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Jean-Claude Risset

Composing sounds, linking domains :

the musical role of the computer in my music.

I had an early and vivid interest for timbre. I initally wrote instrumental
music - and still do (one of my most recent pieces is Escalas for large
orchestra). But I have spent much time exploring the possibilities of the
computer for musical creation, mostly for the compositional elaboration of
sound material. One of my early desires as a musician was to sculpt and
organize directly the sound material - to compose the sound itself, instead of
merely composing with sounds.

My use of the computer has focused mostly on this goal. I was not satisfied
with the tools of either musique concrète or electronic music. I have been
able to fullfill my desire to some extent by resorting to digital synthesis,
which permits to compose sounds with great precision. I could thus
prolongate harmony into timbre, echoing chords by tones that sound like
their spectral shadow ( Little Boy , 1968, and Mutations , 1969). The sound
material thus obtained is highly ductile, and it can be made complex enough
to be musically interesting, while too simple sounds can turn off demanding
listeners. I also resorted to digital processing of sound (Sud, Voilements,
Elementa). In both cases, I extended compositional procedures to the level of
the sound itself.

I had to perform exploration and research to use the computer musically :

between 1964 and 1969, I worked several years with Max Mathews at Bell
Laboratories. My imitative syntheses of instruments, specially brass
instruments, brought new understanding on timbre. I exploited the
idiosyncrasies of hearing to demonstrate auditory paradoxes and illusions,
for instance tones that go up in pitch yet are eventually lower than where
they started. Such paradoxes were first realized with computer-synthesizeds
tones : I later scored them for instruments and voices ( Dérives, Phases,
Triptyque, Escalas). I produced a pedagogic Catalog of computer-synthesized
s o u n d s for one of the first computer music courses organized by John
Chowning in 1969. Then I went on, introducing computer synthesis i n
France - at Orsay (1970), Marseille-Luminy (1975), where I produced rhythms
that constantly slow down but that are faster than initially after a while, and
in IRCAM (1976), where I was composer head of the Computer Department. I
visited Stanford University and MIT Media Lab as composer in residence. I
presently continue to work with Daniel Arfib in the Laboratoire de
Mécanique et d'Acoustique of CNRS in Marseille.

The use of the computer helped me link various aspects of music making. I n
sound synthesis, the composer is in charge of the sound : he or she assumes
the responsibilities of the performer and even of the instrument-maker. I
have set up close encounters between digital sound and live instruments or
voices (Dialogues, Inharmonique, Passages, Voilements, Attracteurs étranges,
Lurai, Invisible). I consider that composing implies freeing oneself from the
tyranny of real-time : I have thus mostly stayed away from real-time
operation in the digital sound domain, also avoiding the rapid obsolescence of
"instruments" that rely too much upon a fast changing technology. However
I have implemented the first live interaction between a performer and a
computer program in the acoustic domain (Duet for one pianist).
In my works, I attempt to relate form to the material and its treatment -
drifting forms, when the material evolves throughout the pieces, as i n
Mutations, Songes or Voilements, or forms influenced at different levels by a
basic sonic kernel or a morphogenetic idea, as in Sud , Attracteurs étranges ,
Invisible, Elementa , Escalas.

The computer has helped me reach certain aesthetic goals, to fullfill some
yearnings which I may describe as follow : resorting to a large vocabulary of
sounds, including and going beyond those of musical instruments; sculpting
and composing sounds, with due regard to the harmonic dimension; stimulate
perceptual mechanisms to musically take advantage of auditory illusions;
staging close encounters between acoustic sounds, audible traces of a visible
world, and immaterial sounds, suggesting an imagined, illusory world, a
separate, internal sonic reality.


- J.C. Risset, 1985, Computer Music Experiments 1964- ... . Computer Music Journal 9 n° 1, pp. 11-18
(avec 5 mn d'exemples sonores sur disque). Réédité in C. Roads, editor, The Music Machine, 1989,
M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.
- J.C.Risset, 1990. Composer le son: expériences avec l'ordinateur, 1964-1989. Contrechamps XI,
Editions l'Age d'homme, Lausanne (numéro spécial sur les musiques électroacoustiques), pp. 107-126.
- Katherine Norman, editor, Contemporary Music Review, Special issue "The Poetry of Reality, (15,
1/2, 1996) (avec exemples sonores sur disque compact accompagnant la revue).
- J.C. Risset (1996). Composing sounds, bridging gaps -the musical role of the computer in my music.
In "Musik und Technik", Helga de la Motte-Haber & Rudolf Frisius, ed., Schott, Mainz, 152-181.
- H. Dufourt & J.M. Fauquet, ed. (1997). La musique depuis 1945 - matériau, esthétique et perception.
Mardaga, Belgique.
- C. Torra-Mattenklott (2000). Illusionisme musical. Dissonance n° 64 (mai 2000), 4-11.
- Jean-Claude Risset. Monographie de la collection "Portraits polychromes", INA-GRM & CDMC, Paris

Some web sites concerning Jean-Claude RISSET

- Jean-Claude Risset (biographie, catalogue, écrits, recherches, musiques avec électronique, discographie) par
Laurent Pottier
http://www.olats.org (Rubrique "pionniers et précurseurs")
- Biographie de Jean-Claude Risset - Médiathèque de l'Ircam
- Biographie, etc (CDMC)
- Jean-Claude Risset - electrocd.com

- Analyse de Passages par Laurent Pottier


 - Rapport Art-Science-Technologie, 1999


Discours de Jean-Claude Risset, médaille d'or du CNRS 1999


On Sud (au programme du baccalauréat - option facultative musique - session 2002) :


Exemples de représentation graphique,expériences et éléments sonores pour : Daniel Teruggi : Après une écoute de Sud,;
Pierre Couprie, Donner un élan pour l'écoute de l'oeuvre : introduction à la représentation de Sud; Jean-Claude Risset :
Synthèse et traitement : sur la composition de Sud, in Portraits polychromes : Jean-Claude Risset, Coédition INA-
GRM/CDMC 2001, 61-67. sur le site

David Hirst, La Trobe University, Australia, "The use of MQ plots in the analysis of electro-acoustic music,"
http://www. musdjgh@lure.latrobe.edu.au

Giselle Martins dos Santos Ferreira. "Jean-Claude Risset'Sud : an analysis.


Paradoxes and illusions



An application to walk along the chroma circle