Art Zoyd Violinist-Composer Gérard Hourbette R.I.P.
The French group, Art Zoyd, are the shock troops of a unique brand of classical and rock music. Like King Crimson, think Bartok meets Jimi Hendrix, but with no concessions to pop sensibilities. Early on, they had no vocals and no conventional song structures. And when they add vocals it was more like Magma than Bono. They were, truly, a classical ensemble in overdrive. Their sound could be at once frighteningly dangerous and resonantly beautiful. Back in the day, they were regular spins on my Diaspar radio show on WXPN in Philadelphia. They are still active to this day, but now, their director and composer Gérard Hourbett, has left the planet. Cuneiform Records, who have released many Art Zoyd albums, left the following obituary from the band.
Cuneiform Records is greatly saddened by the death of Gérard Hourbette, with whom we’d worked closely on 44 1/2. His wife Monique and Art Zoyd Studios asked us to send the obituary they prepared to our mailing lists. Contact: email@example.com
Art Zoyd Studios invites everyone to visit and write a few words on the online
Memorial Page for Gérard Hourbette
From: Art Zoyd Studios
For immediate release: May 9, 2018
November 23, 1953 – May 4, 2018
Composer, Writer and Director of Art Zoyd
The board of Association Art Zoyd 3 is deeply saddened to announce the death of Mr Gérard Hourbette, its director and composer, which occurred on Friday, May 4th, 2018 at the age of 64.
A major figure of the musical avant-garde, Gérard Hourbette contributed to it through his work as a composer, his commitment to the advancement of musical writing and instrumental approach.
A violinist by training, an electro-acoustician and a tireless composer, Gérard Hourbette, influenced by the work of such contemporary composers as Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Henry, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio, paved the way for new compositional forms, making use of sampling, drawing from multiple sources, including both natural and industrial sounds, at the crossroads of performing arts and visual arts. His rich and varied output opens up poetic soundscapes, and a musical architecture with robust foundations.
A writer and poet, his Écrits (publ. by La Pensée universelle, Paris, 1988) revealed a swift mind forging ahead on its own path, the long road of a constant journey towards new horizons, setting off the elements of nature, wind, colors and sensations which connect to the sense of life, the world of images and the realm of the invisible.
His writings were filled with an inspiration which drew from fantasy and science-fiction (notably Philip K. Dick), a strangeness combined with a dark sense of humor. The artist himself often claimed to work “at the edge of dreams or death”, questioning the absurd, a stratagem which allowed him to sublimate tragedy and thwart the trap of pain and illness.
In 1971, along with Thierry Zaboitzeff, he joined the progressive rock band Art Zoyd, formed in 1969 by Rocco Fernandez. With fellow composer and cellist/bass guitarist Zaboitzeff, he formed until 1997 an exceptional, and explosive musical partnership which would produce such landmark albums as Berlin, Phase IV, Le Mariage du Ciel et de l’Enfer and Symphonie pour le Jour où brûleront les Cités.
Largely under Gérard Hourbette’s influence, the band embarked on groundbreaking musical explorations, becoming a major force in what became known as musiques nouvelles (“new music”), venturing on the outer frontiers of an experimental, tightly composed form of instrumental music and an ambitious and creative electro-acoustic contemporary music (e.g. Dangereuses Visions with the Orchestre National de Lille, the National Orchestra of Mexico or Vienna’s Tonkünstler Orchestra in the 2000s).” In 1999 he opened a Centre Transfrontalier de Production et de Création Musicale (a “cross-border center for musical production and creation”).
With Art Zoyd, Gérard Hourbette contributed to a re-invention of the ciné-concert approach (live musical performance combined with the screening of a film). Such projects as F. W. Murnau’s Faust and Nosferatu, Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan (the final ciné-concert composed with Thierry Zaboitzeff), Jean Epstein’s Fall of the House of Usher and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis required an ability to rejuvenate the form and escape the stranglehold of composing music which would merely duplicate what is seen on the screen. In so doing, he highlighted the orchestral element and an organic and subtle relationship to the stage.
