Pierre Schaeffer

The father of musique concrète, French composer Pierre Schaeffer was among the most visionary artists of the postwar era; through the creation of abstract sound mosaics divorced from conventional musical theory, he pioneered a sonic revolution which continues to resonate across the contemporary cultural landscape, most deeply in the grooves of hip-hop and electronica. Born in 1910, Schaeffer was not a trained musician or composer, but was instead working as a radio engineer when he founded the RTF electronic studio in 1944 to begin his first experiments in what would ultimately be dubbed “musique concrète.” Working with found fragments of sound — both musical and environmental in origin — he assembled his first tape-machine pieces, collages of noise manipulated through changes in pitch, duration and amplitude; the end result heralded a radical new interpretation of musical form and perception.

In October 1948, Schaeffer broadcast his first public piece, Etude aux Chemins de Fer, over French radio airwaves; although the public reaction ranged from comic disbelief to genuine outrage, many composers and performers were intrigued, among them Pierre Henry, who in 1949 joined the RTF staff, as well as future collaborators Luc Ferrari and Iannis Xenakis. (Olivier Messiaen was also a guest, bringing with him students Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.) Schaeffer forged on, in 1948 completing Etude Pathetique, which in its frenetic mix of sampled voices anticipated the emergence of hip-hop scratching techniques by over a generation; by 1949’s Suite pour 14 Instruments, he had turned to neo-classical textures, distorted virtually beyond recognition. In 1950, Schaeffer and Henry collaborated on Symphonie pour un homme seul, a 12-movement work employing the sounds of the human body.

Working with the classically-trained Henry on subsequent pieces including Variations Sur une Flute Mexicaine and Orphee 51 clearly informed Schaeffer’s later projects, as he soon adopted a more accessible musical approach. Together, the two men also co-founded the Groupe de Musique Concrète in 1951; later rechristened the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, or GRM, their studio became the launching pad behind some of the most crucial electronic music compositions of the era, among them Edgard Varèse’s Deserts. However, by the end of the decade most of the GRM’s members grew increasingly disenchanted with the painstaking efforts required to construct pieces from vinyl records and magnetic tape; after later, tightly-constructed works like 1958’s Etude aux Sons Animes and the next year’s Etudes aux Objets, even Schaeffer himself announced his retirement from music in 1960.

Leaving the GRM in the hands of Francois Bayle, some months later Schaeffer founded the research center of the Office of French Television Broadcasting, serving as its director from 1960 to 1975; in 1967, he also published an essay titled “Musique Concrète: What Do I Know?” which largely dismissed the principles behind his groundbreaking work, concluding that what music now needed was “searchers,” not “auteurs.” In later years, Schaeffer did explore areas of psycho-acoustic research which he dubbed Traite de Objets Musicaux (TOM); these experiments yielded one final piece, the 11-minute Le Triedre Fertile. He also hit the lecture circuit and agreed to produce radio presentations. Pierre Schaeffer died in Aix-en-Provence on August 19, 1995.

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/pierre-schaeffer-mn0000679092/biography

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R. Murray Schafer

R. Murray Schafer is Canada’s pre-eminent composer and is known throughout the world. In an era of specialization, R. Murray Schafer has shown himself to be a true renaissance man.

Born in Sarnia, Ontario in 1933, Murray Schafer has won national and international acclaim not only for his achievement as a composer but also as an educator, environmentalist, literary scholar, visual artist and provocateur. After receiving a Licentiate in piano through the Royal Schools of Music (England) in 1952, he pursued further studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and the University of Toronto, followed by periods of autodidactic study in Austria and England which encompassed literature, philosophy, music and journalism. A prolific composer, he has written works ranging from orchestral compositions to choral music as well as musical theatre and multi-media ritual.

His diversity of interests is reflected by the enormous range and depth of such works as Loving (1965), Lustro (1972), Music for Wilderness Lake (1979), Flute Concerto (1984), and the World Soundscape Project, as well as his 12-part Patria music theatre cycle. His most important book, The Tuning of the World (1977), documents the findings of his World Soundscape Project, which united the social, scientific and artistic aspects of sound and introduced the concept of acoustic ecology. The concept of soundscape unifies most of his musical and dramatic work, as well as his educational and cultural theories.

His other major books include E.T.A. Hoffmann and Music (1975), Ezra Pound and his Music (1977), On Canadian Music (1984), Voices of Tyranny: Temples of Silence (1993), and The Thinking Ear: On Music Education (1986). He has received commissions from numerous organizations as well as several prizes. He was the first winner of the Glenn Gould Prize for Music and Communication as well as the Molson Award for distinctive service to the arts. In 2005 he was awarded the Walter Carsen Prize, by the Canada Council for the Arts, one of the top honours for lifetime achievement by a Canadian artist.

Murray Schafer’s new creation (opera), “Patria 8 – The Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix” was very successfully premiered September 13-16, 2001 in four shows, recorded by CBC Radio. Eight shows were presented from August 31 to September 10, 2006, in Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. It was magical and beautiful (see photos and press reviews).

http://www.philmultic.com/composers/schafer.html

Marina Abramović • The Onion


© Marina Abramović, The Onion, 1996 – 20:00 mins

watch excerpt

The first shot is a close up of Abramović looking upward and holding a large onion. Her fingernails are painted bright red, just like her lips. Slowly she brings the onion closer to her mouth, taking a large bite from it and beginning to chew. Her voice-over keeps repeating the following as she devours the onion: ‘I’m tired of changing planes so often, waiting in the waiting rooms, bus stations, train stations, airports. I am tired of waiting for endless passport controls. Fast shopping in shopping malls. I am tired of more career decisions: museum and gallery openings, endless receptions, standing around with a glass of plain water, pretending that I am interested in conversation. I am tired of my migraine attacks. Lonely hotel room, room service, long distance telephone calls, bad TV movies. I am tired of always falling in love with the wrong man. I am tired of being ashamed of my nose being too big, of my ass being too large, ashamed about the war in Yugoslavia. I want to go away. Somewhere so far that I’m unreachable, by telephone or fax. I want to get old, really, really old, so that nothing matters any more. I want to understand and see clearly what is behind all of us. I want not to want anymore.’

