Les Petroleuses


Le temps des cerises is nigh…

Les Petroleuses (improvising arsonists Lyn Hodnett and Gillian Whiteley) do a slow burn, kindle the flames and rip it up sonically, visually and vocally on cello, violin, trumpet, hurdy-gurdy, accordions, wind-up record player, pixiphone, scissors, paper, stone, graphite, vocals, things that jangle, assorted objects, other stuff and whatever takes our fancy…

Sparks may fly…but always expect a blazing din and a warm glow

Our improvisation duo  is named after the women communards who played a vital role during the months that the people of Paris took over the city in the radical socialist Paris Commune of 1871.  For example,  Louise Michel who was imprisoned, deported to New Caledonia, and was later part of the anarchist circle in London where she set up a school. After the Commune had been broken up and 1000s executed, women were derisively dubbed les petroleuses – accused of being wild arsonists, wantonly burning down the buildings and monuments of Paris.  Recent research suggests that the myth of the petroleuses was part of a propaganda campaign by Versaillais politicians, who portrayed  Parisian women in the Commune as unnatural, destructive, and barbaric. Apart from being a kind of ‘homage’ to les petroleuses and other strong women of classical myths and legends,  the idea of being musical ‘arsonists’ – playing with ‘fire’, ripping up and incendiarising  conventions – appeals to us.

Our multimedia performances entail spontaneous sonic and vocalising improvisation with various musical instruments and objects alongside performative drawing on paper and other surfaces. They include other visual, kinetic and physical elements so, of course, the audio recordings (links below) only capture the sonic element.  For us, the performances also produce a kind of sonic collage which can operate as documentation but is also an artwork in its own right as it is the trace and residue of the improvised activity.


Friday 19th November 2021 at Unstone Grange Barn near Sheffield – live freely improvised performance and bonfire in the grounds under the magical full moon – view an edited video of excerpts here

Monday 11th October 2021 at Cupola Gallery, Sheffield – this was a live streamed performance – view the video here

Listen to one of our live improv sessions on SoundCloud  here   

[live improvisation recorded March 2019 with trumpet, cello, violin, hurdy-gurdy, piano accordion, wind-up record player, scissors, paper, graphite, vocals and a multitude of assorted objects…]

Les Petroleuses Together/Apart under lockdown…February 2021 

Still trying to rip it up together – even though we are still apart. In our third manifestation under Covid lockdown, we each independently created a freely improvised audio track and exchanged them.  Then we made spontaneous drawings in our separate locations (Gill in Sheffield and Lyn in Bala, Wales) whilst listening to each other’s audio. Audio tracks and video were then compiled by Gill…check it out here

Les Petroleuses under Firebreak…November 2020

Under the second Covid lockdown – aka ‘firebreak’ in Wales –  and still with a few hundred miles between them, Les Petroleuses (Lyn Hodnett and Gill Whiteley), find different ways to rip it up and slow burn….sonically and visually…check it out here




Les Petroleuses under lockdown…June 2020

Under Covid lockdown and a few hundred miles between them, Les Petroleuses find ways to rip it up and slow burn….sonically and visually… The soundtrack for the video brings together independently recorded freely improvised sound using various instrumentation, objects and voice. Audio recorded up a mountain, near Bala, Wales and at 156 Arundel Street, Sheffield, brought together in various combinations. Created June 2020. Check it out here




8pm Friday 12th July 2019, Cupola Gallery, Sheffield – free event





8pm Monday 25th March 2019, Notes and Sounds,  University Arms, Sheffield