Matthieu Saladin

released March/May 2011
w.m.o/r 39

Download: flac

When is there noise? Where is noise? Who makes noise?

Déserts by Egard Varèse was first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, on December 2, 1954. This concert has gone down in history as one of the greatest scandals in XXth century avant-garde music, as the audience rioted during the performance. Socio-historical context surely played a role, as France was still under the Fourth Republic, marked by its policy of “cultural democratization”. This concert was part of the National Orchestra’s “Tuesdays” (in fact, as it was to be broadcast live, it took place exceptionally on a Thursday), which were free and as a result attracted a wide audience not necessarily used to musical experimentation such as this. The concert was conducted by Hermann Scherchen, assisted for the occasion by Pierre Henry, who was in charge of the electro-acoustic device. It presented pieces from the classical repertoire – Mozart’s Grand Overture in B flat and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”) – and a work that confronted acoustic and “organized” sounds in an innovative way.

During the performance, people reacted noisily, and at the same time, another “music” emerged in counterpoint, improvised, developing in a more or less undecided – if not indeterminate – way, and at irregular intervals. Listening to the recording, the protests literally compete with Varèse’s music, developing a new and particularly complex musical form, a succession and intertwining of murmurs, muted mutterings, and sudden and untimely waves of boisterous disapproval. But behind the rejection, one can maybe also discover, in this other music, the intrinsic link between noise and democracy.

This disc presents this other sonic manifestation, the one performed by the audience. In a certain way, I have followed the logic of retrenchment that underpins Varèse’s initial work. Edgard Varèse’s Déserts is a mixed composition, structured in four instrumental movements, to which three electronic interpolations are added, which interrupt the instrumental development. During these interpolations, the orchestral sound fades away to give way to the recorded sounds. In (Déserts), I have simply extended this process, erasing Varèse’s piece to let a new type of recorded “interpolation” appear: the anonymous noise of the audience.

Recorded on December 2, 1954, in Paris.

Edited on April 4, 2009, in Paris.

Thanks to Dan Warburton.

Playing time: 27’10’’.


Quand y’a-t-il bruit ? Où y’a-t-il bruit ? Qui fait bruit ?

Déserts d’Egard Varèse fut créé au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées à Paris, le 2 décembre 1954. Ce concert est resté dans les mémoires comme l’un des grands scandales de l’histoire de la musique avant-garde du xxe siècle, donnant lieu à une véritable révolte de la part du public. Le contexte sociohistorique n’y fut sans doute pas étranger. L’époque était alors celle en France de la Quatrième République, marquée du point de vue de la culture par la politique dite de « démocratisation culturelle » : le concert était gratuit, dirigé par un célèbre chef d’orchestre, Hermann Scherchen – accompagné pour l’occasion par Pierre Henry au pupitre des commandes électro-acoustiques – et s’inscrivait dans la programmation des « mardis » du National (se déroulant exceptionnellement un jeudi pour les besoins de la retransmission en direct). Il tentait en outre d’articuler des pièces issues du répertoire classique (en l’occurrence la Grande ouverture en si bémol de Mozart et la Symphonie Pathétique de Tchaïkovski) et une œuvre novatrice dans sa confrontation de sons acoustiques et de « sons organisés ». En raison de leur gratuité et de leur cadre, ces concerts accueillaient généralement un public nombreux, non nécessairement coutumier des expérimentations musicales.

Lors de cette interprétation, le public réagit bruyamment à la musique, mais dans le même temps une autre « musique », improvisée celle-ci, émergeait en contrepoint, se développant de manière plus ou moins indécise, sinon indéterminée, et à intervalles irréguliers. A l’écoute de l’enregistrement, les protestations du public rivalisent littéralement avec la musique de Varèse, dessinant, dans leur propre effectivité, une autre forme musicale, particulièrement complexe, où se succèdent et s’entremêlent des heurts violents, des murmures et une rumeur sourde, de brusques surgissements intempestifs et des vagues houleuses de désapprobation. Mais peut-être qu’en deçà du désaveu, pointe également dans cette autre musique le lien intrinsèque qui existe entre bruit et démocratie.

C’est cette autre manifestation sonore, performée par le public, que ce disque se propose de donner à l’écoute. Pour cela, j’ai en quelque sorte poursuivi la logique de retranchement qui sous-tend la pièce initiale de Varèse. Déserts est une œuvre mixte, qui est structurée en 4 mouvements instrumentaux, auxquels s’ajoutent 3 interpolations électroniques qui viennent interrompre le développement instrumental. Durant ces interpolations, les sons de l’orchestre s’effacent pour laisser place aux sons enregistrés. Dans (Déserts), j’ai simplement continué cet effacement, éclipsant la pièce de Varèse pour laisser apparaître un autre type d’« interpolations » enregistrées : le bruit anonyme du public.

