Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, 10 février 2005

This fabulous collection contains some of the foremost heroes of electroacoustics from my artistic maturation process through the decades, as well as some names I didn’t know before - and some I didn’t expect to see in these circumstances!

I recall my amazement and pure listening joy when I received GRM’s first CD - Concert imaginaire - in 1984. That was also a collection of the crème de la crème of electroacousticians, albeit on a smaller scale. Here we have five CDs of material; some of it historical issues, some a mere account of what’s been going on at the Paris studio since its beginning until today; a magnificent release, with a submitted photo booklet of highly interesting pictures from the decades of Groupe de Recherches Musicales.

The official introductory text by Ina Chairman Emmanuel Hoog explains this endeavor thus: “To mark and celebrate the thirty years of the Ina, the GRM has chosen to bring together an exceptional set of five compact discs, illustrating some of its most remarkable musical archives. These original works, which are often previously unpublished or have been dispersed throughout a host of other publications, are important because of the originality and audacity they testify to in the second half of the 20th century. Some listeners will be pleased to see that there are a number of illustrious composers here who, in the 1950s, frequented the studio of Pierre Schaeffer, and others will discover numerous musicians whose enthusiasm enabled this innovative musical genre to last throughout the following decades.”

Each of the five CDs has information that makes it easy to study each piece. On the back of each CD you find the contents neatly listed, and inside the booklets you can read more details about the works. Jean-Christophe Thomas has written a preface for this edition, which is distinguished in its five parts: “The Visitors of the Concrete Adventure”; “The Art of Study”; “Sound in Numbers”; “The Time of Real Time” and “The GRM Without Knowing It.” Thomas opposes the desire of classification, which, anyhow, would be tough in an area of sound art so wide and disparate as the one we’re traveling through these CDs. After the initial introduction, printed in all five booklets, Jean-Christophe Thomas goes into each CD individually, giving an overview of the category specified in the different issues, despite his warnings about classification. In addition to Thomas’ texts, each issue is equipped with further texts on the material, by, for instance François Bayle (CD 1), Régis Renouard Larivière (CD 2), Yann Geslin (CD 3), Daniel Teruggi (CD 4) and Christian Zanési (CD 5).

All the CDs have their own colors, and the release is a feast for the eye as well as for the ear - but perhaps, to the highest degree, for our imagination. The photo booklet contains 80 pages with 101 black and white photos of the utmost interest to the connoisseur of sound art. All in all, this is a much needed and perfectly executed issue, necessary for anyone interested in contemporary art.

CD 1 is called Les visiteurs de l’aventure concrète (“The Visitors of the Concrete Adventure”). Naturally, this means that the first CD harbors the truly historical pieces, the études! Here are the artists that spent some time with Pierre Schaeffer in his studio in the 1950s; those truly experimental times of fundamental research into sound, when Stockhausen and Eimert cut and spliced tapes of machine generated audio in Cologne; a Stockhausen that indeed himself had met with Schaeffer!

Pierre Boulez participates with Étude 1 and Étude 2, from as early as 1951! This was even before Rune Lindblad had his revelation of a new sound, waking up, hung-over, in the park of Slottsskogen in Gothenburg, Sweden, and, amazingly, one year before Stockhausen’s first concrete Étude, which was executed in 1952. Pierre Boulez’s Étude 1 bears all the features typical of its time, with fragments of brute sounds cutting like shrapnel through the sound space, though, of course, monaural. Your ear seems to equip the material with spatial properties, however; perhaps from the impression of motion that the frantic fluttering about of flaky sound objects with metallic surfaces and sharp corners present, or perhaps just because of our later stereophonic listening, which we have become so accustomed to. Boulez’s first Étude stands up good to any comparisons to other works of those days, and to what was to come in the years immediately ahead, until Stockhausen swept the arena clean of competitors with Gesang der Jünglinge and… Kontakte! I have never heard these Boulez works before, and it is, for sure, an adventure to hear the 28-year old Boulez in this electronic outpour!

