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Land Marks of GRM

Land Marks of GRM

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Published by John Sutcliffe

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Published by: John Sutcliffe on May 30, 2010
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The GRM: landmarks on a historic route
INA-GRM, Maison de Radio France, Pie`ce 3521, 116 av du Pt Kennedy, 75220 Paris Cedex 16, FranceE-mail: egayou@ina.fr
The year 1958 witnessed the birth of the institution GRM,nurtured by the French Radio and Television service (RTF).However, the fifty years of the GRM cannot be dissociatedfrom the preceding period, datable from 1942, when PierreSchaeffer began experiments with radiophonic sound whichled him to musique concre`te while bringing into existence theinstitutional infrastructure of the group. We can therefore seethe Studio d’Essai (1942–46), the Club d’Essai (1946–60)with its Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concre`te (GRMC,1951–58) as forebears of the GRM. The fundamentalprinciple, which lies in working with sonic material directly onthe recording media through a precise listening to recordedelements, led Schaeffer to affirm that there is another way toaccess music other than from notation.He used this powerful idea as the fixed point on thecompass for all his research. Linked from its origins to thebroadcasting services – RTF until 1964, ORTF up to 1974,then INA ever since – the GRM has constantly adapted itstheories and its ideas to successive technologicaldevelopments: smooth disks (shellac records), magnetic tape,computer memory. A fruitful period at the Service de laRecherche (1960–75) allowed Schaeffer and his team tosystematically examine the world of sounds from their ownlistening experience. The
Traite´ des Objets Musicaux
(Treatise of Musical Objects) bears witness to this research.Since 1975 another adventure has been under way: that of thepreservation and making available of works and discoveriesgathered over the years – an exceptional heritage whichcontinues to grow and interest an ever larger public.
In 2008 the Groupe de Recherches Musicales will befifty years old. To tell its story in due form, we shouldbegin in 1958, the year it was set up by the Club d’Essaiin the French Radio and Television service (RTF).Pierre Schaeffer was named director of the GRM andthe team comprised a dozen collaborators, among themLuc Ferrari, Bernard Parmegiani, Franc¸ois-BernardMaˆche and Jacques Poullin.By focusing on 1958 to call up the history of theGRM, however, we are losing sight of the previousperiod, that of the GRMC or Groupe de Recherche deMusique Concre`te (1951–58), which from its outsetproduced the most original masterpieces of musiqueconcre`te, and constitutes an important part of theGRM’s heritage:
Symphonie pour un homme seul 
Lecrabequijouaitavec la mer
(1950) by Philippe Arthuys not to mentionthe early jewels such as the
´ tudes de Bruits
by PierreSchaeffer, which dates back to 1948, and his
Suite pour14 instruments
(1949). So, how far back must we reallygo to find the origins of the GRM? Even if onedistinguishes the official birth of musique concre`te in1948
from the emergence of the GRM as an institutionten years later in 1958,it remains difficult to capture theessence of this ‘group’, which seems to cross thehistorical periods, aesthetic movements and technolo-gical revolutions effortlessly. In this article, to givecertain landmarks in the history and pre-history of theGRM, we will take as our starting point 1942, andglimpse over one’s shoulder even further towards whattook place much earlier, between the years 1910 and1920.
2. GLIMPSES OVER ONE’S SHOULDER:BEFORE 19582.1. To begin with what is best known: the invention of musique concre`te
Theveryfirstappearanceoftheterm‘musiqueconcre`te’wasat the presentationof Pierre Schaeffer’s ‘Concert debruits’ on Sunday 20 June 1948, at the Club d’Essai inParis. Pierre Schaeffer made the notable declaration:
To reach music, one can take an inverse path, which is toset out from sound data instead of notation, and from aformer composition instead of a traditional execution. If the term did not seem so pretentious, we would call theseattempts ‘attempts at Musique Concre`te’, in order tobetter define their general character and because it is notso much a question of noise but of a method of musicalcomposition.
This ‘inverse path to reach music’ grew out of theemergence of a technological revolution that started atthe end of the nineteenth century, which made possiblethe capturing and then fixing – or memorising – of sounds by recording them on a medium.
Pierre Schaeffer, 1951,
A la recherche d’une musique concre`te
. Inthe first part of this book, Schaeffer recounts its invention in theform of a diary.
Organised Sound 
(3): 203–211
2007 Cambridge University Press. Printed in the United Kingdom. doi: 10.1017/S1355771807001938
When Pierre Schaeffer began his professional careerin 1936 as a young engineer with the Radio DiffusionFranc¸aise (RDF up to 1949, then RTF), the pioneeringperiod of mechanical recording was over. The cylinderspatented by Edison in1877,on whicha needle inscribedvariations in pitch from a sound source recordedthrough a horn, were no longer being used.Recordings through a microphone were engraved onshellac records, covered in wax. These Pierre Schaefferand then Pierre Henry (who arrived in 1949) used untilthe beginning of the 1950s. Magnetic tapes only cameinto general use in the 1950s, and the hard discs of computers in the 1990s. But one cannot explain theinvention of musique concre`te merely by reference to asimpletechnicalshift.Withouttheforesightofoneman,then that of his collaborators, nothing would havehappened.
