lamberto coccioli

on music and beauty

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A role for contemporary music?

At the beginning of last summer György Ligeti left us. What struck me most, after the inevitable sorrow for the loss of another great musical mind, was the almost complete lack of notice given to his death outside the narrow world of so-called contemporary music.

Throughout the history of music there have been composers wishing to give their art a cultural status comparable to literature, or philosophy. In more recent times composers as diverse as Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez have made a considerable effort to raise the profile of musical thought, and bring it into the mainstream cultural debate.

There are inherent difficulties with these commendable attempts: intellectuals the world over are not, in general, well versed in music and compositional theory. This is obviously the result of a formative problem – music is not part of the standard education curriculum. More problems are posed by the special language – notation – that music uses, and its tenacious resistance to be apprehended and described by words alone. A good indicator of this situation is the negligible amount of citations and references to ‘contemporary music’ sources (the actual scores) and composers’ writings in essays on modern culture.

Lively, alert and informed people, interested in contemporary arts the world over, will know a lot about the latest movies, the latest books and essays, the latest exhibitions and even the latest plays, but very seldom they will know about or attend ‘contemporary music’ concerts. For them, music is a form of pleasure rather than an intellectual activity. In their experience the music space is already well stocked with the various declinations of pop, rock, jazz, world and urban music, or even with the museum of classical music.

In our eye-dominated world, where visual media condition to a large extent our perception of reality, music becomes naturally the soundtrack of our own existence – the constant background to other, more prepotent eye-driven events. This ancillary role is exactly what so-called contemporary music tries to fight against, advocating for music an autonomous status. In his 1995 article, Dei suoni e delle immagini (Of Sounds and Images), first read when the University of Siena awarded him the degree honoris causa, and later reworked as one of the Six Norton Lectures on Poetry ( Remembering the Future_ Cambridge, Harvard University), Berio tries to defend the autonomy of the ear and its predominance on the eye.

It is telling that Berio identifies music theatre – opera – as the one area where music still has the power to be in control, generate the dramatic structure and influence all visual and narrative elements. Music theatre is inherently a ‘dirty’ playing field, where visual and musical elements merge and interact in unpredictable ways. As much as composers wish for music to be in control, planning carefully every element of the show, it will be almost impossible to avoid the predominance of the visual element. Berio’s wishful thinking is shattered against the hard facts of human perception and cultural conditioning. Moreover, opera is a team enterprise, where the composer is but one of the authors. Berio’s quarrels with directors and stage designers became proverbial, showing the difficulty of maintaining control – à la Wagner – over everything. Role specialisation in today’s theatre and the refinement of available technologies make it altogether impossible. It is also presumptuous to think that one person – the composer – can be at the same time the librettist, director and stage designer of his/her operas. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s own unsatisfactory results should rest my case.

But then, if even music theatre cannot be the vehicle of musical thought, what is left to us? Precious little, I’m afraid. We have to accept that the incomparable depth and richness found in contemporary musical thought is lost to the cultural debate, and belongs to the kind of esoteric endeavours that never go past the narrow confines of ‘contemporary music’ circles.

Where is my audience?

The relationship between composer and audience today is a strange one indeed. More to the point, is there an audience at all for so-called contemporary music? We need to be honest about it: the audience is disappearing. This is not something to worry too much about: it is only the natural consequence of the demise of the social role and status of contemporary classical music, and the related changes in music fruition and delivery. The music critic, another element of the traditional concert ecology, is also silently fading away, a powerless casualty of this evolving situation.

As a musician, I’m principally interested in live performance. The magic dimensions of a public concert is what we should care about: the ritual offering, the virtuoso display, the theatre happening on stage and the risky, adventurous nature of a live concert performance are a precious gift to all of us. But without an audience, live performance cannot survive. We already experience live performance without having to attend a ‘contemporary music’ concert: how do we convince our potential audiences that they are missing something that can’t be found elsewhere? Or, reversing the question, when was the last time you cried at a ‘contemporary music’ concert?

