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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About Henri Pousseur

Photo of Henri PousseurHenri Pousseur was born in Malmédy (Belgium) on 23 June 1929. He studied music at the conservatoires of Liège and Brussels from 1947 to 1953, but he considers himself to be mainly self-taught, that is to say a student of all the musical styles that he could encounter. From 1950 he has been active in the international avant-garde music scene (dodecaphonic, serial, electronic, aleatoric music), along with Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio, and others. In 1954 he married Théa Schoonbrood with whom he had four children: Isabelle (1957), Denis (1958), Marianne (1961) and Hélène (1965).

From 1960 Pousseur took an independent artistic stance ‘refusing the refusal’ of historical experience (this was a stance referred to by some as the ‘tabula rasa’), and he endeavoured to bridge the dualism of ancient and modern, ‘scholarly’ and popular... This turning point (which, in his view, is not a renunciation of his deep bond to Webern, rather a fulfilment of it) marks the beginning of his cooperation with Michel Butor, which has continued ever since. (Among their twenty or so works are Votre Faust, 1961-68, La Rose Des Voix, 1982, Le Sablier Du Phenix, 1994, etc.)

Henri Pousseur taught in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, and then at Liège University and Conservatoire from 1970 onwards, where he also founded the  Centre de recherches et de formation musicales de Wallonie. As director of the Liège Conservatoire from 1975, he renewed musical pedagogy and, in a larger context, the musical life of his city. Subsequently he was appointed to supervise the establishment of the  Institut de Pédagogie musicale  de Paris  (from 1983 to 1987) now integrated into the Cité de la Musique as its centre de ressources (resource centre). Here he founded the magazine Marsyas, which has published 40 issues to date. He established a further link between both the university and the conservatoire in Liège by introducing the licence en communication musicale. This course of studies is open to students from the conservatoire and is taught jointly by both institutions; it thereby forms an interdisciplinary link between the two. In 1994 Pousseur retired and moved with his wife to Waterloo, in order to be closer to Brussels and most of their children and grandchildren. Until 1999 he was composer-in-residence at the K.U.L. (University of Leuven).

Henri Pousseur has composed some 180 works of all durations and types as well as for different ensembles and solo instruments. He is an author of numerous articles and several books and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Metz and Lille III.

Pousseur and ‘open form’

Henri Pousseur (born 1929) is a particularly significant composer in any investigation of ‘open forms’. ‘Open’ forms have been used consistently by him since the nineteen-fifties and reflect not only his musical thinking but also his view of society.

The use of ‘open’ forms was widespread in the immediate post-war years. However, almost without exception, ‘open’ form compositions are instrumental or vocal works. Scambi remains an extremely rare example and is a testament to Pousseur’s remarkable prescience. The ‘Scambi Project’ will, therefore, contribute to a long overdue reassessment of Pousseur’s position in the English-speaking world as an avant-garde composer and writer on music during the post-war period.

Little information on Pousseur exists in English and it is hoped this investigation into Scambi and its contribution to electroacoustic thought will initiate a wider assessment of the composer and his works. In addition, the more general debate on the "open" form has particular relevance within contemporary electroacoustic musicology.

There are few studies in English on ‘open’ forms in music. Eco’s ‘The Open Work’ , for example, mentions Scambi briefly but concentrates principally on literature. Consequently, topics such as the balance between ‘openness’ and ‘constraint’ and the ontological status of ‘open’ musical works have not been thoroughly investigated. Nonetheless, discussions on ‘open’ forms are increasingly relevant. It is common for electroacoustic composers to create sound installations which can be interactive and often share aspects both technically and aesthetically with non-linear structures in music. Consequently, the issues addressed in the ‘Scambi Project’ will help to provide a critical framework applicable not only to electroacoustic music but also sound art and multimedia in general.

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.