The Wire


French computer music pioneer Jean-Claude Risset has died

Early computer music innovator has died aged 78

French electronic musician Jean-Claude Risset has died, reported Exclaim!. Risset passed away on 21 November in Marseille, aged 78. Cited as a pioneer in computer music, he worked with Max Matthews at New Jersey's Bell Labs where he experimented with sound synthesis and psychoacoustics. Risset also created a version of the Shepard scale called the Shepard–Risset Glissando, a type of auditory illusion that gives the impression a sound’s tone is either rising or descending, an effect he also created for rhythm and tempo.

Risset was a composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal, piano and electroacoustic works. Born in Le Puy-en-Velay on 18 March 1938, he studied composition and piano at École Normale Supérieure de Paris from 1957–61. He also studied mathematics and physics and earned a Doctorat ès Sciences in 1967. He started work at the Bell Labs in 1965 and from 1967–69 he worked on brass and timbre synthesis as well as pitch and sound processing and development. There he met F Richard Moore, John Pierce, James Tenney, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Edgard Varèse. He went on to work at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Marseille from 1969–72, and on computer sound systems at the Faculté d'Orsay and the Université de Paris in 1970–71. He was also chair of the computer department at IRCAM from 1975–79.

Risset’s albums including Mutations (1978), Songes – Passages – Computer Suite From Little Boy – Sud (1988), Invisible ‎(1996) and Elementa (2001). In 2014 Editions Mego released Music From Computer, which reached number 12 in The Wire's Top 50 Chart of that year. Describing his work in The Wire 363, Philip Clark wrote: “Risset sculpts his found objects into plastic forms – birdsong stretched out of melodic alignment, high pitched insects heard as basso profundo drones… [his] music has a poetic backbone impressively all its own.” Risset was the author of An Introductory Catalog Of Computer Synthesized Sounds (1969).