Born in 1947, Michel Chion is a composer, filmmaker, historian and writer – and arguably the world’s foremost thinker on sound in cinema.
In the 1970s he was a member of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), the influential collective led by composer and theoretician Pierre Schaeffer dedicated to furthering the art of ‘musique concrète’ through experiments in audiovisual communication, audible phenomena and music in general. It was at the GRM that Chion composed arguably his most famous work, Requiem, a noisy and surreal deconstruction of the Funeral Mass made whilst pondering the “troubled minority of the living, rather than the silent majority of the dead.”
Since the 1980s, Chion has written extensively on the relationship of sound and image in the cinema, publishing in 1990 what many consider the definitive theoretical guide to the subject, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen. In this momentous book, Chion advances a whole new lexicon for describing audio-visual concepts, via the works of Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard and others. On reading, film scholar Claudia Gorbman was moved to name him “a poet in theoretician’s clothing.”
For this program, Michel Chion will perform an epic two-and-a-half-hour concert for ten surround-speakers featuring the classic composition Requiem (1973) alongside two new audiovisual compositions, The Scream (2017), and Third Symphony (2016).notes by Michel Chion
A CONCERT IN TWO PARTS
1: LE CRI, 2017, 17 ‘ and REQUIEM, 1973, 37’26
2: THIRD SYMPHONY, audio-divisive, 2016, 88 ‘
The first part of this concert comprises two works of musique concrète for ‘fixed’ sounds, with the projection of a blank image, intended to create a listening frame and to display the English subtitles of the text that is heard. The second part proposes an “audio-divisive” music, consisting of silent images, sounds on a blank background, and images and sounds synchronised in different ways.
LE CRI (The Scream)
Musique concrète for two-track video-audio 2017.
World Premiere. 17 ‘
By definition, in musique concrète (that is, music for fixed sounds), anything can arise at any moment from the loudspeaker, sounds from which we can not be protected—since we possess no natural eyelids for sound—but also sound with no frame, which spreads into space, even when it comes from a single source. The scream will not be heard much, but the scream will be awaited; it will be proposed in small pieces, as when one revolves around a sculpture, a volume. My project is to make a work in which there is no impression of a linear discourse, but rather the exploration of a space while maintaining a great tension. But it is not a tragic scream (as in the famous painting of Edvard Munch), rather a scream of life ….
This work was done in my personal studio, combining the tape recorder (for creating sounds) and the computer (for final editing). It is presented in a new form: with a title on a black screen and in silence, to create an ‘interval’ of time before the work begins, and to allow the work to begin in an atmosphere of concentration. The screen then remains black throughout the duration of the listening.
M.C., April 9, 2017
Musique concrète for two-track video-audio. In two stages and ten movements, based on texts of the Mass of the Funerals 1973.
First performance of the version with English subtitles. 37’26”
Requiem as a whole is built on a system of echoes and correspondences that seem to be symmetrically organised around an axis represented by the work’s middle point. The form was developed in the course of the process, as a dramatic scheme that played off the listener’s memory and premonitions, since once the listener has heard the work more than once, they can predict as well as recall. Echoes and correspondences of what? Themes, musical motives, ranging from the most elemental (a loop, raw matter) to the most elaborated (a musical development), and which are reprised, quoted or announced at various moments of the work – some are easily identifiable as “leitmotivs” (theme-chorus from the Dies Irae quoted in the finale), while others are accompanying motives, matter that does not need to be memorised at a conscious level. An extreme case of such echo effect is found in the short movements 2 & 9, which use almost the same “music” cast under completely opposite sound lighting. The centre of the work, the axis of that symmetry, is the 6th movement Evangile, where happens a symbolical tear in the magnetic tape, a crack in the work itself, opening in the timeline a breach of eternity that lets us glimpse “something else.”
