Exploitation du concept d’autobiographie  (20 octobre 1999)

Exploitation of the concept of autobiography

I have since the beginning composed as many instrumental or orchestral as electroacoustic or acousmatic pieces. More clearly and to approach my subject more precisely, I would speak here only about electroacoustic or more generally, works using technology.


Initially unconsciously and more and more consciously, I realized that I worked in the autobiographical field.

So retrospectively I can speak about the moment when I entered this concept. It is about 1962 whereas I worked on the project of an electroacoustic piece: Hétérozygote that it happened. I thus will try to explain how the simple gesture to leave the studio for seeking sounds outside was significant.


Indeed, which was the situation at that time?

With the Group of Music Concrete around Pierre Schaeffer and of Pierre Henry work was done in the studios of the Radio, the institution: a technician installed microphones to record instrumentalists or various and heteroclite objects. The sounds were then transformed, assembled, multiplied with technologies of the moment. I composed in 1958 my first studies.


In the studio of Cologne, around Herbert Eimert, within the Radio, an institution also, the composers with the help of assistants were busy on the generators of frequencies, then assembled, cut, transformed and mixed. Stockhausen composed his first electronic works.

A little later in Milan, in the studio of Phonologia, another institution, Luciano Berio recorded the extreme singing exercises of Cathy Berberian, transformed and mixed, composed Homaggio to Joyce.


It is very particular at this time, 1955 – 1962, where the effervescence of musical creation adapted technology to experiment, diverting the machines to fabricate and compose with other sounds, that I felt quite naturally that the recording opened the door to other fields and that those were not in the studio.

At this time I started to use the mobile tape recorder to collect sounds of the society in order to use them in my compositions. What one used to call and which one still called sound landscape or soundscape. What always seemed to me very restrictive.


If I think of that now, I think that it was a radically different step and that I was perhaps the first to make use of, which resulted for this matter in many criticisms and created some hubbub in these first ages of electroacoustic.

For affirming my idea, I indicated myself with derision as composer of “anecdotic music”. It was a joke, fruits of unconsciousness, because there was not an anecdote that made the step superficial, but a real use of the narration in a world still tetanized around the abstraction. There was especially a more complex, more particular, perhaps newer idea with regard to the musical composition and which had to do with this concept of the autobiography.


I thus left the studio, with a mobile material which was my property, i.e. my microphones and my tape recorder. It was my material and it was me.

If one agrees or not, I was there in an original situation of presence and instrumental recognition making of me without realizing it, a smith of the autobiography. I was present, I held my microphone, I pushed the the button of my tape recorder when I found I had to. I gathered the sound that came along at the time when I chose it. This sound was my choice, my moment of life that was recorded on my material.

In other words, for the case where the last sentence would not be clear, this gesture was compositional in the recognition of the sound, even undecided, recognizing the found object like first state of an emotional attitude, which inevitably involved the introduction of the composer present as actor in real-time, therefore as autobiographer.


It is when I started to work for the hörspiel department (radiophonic art) of the German radios from 1970 that I became aware of the autobiographical attitude of my electroacoustic work. So strongly that my first Hörspiel was entitled “Portrait-Spiel” (Play of the portrait), and that all those that came after, reported the presence of the composer as a non-critical and subjectively assumed observer of daily matter.


I do not think really insidious the fact of introducing some remarks insidiously.

I make a distinction between my electroacoustics and my instrumental compositions. The idea of autobiography in my instrumental scores requires different explanations and I will limit myself to speaking here, as I said it by starting only of the electroacoustic, meaning of “the gestural autobiography of the man holding his microphone”.


In addition, I make a distinction or more exactly, I made a distinction but I make make them less and less, between orchestral composition and radiophonic composition.

In a orchestral work, the autobiographical figures are generally more diffuse while for me the autobiography is more direct in a hörspiel, and even I could say that it is given to the foreground as instrument of composition.


Hörspiel = Radio Art = Akustische Kunst.

In the Hörspiel departments of german radios, one finds as well the dramas as rather highly developed experiments. In France, one initially seized the word, then one translated it like radiophonic creation.

When I met in 1970, Hermann Naber of the SWF, he said to me that my compositions like Hétérozygote or Music Promenade were like Hörspiels and he asked to me whether I was interested to make a production for the department he directed.


Thus started one of my lives as composer of hörspiel.


It is for better specifying my ideas with regard to the autobiography, than I will try to describe the Hörspiels I composed since this moment.



