Jean-Claude Risset

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Jean-Claude Risset (1938) began composing computer music when he joined Max Mathews at Bell Labs in 1964. In 1970 he opened a center for digital synthesis at Orsay, the first one in Europe.

The album Mutations (1977) contains his classic Mutations (1969) for tape and synthesizer, Dialogues (1975) for chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet, piano and percussion) processed on magnetic tape, Inharmonique (1977), a tape collage for soprano and tape, and excerpts from Trois Movements Newtoniens (1978) for tape.

He also composed Mutations II (1973) for ensemble and electronics, not included here.

One of the most ambitious compositions of the 1970s is Mirages (1978) for 16 musicians and tape.

Sud / Dialogues / Inharmonique / Mutations (1987) adds the 24-minute tape collage Sud (1985): sounds of the forest and of the river, a mechanical voice-like effect, bubbling and chiming sounds, noise of insect life, of some alien mosquitoes and termites, ocean waves, some dissonant strumming, the amplified noise of jets in the sky, a terrifying rumble, ending with electronic drones that challenge lazy beach waves. The ten-minute Mutations (1969) is a dramatic piece of electronic sounds that transitions from a chaotic sequence of disjointed sounds to an ordered sequence of violent drones.

Songes/ Passages/ Computer Suite From Little Boy/ Sud (Wergo, 1988) contains Sud (1985), the 14-minute Passages (1982) for flute and tape (in which the notes of the flute collide with cryptic electronic sounds and ominous drones, one of his most spectral compositions), Songes, and the 13-minute Computer Suite from Little Boy (1968), one of his most famous suites of computer music (synthesized entirely by a computer), and the one most easily related to sci-fi films (cosmic drones intersected by clownish piano-like motifs, alien signals that land into lugubrious caves, a meteor shower on a desert soundscape, sandy winds interrupted by a Dadaistic skit only to resume more dramatic and intense as a sort of accelerated descent into a black hole before the final quiet).

The mini-album Invisible (GMEM, 1996) contains a 20-minute suite for soprano and tape that alternates spoken-word sections and duets between the soprano and her singing processed by the computer with the occasional interference of electronic sounds. Atmospheric and elegant, but it doesn't fare well when compared with works of the same year like Mainliner's Mellow Out or Vampire Rodents's Gravity's Rim, or with what Diamanda Galas did 14 years earlier in The Litanies Of Satan.

Elementa (Ina-Grm, 2001) contains the 13-minute Avel (1997), the 16-minute Lurai (1992), the 16-minute Invisible Irene (1995) for solo tape, and the 22-minute Elementa (1998) in four movements, one for each element of ancient Greek philosophy. The "water" movement is a duet between metallic chiming and sounds of water gushing in and out. The "fire" movement begins with crackling percussive noise mixed with disorderly drones, mostly very sharp drones, and then the chaos increases and a soprano start chirping over it. The "air" movement is a parade of "windy" sounds, peaking with some harsh gusty noise. The "earth" movement is at the same time the most sinister and the most disjointed. This is musique concrete of an impressionistic kind. Its limit, of course, is that in 1998 countless electronic composers were creating much more sophisticated works, from Vidna Obmana's Crossing The Trail to Jeff Greinke's Cities In Fog.

His chamber music also includes Profils (1983) for seven instruments and tape, his vocal music also includes Derives (1985) for choir and magnetic tape, and his solo music also includes Voilements (1987) for saxophone and tape, which experiment with patterns and timbres like in the jazz improvisations of Anthony Braxton, but with the instrument playing against a shadow of itself.

Duo pour un Pianiste/ Huit Esquisses en Duo (1989) is a duet for a pianist and a computer playing on the same piano at the same time, divided into eight "sketches": Double, Mirrors, Extensions, Fractals, Stretch, Resonances, Up Down, Metronomes. A ninth sketch was added in 2012, Reflections.

Escalas (2001) is scored for large orchestra.

Risset died in 2016.

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(Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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