Bernard Parmegiani :
I was in some sense “stuck between two pianos”, and this is actually true since there was on one side of my bedroom my father-in-law's room, the virtuoso pianist who taught the best and most advanced students from the Conservatoire, and on the other side was my mother who went through “do-ré-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do” with the little children to whom she taught Scarlatti. She's the one who made me work for many years. I would occasionally have lessons with my father-in-law but it was rare because he was very busy or on tour. But when I worked on the piano I spent a lot of time improvising based on what I'd been hearing. I tried to do Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven, or Mozart and sometimes even some Parmegiani […]. I wouldn't have hated becoming a pianist, but it didn't take off.
During this time I would also visit the Research Centre for Radio and Television at the Club d'Essai. I went to conferences on broadcasting, sound recording, radio esthetics, etc. and there I met André Almuro. Since I had begun to make sound montages on tape for animations and radio adverts, he invited me to come work at the Maison des Lettres to make what they were calling “experimental” music. I did that on the sly when the studios were empty.
André Almuro was writing a piece which was called, would you believe it, De Natura Rerum, after Lucretius. So it wasn't far to go from De Natura Rerum to De Natura Sonorum, even if there are sixteen years between them and they share neither the same aims nor musical forms.
Anyway, one day, Schaeffer came to see us in our little studio to listen to our work which he glowingly praised. After that, we analyzed La Symphonie pour un homme seul together. Following this brief encounter, Schaeffer invited Almuro to join the Research Service in the capacity of a composer, and Almuro asked that I be able to come with him as a sound engineer. But in order for that to happen, I had to leave television. Schaeffer himself, a few months later, literally tore me away from my post as sound engineer for TV, and at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales I simultaneously became a fully-fledged sound engineer and assistant editor. I started out helping Xenakis, Ferrari, and then others. I knew these people by name before joining the GRM because since 1951 I'd been listening a lot to the Club d'Essai (at the Univeristy of Paris) which was directed by the poet Jean Tardieu and which housed the GRM studios. I listened to the musique concrète concerts every sunday and of course I'd heard pieces by Luc Ferrari, Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry – those were the three main ones – and François-Bernard Mâche came along a little later.
The Space of Sound
I also practiced mime from 1955 to 1959 with the late Jacques Lecoq and with Maximilien Decroux, son of the famous Etienne Decroux who'd taught amongst others Jean-Louis Barrault and all the great actors of the time. This discipline helped me a lot in my music. Marcel Marceau, who I'd met several times, explained to me that “miming is the act of cutting up space with the body”, with the hands. I particularly liked inventing exercises for transforming gestures with mime. I talk about this sometimes with regard to some of my pieces. In fact I'd always wanted to create a piece for mime where the sounds and the phyiscal gestures would be based on transformation, whether they be contrary to or compatible with one another, or that the types of transformation differ slightly from one another.
My question about your influences could go further. You talked before about how your miming experience marked you, and just now you mentioned your interest in Luc Ferrari's music. What about literature – Bachelard, for example?
That came later. After reading Gaston Bachelard's essays on the poetic imagination of the four elements around 1965, I discovered his works about time. L’Intuition de l’instant and La Dialectique de la durée were the starting points for two works composed after Violostries:- L’Instant mobile (1966) and Capture éphémère (1967), which go together. Bachelard's thoughts about time were above all concerned with what he called “lived time”, with the sequence of moments.
At one time, people alluded – a little too often, in my view – to the “Parmegiani sound”. That embarassed me enormously. They said to me, “Oh! Parme, what beautiful sounds you have!”. It's nice to make nice sounds, but really, you don't make music in order to make nice sounds, you create sounds to compose music with that comes from an idea. I'm not looking to charm people with my music, I'm looking to interest people, and this is why my overriding obsession is to constantly renew myself musically. Pursuing the discovery of new territories is one way to continue existing, otherwise you get bored with your own music. The risk is to do Parmegiani redoing Parmegiani, and so on. If I have to try to define what you call the “Parmegiani sound”, it's a particular mobility, a certain color, a way of beginning and bringing an end to a sound, and so giving it life. Because I consider sound a living being.
So there's truly something organic, skin-like, but it's always difficult to define your own music yourself. Whatever someone perceives from inside is not necessarily perceived from the outside in the same way. You recognize yourself more or less in the mirror someone hands to you – it's a game between “inside outside”.