Henri Pousseur

Acousmatrix 4: Scambi/Trois Visages de Liege/Paraboles Mix

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Belgian serialist and electro-acoustic composer Henri Pousseur has, since the 1950s, been deeply involved in the research and development of electro-acoustic music. He was a collaborator and colleague of three of the genre's largest proponents: Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Along with numerous compositions, he is the co-author of an opera with French novelist Michel Butor, entitled Votre Faust, which commenced in 1960 and was completed in 1968. This collaboration with Butor is ongoing; it produces works for dance and theater that enjoin semantic and musical structures in unique-and often disturbing-ways. The three works contained here come from different aspects of Pousseur's long and varied -- if largely unnoticed -- career. "Scambi" is a modulated work for small elementary particles of sound assembled in an aleotoric manner, compressed into white noise and performed with serialist principles. Along the serial line, dynamic and speed changed often, pushing the sonic material through different structural filters and somehow cleaning it up in the process. It's an interesting experiment, but there is no more clarity for the listener at the end than at the beginning, making the work a purely academic abstraction. In the "Trois Visages de Liege," Pousseur reflects on the place he has taught for more than 40 years. It was composed to accompany a light installation inside the town's social district. Municipal authorities, however, thought the music too disturbing to be played continuously throughout the night; they had it removed and replaced by milder music. This work is full of provocative sound collages that evoke not only moments in sonic civic history, but the sounds of its historical events as well: wildcat strikes and their ensuing violence in 1960, protests against new laws being enacted, etc. The work was a reminder of what the town had been and was at that time. It's the most ingenious and even terrifying work here, where great washes of sound cross-modulated patterns of distortion that repeat themselves along serialist lines, moving the original sounds to the boundary and replace them with larger, and even more sinister constructions. The final work, "Paraboles-Mix" was created for three independent tape recorders and a mixing table and four pairs of loudspeakers. They were created in real time, making them a montage of the real, as there were no outside manipulations of tape or effect. Using bits of vocal improvising, intermittent electronic sound, and noise and percussive effects, the work is a gargantuan crossing of the electro-acoustic jungle without a guide. It is an improvised serial of events and yet feels composed, perhaps because of the mixing and placement of speakers which gate sounds as they come through the scope of the listener. It is an academic exercise in art for art's sake it is true. However, it accounts for a wholly compelling experience in the listener's mental geography. There are moments when displacement and disorientation occur as well as those segment which can induce long stretches where serenity is possible. This is a provocative volume in this series in that it ranges from the simply banal to what approaches the profound.

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