Françoise Barrière

BarriereWhen I visited Bourges in 2006 for the annual international festival of electroacoustic music, both Françoise Barrière and Christian Clozier, the festival’s founders, took time out of their busy schedules not only to give interviews to Asymmetry Music Magazine but to show me around the studios of IMEB. I’d like to thank both of them for their hospitality and generosity and to apologize for taking so long to publish the interviews and the reports on the 2006 and 2007 festivals.

Asymmetry: What did you listen to early in your life?

Barrière: Have you listened to Dessus la mer? That’s a long piece, 26 minutes, which I composed from ’95 to ‘97 or ’98. I began from a text by Rabelais, and the subject was exactly that: to expose in this piece the music that I preferred in my youth. Not all of it, of course. But some. And not always immediately recognizable, but as if the sound were ice, were frozen, and then becoming enlivened. The music developed after into something more. I thought classical music was in danger in this world where popular music is so much to the fore. And not only music, but nature, which I also love, and which I saw also as in danger. So I mixed nature in danger and music in danger.

My mother liked French music very much, and I listened all day to Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Duparc. But I liked a lot of other music, too. I liked jazz, I liked songs, popular music, too. Also, when I was 18, I discovered non-European music. I like all kinds of music, so long as it is good. You can find very good songs, very good rock, very good free jazz. If I feel analytical, I’ll chose one type of thing, and if I want to be quiet, I’ll put on something else, Indian music, say, or Korean. When I am working in my house, I can put on Chopin or Mozart. Or Webern. Sometimes I put the radio on to discover something new or to relisten to something I don’t listen to often, and I’ll say “Oh, I had forgotten that, but it’s very good.”

And sometimes, I love silence. You know, the children today are always with their Walkmans, but the silence is so important for concentration, to be clear in your mind. You can’t concentrate on something if you don’t have silent moments in your life. The children today don’t know that. It’s always a wall of sound.

Asymmetry: It’s so easy just to turn things on. The same technology that makes it possible for us to hear everything, Tibetan music, or Korean music, when we’re in France, or California, or wherever, is the same technology that can make us, well, stupid! I think people discover silence, though. So I’m hopeful.

Barrière: I think they can; it’s possible. And things naturally change from generation to generation.

Asymmetry: So how did you get started doing electroacoustic music?

Barrière: In 1968, I was in the conservatory in Paris. And Christian Clozier was also in the conservatory. I was in harmony and counterpoint writing courses, I participated in discussions in the conservatory, and I learned that in the radio, the ORTF, there were people who made music with technical instruments, and I was interested in that. The September after my first year there, Pierre Schaeffer offered a class in the conservatory. I enrolled in that class and in courses of non-European music in the musicology department. I attended Schaeffer’s concerts, and I was in the workshop in the GRM, but that was not so interesting for me, because we had no real contact with the machines—only talking!

But I made some friends there; we were all in our twenties and composers. I met Christian Clozier there. At the end of 1969 beginning of 1970, I heard from one of my friends that in this house, the Maison de la Culture [in Bourges, where we were doing this interview] there was a possibility to make a studio. Some equipment had arrived for making a studio for the creation of theater music. But after the equipment came, the theater disappeared. The theater group disappeared. But the equipment was there, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with it.

So my friend recommended that I go see if it would be possible to use this equipment. So I met with the director of the Maison de la Culture, and he agreed to let me work with it and found a group for creation. So I founded the Groupe de Musique Experimentale de Bourges in September 1970 with Christian Clozier. So we’ve been going for 36 years now.

Christian had made some experiments with electroacoustic music with a small group of some other composers, but I not so much at the time. I can say that we learned everything from ourselves here. We had some money to buy equipment, and we constituted a group of composers with Alain Savouret and Pierre Boeswillwald, and we had many discussions about the future of music.

We had the same philosophy that the composer is not only a man solitary in his room, but someone who must intervene in the city, to meet people, to make concerts, to discuss how people hear music, and to exchange ideas. That’s why in 1971 we founded the festival and in 1973 the competition. In 1972, Christian designed the Cybersongosse for the children to make electroacoustic music in the classroom. And Christian also designed the Cybernéphone for the diffusion in the concerts.

After that we developed the other activities that you know, that you see on the site—and in 1996 we became involved with the academy to make books, in both French and in English, with topics suggested by the academicians.

Asymmetry: So how much time do you have to work on your own music?

Barrière: Haha! Not very much. Normally I make one or two pieces a year, maximum. Some years I make no music at all. It all depends on the projects we have going. When I make music, it’s usually on the weekends. In the early years, it was possible to work one whole week, say, undisturbed, but now it’s not possible. I can only compose now during the week in the evenings. And on the weekends. Normally I work in August, when nobody is here. I don’t have my own studio, because the studio’s right there. This year, I finished a piece that I had started three years ago, a piece for accordion and tape, and I received a commission from Köln for the fortieth anniversary of the conservatory of music there.

