London Placard 2003
Background"One of the highlights of a long hot summer" -- The Wire
"Ludicrously straightfaced" -- The Guardian
"Freebie of the week" -- Time Out
"A far cry from Glastonbury or Reading" -- New Statesman
"the only way to understand the most communal musical gathering is to come along and plug in" -- kultureflash
Le Placard started in 1998 in Paris, France. At that time finding venues for alternative music was difficult, and police raids on unlicensed events were frequent. So instead Erik Minkkinen organised a headphone party in his small apartment, called 'placard' after the French word for 'cupboard'.
Since then this concept has grown to an international streaming festival, with tens of cities providing listening rooms for local and remote performances. Placard has formed part of the Mutek, Transmediale, Garage and Pixelache festivals. The event in Paris has itself grown into an institution, running for 72 hours straight where the audience sleep with their headphones on, still listening.
The first UK Placard was in London in 2003, with its own innovations including 20 minute quick-fire performances, organised by a robot directing and switching between performers exactly to schedule. In this way 36 acts where squeezed into a 12 hour session from midday until midnight.
Leafcutter John, London Placard 2003
Performers in the UK have included Leafcutter John, Adem, Jem Finer, Max Eastley and David Toop, Hot Chip, Icarus, Slub, John Chantler, Dallas Simpson, Motion, Yee-King, Sanso-Xtro, Si-Cut db and Janek Schaeffer.
Many performers play with the headphone situation, for example by passing microphones into the crowd without fear of feedback or using the detailed, wide stereo field of headphones sometimes using binaural (in-ear) microphones.
Audio is powered by a bank of 16 headphone amplifiers, passively split into 108 stereo outputs, distributed around the space via four multicore cables. Listeners choose between four sound levels by picking a socket to match their headphone impedence. Listeners bring their own headphones, adaptors are provided for those with minijack inputs.
London Placard 2006
With headphone cables everywhere, moving around the space becomes an intra-audience performance art, part of the placard experience. Wireless headphones have been considered but would spoil this aesthetic, and also introduce practical problems with recharging batteries.
A headphone listening room has a close atmosphere, the audience directly connected to the music maker. Listeners are often seen to remove their headphones for a while to take in acoustic sounds of a singer or instrument, or the quiet burbling of their neighbours' headphones.