Amongst the catalogue of works by Bernard Parmegiani (60 opus), some of
the titles testify more particularly to his musical path: Violostries
(1965), Capture éphémêre (Fleeting Capture) (1968),
L’CEiI écoute (The Eye Listens) (1970), L’Enfer, d’après
La Divine Comedic (Hell, after the Divine Comedy) (1972), Pour en finir
avec le pouvoir d’Orphee (To be Finally Done with the Power of Orpheus)
(1971-1972), De natura sonorum (1974-1975), La Création du monde
(Creation of the World (1982-1984), (CD Sèmes Victoires de la musique)
(Triumphs of Music) (1990), cycle Plain temps (1991-1992-1993), Sonare,
(1996), La Mémoire des sons (Memory of Sounds) (2000-2001).
Excepting some rare mixed pieces, the works as a whole take the farm of
music for “fixed sounds”, coming within the scope of the immense
repertoire of electro-acoustic music. From his training in the art of
mime and his experience as a sound engineer, Parmegiani has retained a
taste for a hand-to-hand approach (sound/embodiment, as we could be tempted
to say) with various sound materials which he has developed throughout
markedly diverse works. In 1959 he began by creating the music for a film
by Max de Hoas: Jours de ma vie (Days of my Life) which was awarded a
prize at the Festival for Short Films in Tours. This experience was to
be further enhanced over some 35 years, taking into account that the music
for television, radio, advertising and the stage provided the composer
with the opportunity to display musical accomplishment by experimenting
with new musical forms and new instrumental techniques. In this respect,
his most well-known work is undoubtedly the signature sound signal at
Roissy-Charles-de Gaulle Airport. He likewise went on to work with choreographs
(Michel Descombey, Vittorio Biagi at the Théâtre du Silence,
Christine Bastin, amongst others who, interested in some of Parmegiani’s
works, later commissioned him to compose music for ballet.
Being interested in yet other forms of musical expression, Parmegiani
made a foray into the world of pop music and jazz; in the company of instrumentalists
such as the saxophonist Jean-Louis Chautemps with whom he created Jazzex
in 1966, an encounter which he again renewed in 1971 with Le Diable a
quatre, (Devil of four for the Michel Portal jazz group, then, Et après
(And after), with Michel Portal playing the large accordion. Anxious to
further his exploration of the relationships between sound and the visual
image, he tried out new forms in his “actions musicales” (musical
ventures) wherein his wish to consider sounds as living beings prompted
him to situate them in an anthropomorphic context. In Trio (1973), Des
Mots et des sons (Words and Sounds) (1978), Mess media sans (homo parleurs)
(Mess Media Sounds - Homo Talkers (1979), Demons et des mats (Demons and
Wards) (1988), he has created situations where sounds in the guise of
sonorous actors are confronted by a human actor in encounters which are
alternately humorous and dramatic. Also having an interest in video art,
as discovered in the United States in 1971, he made a video film based
on the music in “L’il écoute” (The Eye Listens),
featuring visual imagery processed through a synthesiser. Two experimental
works were to follow: L’Ecran transparent (The Transparent Screen)
(1973) and Jeux d’artifice (Artful Games) (1978), the first work
having been produced by the WDR in Cologne and the second by INA.
From sewing age...
The three pieces composed between 1963 and 1976, which appear on the first
record, belong to what I shall call “the sewing age”: a period
during which scissors helped us to calibrate sounds and silences, while
we turned the buttons to get rid of undesirable frequencies or, on the
contrary, added frequencies, supposedly to provide supplementary sounds
when they seemed dull to us in their natural state.
is this first work as a couturier’s apprentice, which led me to
lacemaking. Devy Erlih, the instigator and author of the violin part,
provided me with the material for the work, the thread, we might say,
the knots and the embellishments: cells of sound, woven, stitched, linked,
taut, sustained sounds.
After a chaotic, massive (macro-temporal) introduction followed by pulsions
and (micro) sound clusters brought into play by the violin “soloist”,
the work opens out into a continually progressing fluid mass (Végétal).
The latter announces Capture éphémère (1967), which
had to be exorcised soon afterwards (1971), with Pour
en finir avec le pouvair d’Orphée.
“En finir” was in fact simply a settling of scores with certain
stylistic choices, certain over-familiar forms. Here the kinetics of the
sounds was no longer shown through masses or agglomerates but through
sound units, each doted with an internal movement: superposition of trajectories,
cycles with shifting timbres.
Dedans-Dehars (1977) broadens the field
of metamarphoses previously put to the test in the movement of De Natura
Sonorum entitled Matières induites where natural sounds (sounds
from nature) were confronted with artificial sounds (synthetic sounds).
