In 1923, poet William Carlos Williams declared in Spring and All that “life is absolutely simple. ” This provocation signalled his intent to demystify the processes of living and of art. In 1970, Luc Ferrari’s landmark tape composition Presque rien no 1, le lever du jour au bord de la mer engaged comparably with the absolute simplicity of environmental sounds while aiming to demystify the activity of making music. Ferrari’s registration of sea-surf, cicadas, hens clucking, children’s voices, and the revving of a boat’s motor is as vivid as Williams’s well-known red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water/beside the white/chickens. In both cases, much depends upon these perceived and recorded phenomena: conscious being is thoroughly implicated in their preserved existence. The documented world interpenetrates with the creative subject.
At the end of the 1950s, however, Ferrari assisted Pierre Schaeffer in founding the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and his earliest ventures into musique concrète composition show him working through his senior associate’s non-referential, morphological preferences. This pre-anecdotal Ferrari is stamped with that period’s characteristic sense of excited formal discovery. Études aux accidents (1958) is a percussive construction using prepared piano, a neat study of tensions arising between decisiveness and equivocation, trained expectancy, and random occurrence. Étude aux sons tendus, from the same year and emphatically of its particular time and place, is less well manicured, a robustly disjunctive adventure in montage. Method generated by the medium casts obscuring shadow across Ferrari’s own musical signature.
Visages V (1959), in three parts, still more markedly derives brash confidence from an already established concrète approach, its combination of broad strokes and hectic flurries presenting a forceful, indeed confrontational endorsement of all that upheaval in the nature of music. At the same time there’s an eruptive quality to the piece that suggests Ferrari was struggling to transcend constraints of recent precedent and the authority of fellow pioneers in the field. Tête et queue du dragon (1960) comprises muted moans and metallic harshness interspersed with rapid juxtapositions of more familiarly abstracted sounds. The piece has cartoon-like vitality, a demeanour indicative of Ferrari’s own restlessness in pursuit of expressive means.
Tautologos 1 (1961) revolves around classic electric organ sonorities, animated with the fizz of less readily attributable sonic particles. Intimations of patterned repetition contest with awareness of continuous change. The composition eventually subsides like a capsized vessel bubbling towards the seabed. The three-part Tautologos 2 (1961) is a more extended negotiation between iteration and mutability, prediction, and surprise. It enacts Ferrari’s growing refinement in use ofthe studio’s capabilities. His more assured negotiation between sound sources and compositional technology results in subtly coloured and attractive music. A piece from 1966 rounds off this collection. Gérard Frémy plays piano on Und so weiter (1966) in dramatic yet intricate dialogue with pre-recorded tape. Ferrari’s writing for this virtuoso performer is profoundly informed by his experiences with electronic means and Frémy’s execution, in terms of the character of his attack and his shrewd deployment of glass and metal objects in the piano’s interior, is a fine instance of successful feedback between the exploratory fringe and the conservatory’s legacy.