Resident archivist Jack Dangers knocks the chairs off the tables of French poetry with avant-garde composer André Almuró
I wasn’t good at French in school. My main memory was that it was the last lesson on Friday and we’d all have to put our chairs on the desks. As we were leaving the classroom, I’d always “accidentally” knock into one of the chairs at the front so they’d all fall backwards like dominoes…
Which is a shame because I can’t understand the spoken word on the two albums I want to talk about, both featuring French composer André Almuró. They are from the 1960s and are a mixture of musique concrète, electronic music, poetry, readings and singing.
Almuró was a radio producer, composer and filmmaker. In 1947, he worked with Pierre Schaeffer at RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ), and joined his Groupe de Recherches Musicales in 1958. In the 1960s he went his own way, founding his own studio and producing these two albums, among others.
‘Le Condamné À Mort’ was released in 1966. It’s a reading of a poem by Jean Genet by a well known French actor called Marcel André Mouloudji, with music by Almuró. It’s intense, with Mouloudji’s hypnotic voice over Almuró’s soundscape of howling winds, creaks and other unsettling noises.
This kind of mixture of poetry, electronic music and musique concrète was quite popular in the late 1950s and 60s, and the French cornered the market thanks to Pierre Schaeffer. European radio stations were interested in exploring radiophonic poems and dramas, where voices and sounds were brought together and manipulated to create a new kind of art form.
It influenced the earliest work of the Radiophonic Workshop (essentially just Daphne Oram at that time) on pieces like Beckett’s ‘All That Fall’ in 1957.
The other Almuró record I have is ‘“Avec” Poème’ also from 1966, with jazz singer Colette Magny. She uses her voice in all sorts of ways, making weird noises, singing, and reading, with treatments and surreal sounds by Almuró. It reminded me slightly of when we toured with In The Nursery in the 1980s and they had a woman who would sing and speak in French. When they came off stage I’d knock all the chairs off.
In the 1970s, Almuró started teaching at the Sorbonne, and in 1978 he directed his first film, the “overtly homoerotic” ‘Cortège’, which is described by IMDB as “a dreamy montage, accompanied by electronic acoustic music, of male bodies in action against natural landscapes”. He died in 2009 in Paris, at the age of 82.