Boomkat Product Review:
Completely genius material from lesser-known Belgian early electronic innovator Léo Kupper, who founded Brussels' Studio de Recherches et de Structurations Electroniques Auditives. This extended collection sweeps up his wide-ranging experimental electronic works, using hand-made synthesizers, hotwired loudspeakers, pickups and tape machines.
Léo Kupper's work has appeared occasionally over the years, but the Belgian composer's sky-scraping weirdness has never given him quite the same platform as his French GRM peers. This generous set aims to refine his appeal, and paints an impressive portrait of the virtuoso artist and inventor. Kupper initially studied musicology at the Liège Conservatory, becoming an assistant to Belgian serialist Henri Pousseur, who had recently founded the Apelac Studio in Brussels in 1958. In 1961, influenced by musique concrète and electro-vocal experiments, Kupper invented what he called the GAME machine: Générateur Automatique de Musique Electronique. Using a series of tape machines to record loops from loudspeakers and mic pickups, sounds were then fed to musicians who opened automatic channels, triggering elements to blare from speakers. This was in turn picked up by the same machines and replayed - it worked as a completely unique musical instrument, and was the central component of Kupper's method. A few years later, he started his own studio and set about recording a catalogue of over fourty works using his arsenal of hand-made instruments.
The set of eleven long compositions included on "Complete Electronic & Voices Works 1961-1987" showcases Kupper's GAME system, and sounds unlike anything else from the concrète/electro-acoustic canon. Kupper's innovative method gives him not just human control over his electronics, but a feeling of random serendipity, as if things were happening because the system let them happen. At times, the pieces sound like a duel between man and machine - a push and pull between the synthetic and the organic that Kupper accents with layers of vocal interventions.
The earliest piece 'Automatismes sonores', is a rare long-form work that focuses almost exclusively on squealing electronic modulations, but even here Kupper retains the texture and patterning of voices. On the aptly titled 'Electro-poème' from 1963-74, guttural sounds and syllables are chopped alongside similar electronic elements, while 1979's 'Kouros et Korê' contorts a woman's voice into elastic squeaks and burps, occasionally erupting into fully formed French dialect.
'Amkea' from 1983-85 brings song forms into the mix, and drifts from operatic phrasing to folk chants and nursery rhymes, in its surreal abstraction, the piece makes connections between musical forms while 1987's epic 'Litanea', delves into church music, processing chants into discomforting drones and awkward, dense phrases, juxtaposing virtual plainsong with frothing electronic punctuations.
The second disc focuses on Kupper's late '70s and '80s work, where he combined eerie FM synth sounds with operatic voices and unsettling radio chatter. It's brilliant stuff that sounds alien, transcendent and years ahead of its time even now. If you're into anything from Pierre Schaeffer and Dick Raaijmakers to Maja Ratkje and Keith Fullerton Whitman, this one's an essential listen.