Luc Ferrari;
Tautologos & Other Early Electronic Works

Luc FerrariTautologos and other Early Electronic Works
Ina-GRM & Electronic Music Foundation EMF 037
Duration: 60:14

1. Etudes aux accidents (1958) [2:19]

2. Etudesaux sons tendus (1958) [2:56]

3 - 5. Visagés V (1959) [10:41]
3. Part 1 [2:15]
4. Part 2 [4:17]
5. Part 3 [4:09]

6 - 7. Tête et queue du dragon (1960) [9:21]
6. Part 1 [4:39]
7. Part 2 [4:42]

8. Tautologos 1 (1961) [4:27]

9 - 11.
Tautologos 2 (1961) [15:02]
9. Part 1 [2:12]
10. Part 2 [5:12]
11. Part 3 [7:38]

12 - 14.
Und so weiter (1966) [15:29]
12. Part 1 [4:39]
13. Part 2 [8:45]
14. Part 3 [2:05]

Reissues of early electronic works have become fashionable, and it makes me happy to see this happening. There is nothing like the freshness of exploration in the first tries at the medium, the first crude machines at musical work in the hands of dare-devils of the arts extending our senses ever further, towards new frontiers! We may just think of Jorge Antunes’s new CD with his early experiments, recently released on Pogus Records, which I reviewed a few weeks ago elsewhere at the Sonoloco site, and there are numerous other issues I could mention.

This time around it’s the Poet Laureate Luc Ferrari (1929) from France who offers up his earlier efforts from between 1958 to 1966 to a wider audience on a CD which is a joint venture of the honorable INA-GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) in Paris and the blessed (for keeping an exciting and growing catalog available to us) Electronic Music Foundation in New York; all for the benefit of sound art connoisseurs all over the globe and their greedy grasp at the exquisite…

Now, Ferrari is a true hero of electroacoustics, no doubt. He has brought some of the most poetic of sound art to our ears, and may I only remind you of masterworks like Hétérozygote (1963 – 64), the Presque rien pieces (1970 – 1989), Unheimlich schön (1971), Petit symphonie intuitive pour un paysage de printemps (1973), Strathoven (1985) etcetera. Magic! I’ve spent so much time in there, in those magic soundscapes…

Luc Ferrari
(Photo: Ina-GRM)

Ferrari began in a traditional way, by studying composition with Arthur Honegger and musical analysis with Olivier Messiaen, but he also took piano lessons with the legendary Alfred Cortot!
He met Edgard Varèse in New York in 1954, and learned a lot from him concerning sounds as objects, placement in a sounding space etcetera.

It has not passed without leaving traces that Ferrari worked closely with Pierre Schaeffer when Ferrari was the Director of Groupe de Recherches Musicales 1959 – 1960. By this I mean that a certain attitude towards sound is apparent in Ferrari’s oeuvre, but he quickly learned his own dialect deep inside these mysterious labyrinths of musique concrète, the poesis flowing freely from his 1950s’ machinery, smelling of ebonite and soldering-iron, the sounds rising as by magic out of steel and electricity, like weightless fairies with transparent wings liberated out of a millennia of dark metal…

And you know, just a moment ago (the cold air still in my hair) I came under the stars, walking home slowly late at night, realizing, with sudden force, the deep importance of all living… and it tingles in this music…

Etudes aux accidents (1958) is Luc Ferrari’s very first go at sound art; his initial musique concrète gesture, good to listen to to the last note, to paraphrase a Maxwell House Coffee commercial or perhaps the last stanzas of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL

Jean-Christophe Thomas provides an essay on the various pieces on the CD in the booklet, and he observes the influence of Pierre Henry in the utilization of a prepared piano, with a specific reference to Henry’s Microphone bien tempéré, but his reference goes further than that, as he indicates the special character of this individual piano, lacking the dreamy gamelan pianism of John Cage but ensuring a rough energy and “delightful incongruities”. Thomas thinks that he also detects Pierre Schaeffer in Ferrari’s very careful work with the composition, which he even characterizes as “meticulous”.

Luc Ferrari
(Photo: Ina-GRM)

With a percussive high-hat sounding splash the piano gets going way inside a close-cut preparation, indeed rasping and picking like a sick hen at the periphery of a local henhouse famine, the farmer gone wacko elsewhere, but inside the racket a peculiar rubbing begins, like the sound of fenders being rubbed between the hull of a sailing boat and the quay, or heavy ropes being pulled by the continuous swell of distant storms died down below the horizon, the repetitious grinding overheard from inside the berth, like a pre-natal memory of a mother’s movement, muscles and tendons pulling and contracting as she steers her stomach through the supermarket… but this immediately takes on the character of a rattling plank or the sounds deep inside a watch, closely overheard and monitored as a cartoon percussionist randomly and rather absentmindedly taps a few of his gadgets…

