Sunday, May 04, 2008

L'oeil ecoute: on sound-image correspondences

The Parmegiani box arrived at the end of last week: 12 CDs, bi-lingual booklet. And despite its mammoth scope, even that is far from a complete survey of this king-of-beards' acousmatic experiments. Over at the Avant-Garde Project, you can find his early Danse on Ilhan Mimaroglu's comp of GRM sonorities, as well as Generique and a revised version of Ponomatopees from the Electronic Panorama box. If we assume that Danse (1964) is representative of those early works that are absent from these douze discs, we haven't missed out on so much. But despite a couple of revisions-for-LP-record (the afore-mentioned Ponomatopees, and Pop'eclectic), his soundtrack work has been largely omitted.

One Parmegiani soundtrack included in its entirety is his 1970 L'Oeil Ecoute (The Eye Listens); a stunning work, tho' sadly the only existing copy of the video has been damaged - so we can only guess at the images that accompanied this tour-de-force of brut extremity.

Anyways. I've been thinking on this great & very thoughtful piece by Colin Black for RealTime. And he's right: within the (local) concert and festival circuit, there's a definite tendency to privilege the audio-visual over the purely sonic... Or the purely cinematic, for that matter - something which plenty of experimental filmmakers would take a definite issue with. Stan Brakhage is (was) perhaps the most famous, but there are plenty of others and a couple of them live locally.

(Ultimately, Black does exactly that thing he's bemoaning: he fails to discuss, even in passing, the actual sonic qualities of works. This doesn't diminish his argument, but it does reflect on a general failure of Australian "music criticism" to engage with its subject in a meaningful way. Yes; for sure we can debate about funding and programming policy. But: surely we're mature enough to begin a robust discussion of this country's creative music? The works, and the artists, deserve that as much as the audience.)

Thinking on Black's article reminds me that both of Bebe Barron & Tristram Cary have recently passed for other-planes-of-there. 2 pioneering figures of electronic music: no question. Both of them produced what are arguably their most memorable electroacoustic works as soundtrack commissions.

... and its worth remarking upon: excepting for the Columbia-Princeton academy (and even there), much of the initial post-WW2 experiment in electronic music was paired to the expedient of soundtracking. The GRM & the BBC Radiophonic Workshop... even "pure" research facilities at Darmstadt, Utrecht, Tokyo, Moscow, Milan & Warsaw (etc) were producing works for radio broadcast. Tod Dockstader began as a film editor, did cartoon SFX, and eventually wrote Tom & Jerry cartoons. 1 of the 2 musique concrete pieces that Boulez produced at the GRM became a soundtrack.
Its a facile statement, but the technology suggested its own outcomes: Sci-Fi film & animation scores, radio plays & horspiel.

Brakhage nailed it when he spoke of his filmwork employing a musical structure; in the absence of a literary narrative, its the most obvious way to 'decode' his cinema. Maya Deren used the analogy of poetry - but in the classic sense, & again not far removed from what we understand as music.

This analogy also functioned in the other direction. The "logic of successive images" provided composers with the means to arrive at new structural models for electronic music, which often owed little debt to existing creative forms.

Neitzsche (via John Hartmann) identifies the analogic function as one of the singular powers of the human animal: "
first, the nerve stimulus is transformed into image (thus leaving dreams as originary writing?). Second, the images become sounds, or words. Language, which is so pervasive in our human existence, is thus the second level of metaphor. Finally, there is the transformation from the sonic realm back to the conscious, as the sound/word becomes the concept."

So. Hardly suprising that this correspondence between sound & image should be so prevalent: it makes quite a lot of obvious sense.

Ultimately, I'm still essentially in agreement with Colin Black. But beyond the qualification outlined above, there's an obvious historical rejoinder:

(graphic score by Parmegiani; possibly for Capture Ephemere?)

extra infos:

Ant Pateras & Rob Fox's MIBEM deserves singular mention as an event with an absolute attention to sonics, above & beyond a/v concerns...

... Absolutely pitiful obituary for Tristram Cary in The Age, merely reiterating the errors of the AAP feed. No, he didn't compose the Doctor Who theme - Ron Grainer came up with a melody, & Delia Derbyshire made the electronic realisation of it. Grainer thought her realisation was so far removed from his original idea to be wholly Derbyshire's own - but BBC Radiophonic protocols attributed the credit to him (Derbyshire was merely employed as a technician!). And: the suggestion that contemporary studio pop - hip hop, techno, etc - "wouldn't exist" without Cary is risible in its exageration. The first electronic pop music was actually created in Australia back in 1951, and within a few years there were other, & more ambitious, works in both Holland & the USA.

(Contrariwise: the CreateDigitalMusic site has superior obits for both Barron & Cary)

Final, -like: Andrew Ford reprises a 1hr interview with Cary from 2005, available as a stream or MP3 DL from the The Music Show website... Cary's influence on Australian music culture is difficult to determine; he brought the likes of John Cage & Henk Baadings out here, then left them stranded in Adelaide?

Labels: , , , , ,


Blogger Ben.H said...

Thanks for posting these links. I just found a 2nd-hand copy of Cary's Dictionary of Musical Technology. I remember him being around the University in Adelaide in the late 1980s, but he seemed to be a bit adrift from what all the other composers in town were interested in.

9:52 am  
Blogger jim knox said...

Hey Ben,

Yeah - I haven't listend back to the interview w/ Ford yet; but from memory, he expresses the same kind of ambivalence of electronic music that Pierre Schaeffer had at the end of his life (viz, his interview w/ Tim Hodgkinson).

2:59 pm  
Blogger Ben.H said...

Interesting. That "What the Future Sounded Like" documentary suggests a similar thing, implying he moved to Adelaide to drop out of electronics and get back to more traditional music-making, which obviously wasn't entirely true.

9:10 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home