The West

The big bang theory
The big bang theory

BPM Bombs Per Minute
February 9, arrive from 6.30pm for an 8pm start
Langley Park
People are welcome to bring a picnic but expect to have to stand once the show starts.

Yann Mounot, of the French percussion and fireworks troupe Les Commandos Percu, laughs off questions about his hearing.

"Pardon, pardon, what did you say? No, its fine, fine, my hearing is fine," he says over the phone from Toulouse, the company's home city in southern France.

Mounot is a drummer and pyrotechnics specialist with the company renowned for its explosive outdoor music spectacles to mark festivals and other special events around the world.

So immersed in the action are Mounot and the other musicians that they sometimes wear welding visors as well as earmuffs during their shows.

Les Commandos Percu last year performed as part of the opening of the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad. Defying torrential rain, a platoon of percussionists hammered away at their industrial-strength customised instruments in showers of sparks and fire from a battery of fireworks to welcome the arrival of the Olympic torch to Britain.

"It was a shame because it was the first time we played this show and we had hoped for a sunny day but it was just about the most rainy day of all my life," Mounot says.

He had half expected the poor weather in the UK, as you do, but he is confident of better conditions in a fortnight, when Les Commandos Percu bring their tub-thumping show BPM Bombs Per Minute to Perth on the opening weekend of the 2013 Festival.

BPM is notionally about peace and war and violence in a world of rapid change but is mainly drumming, very loud music and tonnes of fireworks, according to Festival director Jonathan Holloway.

The artistic brain behind Les Commandos Percu, Raymond Gabriel, began as a street percussionist in the streets of Toulouse in the 1970s and 80s. He founded Les Commandos Percu in 1994 and describes its philosophy thus: "It's very simple why we do this. Percussion makes boom, fireworks make boom too."

With echoes of recent PIAF outdoor spectacles by Pan.Optikum and La Fura dels Baus, BPM marshals the forces of accelerating drums, music and synchronised fireworks to drown the audience in a storm of sparks and noise before retreating to a mood of peace and quiet at the end.

The company collaborates with another French company, Rhythm and Sound, to make its own distinctive instruments. These include a 2m rolling drum, a drum hit 800 times a minute by a customised drill, special chimes, aircraft fuselage sheets and a "satelli-drum" made of several kinds of tight skins fixed on flat sounding boards and supported by wooden structures.

"We don't really have any borders to our ideas," Mounet says. "We just need to think about what we want and ask them to build it."

Like most boys, Mounet liked setting off crackers when he was young but never harboured any pyrotechnical ambitions. He started with the company seven years ago as a musician and stepped up to learn pyrotechnics on the job after somebody else left.

He was in Perth several months ago to help local fireworks experts prepare the arsenal for the show.

"We need to work on the fireworks like a musician works on an instrument so I design the fireworks to sync them with the performance and I play on stage when we do the show," he says.

For the 40-minute performance, a group of Les Commandos technicians and performers will work with about 20 local percussionists.

"We wanted to involve local people to make them discover a new way of using their art," Mounet says. "Some of them will be musicians, some of them will be dancers, some of them will be helping carry two or three floats with the musicians playing on them."

He says people should not be put off by the name of the show.

"It is like a reflection of the world," he says. "Although the name Bombs Per Minute sounds nasty, the main idea is just to make people think about how mean the world can be but how we can all have fun like young people and we need not be nasty or mean to each other, and how beautiful our life can be."

The West Australian

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