Monday, January 19, 2015

"Bernie Parm. A Redux on a Previous Post"

Musique concrète set out to expose the intrinsic value of sounds, effacing their symbolic or musical significance. In the process, a number of composers have given an added dimension to their work by participating in the intellectual developments of their time. 

In Parmegiani's case, contemporary philosophical and scientific thinking play an important part in his work. "I am not interested only in music, but also in ideas that can be grafted onto it. These are the influences that nourish my pieces," he observes.  For instance, he has used the stylized, poetic writings of the eminent French philosopher Gaston Bachelard as a starting point for several of his pieces: Le Present Compose explores the notion of time in musical terms – its dreamlike atmosphere is punctuated by distant hums, sudden silences, abrupt clicks and dramatic bursts of sound. But his most inspired large-scale piece is La Creation Du Monde, an epic work composed between 1982–84, which tells the story of the creation of the world. Drawing its inspiration from astrophysical phenomena as described in the works of Carl Sagan and Hubert Reeves, this visionary work is divided into three sections, "Black Light", "Metamorphosis Of The Void" and "Sign Of Life". It takes as its starting point the time before the Big Bang, and moves on to the first glimmerings of light and the earliest manifestations of life on earth, conjuring images of fiery comets, distant stars and mysterious galactic phenomena.

Parmegiani's reserved demeanor and cautious, occasionally pedantic conversational style no doubt go some way towards explaining why his name means little to the public at large. However, that hasn't prevented him from influencing a host of younger electroacoustic composers, not to mention several current Electronica producers. He is genuinely surprised when I tell him that his work has had an impact on groups such as Autechre (who summed up their year in the The Wire 167 with the words: "Bernard Parmegiani - fuckin' 'ell!"). "I must admit that I don't listen to Techno or pop music," he replies. "I know that there were a few interesting experiments a while back, by German groups such as Kraftwerk, and at the time of Pink Floyd, but I don't know how these groups have evolved. A certain type of music can be interesting at a certain period in time, but then it can stagnate and three years later it will no longer be of any interest."

He is less dismissive of contemporary classical music: "It is undeniable that it has influenced electroacoustic music and vice versa, because you find composers of instrumental music whose method of writing bears similarities to electroacoustic music, even people like Boulez, or younger composers like Dusapin. I sometimes feel close to classical music, but it's really an entirely different world. Their ideas are different, and so is their very conception of music."

Parmegiani nonetheless borrows freely from these genres. In Du Pop A L'Anehe superimposed or followed up selected extracts from classical composers such as Messiaen with fragments of jazz or pop music. "For instance, I superimposed a fragment of Pink Floyd over an extract from one of Stravinsky's works, and it really worked – you'd have thought they were made for each other!" he enthuses.

Bayle, Schaeffer, Parmegiani
His own approach to music is intuitive, in as much as he uses neither sketches nor diagrams: "When I create sounds for a work I am improvising in a way. But it doesn't remain improvisation, because afterwards I go over what I have done and touch it up. Whereas when Michel Portal [the French jazz musician] improvises, that's it, he can't do it over again." Such experimentation nonetheless plays an important part in Parmegiani's work: “It can make you change direction all of a sudden. You set out to do something and then you end up with something [else] which is really interesting but doesn't fit in with your original idea. And that can be a problem because you have to choose [whether] to keep it or set it aside. It happens to me all the time, which means that I end up with sufficient material for another three pieces."  

Wave Field Synthesis System inspired by Parmegiani

This is a 1973 video by Bernard Parmegiani with accompanying musique concrete score. Special thanks to the CiNEMAGROTESQUE. "L'Ecran transparent" comes from a fruitful period of audio-visual art during a residency in Köln, after Parmegiani had returned from a tour of the U.S. The score can be found separately on a 3" CD called "Musique Concrete Soundtracks to Experimental Short Films, Vol. 6."

Content abridged from  Rahma Khazam of the Wire.

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