13 March 2019 ListenRead

Brunhild Ferrari in conversation with David Grubbs

DG: So the Stereo Spasms festival is intended to celebrate Luc Ferrari. But it's also a celebration of Brunhild Ferrari. None of this would be possible without Brunhild and one of the things that I'm most grateful for and happy to celebrate this week is the publication of Luc Ferrari 'Complete Works' which Brunhild has edited and which is a labor of love that reflects years and years of dedicated brilliant creative work. So I just want to I want everyone to give Brunhild deep thanks for that.

BF: Thank you very much to you, and to you all. And yes, it was a big work because I found these boxes in the house full, full, full of papers and of documents and I knew that I had to scan them and I had to to preserve them. But it began with all his tapes. He had about a thousand tapes with his recordings and finished pieces and that took us about 10 years to save, to digitise. It was very exciting and very - it was all this time of remembering. It was so moving to me because mostly I was with him, I remember the places, I remember the persons with whom we met and the circumstances. It was ten years of intense memory coming back.

DG: Would you recount how you met Luc and also the role that music played in your life prior to meeting Luc?

BF: Well I spent six months in Paris to learn French and at the end I had some friends - mostly one friend - who had a very beautiful workshop for lithography. And he invited me - because we met the first time at an exhibition - painter, painters - my friend is a painter from Germany. And he invited me to the lithography studio. It was huge, it was really great. This place was visited and used by nearly all the painters at that time in the 50s, the end of 50s.

BF: It was very exciting at the end of the 50s. When I got my diploma from Alliance Française [Luc] asked me to come with him to Corsica and spend vacations together. I was so excited, I wanted to very much. I wrote to my parents. “No, no, no, no, no, no. You have to come home but you can invite your friend if you want.” I invited him, but he didn't come alone. He came with young man of his age [Gérard Patris] and Luc introduced himself as a composer to my father who was a composer, and my father saw it would be very interesting that we both meet together. But finally Luc and me met more than Luc and my father. So that was Luc.

DG: One of the most fascinating sections in the book is a series of letters that Luke wrote from the late 50s through the 1960s to Pierre Schaeffer. They're exquisitely written documents about Luc's expectations for the G.R.M. In these letters he performs an incredible balance between on the one hand speaking his mind and criticising someone who obviously he respects and who didn't take criticism very well. And on the other hand being very clear about his desires as a composer. So I think people know about Luc's work as a composer in this time, but I was interested to hear you say more about what his other responsibilities were with the G.R.M.

BF: He was completely involved in [the GRM]. He was the first one who organised a concert and screenings inside of festival of Groupe de Recherches, and at that point we got married. Straight after the town hall he went to organize a concert in the evening - so that was our marriage.

DG: [laughs] This is a cautionary tale on Valentine's Day.

BF: And um your question was what?

DG: Oh yeah. The kind of work that he did-

BF: He composed but he had not so much time because he was so much asked by Schaeffer to organize all, and to organize also the workshops. And to choose people. And it was a very hard task for him but he did it. He did it because he believed in Schaeffer - not in his, not really in his philosophy, but in his own task because it was a very important situation at the radio. It was really the first time that the radio could diffuse, could make known other musics than classical and other films than classical, and also because Schaeffer created the G R I - the Groupe de Recherches Images - that was very important too. And a lot of painters were invited to make films and the composers made the music for it. So it was really very exciting and there is a very beautiful catalog and I believe we could see some of these films in these last days in Close Up cinema.

DG: Earlier tonight I watched the ‘Hommage to Edgard Varèse’ and it's hard to imagine that this hour long documentary film, Varèse passed away before before the film was made, so it shows two different rehearsals of Varèse pieces, but it's hard to imagine that this would have been the first time that this music was seen on television in France. And I mean not only is there an artistry to the documentary, but just the kind of historical fact of it gaining a large audience for the first time.

BF: Yes it began with Stockhausen. That was the first of these films. Or was Messiaen, maybe Messiaen, but it was the first time that the public could watch contemporary music at the television, and it was easier also more because Luc and Patris because they both together - that young man who brought Luc to Aachen - they decided to make two film rehearsals, because in rehearsals you can learn so much more than in a finished piece, in a finished composition, because you see all the details of the elaboration and the working together with the musicians. And, OK. That was their aim at that moment.

DG: Scattered throughout the ‘Complete Works’ book there are a number of different autobiographical writings that seemed like the beginning and the beginning again and the beginning again of a kind of autobiography. And one of the first that appears in the book he talks about anecdotal music, right. And the status of the anecdote and it's a great quotation. I'm going to read. So from 'Exploitation du concept D'autobiographie' he writes, quote, "As if to stake my claim. I started calling myself a composer of anecdotal music. It was a joke, a devil may care gesture, for this had nothing to do with superficial anecdotes. It was an earnest use of narration in a world that was still in the thrall of abstraction." And last night when I was talking about the Tautologos pieces, I was talking about this idea that repetition and narration which Luc referred to as these vital forces throughout all of his compositions were two of the things that were forbidden in serialism. And I talked about repetition a bit last night in his music, but I wanted to ask you about seeing narrative emerge in his work, and what your experience of that was?

BF: Well in the beginning of the 60s it was a time when we could find portable recording machines and Luc was so very happy to get one and to go outside from the studio to make recordings. And so he discovered a lot of things that excited him and we went together, also with Pierre Schaeffer and also Marie-Claire Schaeffer, Schaeffer's daughter, and we went to do a very beautiful place near the sea in Normandy and we discovered sounds that were very exciting. Luc was very excited when we threw stones on the to go until the sea - the ricochets. Yes. And that was one of the recordings with the sea, waves and little by little he recorded more details that he was very interested in.

