Complete Acousmatic Works Vol. 1Denis Dufour

Records 22.01.2022

This first boxed set of sixteen discs, published by Maison ONA and the Kairos label, covering Denis Dufour's career from 1977 to 2020, is a solid mass that opens up a fascinating world of sound. These works, the vast majority of which are unpublished, are classified not chronologically but thematically: "melodramas", "radio art", "suites", "tombeaux", "acousmalides", "sacred music", "electronica" and "musical moments". We have gone through them at length, immersing ourselves in this dense, multiple and immensely rich universe. Here we share some of our discoveries, the works that most appealed to us.

Denis Dufour offers a beautiful reference to Noh Theatre in The ghostly invasions (2011, CD 1), whose electronic treatments and sound arrangements sublimate the principles of Japanese music, at once clearly identifiable and eminently personal. In this 'melodrama', the temporal management of tensions, explosions and relaxations, specific to this traditional music, opens the box set in a spectacular way. As is often the case in the composer's works, a text by Thomas Brando, a long-time collaborator, is featured, "L'Attente des nuages" (2009), read by Gilian Petrovski.

Although he knows Japan, acousmatics also allow Denis Dufour to fantasise about a world, a country, a geographical space that he has never explored. Les Cris de Tatibagan (2017, CD 4 and 5) are a perfect example, in which Hamish Hossain recounts his childhood in India, in the Tatibagan district of Kolkata. The composer selects sounds from many sources to dress up the narrative, far beyond the few sounds that the narrator's brother recorded of the neighbourhood on his phone. The sequences of street criers, barking dogs to the sound of the muezzin and descriptions of trains are among the most telling.

Let us also remember The Green Lily (1983, CD 6). This work, classified as a 'suite', is conceived as a symphony in four movements, moderato, lento, scherzo, presto. It holds the attention by the beauty of its sounds and by the goldsmith's work of shaping them, revealing the palpable energy of the materials. Denis Dufour confided to us that the piece was not appreciated at the time of its creation, due to the fact that the sound material was not considered varied enough: "the variation is to be found in the writing, not in the sound. It is indeed the abstract construction that is remarkable, the way in which the composer gives rise to diversity from the same materials, namely sounds taken from small razor blades recorded very closely in their rubbing and pizzicatos, as he told us. These sounds are in themselves rich enough to embrace the whole spectrum, from bass to treble. Everything else is a matter of structuring, even borrowing from historical forms such as the fugue.

Dedicated to Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ebene Sieben (1997, CD 11) brings two radically different temporalities into play on two simultaneous planes, long stretched frames, like a stopped time, on which short and incisive rhythms animate a more commensurable discourse. This superimposition of spaces acts like a long meditation, the sensation of an ecstatic quest that touches the sublime. For this ritualistic piece, Denis Dufour borrowed sounds from Gesang der Jünglinge (1956) and Hymnen (1967).

On the same disc of "tombeaux", Terra Incognita (1998), in homage to Pierre Schaeffer, leads us into a jungle of sounds of extraordinary richness, in which we can identify, for example, the sounds of waves, sea birds or ship's sirens, but much more willingly let ourselves be carried away by a listening experience detached from any imprint in reality.

L'Apocalypse d'Angers (1980, CD 13), with the voice of Benjamin Duvshani, surprises first of all by the audacity of the young composer, who tackles a text that Pierre Henry sublimated in his famous Apocalypse of John in 1968. Denis Dufour told us that he did not know this work at the time. However, it immediately makes one want to hear many versions by other acousmatic composers, so personal and captivating is its reading. This powerful text is perfectly dressed, illustrated, supported and completed by his proposals, and one begins to dream of what an apocalypse by Bernard Parmegiani, Michel Chion or François Bayle, for example, would have been.

Christian sacred texts are a great inspiration to the composer, who delivers a fascinating rereading in his Missa pro pueris (2019, CD 14), which is both respectful of the spirituality that emerges from the ritual, but also free of bold appropriations and diversions of the words ("Kyrie - Thou who didst laugh"). Hamish Hossain (Hem-Ish) is featured again in this work, this time for diphonic and throat singing.

On Augen Licht (2009, CD 16), the composer explores the ecstatic effects of a continuous evolving sound, similar to the drone, but by no means reducible to this simple description. Based on an idea by Thomas Brando, the work also borrows many recognisable bits of phrases from classical music, including an extract from Antonio Vivaldi's Spring concerto. As Frédéric Acquaviva points out in his introduction to the boxed set, Denis Dufour has kept his deeply personal style, not giving in to any fashion, " drone, ambient, improvisation, the field recordingHe flies over them and approaches them in a very personal way in favour of a "global and panstylistic compositional project".

Thus, the rhythmic bacchanal Organa (2000, CD 15) seems to take the listener into the heart of the trance of a wild free party, swirling in a surfeit of loops on a deafening techno beat. But it is the composer who holds the reins and imposes his codes, his methods of breaking up, his own vision of the game of the unchanging and the changing.

These works, for the most part unpublished, have only fleetingly revealed themselves to listeners who have been able to attend concerts over the years. They are now available in this essential boxed set for multiple and analytical listening.
Each of them brings out new details in this abundant music.
This is an opportunity that must be seized.

Guillaume Kosmicki

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