2.2. The personality of Pierre Schaeffer
Born in Nancy in 1910, in a family of musicians, it wasnatural that Pierre Schaeffer should study the cello. Hewas also deeply religious, a practising Catholic, andwhen young was an active member of the French BoyScouts, with the Rovers, with whom in particular helearned theatre. On top of his engineering studies at theEcole Polytechnique, he specialised in telecommunica-tions; but it is essential to take into account anotheraspect of his education, not only to understand the manhimself but also to understand the institution that hefounded, the GRM. In 1941 Schaeffer met Gurdjieff and followed his teachings on and off over severalyears.
George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1877–1949) was aguruofArmenianoriginwholivedforalongtimeintheEast, where he was initiated into the Eastern philoso-phies. He settled in France in 1922 and lectured on histheories in the milieu of those European intellectuals
who were curious about other ways of being andthinking. Gurdjieff advocated a daily practice of ‘movements’, a sort of gymnastic exercise for the bodyand the mind, aiming at a detachment from oneself andan opening up to the perception of other beings andthingsina freshmanner, liberatedfrom the conditionedreflexes acquired through one’s education. For that hefounded ‘groups’ that brought together the candidatesfor initiation. The word ‘Group’ in the title ‘Group forMusical Research’ comes directly from the modelproposed by Gurdjieff. Sheltering within the word liessomething of the philosophy: to use the ability toperceive and the body to ‘do’, to detach oneself fromprevious states in order to enter into a new associationwith the world (of sounds), to work together under thedirection of a master, and to reach knowledge throughoneself. It is immediately apparent that this approach isnot at all incompatible with the rigour of scientificexperiment, acquired by Schaeffer in the course of hisstudiesas an engineer, all the more so becauseSchaefferdid not have the mind of a mathematician, whocalculates, but of a physicist, who tests things out.
2.3. The political and artistic context prior to theinvention of musique concre`te
Anotherimportantelementtoconsiderwhenlookingatthecomingofmusiqueconcre`te(1948)andoftheGRM(1958) is the period of history that engendered them – the prenatal phase. This occurred during the rise of Fascism and Nazism. In retrospect we need to look at anumber of artistic currents, even if at that periodSchaeffer affected to ignore them. Ever since the 1910s,the great Italian Futurist movements, notably that of LuigiRussolo(1885–1947)withhis 1913 Manifesto
TheArt of Noise
, had been making a case for the ‘evergreater enlargement and enrichment of the field of sounds’.
Marinetti (1876–1944) was also on to this,when he declared in 1913 ‘Under the influence of thegreatscientificdiscoveries,Futurismhasforitsprinciplethe complete rebirth of the human spirit’.
A greatnumber of Italian Futurists, however, openly declaredtheir support for Fascism, which put off many of theadmirers of their artistic approach from acknowledgingtheir influence. This denial lasted for a long time afterthe Second World War, up to the end of the 1950s. Forits part, Russian Futurism, which had kept its politicaldistance from Italian Futurism, had contributed to thereflection on the new arts, especially that of the cinema:amediaartlikethatofmusiqueconcre`te.Inthewakeof Futurism, and its various forms, came Dadaism from1915 onwards, and Surrealism, the first manifesto of whichcame in1924.Schaefferalwaysfeignedignoranceof Italian Futurism before the Second World War – buthow could he have acknowledged it without beinglabelledaFascisthimself?Ontheotherhand,in1936hetravelled to Germany to learn about the new equipmentbeingusedforradio.Onthisoccasion,hediscoveredtheart of 
(theatre plays for radio), which theGermans had been practising since the 1920s. We mustremember that at the outset of his career in radio,Schaeffer was entrusted with the responsibility forfitting up the sound system in the Paris Opera, in ordertobroadcasttheproductions.Hisfirstpublicationaroseout of this experience,
Vingt lec¸ons et travaux pratiquesdestines aux musiciens me´ langeurs
(Twenty Lessons andPractice Works for Mixer Musicians), published incollaboration with
La Revue Musicale
in 1938.
Pierre Schaeffer gives his account of Gurdjieff in Louis Pauwels’
Monsieur Gurdjieff 
, 1954, pp. 347–82.
Many of these were English, among them the well-known literarycritic A.R. Orage, founder of a review called
The New Age
Luigi Russolo,
L’art des bruits
, Futurist Manifesto 1913, inGiovanni Lista, 1973,
Futurisme, Manifestes DocumentsProclamations
, Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, p. 316.
Ibid., p. 142.
