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.
In 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.
Japanese 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.
01 French Gagaku (14:05)
02 Mu Joken (8:58)
03 Tathatà (13:44)
04 Complexe Simple (11:15)
Total time 48:00
LP released by Barclay/Inedits RTF, France, 1971