In 1958 Ferrari also composed a piece called Etudes aux sons tendus. Jean-Christophe Thomas merely shoves these young experiments aside as obvious reflections of Pierre Schaeffer, sometimes even downright Schaefferian quotes, like at 0:30, 1:15, 1:42 and 2:11, but he finds the humor and the verve truly Ferrarian!
The fender rubbing continues over into this work, but then it indeed gets wilder, more jagged and rugged, short bursts of cut-out sounds thrown like dice along a table, but more extended (comparably; still short!) sounds do appear in the higher registers, like train whistles imageries or a ship’s horn calling attention arriving in New York’s harbor. Sounds tend to start at a low level, then very rapidly increasing in volume, to simply stop short like a crack in a rock, cut off, while other sounds are at different stages of their short eruptions.
This is a kind of darn-it-audio, which you should play for a non-suspecting visitor at high level, to really ensure them your nut-case status. This being so in 2003, I wonder how it was in 1958! You name it, we like it!

Luc Ferrari
(Photo: Ina-GRM)

Visages V is a set of three works composed in 1959. While I was sitting in my boy’s room at the farm of Jogersta in Sweden in the smell of cowslip and manure, listening to Elvis Presley on little black EP vinyls (Tryin’ To get To You, You’re So Square and Too Much), as the wind tore at the birch outside my window, Ferrari was working these sonics in France! In perspective, it’s fantastic!
Jean-Christophe Thomas, who, as we said, has written about the pieces in the booklet, wears a coat of hard-charmed criticism when sifting through these early arrivals, sort or waiting for “the real Ferrari”, and he stands back a little from these, as he thinks, somewhat less expressive works.
I can’t really vouch for that standpoint, as I find a whole lot of audio delicacy to munch on here, even though I understand Thomas’s demands on himself to be a historian!

The initial burst is quite industrial, having me associate to much later artistic expressions, such as some works by Zbigniew Karkowski or Dror Feiler and their steelworks audio from the 1980s – but this is 1959!
Ferrari inserts faster, sharper sounds into this industrial flow, all in all achieving a brutal environment with sudden lights blinding you as screeching frictions sliding weights sideways down tilting surfaces produce clouds of metal dust.
The second section of
Visages V starts at right with a crude conversational or chatting kind of audio; very short hits and runs spreading across the whole specter in showers of events falling like shrapnel all around.
Bent tin bucket bulgings and brittle percussive, high-pitch sounds come across in more transparent stretches of the work, where multi-layered elasticisms spread a gluey film across the terrain, in which ants and mosquitoes are helplessly caught as the night gets colder…
Some ways into this second section another ecstatic electronic conversation kicks in at right, cut-up like some early sound-poetic knitwitbits by Brion Gysin or William Burroughs, but here in pure steel and electronics; nothing human anywhere.
It does not take more than a few seconds for the music to move over to occupy the entire sound space, in a ping-pong commentary of grinding, screeching and more modal audio, very percussive, as some cut-outs are so short that they take on the characteristics of percussive attacks. Boring sections and soaring stretches build a backdrop for the short-cut incidents, and later you feel intense weights mangling matter into alternate states of existence.
The final part of
Visages V starts with fast downward glissandi at left, edging over to the right, disappearing in the distance, as an ominous murmur grows out of the core of the music, saw-blades cutting through, saw-dust everywhere; the fresh smell of wood…
The murmur doesn’t give in, but has receded to the back, as triumphant machines of might stagger about up front, the micro cosmos of shortwave static gleaming like beads of pearls in a pond…
Dark clouds of exhaust in a quarry reveal the diesel of heavy machinery, as the mind rises above the circumstances in a lofty surge unto the silence of broader outlooks…

I find Visages V extremely exciting, and I cannot at all understand, really, why Thomas in his essay takes such a hesitant standpoint. This trilogy of Visages V is an early masterwork of its period!

Luc Ferrari
(Photo: Emmanuelle Alvado-Murbach. Manipulation: I. L. Nordin)

We have reached the 1960s with Tête et queue du dragon (1960); a piece in two sections.
The booklet essayist Thomas has now jumped on the bandwagon, stripped of all hesitation, as he acknowledges the full extent of Ferrari’s craftsmanship and artistry here, even foreboding crucial works like

Muffled movements behind the wall or down in the cellar bounce between the walls, as modally gestured grindings and perhaps the electroacoustic mimicry of a dog’s bark in the yard rise in eerie windfalls of Mid-Western funnel sightings.
Evidently Ferrari’s artistic language has evolved quite a bit since the earliest pieces, as I recognize a hitherto non-present dreamy aspect like a mystical aura around this sound world and around each sound object within it, envisioned in the intuition of the sound poet. It has to do with heat, with the sun, and with the shade below leafy crowns, the pendulum movements of a swing and three girls in a painting by Renoir… or the tangible trance of the Mediterranean novels of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
Springs are being released, swaying wildly back and forth, cardboard boxes tumbles down staircases, dotted lines of pointillist progressions unravel, crude sounds contained and restrained in well-defined audio-containers tumbles about like tumble-weeds in a Texan spring breeze… all well orchestrated and very enjoyable, as Ferrari unfolds many an adventure of sound; a never ceasing occurrence of sonic whims sharpened and polished for the show, dressed-up in cardboard and whirlwinds, in twisted metal structures and gelatin twangs as crowds of kittens back off in haste towards the periphery of perception… in graceful disappearances…