Boulez’s very first Étude didn’t sound as much concrete as it sounded electronic, in fact, though you might have been able to detect some source sounds, like creaking doors and so forth - but Étude 2 bears witness to a more obvious concretism. The sounds are clearer, more rounded off, with distinct contours, and also a bit softer, arranged like fruits in a bowl in a still life. I hear percussive sounds in sequence with dripping and ticking sounds, followed by glissandi and glassy intrusions, as well as speedily rotating objects. Étude 2 seems to explore a more complicated and diverse sound world than did Étude 1 - and development of the art of electronic and concrete music was rapid; each step a step forward into new, pristine sonic worlds. It must have been amazing for these sound artists during those first years!

To hear Darius Milhaud in this context is fantastic! I would never have expected! His piece is La rivière endormie from 1954. He uses various recordings of an instrumental ensemble, which he mixes, varying speed etcetera, layer after layer, achieving a dreamy atmosphere of reverberant beauty, in a electroacoustic Hörspiel manner that came into fashion much later, even though it was practiced quite a bit in Germany too, at the same time. The duration also speaks of tape; a hefty eight-minute take! Later in the piece voices speak in French, a chanson begins, probably picked-up from a 78 rpm, and mixed in by Darius Milhaud. In a way you could view Milhaud’s work here as development into the age of sound manipulations of the old radio play.

Edgar Varèse participates on this CD 1 of the collection with an astounding work called Désert: Interpolation 1, realized in 1954. It is a work of immense and almost hilarious complexity, mixing the full and partial orchestral sound with recorded sounds on tape; sounds of diving planes, machine guns, unidentified brute and tingling sounds, sudden spurs of rhythmic percussion in the orchestra drifting over into the tapes and back; smoky sounds and railroad audio… with a distorted and dispersed symphonic orchestra: a masterwork of three and a half minutes!

André Boucourechliev’s Texte 2 from 1959 introduces a wildly stereophonic catharsis, with mimicry of falling rocks at right and the rattling of steel rods at left, yourself lost in a bewildering middle, especially if you’re in earphones! The sound world is incredibly rich, with wheezing and dripping sounds thrown into the falling of pebbles and rocks in dark atmospheres of venomous gases of prehistory… Brilliant! This was achieved solely from utilizing two tape recorders running simultaneously, with separate, set starting points, which could be changed to make instant, new works! Boucourechliev’s Texte 2 is sheer joy and pleasure for the sound connoisseur; an intellectual game of sounds that will drive you nuts, and beyond!

Claude Ballif’s Points-Mouvements from 1962 introduces a music that became viable much later, in the 1980s, with an interplay of startling bands of overtones from tiny, high-pitch percussive instruments, whose drifting afterglow lingers in the atmosphere like gold dust. The tinkling attacks shine like reflections on Impressionist water surfaces, while the timbres stretch and linger like drifting dust in a quarry. Half way through the piece the purity of overtone timbres transforms into gray and black sounds from hoarse and brute layers of consciousness, from lower chakras of clay and soil and rock-bottom, from the classrooms of Bleistift and caoutchouc elementary schools of the 1950s.

To hear Olivier Messiaen on a CD dedicated to musique concrète is nothing short of a wonder. It’s not just any short etude, either, but a fifteen minutes long piece, called Timbres durées, recorded in 1952! This is incredible, and alone justifies the purchase of the whole box! Admittedly, Messiaen composed for the ondes Martenot - but this early concretism is something that cannot even be compared to that. It’s sheer, downright acousmatic music, wild and raw and rough as anything anybody else did later, like Gottfried Michael Koenig or Henri Pousseur, for example. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Messiaen had stayed with this new means of composition as devotedly as Stockhausen did; what a thought!

Olivier Messiaen had been invited to Pierre Schaeffer’s studio, and without that invitation this magic work probably would never have reached us. It took 53 years for it to reach my ears!

Messiaen had a strange request when he agreed to do something in the studio. He wanted sound samples that contained as little sound as possible! Yet the finished piece is a kind of frantic rock n’ roll electronic music! Messiaen chose Pierre Henry for his assistant, and picked out a dozen or so sounds to work with for his composition. Messiaen was just 44 years old at this time, in the prime of his professional deed. To the chosen sounds (water drop, spray, mist, tom-tom etcetera) he applied simple transformations (inversion, reverberation and so forth), constructing his one concrète composition.

