Jeux D’Itérations Électroniques

The German label Karlrecords is emerging as a strong player in the vinyl reissue stakes – since 2006 they’ve been steadily pushing out a highly eclectic range of experimental music, including not a few reissues of selected avant-goodiness both past and present. Their catalogue includes several Reinhold Freidl and Zeitkratzer-related items, pressed as vinyl LPs. From the history of 20th century avant-garde composition, so far they’ve “done” Morton Subotnick and Steve Reich, and they’ve now added to that roster with this amazing pressing of Guy Reibel. Between these and the eMego / Recollection GRM LPs, hard-working Rashad Becker (the vinyl mastering guru of Berlin) must have a stack of commissions as long as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s baton…

Douze Inventions En Six Modes De Jeu (KR 028) is an exceptionally strong set of crisp, austere, electronic music. It comprises 12 tracks of previously unheard material originally composed in 1979; it was only digitised in 2014. Guy Reibel seems to have been something of a dark horse, bête noire or wild child in the fastidious, hermetic environment of the famed Groupe de Recherches Musicales; the press notes paint us a picture of “Reibel the Rebel”, falling out with other composers in the GRM, and going his own way as conductor of his Groupe Vocale De France (famed for their recordings of Ligeti choral works). Part of the conflict may have been to do with his stand-alone musical ideas; he was experimenting with “game theories” to give structure to his works in the 1960s 1, which made him something of a pioneer, and I expect placed him in opposition to the ideological and conceptual trends that dominated the French school. That said, Pierre Schaeffer (boss-man of the GRM, the André Breton of the group), took Reibel under his wing, and allowed him to work out his ideas on Solfège de l’objet sonore. Released in 1967, this collaborative triple-LP was partially a showcase for Schaeffer’s ideas and manifestos; all of side six is occupied with excerpts from Bayle, Parmegiani, Cage, Henry, Malec and many others, in order to demonstrate his theories of the “Typologie Des Objets Musicaux”. Sides one to three however contain Reibel’s earliest published compositions.

It’s incredibly hard to say anything useful about the incredibly abstract music I’m hearing. One thing that smacked me in the face is its brevity; most of these pieces weigh in at the three or four minute mark, in rather stark distinction to the usual discursive style of the French school, with their long-winded electro-acoustic symphonies which correspond to grand philosophical ideas. (See elsewhere for a similar rant.) Where some wallow in lush processed drones, Reibel throws tiny steel needles at the listener, firing out compacted missiles of hard musical information. The press notes point to “hybrid sound production” as one possible explanation for this austerity, and the fact that some of the music was partially played live – the latter being another departure, I suspect, from the supposed purity of 100% studio-based electro-acoustic music played entirely on tape machines. There’s also something about “combining amplitude envelopes of acoustic sounds and noises on synthetic electronic sounds”, and the fact that he deliberately limited his materials, compressing ideas to create extremely dense packets of musical data. Attempting to unpack any of these solid sonic grenades is no easy task; listening to this album could be hard work, especially as many of the statements fly by at such a rapid rate. Yet the overall effect is incredibly satisfying; there’s something so perfectly-formed about each piece, that you feel nothing could be removed without encroaching on the core integrity of the composition. Hard, crystalline, diamonds of electronic sound.

From the above, you’ll probably be unsurprised to learn that Guy Reibel cut his teeth by studying with many of the past masters of complex and intense modern music, notably Stockhausen and Xenakis; the kind of training which we poor mortals would regard as sitting at the feet of the Gods. By the 1970s however he had his own students, and was lecturing at the National Music Conservatory; a strand which led to further success, in the form of a 1977 group founded by three fellows from his class. Denis Defour, Laurent Cuniot and Yann Geslin were the first players in France to attempt live electronic music in performance, and among the few pioneers who took analogue synths on stage (in the context of academic music, at any rate; I suppose Keith Emerson doesn’t count?). Seems unfortunate that Reibel’s legacy is currently not well represented in terms of available product. He made just three LPs for INA GRM, and the label only saw fit to compile his work on CD just once – the 2000 release Chœurs Imaginaires. On the 2006 Archives GRM 5-CD box set compilation, he was allotted just one three-minute track. However, Recollection GRM (the Mego sub-label curated by Stephen O’Malley) reissued Granulations-Sillages / Franges Du Signe in 2012, which looks like a choice mid-1970s item; I wish I had a copy, but even that reissue is steadily going up in price already. From 23rd October 2015.

  1. I’m not sure on the details of this game theory method, though it may not be quite the same thing as aleatoric music; maybe it’s closer to Xenakis and his Duel and Strategie pieces, which were intended to be played by competing orchestras.

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