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The first studio for electronic music was built in France. In the early forties Pierre Schaeffer used one of the radio studios, Studio d'Essai de la Radiodiffusion Nationale, as a starting point for his radiophonic technics. Schaeffer was very much influenced by cinema and the technics used there to create atmosphere. In his daily practice he worked with sounds and the voices of actors. His approach to sound techniques came from merging the two; Schaeffer named it Musique Concrète – concrete music. It is constructed from all kinds of sounds: electronic, acoustic, musical and all of them could be treated by electronic devices. One of the main reasons for this kind of music was Schaeffer’s idea that more people would listen to electronic music if it contained recognizable or familiar sounds. Schaeffer was assisted by another composer, Pierre Henry, and sound engineer Jaques Poullin.
One of Schaeffer’s main ideas was that sound could be characterized by its morphology; the structure of sound and the changing of it in time. The sound gets more abstract it has less references to familiar sounds.

From 1951 on they received some recognition and the group was named: Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrete: GRMC. Their studio, full with new instruments like tape-recorders and oscillators attracted many composers, most of whom were very interested in new ways of making music: Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Edgard Varèse, Karlheinz Stockhausen and many more. Remarkable in this setting is the fact that Schaeffer wasn’t a musician himself, but a man interested in sound.
In cooperation with Pierre Henry, the duo created lots of works, but they also worked as individuals. Their work Orphée which was written in Donaueschingen in 1953 lead to a memorable scandal. The year before Schaeffer had published his book on concrete music: A la Recherche d’une musique concrete (In Search for a Music Concrete). Between 1952 and 1956 Schaeffer resigned from GRMC in favour of other work for the French Broadcasting System, RTF. On his return he immediately disagreed with the group's direction and promoted a new approach.
During the early period of the GRMC, Schaeffer and Poullin developed various new instruments: a three track tape recorder, the Morphophone – a machine with ten playback heads -, the Phonogène – a slide controlled machine to replay loops -, and a machine to create a sort of four way stereo - the potentiomètre d’espace -.
In 1970 the GRM rebuild their studio with new instruments. Enrico Chiarucci had developed his version of the synthesizer, Studio 54, which consisted of a Coupigny modular synthesizer and a Moog. The mixing desk and synthesizers were shaped into one unit with one goal only: creation of Musique Concrète.
In 1966 François Bayle became head of the GRM. Under his guidance the group fused in 1975 with INA - Institut National de l'Audiovisuel (Audiovisual National Institute). Under INA’s umbrella Bayle with engineer Jean-Claude Lallemand created, in 1974, an orchestra of loudspeakers (un orchestra de haut-parleurs) known as the Acousmonium. It existed of 50-100 speakers, on stage, but also in the performance hall. It is still used today.

In 1955 Pierre Henry met choreographer Maurice Béjart. They decided to create a new ballet to be set to electronic music. Together with Michel Colombier Henry created “les jerks électronique de la Messe Pour le Temps Present. It was premiered in Avalon, 1967. It was a huge success, especially the second part – Psyché Rock – which was a sort of collage from movies- and commercial themes as well as parts of the hit Louie Louie. The similar approach was used in 1972 when choreographer Roland Petit asked Pink Floyd – known for their adventurous music – to produce music for his ballet. La Messe sounds perhaps a little bit outdated now .

A third person who became well known for his electronic work was Luc Ferrari. Ferrari is knows as one of the masters of musique concréte and the early works show that in all its glory. Director for the GRMC from 1959-1960 he worked closely with Schaeffer. Influenced by Déserts by Edgard Varèse he Ferrari adapted Schaeffer’s ideas but gave them his own direction.His tape piece Héterozygote was subtitled ‘anecdotal music’ which meant to say that this piece told a story and was not intended as solely ah abstract piece. The ambient sounds it had contained all kinds of environmental sounds. It was the start of a new direction in Ferrari’s music. Maybe his most important piece is Presque Rien ou le lever du Jour au Bord de la Mer - almost nothing or daybreak at the sea -. For 24 hours he recorded all kinds of sounds at a beach and brought all these recordings back into a 21 minute lasting piece through extensive editing and manipulation. He drew attention to the fact that sounds are all around us, the whole day long. The idea was not his, but John Cages. Cage told us that when we would stop listening we would reach a point realising that we have those sounds around us. Ferrari also made some documentary movies about composers in rehearsel, amongst them Oliver Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Francis Dhomont started his own studio in Baux, 1963, but soon became interested in Schaeffer’s work. In 1973 he attended courses given by the GRM and set up a new studio in Paris. There he made his first important work: Syntagmes, based on linguistic models. The basis for this work is the word electroacoustique and how it is pronounced by various people. A new work, Asie, brought him back to the south. There he worked more and more with the meta structures of speech and language. He now worked with electro acoustic and instrumental music with or without tapes in various ways. After he married he set off for Canada and held seminars about electro-acoustic music there. In Montréal he finished one his most important works: Sous le Regard d'une Soleil Noir (Under the Eye of the Black Sun). It was awarded a first prize at the festival in Bourges.In 1986 Dhomont was commissioned to write music for a film: Les Traces du Rêve. In 1989 he was named honorary member of the CEC (Canedian Community of Electro-acoustic Composers).

In 1977 a new institute in research for music was opened in Paris: IRCAM - Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique - . With almost the same function as INA/GRM. It was set up under guidance of non other  than French President Georges Pompidou. Head of the center was Pierre Boulez. Apart from electro-acoustic the building also gives place for classic music and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, often under direction of Pierre Boulez. Various tools and concepts were developed at IRCAM, for example FM Synthesis (the timbre of a simple waveform is changed by frequency modulation resulting a different-sounding tone) and MAX/MSP – real-time audio processing. Other activities include the developing of performance models, a multimedia library, organizing courses and conferences like the International Computer Music Conference in 1984 or the New Interfaces for Musical Expression in 2006. In 1992 Boulez resigned and Laurent Bayle became new director of IRCAM.

In contrast to the German development in using electronics in pop groups or other electronically supported bands, the French more or less missed that connection. The only person to become famous using synthesizers was Jean-Michel Jarre. Although the French listeners stood open for lots of experimental music, most of it came from abroad.

Nowadays, using samples and a mixing board a new kind of electronic music has been generated, mostly to be found in dance venues and especially made for dancing. For years this area has been dominated by the Dutch, but France has one great artist who was crowned Best DJ 2011: David Guetta.

Pierre Schaeffer at Studio d'Essai

Pierre Henry at studio d'Essai

control room in studio d'Essay


Luc Ferrari wih installation for sound and projectors

Francis Dhomont


Buchla 300 at IRCAM