I missed it last month, when on November 1st Francis Dhomont celebrated his 90th birthday.
Francis Dhomont studied under Ginette Waldmeier, Charles Koechlin and Nadia Boulanger. In the late 40’s, in Paris (France), he intuitively discovered with magnetic wire what Pierre Schaeffer would later call “musique concrète” and consequently conducted solitary experiments with the musical possibilities of sound recording. Later, leaving behind instrumental writing, he dedicated himself exclusively to electroacoustic composition.
An ardent proponent of acousmatics, his work (since 1963) is comprised exclusively of works for fixed media bearing witness to his continued interest in morphological interplay and ambiguities between sound and the images it may create.
Acousmatic, or how it is usually called, electroacoustic music utilizes electronic sounds exclusively, sometimes including field recordings. The term acousmatic was first used by Pierre Schaeffer who defined it as, “referring to a sound that one hears without seeing the causes behind it.”
Dhomont’s most recent recording is Le cri du Choucas (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 16138 2016). It is a album of settings of texts by Franz Kafka. Conceived in 1997 and left to mature slowly, Le cri du Choucas is the third and final installment in Dhomont’s “Cycle des profondeurs” [Cycle of Depths], the first two parts of this long triptych (about three hours) being Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (1981) and Forêt profonde (1994-96), of which a few reminders are included in this installment. All three are “electroacoustic melodramas” (Michel Chion) inspired by a psychoanalytic approach — Marthe Robert’s in this case, especially an insightful essay by this literary critic, translator, and psychoanalyst entitled As Lonely as Franz Kafka (1979).
Dhomont describes the work in the liner notes:
Before the Law, a famous section of The Trial, serves as the red thread of my piece, the Law being a metaphoric representation of the impenetrable realms the human mind hits, and not — as what the Vulgate and the adjective “Kafkaesque” usually reduce Kafka’s complex thoughts to — a portrait of bureaucratic aberrations. It is mostly “what you cannot possibly escape from”: a doorway to knowledge is open especially for the man who gets to it, although he is also forbidden to pass through it. Which means that his — metaphysical — question remains unanswered. Symmetrically, a crucial message is addressed to him, although it will never reach him. “In The Penal Colony,” writes Marthe Robert, Kafka “reduces the law to nothing more than an inordinate power of coercion whose sole function is to automatically enforce punishment” [our translation].