These metamorphoses reflect : changes: passages from fluid to solid, and
carry along with them the notion of “inside-outside” (dialectic
à la Bachelard), the expression of which is manifested through
a few sounds -symbols: in phase/out of phase breathing—the door:
place of transition the wave: internal-external energy sound crescendo:
distant, close, the approach
to mouse age
The second record is representative, as far as I am concerned, of a new
era in acousmatic music, where the scissors are partly replaced by the
mouse running over the windows of the computer. Since 1985, musical computer
technology has become the complementary tool, which I used moderately,
whilst not forgetting to dip the point of those scissors into the ink
Exerpt from Rouge-Mart
(1987) after Carmen by Prosper Mérimée.
Choreography by Vittorio Biagi, Nice Opera House.
Mérimée’s simple style reveals a set of themes that
are close to Greek tragedy.
Each character is inexorably pushed towards his ruin. Thanatos, here,
after Eros, represents the duality of an inevitable fate. The use of a
magic ritual, justified by the gipsy origin of’ Carmen, enables
us to punctuate the accomplishment of the tragedy with a series of iterative
premonitor signs. To be certain of these signs, I have given sound equivalents,
with either timbres or melodic motifs. As Carmen is a very well-known
work, it was less important to respect the details of the story than to
reconsider the myth in the light of different means, such as those of
In this neologism we can make out the words “exercise” and
“exorcism”. The development of a musical idea could, at first,
be sketched out through an exercise to support the arguments of the idea
itself. We practise on order “to see” or, rather, to hear.
Between “exercise” and “exorcism” there is indeed
only a slight phonetic difference. But the intention of this piece was
not to exploit this difference, if there is exorcism, it could be that
of the sounds, and, more so, that of synthetic sounds produced directly
by the synthesizers. Considered individually, the latter are usually short-lived,
limited in their internal development. The exercise thus consists in bringing
them out of their fabricated form, coaxing them and making them develop
in time by extending and varying the sound fabric of which they are composed.
The starting-point for these sounds is that provided by the “presets”
of the synthesizers – ie: the sounds preset at the “factory”
providing a banal imitation of classical string instruments.
The means used to accomplish this “exorcism” were principally:
the Pitch Rider, the Syter system in association with Publison DHM. I
do not intend to go into the technical details of these systems; I shall
simply describe the effects used for the purposes of this “exorcism”.
The Pitch Rider is a sort of interface enabling natural sounds or analogical
synthetic sounds to release digitally synthesized sounds. Such and such
a series of impulsions releases virtually aleatoric, and sometimes very
varied, repetitions of digital sounds. These repetitions are often very
“dense” and take us to the limits of continual sound phenomena,
thus making these “factory sounds” lose their instrumental
Thus, we suddenly swing from one domain to another, from the instrumental
to the electroacoustic, from a language we understand to an “unknown
language”. It is here that, with Syter, I worked on the “inside”
of these new elements, treating them in real time. The result is a sort
of modelling of the sound fabric, which is very evolutive and is controlled
by pre-established programming. As for Publison, it provides a wide variety
of possibilities far exploring, at different speeds, the structures of
a sound that has been memorized.
One last word about the starting-point of this piece.
It begins with a very realistic sound, which is very close to silence:
a desert plain in Southern Morocco... a bird, in the distance, repeats
its cry. Let us leave the bird to its desert; we shall capture only its
Prix Magisterium at the International Competition in
Le Présent composé...
A title that could be applied to a good many works. It would simple to
come to an agreement on the meaning of the word “present.”
Here I shall be more radical: the :present mentioned in the title is,
in fact, the instant. That instant which Bachelard describes as being
the only reality of time, and which, in large numbers, farms the duration,
a duration that we make intimately our own by the way we experience it,
compose it. “I” compose the instant, the instant composes
me. Things we do automatically or deliberately, the aim of which is to
inflect the instant towards a composed continuity. From the latter arises
another which in turn... Death and resurrection of the instant! Intertwining
of actions and reactions. Another aspect of this instant/present: that
of the daily reality of sound.
“Give us our sounds”.., so that our intimacy may be recomposed
in the harmony and antagonism of what we hear. From familiar sounds to
the most anonymous, those we make or are subjected to, we are a place
of resonance for both sorts. We should like this resonance to continue
indefinitely. Simply the beginning of an “indefinitely”. We
would ask time to stop its advance, to immobilise the future, as Vladimir
Jankélévitch would say, to bathe in this illusory situation
in which time is “frozen”. Everything is going wrong! Frozen
time consumes time. We must go on. On the other hand, the ephemeral, the
flesh of the present, the kernel of the instant. Its strength lies in
its brevity. Like a spike, it unconsciously makes its way inside us, sometimes
mare deeply, reaching, and at the same time revealing to us, large underground
expanses, from which the past bursts forth, a paradoxical echo of the
This piece is the first in a suite entitled Plain-Temps.