´ velyne Gayou
If one focuses on the musical milieu between the twowars, one must take into account Andre´Breton’sattitude, the leader of the Surrealist movement, whodeclared himself hostile to music, which he considered a‘bourgeois’ art. This created an uncertain situation inFrance. Consequently, the writer–poet Jean Cocteau,whohadbeenastaunchsupporterofmusicians,andthemusicians themselves were isolated from the Surrealistmainstream, whereas music ought to have been themajor art.Finally,we cantrace the roots of musique concre`te inthe work of Erik Satie (1866–1925), Claude Debussy(1862–1918), Olivier Messiaen (1908–92) and EdgarVare`se (1883–1965).
2.4. The Institutional Advance: from the trainingsession at Beaune (1942) to the GRM (1958)
2.4.1. The training session at Beaune, from 15September to 15 October 1942
The war broke out, and then the German occupation.Schaeffer, as a civil servant, was sent to Vichy. In 1942,Schaeffer, taking advantage of the element of uncer-tainty in cultural matters during the occupation,suggested organising a training session for practitionersof the emerging radiophonic arts: the Beaune trainingsession.Schaeffersucceededinpersuadingtheactorandtheatre director Jacques Copeau (1879–1949) to joinhim in this undertaking.
Together they elaboratedexercises for speaking texts into a microphone, andhowbesttotransmitemotion: ‘toconfideintheaudience’,asCopeau put it.
Jacques Copeau advocated a return toenunciation and to a ‘school of sincerity’, opposed tothatofthefictioncreatedbytheatre.Thetrainees,abouttenofthem,hadbeenchosennotonthestrengthoftheirCVs but for their pluri-disciplinary aptitude. They hadto be actors, singers, musicians and technicians, all atthe same time.The training session in Beaune remained a model forSchaeffer, a successful symbiosis between art and craft,between research and creativity.
2.4.2 The Studio d’Essai, 1942–46 
After the dress rehearsal that was the training session inBeaune, the Studio d’Essai (Trial Studio), inauguratedon 12 November 1942 at 37 rue de l’Universite´in Paris,had to be both a laboratory of radiophonic art and avocational training centre. Pierre Schaeffer at this timewasworking as the chief engineerat the radio, in chargeof staff training.But what went on exactly, at the Studio d’Essai?It was wartime, and resources were limited.Nevertheless, in 1943/4, Schaeffer composed a radio-phonic opera in eight parts, based on the musical workof the composer Claude Arrieu:
La coquille a`plane`tes
(The planetary seashell). Moreover, together with hisofficial duties, he was training his team for secretactivities in the Resistance. In particular, it was he whoorganised the radio broadcast call for the liberation of Paris in August 1944, which led him to be appointedDirector General of Radio after the Liberation in 1945,although he fell out of favour with his hierarchy afteronly a few weeks and returned to the Studio d’Essai astechnical adviser. Very soon afterwards, he was sentabroad on a study and research tour, principally in theUnited States and Canada, to observe how radioworked in those countries.
2.4.3. The Club d’Essai 1946–60
The Club d’Essai, directed by the poet Jean Tardieu,followed on from the Studio d’Essai. This was the realstart of the period known as avant-garde, where thediscovery and the improvement of the aesthetics of musique concre`te were established amid the efferves-cence of new radiophonic creation. Schaeffer was alsoan active participant in the Centre d’E´tudesRadiophoniques (CER), which was at the heart of radiophonic research and training. From the beginningof 1947 he was more and more involved with theMinistryofForeignAffairs,forthedistributionofradiofrequencies among the countries, which led to a greatdeal of travelling. Between each trip, however, hereturned to the Club d’Essai to continue his experi-ments, for Schaeffer and his colleagues were in themiddleofbringingtolifewhatonewoulddescribetodayastheswitchfromresearchintothepatternofsoundsasbackground effects, towards their expression as music,or to put it another way, the passage from realisticsound effects adapted to radiophonic theatre to amusical abstraction.Schaeffer was strongly inspired by the aestheticadventure that was cinema. In a first article dated1941 on the
Esthe´ tique des arts relais
(Aesthetic of relayarts), he had already made a parallel comparisonbetween radio and cinema. According to him, languagehad power over the abstract,but cinema and radiowerebetter equipped to conjure it up. He then differentiatedbetween language ‘thatwhich makessense’, and cinemaandradio,‘thatwhichrefertothesenses’.
Jacques Copeau had founded the famous Vieux ColombierTheatre in Paris in 1913, in reaction to what he saw as thetraditions embodied in the Come´die Franc¸aise. With his friendCharles Dullin, he had opened the door to young actors such asLouis Jouvet and Jean Villard, wanting to push for an avant-gardetheatre dedicated to the mind, far from naturalism and free fromcommercial servitude. Copeau had also taken part in the creationin 1909 of the
Nouvelle Revue Franc¸aise
with Andre´Gide and someothers, and with the support of Andre´Gallimard.
Pierre Schaeffer,
Propos sur la Coquille
, 1990, p. 91.
From the CD booklet accompanying the
10 ans d’essais radio- phoniques 1942–1952
(10 Years of Radiophonic Trials 1942–1952).Phonurgia Nova/INA, Paris, 1989, p. 17.
The GRM: landmarks on a historic route

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