Luc Ferrari

Son Memorise

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Sub Rosa's Son Mémorisé is both grand finale and goodbye to French composer and electronic music pioneer Luc Ferrari, who died unexpectedly in August 2005 at age 76 in the very wake of a rediscovery. For some years prior to that, Sub Rosa head and Ferrari's rediscoverer Guy-Marc Hinant had devoted a number of discs to propagating the electronic lifework of Ferrari (he wrote conventional music as well) and Son Mémorisé was originally designed as yet another entry in a proposed slate of releases. However, as Ferrari's expiration date arrived just slightly prior to the release date of the album, something else about this project becomes apparent -- Son Mémorisé truly does have an air of finality to it that nearly seems intentional.

Son Mémorisé is the only Sub Rosa album to take its title after Ferrari's alleged technique of audio collage, which he never explicitly, fully explained. Nevertheless, it seemed to involve, at least in part, committing to memory long stretches of taped field recordings, rearranging the sounds in his head, and then reconstructing them back into collages based on his mutated mental visions of them. The La remontée du village brings to a close an important cycle of pieces entitled Presque rien (i.e., Almost Nothing) of which the first entry established Ferrari's mature approach to electronic music upon its appearance on a Deutsche Grammophon album in 1971. This piece, like the others, is built out of sounds collected in a specific environment on a single day or two, which is subject to a long process of scrutiny and recombination. The recorded event in La remontée du village is merely a walk up a steep slope in the Italian town of Vintimille, which Ferrari then took nine years to put into a finished form. Promenade Symphonique dans un Paysage Musical ou un Jour de Fête á El-Oued en 1976 is the rearranged audio remnant of a day spent in an Algerian village. This is one of the most foreign sounding among Ferrari's chosen locales and has a certain aroma and taste all its own, like an exotic cup of coffee.

One nagging aspect of Ferrari's Son Mémorisé is how we qualify such work as "art" versus that of New York-based sound collagist Tony Schwartz, whose output is generally considered more in the realm of audio documentary than avant-garde. While Schwartz's preferences in terms of sound design seem more driven by an external story logic than Ferrari's, in Promenade Symphonique dans un Paysage Musical Ou un Jour de Fête á El-Oued en 1976, Ferrari's final assemblage is so close to following the recorded events as they originally unfolded that there is almost no distinction. Therefore, one could argue that declaring Ferrari's work "art" and Schwartz' "utilitarian" is no more than a smokescreen for Europeans trying to take away credit from an American artist who is so entitled and that either one should be elevated or the other downgraded.

Saliceburry Cocktail, though, is clearly "Art" with a capital "A." Ferrari collects a number of unused sounds from various projects and proceeds to obliterate them with other things he has collected for a work, or works, that he does not intend to complete. Alone among the pieces here, Saliceburry Cocktail hearkens back to the accidental aesthetic that drove Ferrari's first compositions on tape in the late '50s, but it is also about cleaning one's desk, pressing into service the leftovers of one's life and then erasing them. In the notes, Hinant does not indicate if Ferrari continued to work past Saliceburry Cocktail. However, as in the case of Olivier Messiaen's Illuminations of the Beyond, Saliceburry Cocktail certainly feels like what Ferrari intended as his valedictory statement. Therefore, even if he did succeed in creating something else past Saliceburry Cocktail, then that would be a bonus for us, but for Ferrari his last words were already seemingly spoken in this work.

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