On February 5th, 2002, Luc Ferrari celebrated his 73rd birthday in Paris. The work and aesthetics of Ferrari continue to have a singular impact on several generations of American avant-garde composers. Like Alvin Lucier, Ferrari first obtained a thorough, traditional technique in composition. He took piano lessons with Alfred Cortot, composition lessons with Arthur Honegger and musical analysis with Olivier Messiaen. But he proceeded to become interested in the recording process to such a degree that he began to make tape pieces using altered ambient sounds and later incorporated electronics into his work in an effective and original manner.
In 1954, his life altered radically when he boarded a ship and traveled to New York to meet Edgard Varèse, after having been impressed by live radio broadcast of his Déserts for tape and orchestra. From Varèse, Ferrari learned to treat sound as a thing in and of itself; also to place sound objects in the right time and space, from both an audio and psychological point of view. By 1963-4 he had begun Hétérozygote, an extended tape piece in which ambient sounds unfold in narrative form, suggesting a dazzling variety of incidents, all unexplained. The composers program notes for these scores, themselves works of a poetic imagination, only added to the fascination.
By 1970 he had completed
Presque Rien No. 1, a kind of musical photography, in which unassuming
ambient sounds of a small village in Yugoslavia, recorded throughout a
long day, are telescoped by means of seamless dissolves into a 21-minute
narrative in which no apparent musical sounds are included.
When the work was issued on a Deutsche Grammophon LP worldwide the response
was first one of shock and then revelation. Finally, John Cages
exhortation that music is all around us if only we had ears,
had been taken seriously by a fellow composer.
Luc Ferrari died of pneumonia in Arezzo, Italy, in August 2005.