The booklet text says it well: “Listening to this maze of turns, twists and returns, a quite unbelievable anamorphosis effect arises, durations are transformed by tone, strange duration colors shimmer as if refracted through matter, a veritable stained glass window and meditative mantra effect […]”

Pierre Schaeffer talked about Messiaen and the other main figures to work in the studio: “I have always admired when composers arriving from afar feel comfortable in our studio and immediately leave such a definite personal mark on it. So, with Timbres durées, Messiaen developed his ideology, Stockhausen quibbled over remakes, Varèse hitched up the Far-West tractor to the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Xenakis gleaned the sound of sparks from fire; each with his sign of water or fire, his space, desert or garden, his heaven or hell, for Orpheus himself passed through both.”

The piece by Messiaen is a boiling stew of sonic ingredients; crescendi suddenly cut right off, rippling, watery formations, rumbling, tumbling occurrences, sweeping, soaring extensions, recognizable percussive sounds, resounding underworlds of sewage and dark, rat-ridden tunnels - as well as flocks of meteorites rushing past alien planets; there’s no end to the fantasies that may arise out of Messiaen’s concrete music! 1952!

Pierre Schaeffer said, in 1968, twenty years after he broke the news of musique concrète to the world through the French radio’s Concert de bruits in June 1948:

“We learned to associate the lute with the Middle Ages, plain-song with the monastery, the tom-tom with wild and primitive man, the viola da gamba with courtly dress. How can we really not expect to also find that music in the 20th century relates to machines and the masses, the electron and calculators […]. The unbridled release of noises, the surge of sounds, all utterly opposed to terms customarily used to describe music - harmony and counterpoint, mellowness and subtlety, expression and feeling -, was actually the music of the period, brutal and disturbed in nature, born in the period of the atom and missiles, power and speed, all unleashed elements.”

CD 2 is entitled L’art de l’étude. Of course the étude was a preferred form for the new experimentalists of electronic/concrete music from the very beginning - and from that very very beginning this CD starts, with Pierre Schaeffer’s famous Étude pathétique [Étude aux casseroles] from… 1948! Schaeffer pried into new worlds with his five études of concrete music in 1948, changing our world of sounds forever, as it were. It must have been incredibly impressive and unfathomable in those days; something outrageous - and yet Schaeffer could play the stuff on radio. Here’s to the French! They’re poets and romantics, and then this can happen!

Let’s hear how Schaeffer describes in his Journal how he got Étude pathétique [Étude aux casseroles] down in 1948: “I was sent on an assignment to Washington […]. The day before departure I simply had to have a final studio session […]. There are always old abandoned records lying about in the studio. The one I happened to find was a recording of the wonderfully enticing voice of Sacha Guitry […]. I took hold of it, and using another turntable, played over a very peaceful rhythm evoking the surging movement of an impressive barge, and then, on two turntables, put on anything I chanced upon; an American accordion or harmonica recording and some Balinese music. Then came the exercise in virtuosity using four potentiometers and ignition keys […]. Étude No 5, known as the composition “aux casseroles”, arose in just a few minutes; in the time needed to record it. The barge from the canals of France, the American harmonica, the Balinese priests all miraculously began to respond and heed the gods of the turntable; a remarkable ensemble.”

Thus, this remarkable piece emerged from Schaeffer’s delicate handling of the sounding moment, as it arose - and not from a conscious and premeditated constructive planning. Rather he let intuition and sensitive ears/fingers steer the process.

There is a sense of wonder and magic in hearing this inauguration work over the earphones I use when writing this, at the Macintosh. A gap in time is bridged, but I see/hear this étude also as a well from which the fluid has not ceased to gush, coloring the whole globe with a film of audio that had its real beginning in that moment, in that new way of thinking that made Schaeffer achieve the works that altered our hearing.

A number of early electronic/concrete etudes are displayed on disc 2 in this brilliant series of five CDs, but time and work load allows me to just touch lightly upon the content, dipping into a choice few of the many works.