One obstacle, first brought to my attention by Peter Johnson, Head of Research at Birmingham Conservatoire, is the lack of a performance tradition for the vast majority of contemporary works. They are performed a few times and almost never recorded to the standards of a commercial release. They often include specific parts for specific performers, making it impossible or very difficult for other interpreters to tackle the works. A second related problem is the performers’ knowledge of the piece. How deep can your interpretation go if you are learning the piece for the first time and perform it only a few times? Compare this with the intimate relationship over the years, indeed over a lifetime, that most performers build with the classical music repertoire. A third problem is the nature of ‘contemporary music’ micro-market: the ratio between sellers (the composers) and buyers (the performers and the audiences) is incredibly skewed towards the former. The late Stephen Jay Gould had a very original interpretation for justifying this state of affairs, what he called the right wall of human achievement: in a society that favours innovation at all costs, there comes a time when the relative advancement of an art form, say music, becomes smaller and smaller, until it is imperceptible.

Current literature on audience numbers for ‘contemporary music’ concerts and audience development strategies are often enthusiastic, but, I’m afraid. always misleading. I’m referring here to the UK state of affairs, but the main argument could be applied equally well to French or Italian audiences. I would like to correlate the number of composers writing music today with the amount of people listening to their music. My impression is that the composer/audience ratio is dwindling ferociously, rather than expanding. The reason for this is probably a steeper pyramid, with few composers getting a lot of attention from the niche audiences of “contemporary music”, and a plethora of less well-known composers that remain virtually ignored.

What is in a name

Naming something is the primordial act of identification. Names form the basis of knowledge. They segment reality into discrete units that can be processed. Names describe and define reality. If something has no name, its very existence is in doubt.

This is what strikes me so much about so-called contemporary music: it has no name. Contemporary is a neutral adjective, merely stating the obvious fact that we are referring to music written in our time. It doesn’t qualify the word ‘music’ in any useful way. This is why time and again other names have been used to define this unwieldy object: art music, modern music, neue Musik [new music], musica colta [cultured music], musica seria [serious music], to name a few in English, German and Italian. None of these definitions have stuck, nor are they particularly helpful, the reason being that the segmentation of this particular bit of reality is completely artificial. It is not borne out of any historical, social, artistic or aesthetic necessity.

If we wished to define in the most concise form the conceptual field that ‘contemporary music’ and these other unhelpful names attempt to encircle, we would arrive at something like “music written by an academically trained living composer”. Although this is already quite a long definition, it needs to be further qualified: composers that are not with us anymore, mostly from the second half of the 20th century, are also labelled as “contemporary”, and “academically trained” is too narrow, as composers may have very diverse backgrounds and still be considered as belonging to the “contemporary music” field.

This is exactly the problem: the artificial definition of a “contemporary music” field is the consequence of a historical aberration: the desire to maintain a link with the tradition of classical music and to keep the distance from popular music or other music genres. But both the link with tradition and the distance from other musics are partly fictitious, and cannot be safely encoded in a name.

The conclusion is that the “contemporary music” object is not an object at all. Critical apprehension of “contemporary music” bangs all the time against this conceptual wall. We need to accept the artificiality of the “contemporary music” construct, and deal with a fragmented reality that cannot be labelled easily, if at all.

Time in Colombia

In Colombia time has a different meaning, a different structure. This has been noted already by writers and travellers, but for a composer it is particularly exciting, since it opens up a whole new perspective on time perception and manipulation.

Colombians do not have a linear perception of time – one event after the other – as we usually have in Europe. Time in Colombia is more like a sort of fabric, where each interweaving thread represents a single event. Instead of building time as a series of events following each other, Colombians maintain a parallel perception where many events are kept together. Delay and multithreading are the key concepts here; events are kept in a sort of memory buffer and dealt with according to external requirements, all at the same time. Instead of completing one event and going on to the next, Colombians advance by small or big leaps through many events at the same time.

This attitude towards time is puzzling at first, but once you get used to it, it is utterly fascinating. A group of friends might decide to visit the family of one of them living in a finca, a house in the country. The plan is to leave on Tuesday afternoon. They duly meet on Tuesday to leave, but they eventually leave only on Friday morning. A number of parallel events have been unfolding, and the trip to the finca has been delayed by three days, but for all of them it is only ‘a bit’ later. They, or their expecting host, have no concept of a missed appointment nor they feel the need to reschedule the trip. Time, simply, has stretched and the ‘visit to the finca‘ event with it, like some sort of elastic entity.

