The ‘Scambi Project’
Open Forms and Electroacoustic Music 
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The Project
  The ‘Scambi Project’
  Research questions
  Project team
  Project events
  Listen to Scambi
Henri Pousseur
  About the composer
The Open Work
  About open form

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Photo of Pousseur being interviewed at his house in Belgium

The ‘Scambi Project’

The project is investigating the use of ‘open’ forms in electroacoustic music with particular reference to music composed between 1950 and 1980. Broadly speaking, 'open' forms permit the re-ordering of sections within a musical composition at either local or global structural levels. The broad aim of this project is to investigate how technology facilitates the exploration of new formal structures in electroacoustic music. This will be achieved by a combination of practical and traditional musicological research methods.

Updates 19 Feb 2008 new document added to ‘Documents’: edited trancsript of interview with Prof. Pousseur at his home in Waterloo, Belgium, on June 14th, 2004.
  11 Feb 2008 new document added to ‘Documents’: a new translation of Pousseur’s 1959 writing on Scambi.
  8 Nov 2007 new documents added to ‘Documents’: Ayrey on ‘Pousseur’s Scambi (1957), and the new problematics of the open work’
  22 Oct 2007 new documents added to ‘Documents’: Pousseur talk; concert programme
  20 July 2006 three new versions of Scambi added to a new page ‘Listen to Scambi
  31 May 2005 new documents added to ‘Documents’: graphic and text of flyer for concert
  25 April 2005 new documents added to ‘Documents’: chronological and alphabetical lists of works
  21 April 2005 new material added to ‘About the Composer

Analysis of the composition and related texts

The analogue tape work Scambi, created in 1957 by the Belgian composer Henri Pousseur at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan, has been chosen as an example of an electroacoustic composition in 'open’ form. In addition to the work itself, the team will examine and comment on various texts related to Scambi.

A monograph, or a series of scholarly articles on the project, is planned. Separate written documentation will be published by each team member according to their specific role in the project (though joint chapters/articles are possible). Some items have already been published (see Project Events).

Investigation of the potential of open forms

The project will also investigate broader issues such as the potential for such forms in contemporary, digital electroacoustic music. It is hoped that further works by Pousseur will be included as part of a more extended, continuing project. Thus, our intention is also to examine compositions such as his 8 Études Paraboliques (composed at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk studios, Cologne, in 1972) and the new 'parabolic mixes' by Pousseur himself and contemporary artists such as Robert Hampson, Philip Jeck and Oval.

Translations into English of key texts

There is a lack of English translations of Pousseur’s writings; without an adequate understanding of French and German many important texts remain inaccessible. Therefore, the provision of key texts in English will also be addressed by this project.

Interview with the composer

We have interviewed Henri Pousseur on June 14 th 2004 at his home in Waterloo, Belgium (’le vrai Waterloo’ in Pousseur’s own words). These interviews will be documented and appropriate sections will appear on this web site in due course.

Symposia and seminars

A seminar and symposium have been organised. The first took place in the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts at the Cat Hill campus of Middlesex University on 3rd December 2004. Dr Decroupet explained Scambi’s realization and its context within Pousseur’s output such as the work for piano ‘Caractères Ib’ (1961). This will be summarized and placed on the web site. Related themes in this seminar included the relationship between serial thought and ‘open’ forms as well as the real-time creation of 'open' works by programming environments. The latter was presented by post-graduate student and sound artist/composer Chun Lee.

A second symposium formed part of a larger event at Goldsmiths College, University of London on 18th February 2005 at which the initial research findings gained in the stages of realisation and related historical/ musicological issues were presented. Henri Pousseur attended and gave a presentation.

New realisations of Scambi

One of the most important aspects of the project (in fact, the original point of departure for the entire enterprise) will be to encourage the creation of new versions of Scambi. The composition uses pre-recorded material and new versions can be created according to Pousseur’s scheme, though the composer has acknowledged that other versions may extend beyond his original plan.

As well as inviting versions from ‘established’ composers, it is envisaged that opportunities will exist for student composers at the team members’ institutions to contribute to this stage of the project. The versions will be created using digital rather than analogue technology. Henri Pousseur has already kindly given permission for the thirty-two sound files to be made available for this non-commercial research project. Problems and decisions encountered by composers during the production of new versions will be evaluated and documented in the light of Pousseur’s original instructions.

The processes used by composers will be documented and will be the starting point for subsequent stages of the project. These recordings will not be released commercially (unless interest in the project indicates that they could be marketed as a form of publication). Nevertheless, it is hoped that they can be made accessible to interested musicians on this website, to be downloaded as MP3 files.


The symposium and web site will be the principal means by which information is disseminated to the academic community. This web site, for example, will contain translations of key texts as well as texts written by the team members. In addition, it is hoped to provide a resource with audio examples on the ‘open’ form in instrumental as well as electroacoustic music. Due to the increasing interest in ‘open’ forms and related areas such as generative and algorithmic compositions it is likely that the results of the project and the evaluation/critique of the ‘open’ form will be of great interest not only to musicologists and composers but practitioners in other art forms. In addition to applications in installation art there are also many potential lines of enquiry in common with research into narrative which would be of benefit to artists working in web-based media and CD-ROMS.

I would like to acknowledge the support given to the ‘Scambi Project’ from the Arts and Humanities Research Board Small Grants Fund. Without this financial assistance the project could not have been undertaken. In addition, I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues in the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts at Middlesex University for the design and maintenance of this web site.

Dr John Dack

Every effort has been made to ensure that the information on this site is correct at the time of publication, but the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts cannot accept responsibility for errors.