Enregistré le 2 décembre 1954, Paris.

Edité le 4 avril 2009, Paris.

Durée : 27’10’’

Tonight a new conceptual work by the French composer / thinker / not sure what to call him Mathieu Saladin. I have enjoyed Saladin’s work a lot in the past. While he seems to belong to the recent, interesting wave of French musicians that have been working in a more conceptual, thoughtfully playful manner, his music and installations have always struck me as having an ongoing theme running through them of their own. His work often seems to highlight and consider the way audiences interact with music or musical performance, often focussing on removing the barriers between the two parties, but doing so in a non confrontational manner, seemingly observing the tensions between the two and setting up scenarios that leave the listener to evaluate their role in the activity.  His new CDr / free download, available via Mattin’s w.m.o/r  label again extends this line of thinking, but reaches back into music’s history to bring new light upon one of the most famous concert recordings of all time.

In December 1954 the performance of Edgar Varese’s (at the time highly original and contentious) electro-acoustic / orchestral composition Déserts in Paris resulting in a near riot from the assembled audience, who did not take kindly to the performance of this new, scandalous work. Disliking the piece’s abstractions and the inclusion of the taped extracts that are inserted into the instrumental work the audience mad ether feelings known, talking, hissing, and later shouting and screaming in disgust. This show of audience power, of perhaps a democratic decision taken to reject the music has gone down in history as a landmark in experimental music. Mathieu Saladin has used a recording of the performance as the basis of this new piece of music, named (Déserts).

The score for Déserts see the tape parts inserted in between sections of orchestral playing. Basically, what Saladin has done is take the original recording made for radio of the twenty-seven minute performance and erase, i.e replace with silence all of the parts wherein the orchestra played. Then, in the sections remaining, where we should be hearing the taped interludes we instead hear the sounds of the angry audience. To begin with, we hear only silence followed by tiny bits of sound where small muttering begins, or individuals shout their dislike, but as the piece moves on the silences become the minority and we begin to hear more and more of the angry French hordes.

This is an odd thing to listen to. I found myself wanting to go in search of the original recording so as to hear how the concert degraded in its entirety. I know Déserts from other recordings but would like to have heard the story of this performance unfold more fully. This isn’t the point of Saladin’s work though. While he certainly has chosen this piece so as to highlight the way the audience took over the performance, how they chose to cancel out Varese’s music, voting in numbers to erase what they were not accepting, Saladin also talks in the liner notes a little about how the audience made music of their own, improvised maybe, definitely undecided, perhaps indeterminate. By taking away Varese’s electro-acoustic part and replacing it with the audience’s semi chaotic additions Saladin highlights the democratic decisions made in that concert hall, and he begins the liner notes (that can be read alongside the free download link here) witht he three questions

When is there music? Where is noise? Who makes music? 

…so wondering about who on this evening made the music, the composer, the musicians, Pierre Henry, who was operating the electroacoustic playback systems or the audience, working without a score but towards a common goal.

(Déserts), like much of Saladin’s work isn’t something I’m likely to put on and play over and over again (though it is actually quite an engaging experience to try and pick out the dissenting voices we hear in the recording) but as is often the case he has here set up a simple scenario that leads to much thought and consideration as a listener. Earlier this evening I had picked a CD off of the pile of unheard destuff here, a disc of loud and aggressive digital laptop improvisations, and finding it immediately unappealing I turned it off straight away and found another disc. The audience in the concert hall in Paris couldn’t just hit a stop button but they effectively made the same decision that I did earlier, cancelling out a musician / composer that had clearly put a lot of thought into what they had produced, on one hand producing a concert in Paris, on the other sending me a CD in the post. The concert in 1954 was free to attend, and I don’t pay for the laptop disc either. In many ways the odds are stacked up in favour of the listener on these occasions, with nothing to lose, able to silence the composer either as a democratically elected group, or by myself at the flick of a button. I wonder how fair it is on the sole composer merely trying to make his statement and be heard for a brief period of time, but then I am also reminded of the trade-off that the artist must make in return for having his ego massaged, his genius lauded, and that is when his work is placed into the public domain it is there to be criticised, or at least silently rejected out of hand. Saladin’s work raises all of these questions that I personally enjoy thinking about.