Luc Ferrari (1929-2005)
Presque Rien Avec Luc Ferrari (2005)
Directors: Jacqueline Caux & Olivier Pascal
Time: 50 mins
Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain
Eye of Sound: The decision to retain the original title of this documentary, instead of following the rule of translating all film names, can be justified by the fact that anyone familiar with Luc Ferrari will recognize the reference to some of the composer's most famous works, the Presque Rien series, and particularly his 1989 piece Presque Rien avec Filles (Almost Nothing with Girls). Much more than a mere music-documentary, Caux's and Pascal's Presque Rien is possibly the definitive Ferrari doc, not only because of the composer's willingness to play along with the directors' playful design but mostly because of their creative assimilation of his artistic and philosophical mischievousness. Although comprising several different sections that use different aesthetical and narrative strategies, Presque Rien almost seamlessly flows between these often contradictory approaches, its multifarious form being in itself an implicit tribute to the chronic deviancy of Ferrari's career. The film's narrative linchpin is a series of autobiographical notes taken from an homonymous book by Caux herself. But the use of these fragments is far from conventional, since Caux and Pascal decide to pull a narrative trick rarely seen outside Chris Marker's works: to subvert the tradition of the "voice of god" documentary voice-over by having an actress, Elise Caron, deliver Ferrari's most intimate confessions and remembrances - perhaps to reinforce the association between the composer and the Filles allegedly lacking in his life but so deeply present in his music, as well as to multiply the myriad personas emerging from his oeuvre. Ferrari also plays himself, but mostly on more "technical" notes (in which, nevertheless, his generosity and inability to take himself too seriously are absolutely transparent). There is the more conventional melange of live and backstage footage, including rehearsals for his Cahier du Soir "opera" with Elise Caron and the Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain, live collaborations with Christof Schlaeger and Erik M (this one using old Ferrari raw materials), and short excerpts from a 2003 Claude Berset performance of the 36 Enfilades piece for piano and magnetophone. Some of the most beautiful moments, however, stem from an audiovisual installation Ferrari produced between 1995 and 2000: entitled Cycle de Souvenirs (Cycle of Remembrances), it was composed of footage captured in key locations of Ferrari's personal and artistic life, supported by a random composition in which six discs comprising recordings of anodinous urban and domestic soundscapes were constantly shuffled and rearranged, bearing the mark of the composer's concern with chance events and the relations between memory and biography. Several other events contribute to the narrative's richness and density: the perhaps surprising election of John Cage as his major aesthetic and philosophical influence (upon whom Ferrari's early escape from serialism and life-time commitment with non-alignment are implicitly predicated), the identification of the soundtrack for Honegger's classic Pacific 231 (soon on SOE) as a decisive moment in his aural formation, or the jocose justification of his early involvement in concrète explorations as the most barbaric possibility available at the time. If forced to choose one single highlight, however, I'd go for Ferrari's hilarious audio stroll through a parisian suburb amusement park: surrounded by excessive chromatic and sonic stimuluses, the composer's posture betrays neither the shyness of the guilt-ridden voyeur nor the blind aggressiveness of the artist ready to devour his source materials at the cost of their dignity; like a child in a candy store, his is a gaze of sheer delight, immersed in the overwhelming and unembellished pleasures of his senses.