After the initial Schaeffer work I go to track 6, Luc Ferrari’s Étude aux sons tendus from 1958. Liner notes from the time of release describe “rhythmic structures sometimes curling up into sorts of sound knots, sometimes opening up”. As the booklet text says, this description does not give justice to the fluidity of the sound, as woven by Ferrari. What you hear, initially, are beads of gray pebbles, coming across like colorless, curved pieces of matter, microscope pictures of bacteria - and sounding somewhat like a thumb playing a plastic comb… Other sounds are inserted, at times rudely and provocative, in characteristically cut-up proportions - but you also hear crescendi and loud whistles, and the apparent whining of circular saws. This piece seems to apply the methods of the early 1950s in the late 1950s without much development of sound material, but with a higher degree of artistry. Luc Ferrari was to emerge as one of the most exciting sound artists of the 1960s and 1970s, so this short piece may perhaps serve as a foretaste of what was still to come, like the Presque rien pieces, for example.

Ivo Malec’s Reflets from 1961 was issued on Ina-GRM’s first CD Concert imaginaire in 1984, and it deserves its inclusion here too, as it presents a spatial and spacey sound that wouldn’t become very common until the 1980s, really, to any higher degree. Malec’s piece has an inherent poetic beauty and an inward, Southern France garden mysticism, later amplified by composers like Jean-Claude Risset and François Bayle. The fluidity of sound is outstanding, especially when you consider the early time in which it was achieved. I recall my initial amazement at hearing this for the first time from that CD in 1984, and I can still feel the thrill of discovery when I re-listen today.

Philippe Carson’s Phonologie from 1962 at first make me think of Stockhausen’s Stimmung, which, however, was composed in 1968… It was performed at Stockholm New Music in February 2005, and will be performed twice at the Stockhausen Courses in the summer of 2005. Anyone who has heard Stimmung will understand what I’m getting at. Carson uses an array of voices, all in a spiraling, khoomei kind of way, sounding like, or almost like, Tuvinian or Mongolian throat singing, without, however, most of the overtone spectra. What we hear are solely extended and modulated vocals, at higher or lower pitches, achieving… yes, that particular Stimmung feeling, or that bardo state sensation of Tibetan monks humming! All the voices here are in fact one voice; that of Xavier Depraz, diffused in a layering that also, in a shadowy way, resembles some kind of chamber ensemble; an ensemble of vocal cords in some ritual, para-religious or magic ceremony…

CD 3 is called Le son en nombres. With this disk we reach the flourishing 1980s, with digital recordings and ever more sophisticated equipment, which for some dilettantes made the discrimination that lies at the base of all fine art much harder, revealing that extravagant tools couldn’t guarantee better end results, unless the good old talent was present - but this had no bearing on the GRM, where talent has always been the heart of the matter - and that good measure of poetry and imagination, which nowhere flows mightier than in France.

Yann Geslin provides a long, rambling and extremely interesting account of how the GRM evolved into the digital domain; a feat not easily accomplished at the meager beginning. François Bayle was the first artist to put the emerging technology to use, at great pains. Bayle’s Eros bleu from 1979 is the first work created through the new technology. It’s the first piece on CD 3 in GRM’s fantastic 5-CD box of material from 1948 until today. The sounds come bouncing at you like light bending around celestial bodies; flexing spheres of audio shining with a tarnished perfection, like metallic spheres floating in space with slightly worn down surfaces from encounters with the whispering winds of interstellar dust. The music of Bayle in Eros bleu is a mystical alphabet with some missing letters, leaving holes where reality shines through, and as more letters fall away and tumble into bottomless voids, more reality shines through, but never enough to make life concrete and stable. There is only a hint at stability and rigidity, in this music of beads of tarnished alphabets and the gleaming of reality’s lights…

This third CD is a retrospect of some of the most successful times of the GRM, in the days when real heroes rose out of the studio; in addition to Bayle people like Jean-Claude Risset, Denis Smalley, Jean Schwarz and the grand Seigneur Francis Dhomont; a bunch of lonesome heroes, to quote Leonard Cohen. These were the years when I personally lost my sanity to the elusive magic of acousmatique.

Jean-Claude Risset’s Sud from 1984 made a hefty impression the first time I heard it, on a Wergo Schallplatten CD in 1988. There are scientific or musicological explanations of his methods to be read in the booklet, but they cannot in any way get close to describing the magic sensual motion/emotion of the piece, as it reflects worlds that can’t be viewed directly; worlds that can only be sensed in the corner of one’s eye, at moments of bliss when you’re not aware, when you travel in absentmindedness, in inward thoughts; a world of the little ones and the invisible ones, the goblins, the elves, the fairies and the myriad of beings that we do not have any names for, which we will never encounter, save through the sonic/luminary reflections of indirectness that art works like Sud offers the sensitive one.

