1977-2023: The Espace de Projection Odyssey [2/3]

Deus Ex Machina

The 1990s was a period of highly diverse innovations, particularly in terms of spatialisation. As of 1993, the programme launched in this field led to what would become a benchmark tool; the Spatialiser, or Spat, which is used in numerous venues today. ‘We were looking for a tool that could be used without technological knowledge and with a limited number of loudspeakers’, Olivier Warusfel explains. At Espace de Projection, composers such as Marco Stroppa, Philippe Schoeller or Yan Maresz were quick to get to grips with the tool, as was composer Cécile Le Prado, whose Le Triangle d’incertitude was premiered in 1996. This ‘suite for maritime landscapes, musique concrète for a sound installation’ would, according to Olivier Warusfel, demonstrate ‘the generic aspect of Spat; the piece could be played independently on any model, with any number of loudspeakers...Spat was already compatible with reproduction systems that hadn’t been invented yet!

In 1994, the very British (with all the eccentricity this implies) Benedict Mason made a splash with his work Third Music for European Concert Hall… I love my life, premiered by the Ensemble intercontemporain. Aimed at ‘treating concert hall equipment and the hall itself as an instrument’, the composer played around with every possibility the periaktos had to offer. nullComputer music designer Serge Lemouton remembers every detail: ‘Benedict Mason was working on a cycle of works for which he occupied spaces fully and to the extreme. He slept at IRCAM and wandered the corridors of the Centre Pompidou like a real vagrant...the police had to escort him out! There was a truly political commitment in his method, it was very situationist. He had crazy and inventive requests, but always related to the venue. For example, he collected all the swivel chairs of IRCAM’s researchers to seat the EIC musicians and have them rotate in the Espro! For the concert, he had recorded Pascal Rophé conducting, and broadcast the images on screens. Pascal himself was seated in the audience. He also placed screens all around the musicians, it was actually very avant-garde!

The previous year, Serge Lemouton had worked alongside Florence Baschet on Alma Luvia, a piece for Cristal Baschet, with clarinet, alto, voice and electronics, to extracts of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. This Joyce cycle was completed in 1995 with Spira Manes, based on Ulysses, for seven voices, seven instruments, and a real-time electro-acoustic device. The composer still sees IRCAM as ‘a space for experimentation.’ ‘As soon as I could, I’d go there to experiment with new tools, new applications and tones. It’s true that many of my mixed pieces have not been “reported” [digitally adapted, editor’s note] and so can’t be played. But being able to change my toolbox was precisely what interested me with IRCAM. Working directly with scientists, looking for things together, enriching, going further...

That said, the risk of obsolescence inherent to overly ’technological’ works is ever present, especially when one has such a vast toolbox to hand, because the breakthroughs in spatialisation enabled by Espace de Projection add to other IRCAM innovations in computer-assisted composition, either in real time or otherwise, interpretation and interaction technologies, instrument-making, and software such as Max, OpenMusic, or Modalys. Not everyone, according to Serge Lemouton, is able to master machines and achieve that tricky balance between ‘demonstrativeness and the excess of subtlety.’ Florence Baschet’s collaboration with IRCAM was only just beginning, as in 2009, after a 2-year residency, the composer created her StreicherKreis for string quartet (Quatuor Daniel) and electronics. This piece exploring instrumental technique would form a stage for genuine innovations, in particular the gyroscopic sensors attached to the musician’s wrists and tested over several months. ‘This notion that a true link exists between composers and scientists in their work was a real Boulez-inspired idea.' 'Boulez was a special case, explains Eric de Visscher, who witnessed the genesis of his piece Anthèmes 2, for violin and electronics, premiered (in Donaueschingen) in 1997. In fact, he didn’t touch the computer. He explained the sound images and Andrew (Gerszo) suggested technical solutions. They had reached such a level of mutual understanding that it became organic...’ 1997 saw the production of two other key pieces; two compositions for a ‘Bartók formation’ (2 pianos, 2 percussion instruments) and electronics, created by the Ictus ensemble: Related Rocks by the Finn Magnus Lindberg and M by Philippe Leroux. Lastly, in 1999, the premiere of Fausto Romitelli’s (1963-2004) splendid Professor Bad Trip: Lesson II by the L’Itinéraire ensemble would close this decade punctuated by artistic and scientific feats.

« But being able to change my toolbox was precisely what interested me with IRCAM. Working directly with scientists, looking for things together, enriching, going further...» Florence Baschet

At the turn of the century, however, Georges Aperghis cast a half-amused, half-caustic eye over these so-called feats, with the ambivalently-titled artistic object, Machinations. For this ‘musical show for four women and a computer’, which the composer was persuaded to produce at IRCAM despite his previous wariness of computers, the artistic team took over Espace de Projection for several weeks, as though in a theatre. ‘This work was inspired by Espro,’ says Eric de Visscher, ‘by this industrial world of machines, which Georges Aperghis staged with his trademark humour and derision...He repositioned the show in this highly modernist stance for the time (because IRCAM was still very much rooted in the inter-war approach). In my view, Machinations was the first work which, in IRCAM, questioned this cult of technology, but also staged it, turned it into a show.’ A hit in 2000 as part of the Agora festival, did these Machinations mark an inflection or a turning point?

Photo 1: Periaktos © Centre Pompidou, photo: Jean-Claude Planchet
Photo 2: The artist Deena Abdelwahed working with the IRCAM, Espace de projection, January 2023 © IRCAM-Centre Pompidou, photo: Déborah Lopatin
Photo 3: Machinations by Georges Aperghis, Espace de projection at IRCAM © Marion Kalter
Photo en couverture : Game 245 "The Mirror Stage by Bernhard Lang, Espace de projection, June 2023 © IRCAM-Centre Pompidou, photo: Quentin Chevrier

by Sandrine Maricot Despretz and David Sanson (Hémisphère son)