To musique concrète and Pierre Schaeffer, its ‘ill-fated inventor’
“… one moment transported in beautified memories of the first ‘concrète’ illuminations of my childhood […]. Perhaps I was the only one to be so moved by the sound of these last ‘measures’…”
— Marie-Claire Schaeffer-Patris, personal letter to the composer.
Novars salutes the birth of musique concrète, the Ars Nova of our century, by calling upon the resources of the computer. The intention is not to create a pastiche but, on the contrary, to testify that by the most advanced means a language has been passed on. It may also be possible to suggest, without establishing a simplistic symmetry, that there exists a link between these two theorists of a new art: Vitry and Schaeffer.
The ‘classical’ ear will perhaps recognize fragments from Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets (1959) and Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (1364). These quotations, along with a third sound element — a sort of homage to Pierre Henry and his infamous door — are the sole materials giving birth to multiple variations.
A sign of change: ‘spectromorphologic’ (Denis Smalley) mutations give to sonorities of the Ars Nova and to ‘new music’ (as Schaeffer named it in 1950) the sound of our time. A sign of continuity: something from the original works (their color, their structure…) remains present, indestructible.
François Bayle writes about Novars:
“In listening to the works of Francis Dhomont, one senses a unique voice.
One finds traits and signatures: long ‘breath-like’ trajectories, masterful alternations of deeply engraved forms and light refined lines, play with proportions and moving masses. Like in Chiaroscuro — one of his most successful — a baroque taste for timbral richness and shadowy contours, interrupted by identifiable fragments, often with vocal qualities, always alive.
There is a sense of accentuation and deep breathing, leading to a finely heard silence, framed and placed with the meticulousness of a photographer for whom every background detail counts as much as, and maybe more than, the foreground musical intentions.
Novars contains refinements that add fresh color and new light to the work’s main purpose. The rhythmic cellular element is that of a slow dance based on a complex note, a pegged quotation (taken from the Étude aux objets by Pierre Schaeffer) and, detaching it from the ‘moiré’ vocal timbres (‘stirred up’ à la Machaut) projects on the work an evocation from the Pavane (for loved ones, certainly not dead!).
The breaths, thrusts, and ‘jetés-glissés’ (thrown-slid) of well choreographed gestures counterbalance the rhythmical accumulations forming a third sound character to this tale; a tale of time and contretemps, in riddle form.
Indeed, as the tale proceeds, it slowly unveils its sources of inspiration. Or rather: this unfolding comprises lengthy placements into perspective, of a distance towards quoted sources, with Tanguy-like otherworldly colors, of the beaches where this homage to the ‘revival’ evolves in “metal sky” (Giono) tonalities.
Dedicated “to musique concrète”, this piece gently illuminates its references and leaves us under its profound charm. As with … mourir un peu — is it its timelessness? — we are offered a strange yet beneficent moment of reflection.” (Paris, June 16th, 1991)
Novars — 3rd of the 4 works in the Cycle du son — was realized at Studio 123 of the Ina-GRM (Paris, France) and at the composer’s studio and premiered on May 29, 1989, as part of the 11th GRM Acousmatic Concert Series at the Grand Auditorium of Rthe Maison Radio France (Paris). This piece was selected by the 1990 International Computer Music Conference (ICMC ’90) in Glasgow (Scotland), and by the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) for the 1991 World Music Days in Zürich (Switzerland). The jury of the 1991 Stockholm Electronic Arts Award also selected it for performance at its award concert in Stockholm (Sweden). Special thanks to Pierre Schaeffer who has kindly allowed the quotation of a few sound propositions, now historic; and to Bénédict Mailliard, Yann Geslin and Daniel Teruggi without whose patience it would have been impossible to domesticate Studio 123 and the Syter real-time sound synthesis system of the Ina-GRM (Paris, France). Novars was commissioned by the Ina-GRM.
May 29, 1989, Cycle acousmatique 1989: Concert, Grand Auditorium — Maison de Radio France, Paris (France)