The ringing of bells without the attack - the lingering afterglow of bells, swarming, soaring - and the wondrous overtones of oceanic waves, pitched down slowly in glissandi that shine and glitter - and this peaceful swell of water on the rocks of a shore… Risset merges the concrete with the synthesized in a glaring tour-de-force of sonic wizardry - and I almost fall prey to stating that this is the best piece of electroacoustics ever made; a startling achievement, awesome!

Another favorite of mine, which the GRM has had the good taste to include in this historic 5-CD release on CD 3, is Denis Smalley’s Wind Chimes. I remember that I’d just set up the gear at home after a major up-grade of equipment many years ago. Wind Chimes was the first CD that I played through it - and I was stunned! They guy who helped me bring the gear home and set it up was unfamiliar with any kind of electroacoustic music, and looked completely helpless when the first loud chime cut through the room like a shining sword! The growling glare, the resounding clay, the springing of forces, the expansion of force fields, the rattling clatter of tumbling chimes, the sonic equivalence of clashing gravitational forces - the tear and strain of relentless pull… Wind Chimes reaches a purity of detail and a level of craftsmanship seldom heard, even in the deepest realms of today’s most celebrated studios, gallantly delivered by Smalley in 1987; a true masterpiece, a Rembrandt of the audios, difficult lighting and all.

Jean Schwarz is a composer that I early had a personal relation to, for in my first search for electroacoustic sonic adventures, way ahead of the times of the Internet, I used to strike up correspondences with artists, and Jean Schwarz at Celia Studio in France was one of the more communicative ones, so I bought a lot of his music directly from him. Quatre Saisons, based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s texts, was an acquisition I made from a Swedish distributor, though, who blessed my early electroacoustic thirst with many a refreshing composition; Euroton Musik in Hägersten, Stockholm; thank you, Eva & Rune!

Jean Schwarz’s Quatre Saisons from 1983 sounds like nothing else, as the baritone Jorge Chaminé takes us through Goethe’s texts and Schwarz’s soaring, tingling and gushing sound worlds, in a subliminal way reenacting the atmosphere of each of the four seasons. GRM has really loaded CD 3 with mighty masterpieces, and this is another one. Few works have made such a deep impression on me as Quatre Saisons. It literally opened new worlds to me, new worlds of sounds, new, fresh ways of thinking. I am very grateful to Schwarz for this; it has been very important to me, yes, crucial! Sometimes it has been hard for composers to work well with mixed material, but Jean Schwarz operates this delicate task with unheard-of mastery, merging his soaring insect electronics and the voice into a seamless flow of exciting beauty and intellectual pleasure!

The last hero on CD 3 is the grand Seigneur; the alderman of contemporeana; Francis Dhomont, who has recently moved from Quebec to France, to Avignon. If ever there was a Maestro of acousmatique, of electroacoustics, of “Le cinéma pour l’oreille”, it is Francis Dhomont, born in Paris in 1926, two years before Stockhausen, and still as active as Stockhausen too. Here he participates with the piece Novars from 1989. Dhomont’s way with sounds defies description, really, but since I’m writing, I have to say a few words anyway. His sound pallet is incredibly rich, allowing for extremely fine-tuned nuances; hardly noticeable fragrances passing by your nocturnal nostrils, or rapidly changing wavelengths of light from a rising star over the ocean horizon - and a dark ships passes on that horizon, in a semi-transparent fog-bank; Francis Dhomont’s sonic vehicle, elusive but extraordinarily present; palpable without a determined location in time or space; romantic with a rancid wit; humorous with a dark rumble of gravity - simplicity at the heart of endless complications; clean, curved surfaces and jagged states of chaos - all in the artistic mind of this contemporary giant of the Arts, this Gentleman of Audio; Francis Dhomont, to whom we all are in serious debt!

