin, as the visible sound engineer), the show is not exactly interactive, even if the audience is sometimes led to think with the actor-lecturers about the notions of listening, of comprehension and of interest. By the end, you might even be able to remember a few disco-metaphysical dance moves which will soon be all the rage in nightclubs.

Patrick Merle




La Marseillaise – 24 October 2009

(newspaper – French)


Performance / humour. At La Minoterie, the trio Grand Magasin rants and derails, leaping from contempt to confusion.


Didn’t hear much, couldn’t understand much, but laughed a lot…


There are moments where you’re plagued by doubt for no reason and, conversely, that second where you think you’ve understood everything when, suddenly, everything falls apart. Looking for a street, an object that’s been carefully hidden, a message you thought you’d left, signals you thought you’d understood… Since Thursday, the troublemakers of Grand Magasin (Bettina Atala, François Hiffler and Pascale Murtin, accompanied by the omnipresent sound engineer Manuel Coursin) have delighted in dissecting all these “bugs” in human communication in Les déplacements du problème, presented on the stage of the Minoterie, now transformed into a zone of experiments that are each increasingly funnier and more absurd as the show progresses.

By testing the Ircam’s very serious tools of high-tech sound creation, they themselves create their own static in which the spectator, in spite of a few slow moments, wallows in delight, jolted by an incongruous plan to a negative echo microphone, a “hesitation machine” – which multiplies the speaker’s “uhh…s” – a doubt emitter with 3 pedals – but I’ll have to check on that – or, even, a rug that absorbs sounds. All of this ending in a hilarious final choreography. It’s as if 2be3, coached by les Deschiens, had decided to bring Deleuze to the stage. Or not.






(magazine – French)



Grand Magasin


Since the 1980s, the hypermarket has become the metonymy of post-modern life: everything is available all the time. It’s no accident that Grand Magasin (lit. “Department Store”) was founded during this period, in 1982, and that the Grenoble-based company’s performances are based on contemporary vocabulary: IT-based exchange, marketing, science that is dedicated less to progress and more to comfort and productivity… Free from the constraints of drama and narrative in theatre and dance, the authors and actors Pascale Murtin, François Hiffler and Bettina Atala have alternated between their strange conferences in a basic decor, comic sketches, and behavioural experiments. Their shows have always been playful and falsely naïve, like the two performances given in Marseilles: “Panorama commenté” (a play that takes place outdoors) and the more structured – but no less crazy – Les déplacements du probleme. For this show, Grand Magasin uses the stage as a lab for sensorial experiments: the actor-demonstrators present a series of devices which are supposed to facilitate communication but end up disturbing the presentation. It makes us realize, while making us laugh, how subordinated we are, like useless commodities or negligible guinea pigs, to social manipulation, and to a truncated perception of reality. But, in the end, we continue to be human and adapt despite it all.


“Panorama commenté” 19 and 20 October at 8pm.

“Les déplacements du probleme” 22 and 24  October at 8pm.




La Marseillaise – 19 October 2009

(newspaper – French)


Grand Magasin, this could be so good…


For over twenty years Pascale Murtin, Bettina Atala and François Hiffler, aka Grand Magasin, have brought their performances to national and international stages, “in spite of and thanks to a quasi-total ignorance of theatre, of music, and of dance,” so they claim. If their journey has taken them to Paris’ Centre Pompidou, to the Escales Improbables in Montreal or Ghent, to the “French Institute” in New York, it has also brought them to Marseilles – often in cooperation with Marseille Objectif Danse – to venues like the Montevideo or the Minoterie.


Landscape, nothing random here

This week, we find these extravagant handyman and women near Joliette, as they “play with logic, meaning and obvious facts”, as the Minoterie presented them in a restaurant on the Boulevard de Dunkerque […]

Still obsessed with “the world, its ambient and background noises”, these enthusiasts of the absurd will disturb the landscape, mysteriously provoking, via a large electronic board with coloured boxes, a certain symmetry in the disordered and necessarily random sequence of the outdoor events…

The trio will then return to the stage of the Minoterie to continue their dissections – often hilarious – of different processes of communication. With Les déplacements du probleme, they have transformed into Tupperware party-style “demonstrators”, using highly serious sound creation tools lent by the Ircam. But the clarity of the presentation is disturbed by the acoustic effect of the said devices. From this “telephone static” created by a microphone with variable coherence, a “hesitation machine” which multiplies one’s “uhh…s”, or a rug that absorbs sounds, they can finally have some fun with a final certitude: talking does not always mean you’ll be understood.






