Death of Jean-Claude Risset
(Jean-Claude Risset, Nicolas Vérin, John Chowning - photo credit : Dominique Méheut-Ferron)
I learned with great sadness the death of Jean-Claude Risset, whom I considered a friend. His considerable contribution to music history as a computer music pioneer may have obscured his work as a composer, but it did not make him inaccessible. On the contrary, he was, in this sometimes harsh environment of contemporary music, the most modest person, open and attentive to others, and with a great sense of sharing, unparalleled generosity and always curious of new discoveries. I was lucky enough to share with him or live thanks to him several strong moments. After hearing him being praised by Emile Leipp in his Musical Acoustics course, I saw Jean-Claude Risset for the first time the following summer, in 1976, during an IRCAM/Pantin course I took in the medieval village of Cordes sur Ciel. For two memorable days, he gave an introduction to computer music, together with John Chowning. We then met several times. He responded very generously to my request for help in 1992 when I started my work for piano and Disklavier Solid Noid at the Center for New Music and Audio Technology at UC Berkeley, giving me advice and Max patches, after the work he did for his Duo pour un pianiste. Another memorable moment the same year was during a symposium on the representation of sound and music in Stanford. When sitting down for lunch, talking with him and David Wessel, I find myself at a table of seven, with John Chowning, Max Mathews, Dick Moore, and Gordon Getty. The latter, billionaire, son of the famous Paul Getty, is a composer. He was also the main sponsor of this symposium and Jean-Claude and I were stunned to see the Americans, all of them computer music pioneers in charge for centers for which they were constantly searching for funds, care with the billionaire, whose rather insignificant work we had just heard. Without contempt for anyone, but observing the paradox that we were spared in Europe from these feudal servitudes thanks to public funding. A few years later, I had the pleasure of welcoming Jean-Claude to Chalon sur Saône, where I had invited him for two days of master classes and a concert of his works performed by the students of the Conservatoire. It was there that we got to know each other better and developed a friendship. The following year, I organized a concert of his Dialogues, for four instruments and computer generated tape, with professors of that Conservatoire, which I conducted. It was a rare experience of conducting for me, that gave me great pleasure; I think I can say that we gave a at least decent performance, that Jean-Claude said he appreciated, after listening to the recording I sent him. Thereafter we met several times, notably in 2005 where we were both programmed in a concert of the GRM at Radio-France. I gave my Interleaved Tracks written for Louis Sclavis, Jean-Claude his Nature contre nature, and there was also a new piece by John Chowning. The last time we met was at a conference on François-Bernard Mâche a year ago. His presentation was particularly engaging, revealing a closeness with the latter that I did not know. As a composer, he found an original path. His sound discoveries with computer synthesis were always implemented at the service of the musical project, and not as mere effects, with a poetry that was not found elsewhere. His attention to timbre, psychoacoustics, allowed him to quickly reach beyond the initial proposition of computer music, bowed on traditional concepts of note, parameters, which made it musically simplistic with regards to some of the achievements of electroacoustic music. One can of course regret that Boulez, after having appointed him responsible for computer music at the foundation of IRCAM, dryly disbanded the whole initial team. No doubts Jean-Claude suffered greatly from this in many ways. But there is no doubt it is not a coincidence, inasmuch as, despite a sometimes systematic use of serial writing, Jean-Claude had integrated the electroacoustic experience from inside, as evidenced by works Like Sud, Elementa or building original bridges between electronics and instrumental or vocal writing, as in Inharmonique or Invisible. I miss him very much and I am very grateful to him for all that he brought us, scientifically, musically, artistically and humanly.