CD 4 is entitled Le temps du temps réel, of course indicating that we’re now in the present, when computer technology has enabled us to work complicated structures of sound in real time. Jean-Christophe Thomas’ introduction seems a bit ambiguous to the concept of real time, indicating that it’s a sign of the time of impatience, of think less, act more, and perhaps this is a viable view - but, as I’ve said before, if there is true talent there is true art, and the untalented dilettante or the unimaginative technician is always rapidly revealed at the listening end of things… and as before, the GRM is overflowing with true talent/true art, no matter if real time processes make the ordeals of audio shaping faster. Another reason for the hesitant anticipation with regards to real time tools was the new way of working; the composer/programmer suddenly becoming an instrumentalist, who would work with his computers much the same way musicians have always worked with their instruments. This took some getting used to, but of course, nowadays, almost all software/hardware in musical production works the real time way. Daniel Teruggi writes an interesting article about this in the booklet for CD 4, lingering a long while at the appearance of the Syter system at GRM (synthèse en temps réel).

This whole CD is comprised of works created through Syter, most completely so, some in parts.

The first composer of the Syter CD is another great hero of sound; Bernard Parmegiani, with an excerpt from his work Exercisme 3 from 1986. Like Francis Dhomont, Bernard Parmegiani is one of the older gentlemen of reckless audio, born in 1927, having had - and certainly having! - an immense influence on contemporary art.

Parmegiani - in the Exercisme series - utilized Syter as a studio tool, embellishing and bending the sounds he’d shaped before. This excerpt commences with bulging, flexing planes, in a ghastly mood, not far from the atmosphere of the movie Poltergeist, when that little girl is calling her mother from inside the TV static… Parmegiani develops these spooky environments with his manual dexterity, pouring the whole ambient maze of reflective events into a star crusher machine which delivers grainy, pulsating rhythms of fragmented, sharp remains; leftovers from soaring worlds transported on the conveyor belts of Parmegiani’s electronic score, to the far reaches of this soundscape, where they seep down into giant heaps of sonic residue; the catch of Silence, the Universal Guardian of Sound… and yes, Parmegiani’s music is the closest equivalent to a very complex silence.

Horacio Vaggione, at track 4 of CD 4, appears with his work Ash, no date given. Vaggione has startled me with many fine, rhythmic endeavor before, like with his piece Tar for bass clarinet and tape, a masterly journey through the minuscule, extraneous sounds of vents and valves of the instrument! He surprised me by showing me how much the outlook on life changes with the perspective, with the size and with the distance/closeness. Ash is such a piece too, starting with dripping, thudding small objects, like nano-size spheres of steel falling onto a metallic surface, clean and clear, gathering momentum and mass, evolving from rhythmic properties to pitch, from metal drops to rain drops and from prickly mini-thuds to thunder-claps between the mountains. Surely this is studio work per se, a clear evolution of miniature worlds so insignificant you hardly take notice into overwhelming soundscapes that flush you away like a tsunami…

François Bayle, who nowadays publishes his own edition on Magison, is a Maestro of the poetic gesture, of the diligent, delicate sonic formulation; a wizard of transparent atmospheres and the infinitesimal nuance, the seamless transposition of green into turquoise, of pink into purple… a artist of noblesse, of class, and with the poetic soul of a Medieval bard. To listen to Bayle you have to fine-tune your senses, but once you have, you’re in for a rare ride through exquisite atmospheric vibrations, like traveling the depths of abstract art, like touching ideas and thoughts and inclinations in a mystically palpable way. Here Bayle presents Mimaméta from 1989, or rather an excerpt of it. Mimaméta is no exception to the above stated; it’s a fluent semaphoric mountain top signaling of lucid thinking, of gentle philosophies, colorful transients… an on-line transmission out of the inner reaches of wink-of-an-eye worlds, of inclinations inherent in passing, fleeting moments; a sudden fragrance from out of temporary wormholes to parallel universes or hidden properties of this; sounds testifying to occurrences beyond time and place, beyond structure and intent…

