Matthieu Gagelin: Acousmatic

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Music by Matthieu Combetteg

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Matthieu Combetteg was born in 1985. Brought up in a house where Pierre Henry was listened to. He studied the piano from the age of 14 with Paul Crapie, then with Pascal gallet in 2003 at th CRD Montreuil.

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Since 2007, he has followed Alain Margoni’s counterpoint course as he followed Gino Favotti’s electroacoustic composition course at the CMA XXeme between 2003 and 2008, and, with Denis Dufour at the CRR paris since 2007. Since 2005, he has composed acousmatics works (played among others at CMA centre/bizet, Radio-France Multiphonies INA/GRM, festival futura, Crest…) “mixtes” (for ensemble ecce) and one acousmatic work on a Herve Guibert text for educational visit about AIDS (created at the Gallerie Agathe Gaillard). He collaborated with Carolin Cheauveau for the creation of Hanock Levin’s Cabaret “que d’espoir” (staged by F. Pierson) and directed tapes for divers artists, photographers, sculptors such as Joao Torres or Alexandra Kawiak (exibition “come as you are not” galerie frederic Lacroix, Paris) or educational visit for students. His trajectory is ponctuated by meetings which influences his work (François Bayle, Christian Zanesi, Rainer Boech…) and guided his research on various subjects : Language, perception of time, the musical project… Nourished by his reading of Adorno, Schaeffer, Albera, Chion, Bayle… he remains on a quest for a “total sonore” and is confident in the future of acousmatic carried by new generations of creators.

1/ How would you describe acousmatic ?

Acousmatic is, in the first place the science of listening. This notion which was updated in the middle of the 20th century under the impulse of J. Peignot, and then P. Schaeffer, comes from Pythagoras. He is the one who taught his students (so called the “acoustics”) hidden behind a curtain. His aim was to have them concentrated only on his words, exactly as we are when listening to the radio. This way he used forced him to express himself more clearly as he couldn’t be helped by his gesture. Thanks to musical research, led at the time by P. Schaeffer at the G.R.M. (which belongs to the french national radio/television) this notion which was brought to a new life become obvious for the perceptive analyzing of recorded sounds. Therefore, acousmatic listening is listening to the sound without detecting the source. We make our music ‘concretely’ without prior scores, we directly intervene on the final result, the one which is offered to the listener. It is a kind of gymnastics between the do and the listening. We record sounds sequences which we mix on a editing table, like used on film making. Then we project them in concert (performance) using an acousmonium. The acousmonium is a device created at the GRM : a loud speakers orchestra surrounding the audience with close or far sources which allow each interpreter to bring to life our music in space and gave it matter during a living performance.

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2/ How did you discover acousma ?

I started learning piano when I was 14 years old. As I was homeschooled I was very quickly dragged down to musical media as a way to express myself. I study in Paris in a Conservatoire, till I got my degree. I started learning acoustic composition four years later in a small Conservatoire in Paris. To get there what you had to do was to explain what you thought about this music. At that time, all I knew was merely child’s memories, such as old P.Henry’s vinyls that my father used to lie about at home. I knew that we could use editing but nothing more. I must admit that my first year was real shock. I did not understand much. I was far from imagine that this new approach would totaly turn upside down my musical vision which I had discovered earlier and which I thought was unshakeable and could not be questioned. The rot had already set in ! The history of acoustic being so strongly linked to musical research and objectivity of phenomenology that progressively I was taken away from what made me like playing the piano. I had discovered something which talked to me much more : making, ideas , research, imaginary. I was not very regular during the first two years , as if I needed time to digest it all. After a very strange tryout, using A. Artaud’s voice (which did not seem to meet enthusiasm with my fellow students) I composed my first piece in one go. Something had finally… I followed that way, still learning piano until I had to make a choice. I did not have really the nerves and courage to undergo instrumental examinations ; huge programs to prepare, competition between pianists. Nothing pleasant coming out of this as I was very anxious and nervous knowing I had to perform on stage before a jury. The piano examinations I attended to were all dramas with very few exceptions.

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3/ When did you started to listen to music differently ?

In my studies what seems to me difficult was to control my listening as I had to separate the cause from the effect. My ear trained according to the classical “conservatoire” standards had been taught for notes dictations and tones recognition. The notion of ‘reduced listening’, which P. Schaeffer’s basic theory is just at the opposite. If we want to listen we have to leave aside the technical means to concentrate on music architecture, its patterns, tones , combinations of tones.. I remember well the first performance I listened to with this ‘reduced listening’ . It was a concert and Bach was performed. I closed my eyes and clearly felt trajectory lines. Lines which crossed themselves, which are attracted to a same point . LInes which moves away from us, which comes back from far away . All this psycho-acoustic, “perceptive matter” I find much more interesting and universal for me than analyzing modulations, each modulation, or each chords than the more passive method which I do not denigrate by the way.

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4/ How do you compose ?

As for composing, everyone has his recipe. Mine comes from my last teacher at the Paris Conservatoire : D. Dufour. At the beginning it was very instinctive and nowadays it is more like an architect or a scenograph. I work on projects. Let it be an order or a personal project, my first concern is to know what to say, how to say it , to whom, in which setting, with what materials etc… which leads me to gather informations on various subjects. As soon as the project is part of myself, becomes familiar, obvious to me whether there is an aim or not the realisation is rather quick. Instinct is part of this phase. driven by the subject, I shape sounds, I re-use them differently to this aim, to the obvious coherence of the project. As far as estheticism is concerned, my first works were very abstract and evasive. I exclusively used at that time synthetic or electronic materials. For the last 3 years my music has been progressively charged with many movies influences. I am very interested in editing, in sound coming from acoustic, in moods, situations or imaginary. Working on projects is a method which suits me very well, allowing me to restrain my imagination and to go to forms where I would never go by myself.

5/ What are you working on at the moment ?

I am working on several project at the moment. The first one is a personal one, which is adapting a tale which stood out in my childhood. My work here is purely illustrative and is for youngsters. The second one is about this notion of Project, in collaboration with performers , artists, and videasts. I work as well with a young searcher, Justine Martini, on 2 projects. The first one is a “mise en ondes”, a realisation for the radio of her searches about radio theatre in the thirties. She is the first one to work on this subject and on particular writers. She is very enthusiastic about her searches and the subject is very attractive to me. The second one is a writing project on a drama research on how to use the sound in a living performance. Until now I had always work alone, but work with others is a rather new and very exciting experience.

You can listen some of Matthieu songs here

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