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Tomorrow's Music

Premier experimenter Pierre Boulez predicts music will more closely resemble the composer's ideal, as interaction between computers and people improves. INTERVIEW

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 2, 1989


WHENEVER Pierre Boulez is around, heads turn, eyelids raise, posture improves. The French conductor-composer is not only one of the most sought-after musicians in the world; he is the most celebrated experimenter and philosophizer on where 20th-century music is headed. No one wants to be caught unaware to what's cooking at the cutting edge. Ergo, Southern California is abuzz with Boulez.

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The man who said ``classical tradition is a weight on everyone's being'' and set out in the 1970s to pioneer new electronic instruments came here for about four weeks of back-to-back festivals - one with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, another 75 miles north of here at Ojai.

The first event - the ``Boulez Festival,'' which ended yesterday - included no less than six concerts, seminars, workshops, open rehearsals, and a special discussion with Frank Zappa. The Ojai Festival's three days with Boulez (tonight through Sunday) will also include five concerts, highlighted by the Arditi String Quartet playing Boulez's own works, as well as five major works by Hungarian composer Gy"orgy Ligeti.

Since he left his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1977, Boulez has been director of the Paris research institute known as IRCAM - Institut pour la Recherche et Coordination Acoustique-Musique, a generously funded enterprise of the French goverment, which has become a leading center of computer music.

Before the first festival began, Boulez was brought before the press for what has become a traditional fete, followed by questions and answers. Two years ago, Boulez premi`ered his life masterwork known as ``Repons,'' with the aid of a gigantic machine and a 360-degree concert hall (audience encircling musicians) at the local basketball arena. Now reporters wanted to know the future of composition and what has happened in experimental music since then.

``I don't think everybody is headed in the same direction, and that is perhaps the interesting part,'' Boulez said. ``For myself, the main problem of being a composer today is to concern oneself with the materials of music ...,'' he added, referring to the instruments, both electronic and acoustic, with which tones are made.

He noted that technological developments in instruments have an impact on how a composer conceives the content of music and how an audience hears it. ``Advances in the iron industry in the 1840s brought about the new possibilities in piano sonority and dynamics,'' he says. ``So what are the advances in today's technology that propel us forward in composition? Machines that not only perform in tandem with performers and conductors, but that interact with the whims and designs of those performers.''

Without going into great detail, Boulez explains that the languages in which musicians communicate with performing computers have become simpler than they were a few years ago. Musicians who may have been daunted by the earlier complexities find that the latest advances free them to be more intuitive in what is known as ``real time,'' which means, little or no time lag between the spontaneous act of creating music and then being able to hear that music played.