BF: OK, yes it's normal for a composer to open his ears, but Luc wanted to listen to things that were very ordinary, and very quotidian - everyday noises. And if by this way we could listen to them with another sense, with very much more an attention.

BF: Unfortunately that was the moment when they had a very hard discussion between Schaeffer and Luc because Schaeffer couldn't accept these sounds that were not - where we were you could recognise the origin - and his aim, Schaeffer, was to work on the sounds and to go into the sounds and the, the origin had no more any importance. But Luc was sure at the beginning that Schaeffer would like that piece. But no. So as Schaeffer told him, you use anecdotal sounds, Luc thought, okay I make anecdotal music. And since that time he calls it anecdotal music in this sense, these kind of recordings.

DG: I think the word anecdote has the same pejorative quality in both French and English - that it's not serious, it's just an anecdote. And yet I sense that you know this seems very Luc, this idea of kind of a subversive use of a term that you would think this is a kind of throw away idea, and yet it's one that he's deeply serious about.

BF: He had always self derision. That belonged to his personality, and that was the way why he called it "musique anecdotique." With a little smile.

DG: You and I were talking about the kind of strange dialectic between professionalism and "amateurism" within Luc's work. So Tautologos III last night, one version is a text score that could be performed by professional musicians, by amateurs, by non musicians and Presque Rien also, some people have a sense of it as a kind of sonic photography, a snapshot. And yet, it's not. It has the appearance of that which hides a tremendous amount of labour and professionalism. And I was curious to hear you speak about what the appeal to the amateur was around this time in the late 1960s?

BF: Well at that time and little later, even when he was invited by different groups - music composition groups or whatever - to work with young people for creating music or something. And he showed them how to use a recorder and how to how to edit a tape because he was hoping that they create compositions also. It was not so easy for them because he had all his background. It didn't work so much, but it worked in some senses that they collaborated in pieces that Luc did. And without knowing it sometimes, mostly without knowing it. And so it was with this piece he made in the 70s. We went to a little village in the South of France and we met a young woman. A young farmers wife. And we spoke together and she was so fantastic in what she was talking how heavy her life is and how heavy life in that village is because there is nothing there are no buses to go to the city. No work - only to clean up apartments or something and even not so much. So she spoke as a very [unheard] young woman also in politics and, and she was really great. And Luc recorded all these conversations. And finally it's her piece. Even if Luc accompanied it with some music, but it was finally her piece.

DG: And at this time were you yourself collecting sounds with recorders and editing them? What was your relation to the microphone?

BF: Yes I did. I loved it. Yeah I loved it very much. And every time when we were on travel somewhere we, we recorded and we - at the end I had my own recorder so we had no more to share it. And I loved that experience very much because it opened my ears.

DG: At what point did you start making works of your own. Because I know when I first met you about 20 years ago you just made a radio piece about Alvin Lucier and I know that since Luc's passing you've worked with recordings from the archive, created your own compositions. So I'm curious to hear about your own work as an artist.

BF: Well before I made yes, I made some pieces for the German Radio with my own sounds and also sometimes with with text because I wanted to explain or to make like a documentary. That's what I did in Greece and on the other hand I've made pieces with Luc's archives and I called that - memory, memory - "archives of memory" or something. And I did that with Luc's pieces. I love to do that.

BF: Luc began a new piece in the very late moments of his life and we began to work on it together. He asked me to help him to take from his tape archives every 13th tape. To put it on the tape recorder, listen, and then to copy a little fragment without really choosing it. "Take that and tape it and put it back." And we worked a half a day together on these and then we went to holidays, so this was the beginning of the project. We never spoke about what he wanted to do with that so this piece stayed unfinished. Only after two years I thought it was a pity, and that I should finish it or I should something with it. So I finished it in my manner, how I could, and I continued this work with the tapes copying and editing and making a sense - trying to make sense. 

DG: I have one final question and my experience of you and of Luc is that you're genuinely interested in people of every age and every generation and interested in knowing people from different countries and coming from different artistic contexts. And so this is the eighth night of the festival. And you've seen some presentations of works that are very conventional and some extremely unconventional ones. And I wanted to ask what are your impressions? What impressions stick out to you of the last eight nights of concerts? What you feel like you've learned or what's been a revelation for you in seeing people perhaps - many of whom you'd never met before - performing this music.

BF: I was very happy with most of the performers I see. No really, no, I was really happy with all performers! [laughs] But I know that some were very young maybe and didn't know yet how to - how to apprehend. I know it needs a lot of time if pieces are to be played like it is written. So I always was full of admiration for all attempts because there was an approach that was very - I was deeply touched every time, because there was this trying to get into - but I must say I was really very happy with all eight nights of concerts approaching Luc's music and different kinds of music and I really admired all these wonderful musicians who understood what Luc wanted to say. Still very clumsy, sorry.

DG: Not at all. Okay I think we're supposed to open our fortune cookies now.

BF: Can you read that for me?

DG: Brunhild’s fortune reads: “Workout tonalities that represent sexual positions. Luc Ferrari."


DG: And mine reads: "Give up music concrete. Enter the world of electro realism." Thank you, Brunhild.

BF: Thank you so much.


Recorded by Shaun Crook, photograph by Fabio Lugaro. 

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