Stries (1980) for 3 synthesizers and tape 44:59 1. Strilento 17:26 2. Strio 7:31 3. Stries 20:01
Bernard Parmegiani (1927–2013), the grand old man of French electroacoustic music, did not write much music for tape with live performers. Among them is “Stries” for the unusual combination of three live synthesizer players and tape.
Until recently, “Stries” had not been played live for some 30 years. This is the first complete recording, only part of it had been previously released on LP on the INA/GRM label.
“Stries” was written for the three synthesizer players of the Paris-based electroacoustic trio TM+, Yann Geslin, Laurent Cuniot and Denis Dufour, founded at the INA/GRM. Over the span of the ensemble’s lifetime, TM+ used a range of different instruments — analog synthesizers in the late 1970s and early digital synthesizers in the mid-1980s — and amassed a repertoire of about 40 compositions written especially for them.
Fortunately, Yann Geslin, of the INA/GRM, archived the original score by Parmegiani, as well as the parts for the instrumentalists. Also in GRM’s archives was the original analog reel-to-reel tape for the piece, as well as the analog 8-track recordings from the recording session.
Armed with this material, the electronic music trio of Colette Broeckaert, Martin Lorenz and Sebastian Berweck, together with Yann Geslin, recreated the piece with the aim of bringing it back to the stage as well as producing generic scores that could help get the piece into the repertoire of many instrumentalists. Their work is realized on this release.
“Stries” (1980) is a work in three parts based on the tapes of Parmegiani’s “Violostries” for violin & tape from 1963. The tape part is derived completely from recordings of the violin which Parmegiani masterfully alters to create an at times extremely dense, at other times pointillist piece of music.
The first part, “Strilento,” is a piece for tape solo and can as such be played alone, while the second and third movements — “Strio” and the eponymous “Stries” — make direct usage of the old tapes and the analog synthesizers of the players.
Sebastian Berweck’s liner notes detail the reconstruction of “Stries” for both performance and this recording.
Early analog synthesizers were notoriously finicky instruments. The oscillators constantly went out of tune due to fluctuations in ambient temperature, and the primitive electronics introduced undesired artifacts such as ring modulator leakage. Also, most synths built before the digital age were modular and required complicated patches to be connected and dialed in with knobs and sliders so that they would produce a specific timbral quality. Not surprisingly only the most adventurous composers kept the analog synth in their arsenals; most others didn’t consider it a serious instrument capable of consistent live performance of traditionally scored music.
Those who composed for synthesizers in the pre-digital era typically wrote for specific models of synths and specific performers. Each instrument’s unique electronics caused it to generate and shape tone in a singular fashion, and the limitations in the components meant that no model of synth sounded like another. No two synths, even those of the same model, sounded the same. To aim at consistency, the performers also kept detailed patch notes, because a slight tweak of a knob could cause a major change in the sound. Composing and performing electronic music in the analog world was a major undertaking.
Despite the complexity of early electronic music generation, a small number of groups such as the Paris-based TM+ (Yann Geslin, Laurent Cuniot and Denis Dufour, all synthesists) did focus on playing live electronic and electroacoustic music. It was for the INA/GRM-associated trio of synthesists that Bernard Parmegiani (1927-2013) originally composed Stries in 1980. Parmegiani had an extensive tenure at INA/GRM at the time and consistently strove to push the boundaries of music creation through technology. He also didn’t compose much work for live composers, so he must have felt a kinship with the musicians to have created a piece of work specifically for them.
Back in the present, the Berlin-based trio of Colette Broeckaert, Martin Lorenz and Sebastian Berweck noticed a dearth of live-played electronic compositions and decided to correct that. They both recreate electronic scores of the past and work with contemporary composers to create new pieces. Working with Geslin of TM+, the trio focused their efforts on the monumental task of recreating Stries. Parmegiani wrote the piece for tape accompanied by a trio of synthesizers, and thankfully Geslin had archived the original score and the reel-to-reel tape, as well as the patch notes and other important details for performing it. Finding the rare synthesizers that were originally used and then setting up the patches was no small undertaking. The team then mapped the original analog units to digital synths for the sake of performability. The recording that graces this compact disc is certainly a labor of love.
Stries comprises three distinct movements, each with its own technical setup. Opening movement “Strilento” is for solo tape. Parmegiani sourced the pre-recorded sounds from the tape he used for Violostries (1965), another of his compositions that featured tape and live instrumentation. Made up of violin sounds that Parmegiani then manipulated and spliced, this movement alternates between gentle swaying and punctuated stabs of tone. It’s the absence of sound that is most striking, as none of the synthesists are accompanying the mutant violin. The emptiness makes the more abrupt elements all the more thrilling to hear.
“Strio” is the shortest movement at just over seven minutes in length. Two of the synthesizers are manipulating the two channels of the stereo tape while the third accompanies the proceedings. One gets the sense of floating through outer space, as sci-fi sound effects play against a drone. This leads into the eponymous third movement, in which the three performers accompany the pre-recorded sounds on the tape. The group establishes a flow of tension and release, as moments of suspense are followed by sudden bursts of tone. At times, the players work up a frenzied cacophony that they eventually allow to dissipate. The synths bounce around the stereo field like comets, creating a dizzying sensation.
Stries lied dormant for thirty years, which is a shame. Perhaps it was biding its time, waiting for this specific trio of musicians, who were willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to realize it in the most effective way possible. Now that Colette Broeckaert, Martin Lorenz and Sebastian Berweck have opened the door, perhaps other likeminded musicians will try their hand at Stries. Best of luck to them, as this recording is the pinnacle, the closest we’ll ever get — in the absence of time travel — to the original.