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Jean-Claude Risset: Music From Computer (Recollection GRM)

This release collects three different pieces from French composer Risset, each made with a computer in a different decade. The pieces start with the most recent (1985) going back to the earliest (1968), and each one sounds just as sophisticated and unusual as the next. It’s remarkable to consider that this music was made with technology that is crude at best compared to basic software tools readily accessible in the 21st century. “Sud” is a 25-minute piece that shivers and twitches with an odd combination of field recordings of nature and synthesized electronic sounds, chirping and squirming in and out of their virtual landscape. The timbre of it is not abrasive but somewhat soothing, considering the alien sounds emerging from within. Risset himself summarizes the piece quite eloquently: “The origin of the many sounds deduced from the germinal material can be ascribed to a ‘family tree’ displaying the sonic proliferation and resembling a rhizome.” “Mutations” is from 1977 and is entirely synthesized on two tracks, exploring the new sounds made possible by the advent of new technology. It rises and bends and dips with patience and finesse, taking your ears around disorienting hairpin turns and side streets. It’s probably my favorite of the set, with its fun sense of adventure and wandering way.

The earliest piece is the three part “Computer Suite from Little Boy” (1968) which begins with the ascending tones of “Flight and Countdown,” only to turn into a strange kind of crude MIDI tune in the middle, before then returning to disorienting, bending tones. “Fall” is just that, almost an interlude for the other two parts, descending with slow-motion ease. And finally “Contra-Apotheosis” is an odd assortment of ideas, gestures, and experiments that all loosely connect via their unusual synthesis origins. It shares the other two parts’ indulgence in bending portamento tones, probably my favorite recurring theme of this collection.

Risset was new to me, and it’s fantastic that GRM is restoring these nuggets of musical history with such care and attention to detail. Well worth a listen for anyone interested in the outskirts of electronic music history.

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