I have another project that I’ve been working on for three years, but it’s very complicated and there are many technical things to realize. I need to go to Zurich where my good friend Gerald Bennett, director of the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology in Zurich, has special sound equipment at his disposal, special software for moving the sound around the room. And I want to use that for this project of mine. [Note: Bennett, who founded the Institute in 2005, was the director in 2006 when this interview with Françoise was recorded. Germán Toro-Pérez has been the director since October of 2007.]

For Christian it is exactly the same. But sometimes we say that our “work” is also IMEB, sure.

Asymmetry: So do you teach classes here?

Barrière: No, I don’t. We have “animation” we say in France, which means to go to the school and make a session of practical realization with the young people. But it’s not me; it’s Yves Coffy. Me, I only have one or two students. One is the prize residence from our competition. The winner comes for one month to make music, and I have discussions with them, and I give them advice. And there’s another competition, the Aschberg, which is a UNESCO bursary, and we choose two winners from Latin America or Asia or Africa, and I have two times with them each week during the month. I have now two young composers, one from Mexico and one from Turkey. They will be playing their pieces tomorrow. Moussong Garcia and Basar Under. They both realized their pieces in Bourges.

But it’s not too many, because we are not in a university; it’s a chance for us, but it’s a lot of work for us, too, because we don’t have much time for teaching. Too much administrative work. And we also have to organize the political contacts to get money. But we have the freedom to decide what we want to do. And in which direction we want to go. That’s an important thing.

We promote electroacoustic music internationally. We were the first to go into East Germany. They had no contact with other people before us. We were the first to go to Latin America. We made the first contact in Russia at the end of the eighties. It had been absolutely forbidden to make electroacoustic music in Russia, but we managed to make contact and to encourage electroacoustic music there.

And we invite composers to come and compose here. So we have the most important collection of elecroacoustic music in the world. We have 12,000 works in our library, in the archive downtown, from seventy countries. Today I went there to look at all the Polish music we have. We probably have more Polish music here than in Poland, because Radio Warsaw closed their studio and refused let go of the works. The works are locked in a room, and even the composers cannot get to them. And they don’t want to make copies. So it’s a very complex situation. We have a lot of pieces, although we have no permission to play them. But we have them, and we will save them.

Asymmetry: And maybe permission will come later.

Barrière: Yves is in discussion now with the radio to have a compromise.

We also have more than the Chileans, who lost all of their early work. But we have the pieces of Juan Amenabar and José Vicente Asuar, the first pieces.

And we have other kinds of relationships with many countries. For British composers, for instance, it’s very important to win a prize in Bourges. And I just received a letter from a past winner in Spain who said it was very important for his career to have won a prize from Bourges. I was very happy, because it was a really good piece. And if we can help people in other countries, we are very happy to do that.

Asymmetry: I have read a lot about music over the past few decades, and no one seems to acknowledge, or even be able to talk about, electroacoustic music. Still. In 2006. It’s very strange. People who write, whether they write bad things about new music or good things about new music, it’s almost always about instrumental. Instrumental is fine. We all like it. But I would like to see electroacoustic music discussed and accepted as equal to instrumental music.

Barrière: The problem is probably that people are very conservative. Of course electroacoustic music was very important for the second part of the twentieth century. It changed forever the meaning of what was music, for all types of music, for classical, for rock music, for pop music, all things came from the work of electroacoustic musicians. But this music has had difficulties in being received by the people, that’s true. It might be partly because electroacoustic music is difficult to listen to as a tapestry, as adornment. We have to concentrate when we listen. It is the same for medieval. Not baroque, though. But with medieval you have to concentrate when you listen. It’s not possible to work in the kitchen, for instance, when you listen to this music! And that’s probably why.

But it’s beginning to change. In Belgium, for instance—the Belge are very conservation, but in Belgium there is a new producer there, and he invited me make a radio program. I began very carefully. I made programs of classical music and sometimes put in some electroacoustic music. And since people reacted favorably, I made more and more. And now it’s absolutely normal that I make an electroacoustic broadcast. It was only possible to do it progressively. But now the people like that.

And in Sweden too, every week there is a broadcast, and many people write in reaction to that. In Radio France, too. So things have changed. You know, someone said it takes eighty years to really understand some new artistic project. So…. It’s normal. Now we understand Schoenberg, Webern, Berg. The public accept that music in the concert halls. I like to point out that Auguste Renoir was very successful in his lifetime, but that that was an exception. Van Gogh was not. Nor Gauguin. So I think “OK. For me what is important is to compose and to push this music. If it is not for today, it will be for tomorrow, and if it is not for tomorrow, then I have at least done what I wanted to do. And it was very interesting for me.” So. That is sufficient. We don’t have to be too exigent.

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