Within this large form in two parts, we find the small forms of each movement: forms with choruses and episodes, litanies, recitativo, levelled crescendos, etc. There is also another formal course delineated by the succession of several vocal characters, their timbre, intonation, and relation to the libretto. The only time a well-assured, peremptory voice is clearly heard is, once again, at that central moment in Evangile (“il va ressusciter” or “he will rise”), where its irruption seems to spread panic throughout the whole system and provoke the breach…
Like the requiems of the classical era, this Requiem‘s text is taken from the Funeral Mass, to which are added an Epistle, a Gospel and a Pater Noster. The texts are mostly said in their original language (Latin or Greek) and in French, in some rare cases. The Requiem was composed whilst thinking about the troubled minority of the living, rather than the silent majority of the dead. I tried to turn this oratorio into a “great sonic show,” cinemascope music. One can detect the obvious (at least to me) influence of filmmakers and films, more in the play of forms, time and space, as opposed to realistic evocations. Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus was an influence, again acknowledged after the fact; the pages spent describing the imaginary works of Adrian Leverkühn might have inspired the megalomaniac dream of carrying bits and pieces of them into the sound world.
With Requiem, my intention was not to deliver a message or a manifesto, whether pro- or anti-religious. Instead, this work is a personal testimony, into which listeners are invited to project their own self, if they care to inhabit it with their own experience and sensibility.
1er temps: 1. Introït – 2. Kyrie Eleison – 3. Epître – 4. Dies Irae – 5. Offertoire – 6. Evangile
2ème temps: 7. Sanctus – 8. Agnus Dei – 9. Lux aeterna – 10. Libera me
Voices: André Allag, Michèle Bokanowski, Caroline, Laure et Pierre Bruas, Robert Cahen, M.C., Catherine Colas, Jean-Pierre Colas, Catherine Guérin, Bernard Guillochon, Geneviève Julien-Labruyère, L’Ensemble vocal Le Madrigal, dir. Rachid Safir.
THIRD SYMPHONY, Audio-divisive
Work on video-audio for fixed sounds (two tracks) and fixed images (one screen), in ten movements. 2016.
First performance of the version with English subtitles. 1h28 ‘
After two symphonies of musique concrète, including La Vie en Prose, 2010 (published by Brocoli), I wanted to create an “enlarged” symphony with projected images, in the manner that the Ninth of Beethoven or the Third of Mahler were expanded with solo singers and choirs. Despite the high number of movements, the symphonic form is prevalent: a very developed Scherzo, a Largo desolato which corresponds to a slow and funereal meditation, and a last movement that functions like a Finale. And above all, the term symphony embodies the idea of a work, which has meaning only as a composition, a whole.
I have invented the term “audio-divisive” to make it clear that what I called “audio-vision” in 1990, that is, the perception of simultaneous sounds and images, is certainly more than a simple addition, but also the opposite of a fusion where everything would amalgamate. In this work, sounds and images are proposed together or separately: certain movements are acousmatic (without vision of the source), other athorybes (moving images without corresponding sounds), the majority audio-divisive, according to various formulas. For example, in the Café movement, where I capture a whole five minutes of images and sounds from a Parisian bistro, without changing anything, we have audio-division in the roughest sense of everyday experience, since most of what is heard – the boss, customers – happens outside the visual field, while the sound of much of what we see through the glass is masked by this barrier, and by the urban uproar!
Within this Third Symphony, I also wanted to share my Earth Mass (1992-96), which is rainy, slow and meditative, more solar and familiar, with no religious references. The beautiful “questions of children” discussing with their teacher in the movement VIII, are questions of everyone and for everyone, and give spirit to this work.
M.C., summer 2016
1. Floating element, prologue (audio-divisive)
2. Generic (athorybe)
3. Allegro Animato (mainly acousmatic)
4.5.6. Three interiors: Café (audio-divisuel) – Studio (athorybe) – Room (audio-divisuel)
7. Scherzo Vivace in ten variations (audio-divisive)
8. Intermezzo Anatoribico (audio-divisive)
9. Largo Desolato in memory of Christiane Sacco, writer (1939-1999) (acousmatic)
10. Final, in four external (audio-divisive).
For audio-vision, audio-division, athorybe, etc., see my book Audio-vision, and the bilingual French / English Glossary on michelchion.com. The noun “acousmate” (sound heard without seeing the cause) is in the dictionary of Rivarol in 1827, and was used among others by Guillaume Apollinaire.
Sound and visual creation, editing and production: M.C.
With the precious help, for the digital finishing, of Jérôme Bloch and Geoffroy Montel.
Commissioned by Motus for the Futura Festival, August 2016 in Crest, France.
Program in partnership with the Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA and Institut Françaispartners