3 Questions for Philippe Langlois

Interview with Philippe Langlois, Director of Education and Cultural Outreach at IRCAM, who orchestrated the renewal of the Course program on composition and computer music. This programme is intended to train about ten composers using IRCAM's software applied to musical composition.
Publish date
March 22, 2021

It is nearly the 30th anniversary of the Cursus program. What can you tell us about the new challenges of this recently reorganized program?

The young composers willing to come to IRCAM to take a one-year composition and computer music course are above all looking to learn and master the different technologies that have emerged from the institute in order to supplement their practice of composition and confront it. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to bear in mind that the use of technology is obviously not an end in itself but a means of extending musical writing, compositional thinking, enhancing the artistic, expressive or poetic gesture.

In recent years, during the final Cursus concert at the end of the year, a standardization of the piece for solo instrument and electronics in real or delayed time has been observed.

Augmented and spatialized instrumental writing, which is too restrictive, and sometimes even ornamental, does not constitute a single direction to follow. The diversity of forms, combined with the possibilities offered by technology, opens up much wider creative spaces. We would therefore like to bring back to the forefront the writing of electronics and synthesis, while addressing the question of its scoring, the interaction and mapping of data, the physical modelling of instruments and computer-assisted composition. The idea is also to bring them to discover fields of research emerging from research teams such as artificial intelligence, in the vicinity of contemporary arts, text, image, dance or installation.

With Pierre Jodlowski as the next associate composer of the Cursus these new directions should be reinforced and gain impetus

The renewal of forms in musical composition is at the heart of your preoccupations. How do you see it? Who are your contacts?

With my appointment at the head of the Education and Cultural Outreach Department in 2017, as well as that of Thierry De Mey as associate composer of the Cursus, a renewal took place naturally with the desire to open up to a plurality of forms. To this end, each year introduced a new thematic seminar comprising workshops, conferences and project reports, with the desire to create interactions both artistically and technologically. We started with disciplines like image and dance that are very important to Thierry De Mey, by approaching the Choreographic Studies Department at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris.

Since 2018, we have also tried to renew the distended link between music and contemporary poetry. Composers have the opportunity to work from original texts written by several living poets, in a workshop set up with the help of poet Laure Gauthier. Since last September, this workshop has been taken over by Irène Gayraud.

(Videos in French)

New this year is our participation with the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Paris in the creation of the new chair entitled "Supersonique: exposing, editing, inhabiting sound", which aims at enabling collaborative work between students from the Beaux-Arts, old courses and, on an optional and voluntary basis, with new ones who wish to confront the form of installation. The reproduction of the projects is scheduled to be shown at the Théâtre des expositions from the end of May and throughout June 2021.

How is the year structured from an educational point of view?

From an educational point of view, the year is structured in two parts. The program phase from September to December, during which the seminars, workshops and fundamental technical lessons will take place to enable students to define their projects. During this phase, we have introduced humanities courses in order to homogenize the great disparity of knowledge related to the history of electroacoustic music and to give an understanding of the true contribution of technology in IRCAM's iconic and historical works.  

The project phase then runs from January to April, where composers specialize in synthesis, interaction and formalization depending on the direction their project is taking. Finally, from April to June, they enter into an intense period of composition to prepare for the performance of their final work during a concert in the ManiFeste festival.

Photo: Philippe Langlois © Raphaël Rippe