Pierre Barbaud/Akira Tamba

Pierre Barbaud/Akira Tamba LP front cover
Pierre Barbaud/Akira Tamba LP back cover

During the 1950s, French composer Pierre Barbaud (1911-1990) composed many film soundtracks, including Alain Resnais’ Le Chant du Styrène in 1958, and Chris Marker’s films Un Dimanche à Pékin, 1957, and Lettre de Sibérie, 1958. Coincidentally, he was researching algorithmic and computer-assisted music, where the computer would process the entire composition in terms of pitch, duration and intervals, in a technique similar to Lejaren Hiller in the US. Barbaud was then (1958) a member of the Groupe de Musique Algorithmique de Paris (GMAP) along Georges Charbonnier and wife Janine. From 1959 to 1975, Barbaud worked for the Honeywell Bull company in Paris and had access to large calculators able to fulfill the lengthy electronic processing required by his projects. Hand-crafted punch cards were used to feed data into the mainframe (large cabinet housing the processor), which eventually delivered digits forming the basis of the composition. For this task, Barbaud used an early version of FORTRAN, IBM’s Formula Translating programming language. Some of Pierre Barbaud’s music uses synthetic sounds (like this excerpt from Saturnia Tellus, 1980, used on the official website’s homepage), yet he also applied his concept to chamber ensemble and orchestra, as the present record demonstrates.

Pierre BarbaudIn French Gagaku, for string ensemble, composed 1968, Barbaud applied his cybernetic technique to the entire orchestra. The score was orchestrated with the help of a Honeywell Bull calculator, instructed to derive the music  from a variety of mathematical parameters. So this microtonal work is not programmed like with a computer today, rather the calculator computed each parts in the narrow limits allowed by Barbaud. Pitch is fixed, but height, length and intervals vary, resulting in a myriad of elaborated microtones from the strings. No development, no beginning nor end, rather like a sound installation, the elegant music of French Gagaku certainly evokes court music like the title implies. In case you’d want to give it a listen before downloading it, fellow blogger Acousmata offers a sound file and an analyis of French Gagaku on his own blog. The refinement is even greater in Mu Joken, composed 1970, for a small ensemble of 8 instruments including piano, flute, acoustic guitar, trumpet and cello, with notes subtly distributed among the interprets, like in a Klangfarbenmelodie. Fascinating music.

Akira TambaJapanese composer Akira Tamba, (Yokohama, 1932) moved to France in 1960 to study with Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire de Paris. There he became a noted musicologist and wrote several books on Japanese traditional music and Nô theater. As a composer, his style blends French clarity with Japanese intricacy and dramatization. The first piece included on this LP, Tathatà, for string quartet and onomatopœia, belongs to the composer’s early works from the 1960s. It brings Nô’s monosyllabic utterings into a post-Webernian string quartet, exploring minute microtonality from the string instruments. In Complexe Simple, eerie glissandos, similar to Toru Takemitsu’s film music of the 1960s, create disturbing soundscapes. The science fiction movie atmosphere is increased by the inclusion of Ondes Martenot near the 8:50 mark. On a side note, in a previous post I published a live recording of Tamba’s Accalmies, for 6 Ondes Martenot, composed 1978.

Pierre BARBAUD
01 French Gagaku (14:05)
02 Mu Joken (8:58)
Akira TAMBA
03 Tathatà (13:44)
04 Complexe Simple (11:15)

Total time 48:00
LP released by Barclay/Inedits RTF, France, 1971

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13 Responses to “Pierre Barbaud/Akira Tamba”


  1. 1 icastico February 5, 2010 at 3:18 am

    Looks interesting. Having done fortran programming…I can’t imagine trying to compose music this way.

  2. 2 lericolais rainier February 5, 2010 at 8:08 am

    hé bien tu l’as trouvé ….

  3. 3 continuo February 5, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Well, punch cards seem a pain in the ass all the same. Perhaps algorithmic music is about going beyond the feasible.

  4. 4 twinkle February 5, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Congratulations. This is very interesting.

  5. 5 continuo February 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks. In a way, cybernetics can be considered the Lascaux of today’s electronics.

  6. 6 avantgarterbelt February 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Continuo- Been through your blog and picked up a host of items. I’ve been collecting EA and un-music (as a good friend once referred to my collection) for quite a while, music that seems to drive other people out of the room or at the least, brings puzzled looks upon their faces. Really appreciate the opportunity to obtain music here (sounds, more apropos, I guess ) to which I’d otherwise never had been able hear. I’ve got a few items that I’d love to share with you if so interested. Take care, and thanks again.

  7. 7 continuo February 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Yeah, I know: the music we both love is regarded as un-listenable by most. Anyway, I hope to be able to bring more horrible noises to your home in the future, but if you want to contribute your own, feel free to reach me at:
    teepeesfrp[at]yahoo[dot]fr

  8. 8 Acousmata February 13, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    “…Cybernetics can be considered the Lascaux of today’s electronics.”
    I rather like this formulation. Gene Youngblood, in his superb 1970 book on experimental film entitled “Expanded Cinema” (available here in PDF scans), refers to the 1960s as the “paleocybernetic age.”

  9. 9 continuo February 13, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Interesting. The sentence was actually directed toward Joseph -Twinkle- Nechvatal, a Lascaux specialist himself, but he failed to react.

  10. 10 bgb February 23, 2010 at 4:37 am

    I bought this album in the late ’70s, in my first few months of exploring the world of “New Music”. It has remained one of my ‘touchstones’, though because of the size of my music collection versus the time available to listen to it. I haven’t heard it in years. What a joy to find it online! Many thanks, continuo, for the posting.

  11. 11 continuo February 23, 2010 at 7:20 am

    The LP certainly deserves to be revisited. Thanks for your comment.

  12. 12 FernandoSanchezRomairone June 26, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Bs.As. Argentina 25/06/2010

    I like the japanese music and the instruments I have 52 years old, but I do this to contatc you. Your music is very nice!

    Carefully
    FSR

  13. 13 TJ January 21, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you for writing about Akira Tamba! I have begun to write my graduate thesis on No theater (obviously I’m still in the very long research process). I’m reading the Musical Structure of No, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind citing the sources from which you found Akira Tamba’s biographical information.


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