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GRM: Electrain De Nuit

A prestigious history and enviable archive of electro-acoustic music empowers GRM's radio shows - Electrain De Nuit is a fun and diverse sonic journey.

David Britain writing for VINGT Paris

PierreschaefferLe Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) has been involved in creative musical research since 1958, making it older (and arguably more influential) but less well known than IRCAM. Their founder Pierre Schaeffer was a Radio France engineer who was the first person to record sounds and creatively link them together into a sound composition. In those days it was done by literally slicing up tape recordings and sticking them back together. In 1948 he called this style ‘musique concrète’ and later also coined the idea of ‘reduced listening’, both of which remain key techniques in electronic music today.

Today GRM is responsible for is bringing electro-acoustic music to the French public via the radio. They have an enviable, if obscure, archive from which to draw. The late night Sunday/Monday morning Electrain De Nuit is divided into three sections: découvertes et nouveautés, Concert Multiphonies and item such as  "Les pionniers de la musique électronique danoise". The producers Christian Zanesi and David Jisse have to pack many short works into a tight three hour slot, making the show a fun and diverse sonic journey.

A recent show feature the excellent Touch label's Robert Hampson with his wonderful brand of post-minimalism in Ahead – only the stars, a cinematic dialogue between various atmospheres, clicks and beeps. Nicolas Dick’s Une belle journée also puts forward a minimal aesthetic, which will fill your ears with lush symphonic textures while James Beckett’s Trophies is more abrasive with its busy metallic chattering. During the first section there is also a recording from a live improvising trio demonstrating that listening patiently to a group of speakers is not the only direction in electro-acoustic music. B.Gauget, F.Hautzinger and T.Lehn combine analogue synthesiser, quarter tone trumpet, saxophones and various other electronic devices in their performance entitled Close up.

The second part of the broadcast is a recording from a concert the GRM put on last May, which featured music combining acoustic instruments and electronics. This gets to the heart of two great problems in electro-acoustic music – firstly that people distrust the creative validity of music that comes from a computer chip and secondly that listening to a pair of speakers play music removes the all important human performance element from music. Ironically, by combining acoustic instruments and electronics in a radio broadcast such issues become irrelevant since you often cannot know whether what you are hearing is a skilled performer or a computer.

Electrain De Nuit concludes with a look back at the beginning of electronic music in Denmark. Like Schaeffer in Paris, composers in Denmark found the reel-to-reel tape recorders in the national radio stations to be of huge creative potential. Composers featuring in the third part of the program such as Else Marie Pade experimented exhaustively with this new technology and some of the results finish off the radio show.

Electrain De Nuit occurs on the third Monday of each month from 1-4am however if you value your sleep, and is repeated the following Thursday at the more manageable time of 1-4pm. Alternatively you can listen again on-line to all of this year's shows. 

Photos, Top: Pierre Shaeffer, facsimilemagazine.com

Bottom: Robert Hampson's Vectors cover, from touchshop.org. Vectors features work commissioned by GRM

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