RIP Dept.: An Overview of Electronic Music Pioneer Bernard Parmegiani

Parmegiani at work.

Bernard Parmegiani passed away yesterday, and today the electronic music expert Simon Reynolds points us to a piece he wrote for The Wire about Parmegiani.

Here’s the opening graphs:

“I don’t think I had any real musical influences,” Bernard Parmegiani has declared. Certainly, it’s true that he started out lacking any academic training in composition. A sound engineer for French television, he caught the musique concrete bug through an experimental music radio show called Club d’Essai. In the late Fifties Parmegiani dabbled in the young form during TV studio down-time he sneaked on the sly. Then, having teamed up with composer Andre Almuro as the latter’s engineer, his promise came to the attention of Pierre Schaeffer. But it took the godfather of concrete two whole years to steal Parmegiani away from TV (and a burgeoning side-career as a mime artist!). Only then did Parmegiani undergo, as a bureaucratic formality, the obligatory two-year composition course required to join the Groupe de Recherche Musicales.

Parmegiani’s sideways trajectory through the French equivalent of the BBC makes for a wonderfully wonky career path: from humble tape operator to venerable composer with a grand oeuvre now neatly tied-up and boxed in this twelve-disc set. The parallel would be if Dick Mills, chief sound effects maker at the Radiophonic Workshop, had been encouraged by the Beeb to lay aside Goons Show gastric-rumbles and Dalek voices and dedicate his energies to hour-long concrete operas inspired by A.J. Ayer. By the mid-Sixties, that was exactly what Parmegiani was up to: composing long-form works sparked by the philosophical pensees of Gaston Bachelard. The imprint of the latter’s classic ruminations on human perception as related to space, time, and the “poetics” of the four elements is detectable in Parmegiani titles like “L’Instant mobile” and “Capture ephemere”; often he would embark on a composition armed with nothing but a title borrowed from or inspired by the philosopher.

For the rest of this piece, head to ReynoldsRetro.

Listen to two of Parmegiani’s recordings:

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