The continuous shifting and rearranging of events in time and the ability to deal with it, the ability to maintain a parallel perception of many crisscrossing events – is, I believe, one of the main reasons for the amazing creativity, emotional intelligence and adaptation skills of the Colombian people, especially those living in rural areas.

It is easy to see a musical parallel: instead of one or more fixed timelines governing a sequence of musical events or objects, each event has its own timeline, expanding and contracting according to the behaviour of other concurrent timelines.

Johannes Maria Staud

In September 2006 we started working on a new project with BCMG, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and the Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud. BCMG have commissioned Johannes a new work for harpsichord, ensemble of nine instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion, violin, viola and cello) and live electronics. One Movement and Five Miniatures will be premiered in Birmingham on 22 April 2007, with Jonathan Green and Simon Hall performing the electronics. Under my supervision Jonathan Green has realised the live electronics part of the score using MaxMSP.

Organised Sound article

Modernising musical works involving Yamaha DX-based synthesis: a case study

This article written in collaboration with Jamie Bullock has been published on Organised Sound, issue no. 5 2006.

We describe a new approach to performing musical works that use Yamaha DX7-based synthesis. We also present an implementation of this approach in a performance system for Madonna of Winter and Spring by Jonathan Harvey. The Integra Project, “A European Composition and Performance Environment for Sharing Live Music Technologies” (a three year co-operation agreement part financed by the European Commission, ref. 2005-849), is introduced as framework for reducing the difficulties with modernising and preserving works that use live electronics.

Download the Organised Sound article

ICMC 2005 Harvey paper

Modernising live electronics technology in the works of Jonathan Harvey

This paper was written together with Jamie Bullock and presented at the 2005 International Computer Music Conference in Barcelona. Here follows the abstract:

Many twentieth century works composed for instruments and live electronics are seldom performed due to their use of near obsolete technology. Some performing bodies avoid such works because the necessary technology is either unavailable or too expensive to hire. This paper describes the current status of a project to modernise the technical aspects of Jonathan Harvey’s works in order to increase the likelihood of performance and improve longevity. The technical and ideological implications of the project are discussed in the context of a broader need for the preservation of contemporary works involving technology. The use of open source software and standard protocols is proposed as a way of reducing technological obsolescence. New solutions for two of Harvey’s works are proposed, and discussed in relation to the problems encountered with the project so far. Conclusions are then drawn about the current status of the project and its implications for further work.

Download the ICMC paper.

Persistence of ritual elements

Notes for a talk I gave during Birmingham Conservatoire’s Research Days in 2002.

Persistence of ritual elements in 20th century music. A composer’s view

The ritual process in its various declinations, from tribal rites of passage to Greek tragedy, from religious ceremonies to the dynamics of social behaviour, is a powerful concept that can be applied to many seminal musical works of the last century. This paper aims to show briefly how the ritual dimension has been approached by composers, from Stravinsky to Berio, and how ritual elements are surprisingly attuned to many issues of today’s music.

* * *

We can talk of ritual in relation to music and performance on two levels:
1. The ritual aspect of a performance, the rite of the concert, so to speak. It’s the frame that allows the performance to take place, and the sequence of events is very much like a ritual process. The analogy with the classical sequence of a rite of passage, as first described by Arnold Van Gennep in his seminal work Les rites de passage (Paris, 1908), is telling: there’s a separation, with a threshold to cross – the concert space – that transforms a number of individuals into an audience, then a marginal phase, the actual performance, and eventually a reintegration, when, after applause and sharing of comments, the audience is disassembled, and becomes again a sum of individuals. The origin of the word entertainment – from the old French entretenir – to keep separated, relates with this need to create a marginal, liminal space for the performance. Liminal comes from the Latin limen, meaning boundary, threshold, limit, from where comes preliminary, liminary and postliminary. To mimick even better the classical similarity with an actual rite, often we also have someone waving authoritatively a baton, as a high priest in charge of the ceremony. In the words of Joseph Kerman in Concerto Conversations, “the symphony concert remains one of the few arenas left for ritual interchange and display by the wealthy and powerful, and while this elite has grown and is growing exponentially, it has yet to invent alternative means of self-celebration”.

