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Luc Ferrari - Hétérozygote/Petite Symphonie... [Recollection GRM / Editions Mego - 2017]

The fruitful partnership between the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM) and Peter Rehberg's Editions Mego has for a number of years been reviving some of the French institution's classic works on lavishly produced LPs, complete with suitably retro sleeve art and Rashad Becker on the knobs at Dubplates & Mastering. This is the second instalment drawing from the much loved corpus of electro-acoustic and tape works of French/Italian composer Luc Ferrari, following on from the collection of 'Presque Rein' compositions issued in 2012. This single LP offers up a real treat, not just in the fact of being the first appearance on vinyl of Petite symphonie intuitive pour un paysage de printemps, but in being paired with Hétérozygote - one of Ferrari's earliest long form compositions utilising what we now tend to call field recordings - it offers the listener a clear-sighted experience of the development of Ferrari's technique and compositional approach.

Hétérozygote (1963-64) is a complex, often disorientating twenty-six minute tape composition produced by Ferrari while he was working as a film producer. Indeed it was during his travels carrying with him the latest in portable audio recording equipment that he began amassing the snippets of everyday life that would form the material for Hétérozygote. Fragments of incidental conversations, noises from the environment and home, as well entirely abstract and unidentifiable sounds and clips from interviews are weaved together in such a way as to suggest movement and narrative, without ever become either didactic or predictable. Ferrari would later call this style of composing using elements from everyday life as 'anecdotal music'. This tag however rather covers over the deeper and more socio-political context of the move outside the GRM studios. As he put it in an interview with Jacqueline Caux late in his life: "Creators and artists don't live outside of society. Their history unfolds in the thick of the most brutal, terrible but also the most joyful events. The great adventure of the spontaneous revolutionary movements of the 1960s was to take part in a social experiment, ... We acted as a barometer for the spirit of the time. The act of capturing ordinary, everyday events on a tape recorder, before editing them as something brought out of anonymity, seemed incredibly important".*

That "spirit of the time" indeed seems present in Hétérozygote, as it does in its most obvious companion piece Musique Promenade (1964-69). In both pieces seemingly pastoral scenes of country life, farming, village intrigues and personal exchanges are shattered and displaced time and again with violent eruptions of sound, as if the tensions and underlying conflicts of the era are staged by the composer as literally bursting through the surface of the old world. As emphasised by the sleeve notes accompanying the 1990 BVHaast edition of this piece, the listener is directly implicated in the work of imagination which gives coherence to these disparate constellations of sound. Ferrari, ever the Libertarian (in the European sense of that term) leaves the burden of meaning to his auditors who are free to reject even the story suggested by the artist himself.

The second side long piece recorded ten years later is the prosaically titled Petite symphonie intuitive pour un paysage de printemps , literally 'Intuitive little symphony for a spring landscape'. The intuitive part of the title should alert us to the fact that unlike the anecdotal pieces here Ferrari is presenting something which he wishes to be seen as a highly subjective reconstruction of a personal experience. In this case it was a visit to the Gorges du Tam region with his wife Brunhild and the encounter (another prominent theme of his, inherited from surrealism) with shepherds upon the plateau high above the river. Whereas Hétérozygote is a wild and dissonant experience there is a stability and almost contemplative aspect to Petit symphonie...that lends it a vaguely mysterious edge. Over the preceding ten years Ferrari's compositions for tape had evolved considerably from the anecdotal style to embrace the minimalism of the first Presque Rein and the glorious intimacy and romanticism of Danses Organiques; the latter following the evolving relationship of two young women, while the former marked the first appearance of a style of electro-acoustic composition Ferrari termed 'landscape music'. Petit symphonie... with its slowly building melange of echoing flute, environmental sounds and distant voices recalls the stillness of the Dalmatian village documented by Ferrari for the inaugural Presque Rien. However, as always it is the ordinary lives of people that are the real occasion for the composer to switch on his tape recorder. The strangely desolate plateau slowly becomes populated with many voices, some going about their business, others conversing with Ferrari and his wife. What was a "solitary and hazy human presence" according to Ferrari in his notes is converted into a convivial encounter between walkers and shepherds who exchange experiences and together encounter the landscape.

The last quarter of the piece is however an enigma; after this gentle opening out onto the plateau and the meeting with the locals comes a wave of tension, an organ drone rises in the background and the flutes engage each other with little stabs of tone. Then there is dissonance, a manipulated rattle or clacker flits from one channel to the other while the flutes desperately attempt to hover above it. All human sounds are gone. The environment has emptied again as the sun drops below the horizon of the Massif Central, that "violent and tortured place" according to Ferrari that here shows itself an unwelcoming host. The piece fades out to a combination of drone and crackling concrete noise; the 'rough music' of this particular landscape.

These are two fabulous pieces of 20th century avant-garde composition, condensing on two sides of wax all that was radical and worthwhile in Luc Ferrari's oeuvre. While I'm not usually one to exalt the virtues of luxury vinyl reissues of material long available digitally, there is a satisfying feel to this combination of works in this format that does I would say add something to the experience of the music. I can think of no better gateway to the dandy of music concrete than the work presented here. *Quote taken from: Caux,Jacqueline - Almost Nothing with Luc Ferrari (Errant Bodies Press 2012) pg47.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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