(weekly magazine – France)


Salesmen of the absurd


In two shows, Panorama commenté and Les déplacements du probleme, Grand Magasin won the public over with their wacky inventions, unveiling and responding to daily disorder. Ambitious and delicious.


The power of habit is so strong that, when it really comes down to it, we only find a single, formal meaning to daily existence. Thankfully, for the dormant utopians in all of us, the fake door-to-door salesmen/women known as Grand Magasin are here to reinvent the meaning of the objects that surround us.

Invited by the Théâtre de la Minoterie, these sales reps of the absurd have put down their suitcases at the Joliette. The choice of a neighborhood in full-on urban renewal is highly symbolic for a company that tries to make a construction site out of the future.

The jubilatory solutions are therefore offered up to simplify life. They bring a problem to the fore through roundabout means (Les déplacements du probleme) or by responding to it (Panorama commenté). In the first case, sonic obstacles to communication are illustrated via atypical inventions (doubt emitters, contradicting microphone…). In the second, the hidden geometry of a disorderly nature (a blinking beacon, a man exercising…) is unveiled to us through fake electronic devices.

Beyond the abrasive humor of these ingenious clownish inventers, it is truly the circuit of human understanding that is disturbed: to best understand, one mustn’t necessarily hear everything – and that doesn’t necessarily imply that one might even be interested. In this way, the geometrical decoding of daily disorder can appear to be futile to some, but we understand the logic. Similarly, the sound of a jackhammer will certainly stop us from hearing a conversation, but not necessarily from interpreting it.

The presentations follow one another and get a kick out of shaking this circuit up in every which way – to the point where the illustration and circumvention of the obstacles to communication become themselves sources of confusion… delightful and playful.

Somewhere between a bizarre showroom, theatrical performance, and the circus, the trio behind Grand Magasin utilizes the codes of spectacle and distill a veritable interaction with the audience. When can we finally buy their inventions?



Panorama commenté was presented the 19 & 20 October on the premises of the future restaurant Dock of the Bay

Les déplacements du probleme was presented from the 22 to 24 October at the Théâtre de la Minoterie.[/one_half_last]

Les Inrockuptibles


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Les Inrockuptibles 7-13 July 2009


Les Déplacements du problème

Part of the Festival Agora, at l’Ircam. And 9 and 10 July as part of the festival Paris Calling in London.


“Unless there’s been a mistake”, “Or not”, “At least, that’s what I understood…” Sometimes very little is necessary for communication to be scrambled or to become hazy. A word, an interjection, an exterior sound, and the meaning is suddenly deformed, or even becomes its opposite. The three expressions listed above are doubt emitters. By stepping on a pedal, Pascale Murtin, Bettina Atala and François Hiffler, punctuate their remarks with these short interjections. The effect is guaranteed hilarity. Try it yourself, and you’ll see – “or not.”

With this new show, the brilliant Grand Magasin use their subtle humor and their art of the combinatorial to compose an amusing journey, punctuated with misunderstandings. Using techniques of transformation and emitting sound lent to them by the Ircam, they create a human geography that is rich in disturbances. Thankfully, every problem has its solution.

To neutralize the sound of a vacuum cleaner, for example, there is the absorbing rug which absorbs sound. Other inventions right out of the “Concours Lepine”(a French contest for inventors) are also presented, like the contradicting machine, which says the exact opposite of what you’re saying. Let us also mention the “bubble of distraction”, a space where the person who crosses it forgets what they were just saying or doing. Or, the “negative echo”, which can be heard before you speak…

Tenacious and consistent in their method, our three crafty performers multiply the number of occasions to misunderstand each other or to lose their trains of thought. Like, for instance, the moment when one of the characters begins a soapbox-rant who, if we weren’t paying attention, could sound like a politician, except… not at all.

Jumping from misinterpretation to confusion, this hilarious show goes on its merry way with increasing perplexity. An ironic reflection of a world saturated with new technology in which we evolve, “or not…” A success which, from time to time, evokes the world of Jacques Tati. “At least, that’s what I understood…”