2. The second level is when the model of a ritual process, or elements of it, are used in a composition, and translate in the musical sphere the concepts and dynamics attached to human rituals. This is the way of looking at rituals in music that interests me most, and will be dealt with at some length. My aim is to show how employing ritual elements and models in music can amplify and unmask the connection with hidden archetypes, in the Jungian sense. This has two very concrete outcomes: it allows to bring to the surface profound similarities between very different musical styles and cultures, and gives unifying power to the music outside of the specific language being used. More importantly, it allows to bypass the issue of the language almost completely, and justifies the coherence of works that show apparently a rather confused stylistic approach – at least according to traditional language-based analysis tools.

As it has been shown by Stephen Walsh in his recent books devoted to Stravinsky, especially in The Music of Stravinsky (OUP 1988), the preoccupation with ritual elements is constant with the composer, and comes back and again like a red thread across all the different creative periods of his life. What is relevant to our main argument here is how the ritual approach enabled Stravinsky to channel the latent archetypal forces of Russian folklore into Modernist musical constructions: the ritual as a way to tame the wild and chaotic energy of nature and incorporate it into defined works of art, re-enacting a function of ritual common to most tribal societies.

How do we identify the ritualised elements in Stravinsky’s music? Some of his works are evident recreations of existing rituals – like Les Noces (The Wedding), and many others deal with – for example – fertility rituals or sacrifices under many different covers: Rite of Spring, of course, then Oedipus Rex, Persephone, Orpheus, etc. In other works where the ritualised element is not explicit, it is to be found in the character of the music. Let’s see how we can define this character, and how it has been subsequently employed by other composers working in the same direction.

There are a number of characteristics that belong to the “ritual” field:

Static, frozen
Incantation – Apotheosis
Universalising, unity of action

Every one of this terms extends in very interesting directions, and could be used to write a cross-section history of music in recent years. The idea of non-expressive, for example, is about using ritualised expression, i.e. objective, against the subjectivity of Romanticism, but of course as Stravinsky himself said, not less moving because of that, on the other hand probably more moving (see the Symphonies of Wind Instruments). Stravinsky’s search for a mechanical production of sounds – especially in relation to Les Noces – is well known. Interestingly enough, the purposefully non-expressive white voice, without vibrato, is a characteristic of a number of African initiation rites.

The use of frames: we have seen at the beginning of this conversation how the ritual process involves the definition of a separated space, where the rite can take place. The framing devices that we find in works like Renard, Les Noces, Oedipus Rex, Persephone, by using a narrator, situate the story in a suspended space-time, and underline the ritual character of the action. The work becomes a ritual act, the re-enactment of a ritual drama. The frame creates distance. The connection with the parallel research of Meyerhold in the theatre, with the Theatre of Masks, is rather important, and this goes straight to Grotowski.

One of the most powerful compositional devices to confer on music a ritualised character is of course the use of repeating melodic, harmonic and rhythmic cells. Of special importance is the substitution of harmonic syntax with shifting harmonic fields. When we talk of harmonic fields we talk of static, non functional sets of pitches, that instead of obeying the rules of organic and dynamic growth, are layered and shifted, like planes in a Cubist painting, to give an idea. The internal movement of the fields can be extremely agitated, frenzied, but the overall impression is of a static landscape, since development happens by shifts of position and juxtaposition between different elements, rather than transformation.

The perfect example of this kind of ritualised music is the incantation effect, the kind of trance-like, multi-layered endless circular motion so characteristic of many Stravinskian endings, from the Symphony of Psalms to the Requiem Canticles, from the “Cantique” – 3rd of the Three Pieces for String Quartet_ to the Symphony in C, Apollon Musagète, etc. The effect is of a frozen landscape slowly turning on itself. In his fundamental book Musique et transe Jean Rouget shows how the incantation music of many trance-inducing rituals in tribal societies follows the same patterns. It is an easy step from here to contemporary techno in its various declinations of ritual, ambient, trance, and so on.