Daniel Teruggi’s sample on this CD is taken from his work Instants d’hiver, parts 3 to 7 of 10. A shuffling, grayish rhythm reminiscent of someone running in a relaxed but determined way with too wide pants is accompanied or sewed into a repetitious, soft, distant figure that sounds minimal, California-style minimal, but with that typical dream-state of a Southern France garden in late summer; that melancholy and lustful soaring of mind and emotions and inner views; remembrances of things to come… and the dis-temporal child-voice incisions fly past like diving swifts! This is part 3 of Instants d’hiver, and it is more directly beautiful than anything I’ve heard in quite a while. The next part, i.e. number 4 of the Instants d’hiver, is a wilder statement, winding up from standing still into speed-freak hallucinations of flying kitchenware and screws and bolts out of Grandpa’s garage! Somewhere in this maze of hallucinations armies march up under swelling motion picture fanfares as starchy cartoon characters shoot up in comic strip alleys deep in the soundscape…

The fifth and last CD in this magnificent retrospective collection of the GRM - Groupe de Recherches Musicales - is called Le GRM sans le savoir (“The GRM Without Knowing It”); a scrambled mix of all kinds of odds and ends from the lively organization’s annals; a pot luck of sonic surprises out on a limb, in many instances perhaps not typical of the known and famous produce of the studio, and therefore especially interesting; a bonus CD of stray audio - but not only that, because this CD also brings forth some real state of the art electroacoustics by, for example, Bernard Parmegiani and Jean Schwarz - even though Christian Zanési in his introduction to the fifth CD brands the works therein as, perhaps, less serious that the truly serious works of the composers involved. Well, maybe so, in part - but I can’t bring myself to think less of La roue ferris or Il était une fois, even though Parmegiani and Schwarz may have devoted most of their efforts to… well, more serious fun!

However, some of the other pieces here may be fringe electronics: more of a leisure attempt, never having had history book ambitions, like the gluey, sticky craze of Robert Wyatt’s and François Bayle’s outrageous sound poetry/electro poetry incident It, which falls well into the enclosed field of cut-up permutations and repetitious minimalism darndom! The sound is circling you like a swarm of bees, the voice blabbering his “I did it again” sentence in and out of phase, in and out of veils of obscuring layers of dimmed sonorities, short moments passing through glary sunlight, heard close up and clear, only to whirl up and around and into the obscurities again. True fun; elegant fun!

Jean Schwarz’s With No J from the work Il était une fois is a masterly rhythmic stubbornness! I first heard this on an LP that I bought directly from Schwarz long ago, since then transferred to DAT when I got a DAT machine, and then, of course, to CDR when those burners came around - but the whole Il était une fois also came on an official Schwarz double CD some years ago. Anyhow, the brown rubber-type rhythm, flung out like a ferocious leather whip in a rhythm so tight and good that it almost - but not really - takes on the property of a pitch, has the ability to kick butt, yessir! The speedy progression wobbles and wrangles as it dots down the line like a maddened sidewinder across the sand dunes of a desert. This is a kind of electro-pop, I’d say, but with the wit of a glorious artist of the sonorities; a masterly bar-bender with a quirky smile hinted in the corner of his mouth!

I’ll end this review with Bernard Parmegiani’s La roue ferris, which is another one of those classics that was released on GRM’s first CD - Concert imaginaire - in 1984. Here it is again, in all its splendor of sonic imagination and ear-tight handicraft. Since this was one of my earlier love affairs with electroacoustic music, I may be biased, but I must say, on having it enter my anatomy again after a few years of not hearing it, that it is charged with the most magic romance, the most elastic eroticism, the darnest pausing of any line of withheld - and then bursting! - sexual motion/emotion, fingertips of audio tapping your forehead and your thighs, your lover’s fingers through your hair; the wave-motion of lust and a soaring, bell-like retreat into the overtone spectra of ecstasy… La roue ferris!

I hope I haven’t made anybody too disappointed by not mentioning each and every work of this mighty 5-CD box. This would be too time-consuming and hardly in line with my more intuitive or perhaps nonchalant way of writing about this and that without much planning; just letting my impressions flow onto the computer keyboard and into the Macintosh, for further delivery onto the web page - and I can testify that most of the pieces that I picked out for scrutiny were determined randomly, in a close-your-eyes-and-point manner!

To conclude, this 5-CD box from the GRM is one of the most significant releases to come out of the early 21st century, and certainly one that one cannot be without, if one has any concern for modern art of any kind. Blessed be the GRM!

… one of the most significant releases to come out of the early 21st century, and certainly one that one cannot be without, if one has any concern for modern art of any kind.