As she is complaining, Abramović is noticeably agitated by eating the raw onion. Her eyes are tearing up, her saliva is dripping out of her mouth as her lipstick is rubbed off and bits of onion layers stick to her face. Her chewing is slowing down, but she continues to take ferocious bites from the onion while the voice-over continues. In certain respects, ‘The Onion’ shows familiarities with early performances like ‘Art must be Beautiful, Artists must be Beautiful’, in which Abramović is violently brushing her hair and face while reciting the title of the piece. As the early performances revolve around mental and physical limits of pain, ‘The Onion’ resumes Marina’s dedication to idea of the inseparability of body and mind by challenging apparent limitations of physical stamina. The video is also part of the 16-channel installation ‘Video Portrait Gallery’ (Abramović 1975-2002).

Gary Hill • Mediations, 1986

“The beginning of a remake of an earlier work [Soundings, 1979] in which I wanted to extend the reflexivity of each text in relation to the interaction between different physical substances—in this case, sand—and the speaker cone. A loudspeaker fills the screen and I begin to speak, referring to the speaker itself. This is followed by more declarations of what I am doing, ‘…a hand enters the picture….’ A hand filled with sand enters the picture and slowly releases it into the loudspeaker’s cone. Every nuance of speech vibrates the speaker’s cone (or membrane), bouncing the grains of sand into the air. The more I speak about what is happening, the more it changes—or feeds back into—the movement and patterns of the sand. At times the grain of the voice seemingly merges with what is experienced as ‘sand.’ The hand allows more and more sand to trickle onto the loudspeaker until the cone is no longer visible. The timbre of the voice crackles and is radically muffled. When the speaker is completely buried, the voice sounds distant but remarkably clear.” – Gary Hill

Colin Campbell

Born in Reston, Manitoba, 1942, Colin Campbell studied at the University of Manitoba (BFA) and Claremont Graduate School in California (MFA), then taught at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, where he made his first video works. He moved to Toronto in 1973 and taught first at the Ontario College of Art, now the Ontario College of Art and Design, and then, beginning in 1980, in the Department of Fine Art at University of Toronto. Campbell died of cancer in October 2001 and is greatly mourned by friends and colleagues.

Canada’s premier video artist and author of over fifty titles, Campbell was active in the artist-run centre movement in Canada, a founding member (and for many years president) of Vtape independent video distribution. He curated video and performance programs in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Rio de Janeiro, and published texts in FILE and Fuse magazines, as well as the artist’s books The Woman from Malibu (1978) and Modern Love (1979), commissioned by Art Metropole, Toronto. A retrospective exhibition, Colin Campbell: Media Works 1972–1990, was mounted by curator Bruce W. Ferguson for the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1990, and toured nationally the following year. Campbell received the Bell Canada Award in Video Art in 1996.

Colin Campbell represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1980 and at biennial exhibitions in Sao Paulo in 1977 and Istanbul in 1992, as well as at OKanada in Berlin (Akademie der Künste, 1982) and Documenta in Kassel, Germany in 1977. He exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris), the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and at museums and galleries elsewhere in Europe and throughout Canada and the United States. His video and film were included in the television series Ghosts in the Machine (Channel Four Television, London) and Video Art Vidéo (TVOntario) and aired on Vision Television (Toronto). His work has been screened at the Melbourne Film Festival, British Film Institute Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the Festival of Festivals (the precursor to the Toronto International Film Festival), the Chicago International Film Festival, and elsewhere.

– Peggy Gale, excerpted from her text “About Colin Campbell” on the Video Art in Canada Website (Vtape/Virtual Museum of Canada, 2006)

http://www.vtape.org

Martha Rosler: “Semiotics of the Kitchen” (1975)

Semiotics of the Kitchen adopts the form of a parodic cooking demonstration in which, Rosler states, “An anti-Julia Child replaces the domesticated ‘meaning’ of tools with a lexicon of rage and frustration.” In this performance-based work, a static camera is focused on a woman in a kitchen. On a counter before her are a variety of utensils, each of which she picks up, names and proceeds to demonstrate, but with gestures that depart from the normal uses of the tool. In an ironic grammatology of sound and gesture, the woman and her implements enter and transgress the familiar system of everyday kitchen meanings — the securely understood signs of domestic industry and food production erupt into anger and violence. In this alphabet of kitchen implements, states Rosler, “when the woman speaks, she names her own oppression.”

Electronic Arts Intermix
http://www.eai.org

Hollis Frampton • (nostalgia), 1971

“In (nostalgia), Frampton is clearly working with the experience of cinematic temporality. The major structural strategy is a disjunction between sound and image. We see a series of still photographs, most of them taken by Frampton, slowly burning one at a time on a hotplate. On the soundtrack, we hear Frampton’s comments and reminiscences about the photographs. As we watch each photograph burn, we hear the reminiscence pertaining to the following photograph. The sound and image are on two different time schedules. At any moment, we are listening to a commentary about a photograph that we shall be seeing in the future and looking at a photograph that we have just heard about. We are pulled between anticipation and memory. The nature of the commentary reinforces the complexity; it arouses our sense of anticipation by referring to the future; it also reminisces about the past, about the time and conditions under which the photographs were made. The double time sense results in a complex, rich experience.” – Bill Simon