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