The need for ritual and popular music
In rave parties the DJ becomes a shaman, the master of ceremonies, while the venue, usually a warehouse, becomes a church. Rave as TAZ, Temporary Autonomous Zone, identical concept to the liminal phase of the ritual process according to Victor Turner.
Rave as a “trance device”, where the individual drowns in the collective rite, losing the sense of self. In the dichotomy figure/background, the figure fades away, the background becomes important. The big techno revolution is in this layering of sounds, and in the loss of the melody/accompaniment model of pop music. Background as a surface on which anything can be projected, where any sound objects can be layered freely. The background is the ritual dimension itself, the static element that allows the rite to set in. The electric body, vibrating and pulsating with the music. The Dionysian principle in its basic form. Repetitive is an adjective that of course can be used for what has been called Minimalist music.

One of the ritual elements that have been more successful in 20th century music is the non-narrative plot, the circular closed action, often inspired by a classical myth, and re-enacted as a ritual drama over and over again. And indeed, the perfect territory for the investigation of non-narrative techniques, is the music theatre and the opera. Writing for the opera the composer interested in a ritual approach is faced with the possibility of merging into one the two aspects that I outlined at the beginning: the ritual of the performance can indeed become the performance of a ritual. This is because in operas we can see in action both the external ritual of the performance, and the ritual nature of the opera itself. The example of Wagner’s Parsifal shows how tempting it is to think of opera as a kind of sacred performance, a religious celebration.
It comes then as no surprise that composers have looked at the non-narrative examples of ritual structures, from Greek tragedy to Japanese No theatre, as a way to overcome the stale narrative formulas of 19th century opera. If we take two works as different as Luciano Berio’s Outis, premiered in Milan on 1996, and performed again in Milan and Paris in 1999, and Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus, we see how in both of them the composers used the same story, or rather the same mythical, symbolic sequence of events, and repeated it over and over again, seeing it from different angles, in the best tradition of Levi Strauss’ structural anthropology. In Outis – meaning “no one” in Greek, and inspired by Ulysses – the same series of symbolic events is repeated five times (initially it should have been six times), always starting with the same event, the death of the father. Another work by Berio that fits the description of a ritual drama is Passaggio (1961), on a text by Edoardo Sanguineti, a real modern example of a passion play.

Berio defines all his works written for the theatre as “musical actions”. The term has not really been employed widely, but he insists on using it. For Berio a musical action is a theatrical action that is generated and determined by the music. Music in control, so to speak, like in Wagner’s operas. In truth, there’s not much action to speak of in any of his operas. Without a story, and a story projected onto the music – as Kerman says – opera becomes a lyrical form , a ritual form, a plain entertainment form, or any combination of the three, but it loses its status as a dramatic form.

I became interested in rituals while working on my opera Magma in the mid-90s. I know that the ritual approach can be misleading for its immensity. The risk is always present of falling prey of the globality of the ritual approach. Think about the following; the indo-european root for the word is _ar-_, from which the following words also derive:

Ornate, Adorn

It is a powerful cluster of concepts, but too open. In fact, a lot of things can be interpreted as a ritual process, and it is very important to maintain an alert critical mind when dealing with rituals. An example of this is the work of the social anthropologist Victor Turner. He started from the basic triadic sequence of separation, margin, reintegration – as postulated by Arnold Van Gennep – and used it to define the very nature of social interaction, social crisis, social change. Following his personal experience with the Ndembe population in Africa, Turner saw how social dynamics in time of crisis in the life of the village were not “free”, but rather followed a determined sequence of situations that reflected a ritual process. By focusing his attention on the marginal – the liminal phase of the ritual process – Turner has been able to show how the reshuffling and reordering of society values during the liminal phase is the most creative time in the history of a society. This is a powerful intuition that can be extremely useful for composers, because it allows them to look at historical events or human behaviour with a deeper knowledge of the common model that they follow. A model that can be reinterpreted and translated into music, and still preserve some of its archetypal energy.