Tautologos 1 was conceived in 1961. It is permeated with some organ characteristics, strong chords, Ligeti style, allowed only in short sequences, as the more obvious electronic sounds shower down in a battle hymn of the erratic, though, in some strange way – apparent after some getting used to – grouped in a series of semi-orderly sequences that makes this almost melodic, or at least hopscotch melodic, Mickey Mouse-intoxicated; an Uncle Fester mescaline mix of western deserts in a shirt and tie mirage… as reality flakes off the true nature of things in sharp edged residue, rising in a fragmented, yet wholesome, sonic expression off of this bit of spinning plastic in the laser box, so many years after Ferrari’s compositional act!
About one and a half minuet before the end the music changes drastically, as mumbling bounces murmur unevenly inside the sound while snake-fast attacks lash out in earthquake cracks that open everywhere around you, too fast to avoid, and you’re lucky if you can make it until supper…

Tautologos 2, also from 1961, is a longer work, presented in three parts.
Soft electronic drums, brown leather… and then an electric drill of some kind, a carpenter working inside an apartment on the south side of the river, between the loves of those who used to inhabit these rooms, this kitchen, and the loves of those who will move in later, hanging their clothes in the wardrobe as if everything that happens is quite natural and sensible… and he lifts his cartoon of milk to sustain his life while the sounds of the city come together in one gray canopy of distant noise; the color of life…
It’s just like a jazz prelude cut short by the workings of a house carpenter… Strange! After a short pause we find ourselves inside a dusty area with sharp sounds tilting through the soundscape like thin sheets of metal, or are they thin layers of ice flaking through the sky in a film shown in slow-motion, the sun reflecting like the fire of muzzle-loaders…?
The middle section is faster, conversational, i.e. the speedy, funny little chats of mice playing under the table in a Walt Disney cartoon, nice and tidy, yet reckless…
Toy piano ripples tickle here and there in the electronic underbrush, electronic bird calls chirp and whistle, pleasantly moaning creatures from nowhere stick there heads up, only to duck away and rush elsewhere.
Echoes of a filtered enchanted forest are sensed from a distance, and gamelan-like vibrations of metal massage the air that makes imprints on your tympanic membranes.
Fast cuts of kitchenware noises light up and burn away, ending with the rattling of dropped lids rolling away in the kitchen distance… perhaps… or in your mind.
The last part is yet again different, cooking with the swell of a Tove Jansson Hattifattener crowd occupying the beach at night, fully charged with their collected collective electricity, giving off sparks into the minutes and seconds ahead… enjoying their electrocution immensely!
Deep layers of clay sound rumble below, like infra-signals through the earth, or the almost undetectable messages given off by elephants through their foreheads, or is this a flyover by a Second World War flock of bombers, moving like ghastly avengers, pregnant across the bleak night sky like pre-historic birds of pray, casting their shadows on your eyes…?
Yes, that and much more might be going on in this packed and crammed piece of audio information called
Tautologos 2, which is like an encyclopedia of adventures into sound!

The last piece is Und so weiter, from 1966, featuring Gérard Frémy on piano! It is a work in three sections; the longest work on the CD with its 15:29.
I’ve heard Frémy dig in to John Cage’s
Sonatas & Interludes for Prepared Piano, and sure enough he gets even more to do here, layered and splintered and stacked high on top of himself, falling all over the kitchen like the chinaware of an unlucky 1950s’ housewife seeking consolation in the bottle, aging before her time, sexy but unwanted, lost in Suburbia… but Frémy interacts with the electronics herein, filling the gaps with gaps, slicing the slices, tightening his fingers as they come down heavily on the ebony and the ivory, saliva dripping nails drooling over the keys, chords hammered down into the frame like s.w.a.t. teams taking down crash pad doors of the addicts of Brooklyn in 1970…
The second part comes across in a nocturnal atmosphere, not like some François Bayle
Les couleurs de la nuit prophecy, but the soundscape is rapidly blown to Kingdom come by attacks of a Ross Bolleter pianism which Karl-Erik Welin would have been proud of in his heaviest piano crashing days, when he accidentally sawed himself in the leg while taking a piano apart, the chainsaw spewing fumes as it hit a bolt of the piano frame…
This second part is a stretched out nocturnal, pastoral sight with repeated but sparse piano explosions. Some very low sounds move past in the gutter, and at times this get pretty vicious… and sticky like a briar at dusk…
The third and last part keeps the pianist destruction moving full force, spitting out haphazard showers of almost plasmagonic notes, cut like diamonds, spinning off like stones flying off of the road on a drive-by on gravel, the piano sidling with the ferryman at Styx, throwing Cerberus a piece of keyboard before setting out across those dark waters…