Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bernard Parmegiani "L’Oeuvre Musical" Box Set and the Legacy of INA-GRM

In the sprawling 3/4 of a Century history of electronic music, few institutions or individuals
can claim the kind of contribution of France's INA Studios. INA-GRM (Institut National Audiovisuel,
Groupe de Recherches Musicales) a Paris studio formed by Pierre Schaeffer in 1951 to foster and
encourage the development of electronic music, later assisted by François Bayle, who headed its
director in 1966. Pierre Schaeffer's first experiments with Musique Concrete date from April 1948.
He was joined shortly afterwards by Pierre Henry and from then on that new form of music, which
distinguishes sound from its initial acoustic cause, as Concrete or a music of 'Absolute' sounds
devoid of their source or often recognizable instruments or mechanics.

The invention of Musique Concrète, or, in a broader sense, sound as musical material, must not
be confused with several other types of music, which, in the history of 20th Century music belong
to neighboring fields. The use of electricity to produce a sound wave (probably the basest definition
of what constitutes 'electronic music') dates back to 1906 with T. Cahill's Telharmonium, followed
by Theremin's Aetherophone in 1921, and the Onde Martenot (invented by Maurice Martenot) in
1928. The Italian Futurist movement also had its composers, including Luigi Russolo, who published
a radical Futurist Music Manifesto entitled "The Art of Noise" in 1913, while the American composer
John Cage gave the first stage performance of a work using variable-speed turntables and frequency
recordings as 'Imaginary Landscape' in 1938. That great pioneer Edgar Varèse can also be included
in this history, notably for his composition "Poem Electronique" of 1958 in which he envisaged a new
spatialization of sounds broadcast in a structure designed by none other than architect Le Corbusier
and his one time assistant Iannis Xenakis. Such gestures remained within the framework of
conventional music, in the sense that they are a music sourced from instruments which generate
corresponding sounds, eventhough they all break away from it to large degrees and boldly refute the
musical norms of the classical and jazz musics of their times both in tone, harmonics and composition.

Pierre Schaeffer's advances in 1948 had little to do with those mentioned above, other than the fact
that it happened in a context of modernity, using a resource that had never been used before: that
of sound presented on a medium and accessible from that medium without having to return to the
initial acoustic causes. To put it simply: Sampling. Through this several degrees of freedom then
suddenly became apparent: freedom from musical objects, from time, and even freedom from
moments of sound. Schaeffer saw the immense experimental possibilities that lay ahead. This led
to all the musical research of the second half of the 20th century, which, from essays to works, from
manifestos to institutions, took the author from Études de bruits (1948) to his Traité des Objets
Musicaux (1966), and from the Club d’Essai (1943) to the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM,
1958), then the Service de la Recherche (1960) and, finally, the creation in 1975 of the Institut
National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), including the GRM in its recent Département d'Innovation. Very
soon, Schaeffer felt the need for collective research, associating the creative field of researchers
and technicians with that of the musicians themselves. It was then, from his meeting with Pierre
Henry onwards, that the musical adventure really took off, in particular with their famous
"Symphony for One Man Only" (1950). Right from the very first public concerts and radio
broadcasts in Paris 1950, it was a sensation.

Co-authors of Musique Concrète, Schaeffer and Henry came together in 1949, and during the
years running up until the 1970's they welcomed young musicians that would become the most
notable of the avant and modernist composers of the 20th Century - such as Pierre Boulez,
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen, Edgard Varèse, greek architect turned composer Iannis
Xenakis and notable late-comer to the studio Bernard Parmegiani. Parmegiani, who's work is being
celebrated this month with the release of a 12 x CD Box Set titled "L’Oeuvre Musical" is probably
the ideal introduction to the sounds of their studio and the bold advances in composition, tone,
technology and the very definition of the musical possibilities created in the last century. As a
companion listening piece to the 2006 release of the "Archives GRM" compilation series, one
gets a comprehensive, labyrinthian, (somewhat bewildering) and vast musical experience as a
document to this fascinating and incomparable group of composers working under the INA-GRM
banner. It's an illuminating listen, that inspires the kind of mix of epiphany and awe when one
realizes that much of their work still sounds as challenging and innovative now, half a century
later, as it did in their time.

Link to official Bernard Parmegiani site

Link to INA-GRM Parmegiani "L’Oeuvre Musical" site

Link to INA-GRM "Archives GRM" site

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Bug new album "London Zoo" released July 21

As one of the finest examples to be heard from the cross-pollinating UK Dancehall, Ragga, Grime,
and Dubstep scenes it has been Kevin Martin's project The Bug (as in wire-tapping) that has taken
the morphology of this pan-genre evolution the furthest. Points of reference in his genre pushing
(creating?) project has been as far-removed as ealy Industrial Noise, the muted Drone palette of
Thomas Koner, the obvious Dub and Dancehall working of the bass, delay and rhythm, soulful
intonations of Roots Reggae and the bravado of underground Hip-Hop and urban street culture.
All delivered with a decidedly Punked-up consciously post-colonial, anti-imperialistic and globally
aware political stance (translation: Confrontational). That he has also managed to develop a working
relationship as a cultural hub and producer/selector with some of the greatest voices, Toasters, and
MC's in the contemporary Reggae, Hip-Hop and Grime is a product of his other lesser known skills
as a visionary musical curator.

The superb "Poison Dart" single with Warrior Queen, released in 2007, acted as a taster for "London
Zoo" and implied a greater sense of the cohesion, fluidity and dynamics to his sound, the beats were
more steppin' and the assault less frentetic than on the proceeding album, 2003's "Pressure". What we
couldn't have speculated was that "London Zoo" would deliver not only a great single, but a consistent,
heavily varied, diverse and solid album. Right off its the voices that make this spectrum apparent, the
inflections, intonation, from London to Kingston Town, Martin's choice of MC's and Toasters is visionary.
The Straight-up assault of Roll Deep's Flowdan on "Jah War", Ricky Ranking's soulful invocations on
"Judgement", Killa P's booming annunciation of "Skeng", this powerful, charismatic cast of personages
gives "London Zoo" its political voice, and Political with a capitol 'P' it is. Martin's work has always been a
solid dub, bass, drum, drone, boom and thud of sonic assault and space, but not until "London Zoo" has
he found a corresponding cast of MC's that could deliver on the same disconcerting heavyweight worldview
his music has offered. Together they've forged this vision of the times in which we live and delivered it with
the confidence and skills necessary to put a solid foundation on that vision. Elevating it beyond just political
rhetoric or angst ridden rant, this is a music that delivers its message, and delivers it with BASS.

Link to The Bug - Ninja Tune site

Link to The Bug & Flowdan/Killa P "Skeng" video

Link to The Bug & Warrior Queen "Poison Dart" video