© 2002 Lamberto Coccioli

Lettre ouverte à Yann Orlarey

[in French] A letter I sent in November 2004 to Yann Orlarey, Scientific Director of GRAME in Lyon, France. The letter was in response to Yann’s decision not to participate in the Integra project. The text of Yann’s letter I was replying to is at the bottom of the post.

* * *

Cher Yann,

D’abord merci beaucoup pour tes commentaires si détaillés, et je te prie de m’excuser si je n’ai pas répondu avant, mais j’ai eu une semaine assez terrible, et je voulais dédier à ma réponse le temps nécessaire.

J’ai beaucoup de respect pour tes opinions sur le projet, et bien sûr, je partage avec toi certaines de tes réflexions plus générales sur la musique et les technologies. Mon point de vue, si tu veux, cherche à trouver un compromis entre la liberté de la création et la nécessité de la diffusion. Je suis – en tant que compositeur – prêt à céder une partie de ma liberté si j’obtiens par là une diffusion plus grande de mon œuvre. Si la diffusion est presque inexistante, comme il en est le cas pour la musique avec dispositif électronique, mes raisons deviennent d’autant plus pressantes.

Je pense toujours à la technologie « live electronics » comme à quelque chose qui appartient à la musique, qui est engendrée par la musique (conceptuellement avant de l’être dans la pratique), et qui suit les mêmes lois qui gouvernent la communication entre musiciens et publique. Dans ce contexte, les limitations n’ont jamais posé d’obstacles véritables à la création musicale. Au contraire, dans l’histoire de la musique il y a beaucoup d’exemples où les contraintes ont eu l’effet de stimuler et concentrer la créativité des compositeurs. Les instruments de musique utilisés dans nos concerts sont eux-mêmes des « standards » assez limités, mais qui assurent la transmission d’un message extrêmement complexe et diversifié.

Le vrai problème de la technologie aujourd’hui – et il s’agit d’un problème philosophique et esthétique avant que pratique – consiste en ses possibilités illimitées et auto-fécondantes, qui dépassent largement notre contrôle et notre capacité d’interprétation. Laissée à soi-même, la technologie n’a aucun sens. C’est pour ça que je ne vois pas comme un attentat à la liberté des créateurs si on essaie de limiter la technologie pour la reconduire à une dimension simplifiée, voire plus humaine, comme si c’était un instrument qu’il faut apprendre à jouer comme les autres.

Je sais très bien que mes considérations risquent d’être utopiques. Mais il faut bien que l’on commence à réfléchir sérieusement sur ces thèmes dans notre coin – d’autant que la simplification de la technologie est en train de devenir une notion de plus en plus importante dans d’autres branches de l’informatique appliquée.

Je suis tout à fait d’accord avec toi sur la standardisation : on ne peut pas l’imposer. Mais si assez de professionnels adoptent un « standard », il y a des chances que petit à petit ce standard prenne pied, surtout si le résultat est une diffusion plus grande des œuvres. C’est pour ça que si Integra sera financé il faudra partager les activités et les résultats avec le plus grand nombre d’institutions et musiciens.

Tu as parfaitement raison sur les coûts de développement, surtout pour réaliser la simplicité dont on parle: notre démarche est peut-être trop optimiste. J’espère pourtant que, sur la période de trois ans, on arrivera au moins à jeter les fondations d’un travail plus long à terminer.

C’est dommage que Grame ne veuille pas participer à Integra. C’est toujours mieux quand on a des opinions différentes au sein du même projet, et l’on va perdre l’occasion de nous confronter à fond sur des thèmes qui nous passionnent! J’imagine que tu seras assez occupé après le voyage en Chine, mais si tu as le temps de continuer ce dialogue à distance, j’en serais reconnaissant!

Bien à toi



Cher Lamberto,

De retour de Chine, je voudrais clarifier la position de Grame concernant la partie scientifique du projet INTEGRA.

Tout d’abord et comme j’ai eu l’occasion de te le dire au téléphone la question posée par le projet : production, diffusion, patrimoine, perennité des oeuvres avec electronique et informatique est très importante et nous intéresse donc directement. Par contre nous avons beaucoup de réserves concernant la solution proposée à savoir : le développement d’outils standards et faciles d’accès, etc. Je me permets donc de te livrer quelques réflexions qui recouvrent sans doute les tiennes en grande partie.