Spiel-portrait (1971)

For Südwestfunk


Perhaps what seemed to me the most different from a concerting work, was the duration: “you can make as long as you want”, I made 80 minutes.

The story that is told there, is done through several permanently present elements traversing the time while evolving. There is an absurd dialogue between the composer and his production team representing the learning of the German language by the Assimil method. What implies a play of language and how to articulate a reflection in a foreign language. There is also an exposure by fragments of the my compositions of the Sixties, either taken as elements dramaturgic, or put in criticism during public performances. There is the composer in the city as sound engeneer: the Museum of modern art, the football match, the factory of cosmetics, restaurant etc. There is finally the criticism of the production by the production team (that was that time).

It is seen how all these ingredients illustrate what I wrote above and how they are related to my idea of the autobiography: i.e. the author making use of his microphones as subjective observation aid.



Jetzt  (Now) (1982)

(Now, or probably my daily life is there, in the confusion of the places and the moments).

For Hessischer Rundfunk – 1 hour 45 minutes.


Besides the fact of using like in the above Hörspiel my compositions of the Seventies, here the subject is the overlapping of the places that all are recorded in a present time becoming itself turbid by the artifice of the composition.

The sounds are collected in Frankfurt: the market, the river port, the printing works of Frankfurter Allgemeine, the corridors of the radio house, canteen etc. the sounds are brought back at home to Paris where I compose the material that is commented during the listening from the loudspeakers of my studio. A passage occurs then between the sound specific to the loudspeakers and “the real sound” from the tape recorders that bring the listener back to Frankfurt.

The play of place and time is done according to the formula of Apuleius in “the gold donkey”: a story that meets another story inside which there is a story that still meets another story and so on, with the result that one does not know any more who makes what and who is who.

It is a different manner to use the autobiography, like media i.e. labyrinth kind of transporting information.



The staircase of the blinds (1991)

Collection of short stories

For Art Sonora, Radio National de Espagna – 35 minutes


Here the composer appears like observer and portraitist through a short collection of scénettes indicated like “collection of short stories”

Invited in Madrid, I decided to make a kind of sound portrait of a city which I did not know. As I did not want to be alone I asked for the company of young women whose role was to show me the city while playing the interpreter. The rules of the game were strict: “one place one beauty,” like one says “La Belle et la Bête” and each beauty choosing a place. Thus I was led through the city like a blind man become Peeping Tom. The second rule was to make in each story the portrait of a place and the young woman who had brought me to it. And then on the level of the composition to use only the sounds recorded in this place.  No loan with another place being allowed.

The idea of the autobiography is indicated by the permanent presence of the author who is here unseparately related to that of the microphone. I could even say that the relation micro – voice of the portraitist and microphone – voice of portraiturée is meant like dominating subject of each story, since this particular and acoustic relation has for matter to describe what is invisible.



Selbstportrait oder Peinture de sons ou bien (1996)

Selfportrait oder Painting of sounds or Tonmalerei

Südwestfunk – 55 minutes.


The title indicates without ambiguity that the self-portrait is the even matter of this composition. The subtitle saying “sound painting” indicates a manner referring to the hyperrealistic painting.

This composition is illustrated in terms of music by compositions of the Eighties and Nineties coming to relativize the realism of the situations. plays of words, conversations seek to circumscribe this autobiographical situation by expressing distances regarding the narcissism that might appear. And how the autobiography taken as instrument of work is not there to cultivate the ego but on the contrary, to paint the outside of oneself on the basis of a significant subjectivity



Far-West News (1999)

For the Dutch Radio NPS, Hilversum

3 episodes, each of 30 minutes.


In this work, the autobiography appears only as means to describe a voyage. At the beginning, the idea was something like:

A composer having had an odd life, filled of instrumental and electroacoustics compositions, specialist in the traveller microphone, has the project to make a random course in the American south-west.

It is at the time of the realization that I realize what happens.

That is neither a report, neither a sound landscape, neither Hörspiel neither electro work, neither portrait, neither an exposure of recordings of reality, neither a transgression of reality, neither an impressionist narration, nor etc, it is a composition.


I then thought that my “radiophonic compositions” were a new manner of writing a biographical book. This is why, I also called that sound poem around a real voyage – as well it may be that poetry plays with reality like on an accordion – that the composition in certain cases, especially in mine and gradually in my life, is a perverse play with the truth.




What’s to say more … that the autobiography is a quite real concern, that it slowly takes its place in my life, that it is not voluntary but that it poses itself in “installation” and plays the part of exciter of imaginary in creation.


What more?