Maison ONA, more than a publishing house

Portraits 22.01.2022

The boxed set Denis Dufour - Complete Acousmatic Works Vol. 1 is a project started two years ago and published as a collaboration between the Kairos label and Maison ONA. We meet Maxime Barthélemy, co-director with Misael Gauchat of this independent publishing house, dedicated to contemporary creation and founded in 2013. We discuss with him the functioning of Maison ONA, the genesis of this project and the energy, the commitment, the courage and perhaps the grain of madness that carries such an adventure in a time when records are no longer as appreciated and consumed as they once were. This exciting and passionate project also gives us the opportunity to talk a little about the economics of contemporary music.

Maison ONA is a publishing space centred around the score object "in an extended sense", Maxime Barthélemy tells us. While it takes care of the graphic editing of their works (design, engraving, publishing, etc.), the structure goes much further in its relationship with composers (among whom are Franck Bedrossian, Raphaël Cendo, Ramon Lazkano, Lin-Ni Liao, Gérard Pesson and Colin Roche), whom it accompanies "in the tradition of the publishing profession. With a view to the creation of a work, Maison ONA acts as a coordinator between the composer and the recipient, working from the manuscript to put the published scores on the musicians' desks, taking into account all the imperatives of the contemporary music microcosm: schedules, sponsors, ensembles, concert halls, festivals, etc. Subsequently, the structure ensures communication, development and revival of the works after their creation, promoting their radio play and their eventual fixation on a disc.

The projects have two main focuses: the accompaniment of active composers and a more retrospective orientation. Maison ONA is thus working with Brunhild Ferrari on editing the notes and manuscripts preserved around the work of her husband Luc Ferrari (1929-2005). These numerous written traces were discovered during the editing work previously undertaken on his mixed works. They led to the recent publication of the notes for Presque rien n°1, which are arranged as a reading guide, a book in score format, " a conductor who gives an insight, keys to listening, one could even speak of "counter-listening", for known works that have already existed, that have been heard many times in concert and have been the subject of several publications on disc. This transcription of these working notes and this facsimile shed a new light on the listening and the work. Maison ONA is currently working on other publications of the same type, concerning the work of Bernard Parmegiani for example. It also manages the rental of broadcast masters for the acousmatic works in its catalogue, good quality original versions intended for concert performance.

The name "ONA" is not an acronym. It was chosen because of its sound, which makes sense in many languages around the world. It symbolises three basic geometric figures by the font of its three letters, the circle, the square and the triangle, as well as the three main waveforms (sinusoidal for the circle of O, square for N and triangular for A).

Denis Dufour was one of the first composers to put his trust in Maison ONA in 2013, "very quickly and very early on". The structure, which had few financial resources at the time, did not have to buy a catalogue; everything was based on desire and shared energy. " The human element is central to the relationship, it is at the heart of each editorial project, and all our support is the result of a genuine encounter," explains Maxime Barthélemy. With Denis Dufour, the latter went from the student-teacher relationship (he was following his classes in composition at the Paris Conservatoire) to that of publisher-composer, in which the composer invests himself "with the same generosity". The collaboration began with the progressive publication of the scores of his instrumental and mixed music, i.e. half of a corpus of almost 200 opuses.

The idea of the box set Complete Acousmatic Works Vol. 1 Denis Dufour is a name that resonates in contemporary music, he is a great teacher, he has created several structures, such as Motus, and an important festival, Futura. He has done a lot for creators, but very little for himself, releasing only a few records. The decision was taken, initially, to make all his acousmatic music available for listening. "It was difficult, after the pioneers, to find a place for himself. Denis Dufour's generation has had more difficulty in existing, in growing in the shadow of the great trees (Pierre Henry, Bernard Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari, François Bayle, Michel Chion...) of the previous generation. It is now time to make them known. At Maison ONA, we are fortunate to be able to accompany several generations of composers.

An editorial choice was made with the composer, aiming on the one hand to make each of the CDs listenable as an individual programme, and on the other hand not to follow a chronological classification and to cover the whole of his career in the two box sets, favouring a balanced distribution "so that they have a comparable density". For example, there will be works with texts in both, as well as a balance between sound production techniques (work on magnetic tape, use of the computer, evolution of software). The second box set will include some pieces from 2022, which are still being composed.

For the moment, forty-four works are published in the first box set, covering a period from 1977 to 2020, which represent a titanic sum of eighteen hours of mastering. The work on the booklet, translated into English and German, is also very substantial. Each work has an explanatory sheet setting out the context of composition and creation, as well as a note of intent. All the texts of the works are published. In addition, there are biographies, various commentary texts and a preface by Frédéric Acquaviva. All this represents two years of work, the culmination of forty-five years of creation.

For this project, Maison ONA has teamed up with the Vienna-based label Kairos. The latter, which focuses on creative music, is not specialised in the field of acousmatic music and allows the box set to reach a wider audience. Maison ONA also wanted to make it available on all listening platforms. From an economic point of view, Maison ONA was responsible for the masters of the CDs, the booklet and its translation, while Kairos participated in the production of the discs. In addition to the mechanical reproduction rights borne by the label, an agreement was reached concerning the digital sales to be shared between the two structures. Maison ONA also received support from the SACEM and the Centre National de la Musique, the latter helping to finance the translation of the texts. To our question concerning the possible profitability of such a project, here is Maxime Barthélemy's answer:

"Today, in the whole circuit of musical creation, publishing, composers, ensembles, festivals, sponsors, the economy depends on institutional support. Thanks to this support, projects come into being, and a certain economic balance is then achieved. Obviously, one does not launch a label or a publishing house for contemporary music in order to make a profit. There are many simpler ways to do that! However, from an economic point of view, this project is not crazy. We hope to break even fairly quickly, knowing that we have prepared the ground in terms of communication: we have launched a pre-order campaign for one hundred numbered box sets signed by Denis Dufour. Money came in beforehand to get the project off the ground. Kairos sells its records all over the world through its distributors. A boxed set of records is also a good format. One can think of the GRM box sets (Luc Ferrari, Bernard Parmegiani, François Bayle, Éliane Radigue, etc.) or the Pierre Henry box sets at Philips. These are sold out, they work well. The single disc has trouble making sense today, but the box set is quite effective. It's a beautiful object, you want to handle it, like an LP.

The reality of sales has proved Maxime Barthélemy right, as this first edition of 500 copies went out very quickly. A reprint is already available from the publisher. After the publication of the second volume, Maison ONA plans to publish the composer's instrumental works (a project already begun with the CD Inventions by the Furians Ensemble, 2018), and then other forms of publication to highlight his work, including listening guides and even videos, including a feature-length documentary. To be continued.

Guillaume Kosmicki

Photo © Eri Yoshikawa


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