1/ Simplicité : Bien entendu tout concepteur souhaite que ces outils soient les plus faciles à utiliser. Malheureusement la simplicité et la facilité d’utilisation n’est pas une qualité que l’on décrète comme la couleur ou la taille d’un objet. Les outils commencent bien souvent par être compliqués et il faut énormément de travail (et donc de moyens de développement) pour les rendre éventuellement un peu plus simples.

2/ Standardisation : on ne peut pas décréter de standard tout seul. On peut essayer de définir un standard en réunissant un nombre suffisant de partenaires influents, mais sans aucune garanties. Dans le domaine des nouvelles technologies les exemples d’excellents standards qui n’ont pas reussi à s’imposer sont nombreux. A l’inverse des solutions mauvaises ont réussis parfois à devenir des standards.

3/ Standardisation (bis) : La démarche de création s’accommode très mal d’outils standards. On est bien souvent dans le bricolage, la nouveauté, le prototype. La création est un domaine où tous les moyens sont bons et ou il ne peut y avoir de restrictions de moyens. Il me parait donc illusoire d’essayer d’imposer une restriction à des outils standards.

4/ Développement : le développement de nouveaux outils est très coûteux notamment en termes de mois/hommes. Ce n’est probablement pas le rôle d’un projet culture 2000 qui n’en aura, en outre, absolument pas les moyens.

En résumé, ce volet du projet est trop ambitieux pour des moyens trop limités. Nous ne voulons donc pas nous engager pour un objectif dont nous pensons qu’il ne pourra pas être atteint, et ce d’autant plus que cela ne nous parait pas être le bon objectif !

Alors quel doit être l’objectif ? A mon avis il faut profiter de ce projet et du consortium (très intéressant) pour réfléchir, tous ensemble, à la question posée, pour faire un état des lieux précis et exhaustif des problèmes que pose la circulation, la diffusion et la conservation des oeuvres avec dispositif. Et pour faire cela de manière efficace et utile, il faut *éviter* soigneusement la question de la création des oeuvres et des outils de créations. En d’autres termes il faut supposer l’oeuvre créée, faisant appel à toutes sortes de moyens, d’outils et de bricolages non standards, et à partir de là définir une démarche et des stratégies (voir des outils, mais qui ne seront pas des outils de création) visant à la rendre pérenne et facilement diffusable.

Toute autre démarche me parait utopique, mais bien entendu je suis à ta disposition pour qu’on en discute et nuancer les choses.

Très cordialement


Open letter to Paul White

Birmingham, 22 September 2003

To Paul White, Editor in Chief, Sound On Sound magazine

Dear Paul,

thank you for your leader column on the October 2003 issue. You have simply and beautifully put into words something we all feel when working on a music project in a technology-dependent environment, be it on a lone laptop or in a complex project studio: our creative energy is often held captive by the incredible amount of big and small technological problems we have to solve all the time.
Music software (almost ANY music software, unfortunately…) is the classical example, where hundreds of features are there to mask essentially flawed designs. Or how else would you describe technology that requires you to spend anything from 25% to 50% of your working time fixing things?
I worked for 5 years with the late Luciano Berio. One thing we disagreed upon was the role of technology in music: he was still convinced, like Stockhausen and the other great masters of his generation, that technology should be the result of musical thinking, the answer to a compositional problem; musical ideas triggered and in a way generated and justified the development of technology. My argument on the other hand was – and still is – that today music technology is more like a sea of possibilities, a huge expanse where composers wander and pick cherries at leisure. Musical ideas cannot influence technology developments anymore. Technology is already there. We must learn to choose and select what we really need for our musical projects. Sadly, the advances in technology have not made the choice any easier.
Which brings me to the last point: have you ever thought that SOS articles – with their unrelenting focus on new products and technologies irrespective of the human/emotional/musical value – are fostering a culture of technology for technology’s sake? It is maybe time for you to take a stance, and focus only on those products/technologies that show a real concern for the workings of the musical mind and the needs of the creative process. The risk of course is that you’re probably going to end up with a very thin magazine…

Best wishes


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