Sonus ex machina
Thursday, the 23rd of June, 2022
Philarmonie de Paris, Le Studio
Jupiter, Pluton and Neptune by Philippe Manoury, three founding pieces of the mixed music repertoire in real time
Serge Lemouton, a music computing director at IRCAM shares his experience and talks about the technologies he used for this production.
Interviewed by Paola Palumbo
How are Jupiter, Pluton and Neptune iconic pieces for IRCAM?
It was back in the 1980s, when the composer Philippe Manoury worked on a tight collaboration with the American mathematician Miller Puckette at IRCAM and imagined the “visual music scores” concept. He created the first piece of the cycle Sonus EX Machina, Jupiter in 1987. It was on that occasion that Miller programmed the software that will later become Max. The first program was named Patcher. These pieces are therefore symbolic since it is thanks to them that Max was programed, a software used nowadays all over the globe. The concert, which will take place in June during the ManiFeste festival, is the 70th birthday celebration of Philippe Manoury. It is an anniversary concert where the three pieces of the cycle are gathered for a solo instrument and computer: Jupiter, Pluton and Neptune. It is the opportunity to update the pieces and to address once more the notion of authenticity and interpretation since we will be replaying remixed versions, but as close as possible to the original.
What relationship do you maintain with the different evolutions of the pieces and the Max software?
Philippe Manoury was my professor at the Conservatoire National de Musique de Lyon in 1988 et he used to bring us the very first manuals of Max. I therefore learned to use the software with the “Alpha 40” version of Max while it was still under development. Philippe Manoury was then working on the Pluton piece. I witnessed the conception of the three pieces, Jupiter in 1987 for the ten years of the Centre Pompidou, Pluton at Avignon at the Carrière Boulbon in 1988 and the creation of Neptune in 1991 at the Centre Pompidou. At that time, you have to imagine that they were no laptop/portable computer. We then had to carry big machine from one concert to another. For example, at Avignon, during the Pluton performance at the Carrière Boulbon in a quarry, we had to get a big truck to carry the generator sets.
Today, I have the opportunity to play the pieces that struck me in their making. Simultaneously, it is interesting to see the evolution of these creation and to pass on a culture and a craftmanship to a new generation. Indeed, Etienne Demoulin, a young music computing director carries Philippe Manoury legacy and will play in his own way the electrical par of Neptune during the concert.
Describe the technological evolution of these pieces to us.
In the case of Jupiter, it is interesting because, since we keep the successive version of the pieces, we can notice that it presents one of the most different technological implementations out of the three. At the beginning, the first version ran on the 4X computer station, later it worked on the ISPW (Ircam Signal Processing Workstation) workstation, then on a java version for Silicon Graphics (iMax) and finally the version for Max/MSP.
Miller also programmed another branch of Max: Pure Data, because he didn’t have the right to leave with Max for licensing reasons. He therefore has a version of each piece for Pure Data. In order to keep the software intact if Max disappeared, we would possess another reference available for the version on another environment. We also think of the survival of historical pieces. Therefore, I am trying to put the three pieces at the same level; today, they work the same way in both environments (Max and PD).
These are historical pieces that mark the history of computer music, but how did they evolve today and how do these reworks live? How do we listen to them nowadays, 35 years later? Is it as innovative as back then? It is up to the listener of the concert to answer to these questions because personally I am so dedicated in my role as an interpreter that I can’t say anything…