The Politics of
Critical reception of Luc Ferrari’s Presque rien ou le lever dujour au bord de la mer (“Almost nothing, or daybreak at the seashore”) (1967–70) has been consistent in the three and a half decades since its composition. The piece, which presents an apparently unretouched recording of morning in a fishing village by the Black Sea, is generally characterized as a gesture of aesthetic transgression—though there is some disagreement as to what particular principle the work transgresses. For some commentators the minimal intervention in the source recordings that make up Presque rien represents a tacit repudiation of the work concept central to Western art since the late eighteenth century. Some of Ferrari’s comments support such a reading; he has described the work as “a sort of anti-music,” through which he expresses his opposition to “the bourgeois myth of the composer.”1 By this account, the use of magnetic tape to capture a slice of life, and thereby transform it into an object of aesthetic contemplation, places Presque rien within a tradition of avant-garde works that stretches from Marcel Duchamp to John Cage and beyond, a tradition that calls into question the boundary separating art and everyday life. But in the case of Presque rien it is not the museum’s four walls or the concert ritual that frames the quotidian object or event; rather, it is the medium of tape that divorces everyday sounds from their context and, in the process, transforms them into purely musical material.
Alternatively, Presque rien has been read as a rupture with the thendominant aesthetic in French electroacoustic music. Pierre Schaeffer’s