Acousmatic, what is it?
The term acousmatic appears frequently in the texts of this book. Yet, what
does it mean?
English neologism, which comes from the French acousmatique, has its origins
with Pythagoras (6th century BC) who was (it is said) delivering hisuniquely
oralteaching behind a curtain to prevent his physical presence from distracting
his disciples, allowing them to better concentrate exclusively on the content
of his message.
in time to us, at the beginning of this century, one finds in the two-volume
French dictionary Le Larousse pour tous:
Acousmate. n. (from the Greek Akousma, what
is heard). Imaginary sound, or of which the cause is not seen.
1955, the writer and poet Jérôme Peignot, at the beginning of musique
concrète, used the adjective acousmatic, meaning a sound that we
can hear without knowing its cause, to designate the distance that
separates a sound from its origins by obscuring behind the impassivity
of the loudspeaker any visual element that may be connected to it. In 1966,
Pierre Schaeffer mused about giving his Traité des objets musicaux (Treatise
on Musical Objects) the title Traité dacousmatique
(Treatise on Acousmatic). Finally, around 1974, to mark the difference and to
avoid any confusion with incidental or transformed musical instruments (ondes
Martenot, electric guitars, synthesizers, real-time digital audio systems
François Bayle introduced the expression acousmatic music as a specific
kind of music, as the art of projected sounds which is shot and developed
in the studio, projected in halls, like cinema.
is true that over the past twenty years, under the term electroacoustics there
has been a proliferation of sound pieces which have little in relation to each
other except a common use of electricity. It was therefore important to affirm,
with precise terminology, æsthetic choices, a body of thought, and a language.
It is also in this spirit that, since 1989, the Rencontres acousmatiques (Acousmatic
Meetings) of composers in the south of France have been organized.
this musicor better: Acousmatic Art (Denis Dufour)was conceived
from its beginnings to be heard without the use of visual intervention. It does
not involve any instrumentalist on stagewith the exception of the person
who projects the work during a public performance in order to maximize the use
of the given space. It organizes morphologies and sonic spectra, images
of sound (François Bayle), coming from a multiplicity of sources,
but that the absence of visual identification makes anonymous, unifies and prompts
a more attentive listening. (Is it by pure coincidence that the hearing of blind
people is reputed to be so refined?)
follows its very own mechanisms that, due to their newness, require coherence
and intuition. It is a causa mentale. Finally, it sets or fixes onto a medium
(magnetic tape, computer disk or other) with precision and no maybes, the most
subtle nuances chosen by the composer: what we hear doesnt resemble what
is wanted, it is what is wanted. This last point is very well presented by Michel
Chion in his recent book, Lart des sons fixés, ou la musique concrètement
(The Art of Fixed Sounds, or Music in Concrete Terms).
lets stress a fact that remains underrated. If music has always been closely
associated with its reproduction by performers, as opposed to many other art
forms that are once and for all fixed on a medium (painting, literature, cinema,
), it is due to the impossibility to do so differently, and not by
choice. Never before, until this day, could one capture, keep, and reproduce
a faithful image of sound phenomena. Before it was necessary to use a more or
less precise symbolic notation to capture the ideas of composers. This gave
birth to a quasi-universal practice that we have no reason to complain about
or tire of.
this situation is neither a fatality nor a law since today we know how to fix
sound as we do for visual images or text. To pretend the opposite is only to
rely on habit and on the largely publicized fetichism of the performer.
the art of a century that prevents the disappearance of sound, is a new and
autonomous art form which certainly finds in the compact disca genuine
sound bookone of its most convincing vehicles. The seven works brought
together here belong to this reality, still young but already engaged in the
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, July-August 1991
Francis Dhomont: Acousmatic, what is it?