Groupe de Recherches Musicales 3 comments

Since the mid-twentieth-century electronic music began to emerge through two different trends: that of Cologne, called Elektronische Musik, and that of Pierre Schaeffer, called Musique Concrète who identifies with the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (commonly referred to GRM or INA/GRM). Although the activity of Schaeffer is more noticeable in the use of analog instruments, the use of computers has had, and continues to have, a very important role among the composers of musique concrete.

Studio d’Essai – The GRM, so called only from the late fifties, was born as an initiative of Pierre Schaeffer. Educated at the Paris Polytechnic as an electronics engineer, Schaeffer began in 1930 to work with the Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (RTF). In 1942 he was able to convince the Direction of RTF to undertake research on acoustics, organized and managed by the same Schaeffer.[1] In this first experimental and pioneering phase, the working group took the name of Club d’Essai then became, in 1946, Studio d’Essai.

Early works – Schaeffer’s research focused on the use of sound material recorded with analog devices. Since 1948, he began to consider the idea of a new approach to music composition through the use of these materials. In the summer of that year, he created Etudes aux Chemins de fer. Other works in the form of studies followed this first example. In the same year there was, with RTF technology, a trasmission called Concert à Bruits, the first public presentation of this innovative way of composing.[1]

Symphonie pour un homme seul – Schaeffer’s musical approach reactions were not exciting, but they still managed to convince the RTF managment to increase the availability of funds for research. The first goal was increasing the workforce, so that to the project began take part also the sound engineer Jacques Poullin and composer Pierre Henry. By the collaboration with the latter, born Symphonie pour un homme seul, whose public execution took place in 1950 at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.

Groupe de Musique Concrète, Club d’Essai – 1951 was a very important year for the development of concrete music. The increased availability of funds also allowed the purchase of new equipment such as Morphophone (a five-track recorder) and Phonogène (used to listen at different speeds sounds recorded).[1] The new acquisitions gave renewed stimulus to the activities of composers, so as to require a new name: Studio d’Essai was replaced with Groupe de Musique Concrete, Club d’Essai. In the same year Schaeffer and Henry carried out the first opera realized with concrete materials: Orphèe 51. This work increased the contrast between Paris and Cologne.

Déserts, Edgar Varèse – In 1954 Schaeffer invited the composer Edgar Varese to visit the studio in Paris, and to complete the tape parts of his work Déserts. The first public performance of Varèse’s work took place in the same year at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Déserts gave great prestige to the activities carried out in Paris by concretists.

Groupe de Recherches Musicales – In 1958 there was another change of name. The acronym Groupe de Musique Concrete, Club d’Essai was replaced with Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM). This name, even today, identifies the activities that pertain to Musique Concréte. Also from 1960, the GRM was incorporated into the ORTF.[1]

Computer music in the seventies – A first encounter with the new technology takes place at the Stockholm Conference on Technology and Music organized by UNESCO. At this meeting attended several members including Max Mathews and Jean-Claude Risset. On that occasion, Schaeffer expressed his views very skeptical regard computer use in music. Skepticism that basically never left.[2] Schaeffer argued the impossibility of making music without the help of listening sound material but simply writing a computer code. For this reason (expressing the needs of concretists) the only opening to digital composition there was respect to real time use of computers or as a tool to orchestrate a sound material, preserving the fundamental balance between listening and composition.

Two trends: Syntom and Music V – The opposite position of Pierre Schaeffer led to a break in the GRM. On the one hand joined those interested in pursuing the real time direction indicated by Schaeffer, trying to preserve the potential offered by Coupigny synthesizer (named by its developer Francis Coupigny in 1960), capable to work in real time; from this trend came the Syntom. On the other side, however, those interested in exploring the use of computers in deferred time through Music V.[2] The project Syntom was short-lived: the results were not considered up to the expectations and Pierre Schaeffer decreed its closure in 1972.

Music V at GRM – The situation was no better for those interested in Music V. The working group was formed by Pierre-Alain Jaffrennou and Benedict Mailliard. The work was started in 1973 with the intention, first, to investigate the characteristics of the software and then, defer to a second phase, the integration of any changes in line with the needs of Musique Concréte. In 1973, therefore, a workshop was useful for the understanding and use of the software. In those years, however, there is a problem quite complex. The GRM did not have a computer, which is why the code was prepared relying on the machines of the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française, initially known as RTF) and then converted to Bell Labs in New York.[2] The process was configured as extremely complex. The educational project, in this first phase, was abandoned in a short time.

The turning point of 1978 – In the second half of the seventies, the research activity is characterized by a greater enthusiasm. Several factors contributed to improve the situation. First, in 1978 the GRM acquired new computer equipment. In that year, the INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisual), wich in 1973 took over management of the GRM hitherto entrusted to the ORTF, began to provide new spaces and new equipment, including a PDP 11/60 computer for the exclusive use of the concretists. Then were built, by internal staff, DAC and ADC converters; was installed a modified version of Music V (the peculiarity was the ability to import sound material recorded externally with analog equipment)[3] and was set up a new workspace: the Studio 123 of Radio France.

Studio 123 – With this renewed situation is realized much more ambitious goals. First, the activity was carried out around the Music V. A new workshop, that was organized in conjunction with new features, was more successful among the composers, although it was a rather muted enthusiasm. Yann Geslin, indeed, argues that the technological breakthrough had no great following, a distrust that had once again caused by the excessive abstraction induced by programming code with respect to questions of pure music.[3] The second result of this new situation was the realization of the first software (to be precise, a software package) fully developed at GRM, which became known as Studio 123, the name of the spaces in which resided the PDP 11/60.[2]

Syter – Another factor that contributed to the advancement of computer music at GRM was the arrival of Jean-François Allouis who joined the original research group consists of Jaffrennou and Mailliard. Allouis led to the creation of a computer system for the synthesis in real time. The research project was initiated already in the late seventies, was named Syter and was made fully operational in 1984 until 1995.[2]

The Nineties – The technology situation of the nineties is very much different from that of twenty years before. This is also reflected on the technical and artistic production of GRM. After Allouis, another arrival of great importance was that of Hugues Vinet which led to a new research which focused on the use of new equipment such as Macintosh computers associated with Digidesign platforms and Sound Designer software. By the union of all three devices born the project DSP Station for Motorola 56001 processor.[4] Below GRM Tools was developed: whose first version was introduced in 1992. The GRM Tools was a software package that had a good spread among users, although it represented a regression in terms of functionality. Since 1994, Emmanuel Favreau took care to make the software compatible with VST technology. In the early nineties was also launched the project MidiFormer, integrated with MIDI technology, and the Acousmographe, a software for the graphical notation of electronic music.


For this topic I’ve read:

[1] Peter Mannig, Electronic and Computer Music, Oxford University Press, New York, Ed. 2004.
[2] Daniel Teruggi, Technology and musique concrète: the technical developments of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and their implication in musical composition, Organised Sound, Vol. 12 [3], 2007.
[3] Yann Geslin, Digital Sound and Music Transformation Environments: A Twenty-year Experiment at the “Groupe de Recherches Musicales”, Journal of New Music Research, Vol. 31 [2].
[4] Hugues Vinet, Olivier Koechlin, Didier Brisson, DSP Station: a HyperCard Environment for DSP Sound Processing Algorithms, Proceedings of International Computer Music Conference, McGill University, 1991.

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