Luc Ferrari’s electronic work as part of Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales has recently been collected in a 10-CD box set released by INA called L’Œuvre Électronique. John Kealy has written an excellent review of this compilation for Brainwashed.com, which includes sound samples. I encourage you to read all of it, but this excerpt both frames Ferrari’s place in the history of music and sums up Kealy’s impressions nicely:
While this set ignores Ferrari’s compositions for traditional instruments, it is possible to get a very clear picture of his work and ideology from this one (albeit very important) aspect of his work. I do not need to stress how much of an innovator Ferrari was, even now pieces like Danses Organiques and Dialogue Ordinaire avec la Machine sound mysterious and deeply complex; to my ears most electronic musicians are still playing catch up with him. Newer pieces such as Archives Génétiquement Modifées and the poignant Les Arhythmiques (composed in 2003 following Ferrari’s hospitalization for cardiac arrhythmia, the condition that would later lead to his death) show that his creativity burned bright even into his 70s. Even posthumously, his ideas live on as Brunhild Ferrari created the anything but derivative Dérivatif following his specifications.
L’Œuvre Électronique is the most fitting monument to Ferrari’s. Bearing in mind that there are 10 CDs worth of impeccable compositions as well as a detailed book (in French and English) that features a short biography, notes by Ferrari and an interview with Brunhild; this is also an exceptionally good value too with INA/GRM keeping the price as low as possible. Hopefully, there will be a sister release of his works for traditional instruments to accompany his electronic works but for the moment there is more than enough material here to keep anyone going for a long, long time.
Anyone interested in the history of modern music will likely be served well by obtaining a copy of this set. Lots has been written about Luc Ferrari’s work, so instead of adding more words to the pile, I’ll refer you to a couple of fine resources. The Wikipedia article is okay, but written in a fairly haphazard style. It’s worth reading for an explanation of his various techniques and concepts. An interview with Ferrari conducted by Dan Warburton is available at the Paris Transatlantic website. Warburton asks him about everything from his falsified autobiographies to his impression of other modern composers, his recording techniques, and the difference between “sound art” and music. It’s an excellent read and I recommend you take the time to peruse it at some point.
Loads of Youtube videos exist, most of them lo-fi recordings of his work set to still images. Some of his acoustic music is also available on Youtube, but again the recording qualities leave a lot to be desired.
Speaking of modern music, lately I’ve been totally captivated by The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross. Ross is a writer for the New Yorker and a damn good one. His book covers the history of modern music from Gustav Mahler to John Cage and beyond by weaving together the various political, social, religious, theoretical, and personal details that informed the music. His treatment of early twentieth century composers like Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg is excellent and insightful as it manages to both reduce these titanic intellectuals to their human foundation and acknowledge their (sometimes insane) genius. Picking up a copy will inevitably increase both your understanding of and appreciation for modern music. I’m going to go ahead and call it essential for anyone that loves music, weird sounds, noise, and abstract art in general.
Ross’ book has me considering a change in Laughter’s format, too. Now that Modern Music for Modern Men and Nouvelles Aventures are no longer aired on WZBC, there’s a serious lack of modern classical music being played at the station. If I find that I can talk reasonably about the music and play an interesting and entertaining mix of various composers, then Laughter might begin playing a feature I’m tentatively calling “Think the Note.” It will cover music from approximately 1900 until the present, but with an eye to composers who have thought seriously about what they’re writing and why. In other words, I want to cut the punk-DIY aesthetic out of the picture and focus on musicians more closely tied to classical traditions. If all goes well, I’ll be broadcasting a short sample of this feature next week.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little Sunday afternoon mix. The show started a little early last week, so the first fifteen minutes or so of the show are available at the END of the first link.
Cheers and happy listening.
01. Silver Jews “Punks in the Beerlight” from Tanglewood Numbers (2005) on Drag City
02. Scout Niblett “Dinosaur Egg” from This Fool Can Die Now (2007) on Too Pure
03. Songs: Ohia “Peoria Lunchbox Blues” from Magnolia Electric Co. (2003) on Secretly Canadian
04. Oneida “Brownout in Lagos” from Rated O (2009) on Jagjaguwar / Brah
05. Pan Sonic “Gravity” from Kesto (234.48:4) (2004) on Mute
06. Radian “Jet” from Rec.Extern (2002) on Thrill Jockey
07. Popul Vuh “Selig Sin Die, Die Da Hungern” from Seligpreisung (2004) on SPV — originally released in 1973 on Kosmische Kuriere
08. Current 93 “Idumea (w/ Marc Almond)” from Black Ships Ate the Sky (2006) on Durtro/Jnana
09. Rome “The Secret Sons of Europe” from Flowers from Exile (2009) on Trisol
10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds “The Hammer Song” from The Good Son (1990) on Mute
11. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band “Pachuco Cadaver” from Trout Mask Replica (1969) on straight
12. Volcano the Bear “All the Paint I Can Breathe” from Guess the Birds (2001) on Beta-lactam Ring
13. A Place to Bury Strangers “Missing You” from A Place to Bury Strangers (2007) on Killer Pimp
14. Loop “Be Here Now” from A Gilded Eternity (1990) on Bmg
15. Nurse With Wound “The Golden Age of Telekinesis” from The Surveillance Lounge (2009) on United Dirter
16. Eyvind Kang “Mary of Magdalen” from Theater of Mineral NADEs (1998) on Tzadik
17. Luc Ferrari “Dialogue Ordinaire avec la Machine…(excerpt)” from L’Œuvre Électronique (2009) on Ina
18. Luc Ferrari “Presque Rien Avec Filles” from L’Œuvre Électronique (2009) on Ina
19. Luc Ferrari “Les Arythmiques (excerpt)” from L’Œuvre Électronique (2009) on Ina