By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
In the wee hours between the 21st and 22nd of August last year, two pioneers of electronic music passed away. There was Bob Moog, the American inventor of the synthesizer who made all the art-section obits; but Luc Ferrari, a Frenchman who used magnetic tape to devastating effect, disappeared as well. Ferrari, along with a clutch of fellow countrymen like Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, concocted musique concrète in the early 1950s. These men unfastened familiar sounds and linear trajectory via magnetic tape, setting the table for the next generation of studio editing (splicing, looping, altering playback speed) and slow acceptance of noise-as-music.
As these studio experiments became standard operating procedure, Ferrari had a realization: Besides mere abstraction, sound could be a narrative, or as evocative and impressionistic as a landscape painting. The studio was too stuffy and sterile, so Ferrari opened a window, went for long walks, leered at ladies, and made tape pieces that sound like psilocybin-tinged nature hikes. His most famous composition, Presque Rien No.1 sounds like dawn in a fishing village, though it's as tightly edited as any documentary.
Son Mémorisé, a posthumous release, features the fourth installment of Presque Rien. Inspired by a stroll through Vintimille, a small villa, Ferrari recreates the scene while daubing in sly permutations of sound. Children play on cobblestones and scooters dart past, but then barked cries get looped against outbursts of electronics, the mundane suddenly hallucinatory. This isn't to suggest that "No. 4" doesn't suffer the diminishing returns of a sequel, or that "Saliceburry," a late piece, isn't much more than a curious slurry of electronically tweaked odds and ends of tape.
More classical for Ferrari is "Promenade," which evokes time spent in Algiers. Roosters crow, oblivious to the mosque-amplified prayers, though both sounds are soon overtaken by haggling in the bazaar, which in turn mutates into rounds from the Koran. The piece climaxes with the sounds of night festivities: cannon shots, ululations, shenai, and tambours. Deftly paced, Ferrari's aural illusions are as evocative as ever. Though he also recorded astounding works of minimalism and spiky, loopy jazz, Ferrari most often sculpted pieces from conversations, quotidian sounds, and encounters from all over the earth, reminding us that these human exchanges are music, too.