Also worth mentioning are his work with the pyrotechnicians of Group F in front of audiences sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and his collaborations with choreographers, including Roland Petit for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Milan’s La Scala Festival) in 1984 and Karole Armitage for Schrödinger’s Cat in 2001. Created for the Ballet de Lorraine, the ballet was toured around the world following an exceptional run at Paris’ Théâtre National de Chaillot.
His prolific outsput reached a large international audience (Europe, Japan, the United States, Australia, Mexico etc), and the New York Times selected 44 1/2, a boxed set consisting of 12 CDs and 2 DVDs and released on American label Cuneiform, a summation of over 40 years of creation including previously unreleased works and live recordings, as one of the best boxed sets of 2017, a testament to the world-scale impact of a unique creative approach rooted in a dialogue with fellow artists, whether performers or renowned composers.
As artistic director for this laboratory of musical creation, Gérard Hourbette was a true humanist, keen to pass on knowledge and art, support young artists and experiment.
He managed to make Art Zoyd Studios, located in Valenciennes the Hauts-de-France region, a unique place, with artists’ residencies, a permanent center for musical creation, a space for the gestation of new works and teaching the art of composition with a constant effort to confront it with other art forms.
As a result, Art Zoyd Studios have “welcomed over 120 composers and artists in residence, developed numerous, diverse and original educational actions, established their own label and discography (in-possible records), not only reissuing the band’s past work but also recording compositions from commissions to the artists in residence.” The release of a boxed set of 4 records from past composers in residence is set for June 2018.
Gérard Hourbette’s last works were preoccupied with contemporary technological mutations and the hybridization of instruments and humans. They include, for example, ARMAGEDDON, an operetta for robots; a collection of pieces for virtual reality headsets based on Dante’s works (Immersion Dante – 2017/2020); and sound installations that open up exhilarating perspectives on our relationship to images (Trois Rêves non valides, a multimedia presentation). These works serve as mirrors, offering insights into a thrilling inner life which the artist, with mischief and humanity, relentlessly expressed through sound and music.
His latest multi-disc offering, the recently released Phase V, is an acknowledged reference to double album Phase IV from 1982, which at the time had signaled a turning point in Art Zoyd’s esthetic journey.
With over six hours of music to be listened to at high volume and in darkness, Phase V displays a radical change in the band’s esthetics, which until recently was still mixed (electronics and instruments), with more acousmatic and electronic music, and sonic, harmonic and rhythmic trajectories.
It should be mentioned that Gérard Hourbette was planning a presentation without performers, in which music would be king, pure and radical, with images, spaces or dancers. In-Ferno, whose subtitle is The merry utopia of the Madagascar leprechauns, explores new forms of storytelling. “Every scene in the opera is chosen randomly, and determined by the choice of the audience thanks to an interactive device which records the direction the majority wishes to take inside a virtual space. To this end, every scene is the projection of a game on a large screen in which the audience choose a door, an abyss, a lake, a river or a cave, which inevitably takes them inside the opera…
The purpose of this project was to invent or cement (strengthen) a new form of performance art, between interactive virtual spaces, live music and synthesized or prerecorded voices, active sound spatializing, live performance involving elements such as ghosts, musicians, displaced objects, light and shadows.
Lastly the challenge was to test to what extent the art of sound (i.e. music) can be rough, violent and extreme.
This also raises the issue of audiences: is there still an audience for music when it exceeds the limits of good manners and comfort? And what audience? Where?”
The music was written, and appears in his boxed set as a sort of musical legacy… Paysages des Enfers 1 & 2. He had already, in tandem with artist Laura Mannelli, created a first version entitled NDE, Near Dante Experience, for virtual reality headset, which just last month was awarded a special mention by the jury of the prestigious Laval Virtual festival.
The board, anxious to ensure the sustainability of the center and its tremendous future projects, has decided to appoint Mrs Monique Hourbette, its current administrator, as acting director.
The board would like to sincerely thank all the artists and staff members and express its wish to see Gérard Hourbette’s work continue and Art Zoyd Studios sustain its actions as a center for musical creation, dedicated to research, composers’ residences, education and support to the most innovative and challenging forms of contemporary musical creation.
The board extends its sincere condolences to his family, his daughter Illena and wife Monique Hourbette.
–Art Zoyd Studios, May 7, 2018
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Memorial Page for Gérard Hourbette