The Sound of Parmegiani

Bernard Parmegiani passed away in November 2013, and during the ensuing period his wife Claude-Anne asked Ina-GRM to preserve the tapes that had not yet been digitalized. In the corpus, we found a great deal of music for particular purposes (Parmegiani worked frequently for TV, the cinema, dance and theatre), together with three previously unreleased pieces which are featured in CD 1:

  • L’écho du miroir is a sort of waking dream set in the circular corridors of the Maison de la Radio. A character, played by Michael Lonsdale, is walking through a universe that harks back to the impossible spaces imagined by MC Escher. The first version dates from 1980, but here we present a shorter version, made in 2008, that was in fact the last musical expression of Bernard Parmegiani.
  • Adagio, composed in 1980, gives Parmegiani the opportunity to explore paths of slowness and thus to bring us incredibly close to finely-crafted sound material. It is a dialectical discourse between the natural and the artificial, whose resonances - not original, but truncated and reinvented — seem to flow like springwater. The work of a master craftsman.
  • Un arbre… c’est le mien!, composed in 1987, evokes the demise of a large walnut tree, planted in the Parmegianis’ garden at Villebon-sur-Yvette. “This tree is dead, and I dedicate this music to it, to the one whose leaves could rustle musically, brushed by an invisible bow. The tree is wooden, made of slits, hollows and holes: and so it resonates. An instrument with no use.”

And then, in the well-stocked shelves of his sound library, we discovered to our great delight a large number of tapes of preparatory work for future musical compositions. It is from this series that we have taken the elements to make CD 2 in this edition, under the title Matières premières: It is unusual to release elements that are not works, or even completed sketches, but simply sequences of sounds or improvisations on a particular electronic music or musique concrète device. When we listened to the tapes, we were struck by the fact that they revealed one of the great particularities of the electroacoustic genre: the “sound” of a composer - and that of Parmegiani stands out unmistakably from the crowd - appears before even the idea of the work, and it contains the seed of the work, and in some extreme cases the idea is the sound. Unlike the instrumental composer, for whom the sound is already known, the electroacoustic composer, faced with an infinity of possibilities, cannot do without either rigorousness in making choices, or the inventing with each new project of the sound dimension of his art. The associations, articulations, the various dosing and mixing processes, and more generally the architectural aspect, or in other words the musical form, do not emerge until later. Considering this aspect, Pierre Schaeffer recommended a subtle balance between sound and musicality, that is between the fleshly and physical aspect of the material and its elaboration over time. With Parmegiani, we find ourselves precisely at the heart of this paradigm, which also gives us a hint of a period and its technology. The “sound” is of course the material, but it is also the gesture that gives it life. The composer is in a way the instrumentalist of his sounds. It is at this point that the initial choice is transcended, and that it sets out on the path of musicality. Listening to Matières premières, you thus literally see a craftsman at work in the solitude of his studio. He is building a device (or an instrument, to use the term of Helmut Lachenmann), for example a synthesizer timbre that he modifies with a filter and then sends to an echo or reverberation chamber. He tries it out in various playing modes, varying the parameters and recording these instants as they could prove useful for some purpose. Once Bernard Parmegiani had acquired a new machine, he studied it at length in all its uses, so as to master it, and in the end only used that part of it which corresponded a priori to his sound universe; and so, as soon as he found something promising or, more simply, something possible, he recorded it. This results in sequences of one to two minutes, interrupted peremptorily, with no particular development, presented on the tapes in different variations. He also took detailed notes so as to be able to play again if possible almost all the sounds, games or textures discovered, and adapt them to suit the needs of the compositions under way. The tapes thus had a function of driving change in electronic instruments, a function of a sound model, rather like a painter’s sketch pad, but also a function of raw materials for future works. We find these materials, created in the 1970s and 1980s, both moving and full of generosity. They can be listened to just the way they are.

Christian Zanési, 2017

Track Listing

  • Inédits

    63m04s
    • 1
      L’écho du miroir (Parmegiani, arrangement) (1980; arr. 2008)
      • 2.0
        • Stereo 2.0
      25m54s
    • 2
      Adagio (1980)
      • 2.0
        • Stereo 2.0
      17m28s
    • 3
      Un arbre… c’est le mien! (1987)
      • 2.0
        • Stereo 2.0
      19m39s
  • Matières premières

    51m56s
Total duration: 115m00s