Review

Laurie Radford, Contact!, no. 9:1, September 1, 1995

The twelfth release from empreintes DIGITALes (which now boasts a catalogue of twenty one CDs exemplifying the diversity of the electroacoustic arts) is a collaboration with GRM, and is one of a number of recent projects involving international electroacoustic artists. This disc is of special note since the principal work, Requiem, was first presented on vinyl by GRM in the year of its completion and premiere in 1973.

Chion is a senior French electroacoustic composer and one of the art’s principle theoreticians advocating a return to the noncausal principles at the origin of musique concrète, and composes rigorously in this style. He has a large and diverse œuvre dating back to the sixties including many large scale ‘concrete melodramas’ such as La tentation de saint Antoine and Le prisonnier du son.

Requiem, based upon the text for the Mass for the Dead, presents an array of ‘testimonies’ from various voices in ten movements over the course of 37 minutes. The blending and rapid juxtaposition of electronic sounds, environmental soundbites, a myriad of vocal styles and contexts presenting texts heavy with centuries of meaning,

Requiem creates a lurching and sometimes startling dramatic course which runs the gamut from the maniacal Sanctus to the transcendantal final movement, Libera Me. The mosaic-like Variations which follow arise from a period of technical studies undertaken by Chion in the late 1980’s. Constantly changing blocks of contrasting materials anchored by a short waltz theme, develop into a reflection and “affirmation of the whirlwind of life.”

The final work on the disc, Nuit noire, is a visceral example of Chion’s monodramatic style. It presents an anonymous moaning and groaning hero who wanders somnabulistically amidst a series of nightmarish dream sequences. Anguish, terror, insanity… a portrait of the depths to which mankind can descend.

Michel Chion’s work is musique concrète at its purist and leanest, perhaps also at its most profound.

… musique concrète at its purist and leanest, perhaps also at its most profound.

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