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Dr John Dack, Principal Investigator


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The Scambi Project

The 'Scambi Project' - Open Forms and Electroacoustic Music


The 'Scambi Project’s research focus was the use of ‘open’ forms in electroacoustic music with particular reference to music composed between 1950 and 1980. Broadly speaking, 'open' forms permit the re-ordering of sections within a musical composition at either local or global structural levels.

The analogue tape work Scambi, created in 1957 by the Belgian composer Henri Pousseur (1929-2009) at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan, was chosen as a rare example of an electroacoustic composition in 'open’ form. Scambi (the word means ‘exchanges’ in Italian) has 32 pre-composed sections of filtered white noise. These sections can be placed in any order desired by the musician realising a version. However, Pousseur specified ‘rules’ or ‘conditions’ (often disregarded!) for their assembly in order to facilitate his ideal of a ‘floating’ music.

The project also investigated broader issues such as the potential for such ‘open’ forms in contemporary, digital electroacoustic music. Thus, compositions such as Pousseur’s Huit Études Paraboliques (composed at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk studios, Cologne, in 1972) were examined in addition to the new 'parabolic mixes' by Pousseur himself and contemporary artists such as Robert Hampson, Philip Jeck and Oval.

‘Open’ forms have been used consistently by Pousseur since the nineteen-fifties and reflect not only his musical thinking but also his view of society. There is, therefore, a ‘social’ aspect to many of Pousseur’s theories. His extensive writings have not received the critical commentary they deserve in Great Britain. The contrast with research undertaken by European musicologists and analysts is striking. This is partly due to the lack of English translations of Pousseur’s writings; without an adequate understanding of French and German many important texts by Pousseur remain inaccessible. Therefore, the provision of key texts in English will also be addressed by this project

Four events from the project are particularly noteworthy:

The ‘Scambi Project’ Symposium: Prof. Pousseur attended the ‘Scambi Project Symposium’ held in the recital room at Goldsmiths College, University of London on February 18th, 2005. He talked for ninety minutes on his experiences in European electronic studios of Brussels, Cologne and Milan. In addition to his work on Scambi Pousseur described his other ‘open’ form electroacoustic works such as the Huit Études Paraboliques. A short concert was also organized to conclude the event including the etude Hymne à Zeus Ornithologue from the Huit Études Paraboliques and a more recent work by Pousseur: Caraïbes Asiatocéaniennes (the UK premiere) from his Voix et Vues Planétaires.

The ‘Scambi’ Seminar: Dr Decroupet and Dr Dack held a seminar at the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts, Middlesex University, Cat Hill campus on December 3rd, 2004. Dr Decroupet gave an extensive presentation on his researches of the sketches of Scambi. In addition, he placed the work in its historical context by analysing other instrumental works by Pousseur from the same period.

Interview with Henri Pousseur at Waterloo (Belgium): Dr Ayrey and Dr Dack travelled to Prof. Pousseur’s home on June 14th, 2004. The purpose was to investigate the compositional processes of Scambi in the Milan studio, concentrating on the manner in which it influenced Pousseur’s subsequent aesthetic practice. This interview was recorded in its entirety and appears on the website in a transcribed form.

Meeting with Pousseur in Brussels at the Théâtre de la Balsamine: Dr Ayrey and Dr Dack met Prof Pousseur on November 21st, 2004 to attend a concert of his latest audio-visual work Voix et Vues Planétaires. Information from this meeting contextualised Pousseur’s recent activities as consistent developments from his early investigations into ‘open’ forms.

Lastly, one of the most important aspects of the project (in fact, the original point of departure for the entire enterprise) was to encourage the creation of new versions of Scambi. These are also available for free download on the website.