leo kupper

Complete electronic works 1961-74

CD jewel case


This compact disc highlights Leo Kupper's earliest, unique and heretofore unpublished compositions produced during the 1960's when he was ardently seeking out structures distinctly applicable to purely electronic sounds (an opposed to those already-prevalent instrumental sounds). Here as elsewhere in our anthology of electronic music, the publishers feel that the value of this collection lies not solely in its historical and archival importance but also in its presentation of alive artistic creations which offer the listener an inestimable opportunity to rediscover and to re-listen to them. They are like the fruit of a tree of time past which ripens and matures ever more - like wine - into time present. These works demonstrate the first steps undertaken in a field of music whose means of production today is the norm.

In 1961, having terminated his musicology studies, Leo Kupper left Liège for Brussels where Henri Pousseur had founded "Apelac" the first Belgian electronic music studio. By that time, centres for music research such as those in Cologne, Paris and Milan had already produced works of experimental music, where pioneers were forging new and diverse routes in electronic music, "musique concrète" and electro-vocal music. In electronic music, works such as "Studien" by Karlheinz Stockhausen presupposed the use of oscillators and electronic filters ; "musique concrète" 's point of departure, as in "Etudes aux chemins de fer" by Pierre Schaeffer, was the microphone and recordings of all manner and duration of events from the physical and external sound world ;electronic-vocal music, such as "Ommagio à Joyce" by Luciano Berio, stemmed from innovative vocal and phonetic research ; and concurrently with these developments, Henri Pousseur, in the "Apelac" studio, was composing "Trois visages de Liège".

Léo Kupper was born in avril 16 1935 in Nidrum, Belgium. Composer and theorician, he worked with Henri Pousseur at the first electronic music studio in Belgium, Apelac (1959-62) and was founder and director of the Studio de Recherches et de Structurations Electroniques Auditives in Brussels (1967) and created Sound Domes in Roma, Linz, Venezia and Avignon (1977-87). In thirty years, he composed around 35 pieces of electronic music, vocal and instrumental music, midi and computer music and wrote about his own research in the field of phonetic and vocal music, musical machines and psycho-acoustics (space perception and diffusion). Leo Kupper is also a fine performer on the Persian santur - he studied with the famour santur player Hossein Malek in Tehran.

Complete Electronic Works 1961-74
By Ed Howard Published in Stylus (2003)

There is a sense, in most electronically produced music, that it is not designed to last. The fast pace of technology, of change, renders old software and hardware obsolete before the albums produced can even hit the shelves. You often hear electronic aficionados -- whoever they might be -- talking about an album from a couple of years ago as sounding "dated." And yet, the best elements of the genre are rarely accused of being out-of-style or passé because of mere changes in wiring or programming. Would anyone call Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" anything less than a work of sheer genius just because it happened to be recorded on primitive early synths? Would you say that early Aphex Twin is worse than his recent recordings because his technology's grown more sophisticated in the intervening years? Would you write off the myriad innovations of Karlheinz Stockhausen? And would you dismiss the contributions of Leo Kupper just because he started recording them almost forty years ago on equipment so primitive that all the exposed wiring and computer chips displayed on the cover of this archival CD look like they belong in the Smithsonian?

Kupper, of course, is not as well known as some of the other early electronic music pioneers working in this vein. His contributions to the field have gone largely un-chronicled, probably because he pursued music more as an academic and aesthetic study than a product intended to be consumed. From 1961 until 1974, he worked intensively at the Apelac studio in Brussels, experimenting and tweaking for his own edification; none of the music, unlike that of Stockhausen and other contemporaries, was commercially released. This album marks the first time that these four compositions -- Kupper's earliest works -- have been available, and they've been released into a regrettable dearth of knowledge and documentation about the composer.

What these pieces reveal about Kupper is invaluable, making this collection essential for those seeking insight into the roots of electronic music. Kupper's most consistent artistic concern, on this disc as well as his limited other available recordings, was with the human voice and language, and several pieces here incorporate phonetic sounds (sort of an anti-language) into the sparse computer-generated structures. But what's most striking about these pieces is how fresh they sound. It's nearly impossible to think of these droning soundscapes as dated or ancient; the emotional resonance and genuine passion hardwired into them preclude any dismissal.

Much of the album is composed of long, atonal, foreboding soundscapes, produced by Kupper with the GAME machine, a form of automatic sound producer and manipulator that was programmed with color-coded cables. Programming must have been painstaking work, and tweaking the finished sound even more so, but the music produced by these machines is strangely compelling in its simplicity and energy. The entirety of this collection is driven by an eerie undercurrent of fear and unpleasant emotional associations. Like Coil's more recent Time Machines work, these pieces utilize stomach-churning bass drones and sickly pulsating beeps to create a dense sea of musical waves from a relatively simplistic palette. What the music lacks in complexity, it makes up for in originality and emotion. The 26-minute second track, "Automatismes Sonores," is composed entirely of sounds from the GAME- its long drones swelling to epic climaxes and the quiet lulls in between seem fraught with expectation.

Even better are the moments when Kupper's abstract electronic experiments collide with his more human interests. On "L'enclume des Forces," Antonin Artaud's poem of the same name is used as both source material and sound output in a very interesting experiment. The voice is presented in unaltered form, but over it are layered fractured bits of narration distorted by the GAME, and electronic sounds from the GAME itself (which are in turn affected by the voice). The result is a dense storm of static, noise, and vocal permutations. The poem is audible and understandable (if you speak French, of course) for brief periods only, before being absorbed in explosions of sound from the machine.

Similarly, "Innomine" fuses phonetic sounds pronounced by European students with a meditative high-pitched drone for a totally enveloping sound. Finally, on "Electro-poeme," Kupper isolates the voice entirely. It's a "work for a mixed choir of twelve young voices," with no electronic manipulation other than to organize and rearrange the recorded vocal sounds on tape. The children were first trained in phonetic expression so as to give free rein to their emotions and thoughts without filtering them through the skein of language. The result, though not as musically interesting as the other three pieces here, is a fascinating exercise in the "pure" voice, putting to use the widely unused expressive capabilities of the human voice when separated from its linguistic function.These four pieces are representative of one of the most fertile creative periods for electronic music. In an era when everybody was on the same footing, working with newly invented technology and nonexistent working boundaries, Kupper was just one voice among the rising multitudes of electronic innovators. As this disc attests, it's a voice that deserved to be heard much sooner, and it's thankfully, not lessened any by the passage of time.


01 Innomine (3 parts) 1966-74 / 25:55
02 Automatismes Sonores 1961-67 / 26:19
03 L'enclume des forces 1967-74 / 13:14
04 Electro-poême 1963-64 / 6:04