BabelScores

Frédérick Martin

Music has always surrounded me: right from the beginning of my life when I got back from one clinic in Paris where, on the 5th of March in 1958, I was born to this world. Music by Sibelius, Mozart, Shostakovich and Verdi in particular.

As soon as I could speak, I kept on asking my mother to show me the music symbols until one day she agreed to do so. Straightaway, I reproduced these symbols in my exercise books, drawing staves in green ink into them.

Meanwhile we had moved to Africa and I lived there from 1960 to 1972. I went to an english school in Nigeria where the teachers were very strict about dexterity even though I was born a left-hander. Since there weren’t many music schools at the time, I educated myself with what I found in dictionaries and in gleaned scores extracts. Also the incongruous mixture of what I listenend to at home had a deep impact on me: essentially classical and modern repertoire, jazz and the first legendary rock bands. The latter motivated me to become an electric guitar player. But also the music performed by Ivorian or Gabonese musicians, often playing a whole weekend long, during ceremonies of all kinds, just a few blocks away from our pavilion.

Back in France, I decided to compose in a serious way. I had started to compose at the age of 8, smearing in notebooks, eagerly trying to fix sounds. In Paris, I discovered shops that were unknown to me so far, selling treatises of harmony, of counterpoint and scores by thousands of composers of whom I had no knowledge yet, enraging me to broaden my horizon. Thus, I not only bought scores by composers like Mihalovici, Tansman, Martinet, Lemeland, but also introduced myself to and showed them my own attempts. They guided me as you can guide a markerless young fanatic.

I became a copyist for several publishers, even went to work for Ricordi in Freiburg im Breisgau, where I stumbled across Brian Ferneyhough again, whom I had already met in Darmstadt the previous year and whose ideas were then precious to me. In Darmstadt, I also met Wolfgang Rihm, his music philosophy and mine have been very close to this day.

In eleven years, I have inked more than 10,000 pages of orchestral parts, always keeping on learning alone and also taking part as an auditor in the composition class of Nigg and Philippot in the Paris Conservatory from 1979 to 1981. I learnt a lot there, especially as I immersed myself in the Second Viennese School and its satellites. In a certain way, I mastered the twelve-tone composition before tonal harmonizing.

My first string quartet was premiered in Rome in 1984: I only learnt about this a few weeks later. The recording of this concert allowed me to meet Alain Féron, then in charge of musical creation at Radio France, who slated me at once. Things went faster, I received my first commissions, got the Villa Medici visa and then the jury of Ircam pedagogical course accepted my file after the premiere of my Third Cantata at the Royaumont Abbey. I could tackle computers at a higher stage than the one I was used to for the sessions of the rock band I had founded during the 80s.

At Royaumont, I worked with Klaus Huber, Franco Donatoni and Brian Ferneyhough again.

A plane took me to San Diego in 1993, thanks to the Villa Medicis hors les Mur scholarship credited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After arrival, I phoned the person I was supposed to stay with the first days: she had never heard of me! I ended up alone in California at midnight, without a place to stop-off. After a few adventures a la Jack Vance, I once more met Brian Ferneyhough during a short stay at UCSD, before saddling up to San Francisco, a town which won my heart right away.

Back home my life became tougher. My daughter Valentine was born in 1995, affected by a rare genetic syndrome. The shock stopped my career development in an instant. Suddenly I had to earn my life by other means than composing. Having no diploma, since I had left school at the age of 16, I took what heavens sent me. It was not so dreadful: after some interims, I was entrusted with the general services of a press group. I did my best at it. Of course, I kept on composing, often at night, sometimes overcome by the office hours.

In 2003 I published a book upon Black Metal, the first one in France on the topic, called Eunolie, which turned to be instant cult, like the enhanced 2008 edition. By 2006, the cultural department of the French Embassy in Moscow provided me with an Égide mission for a tour in Russia. Rashid Kalimullin, president of the Composers Union of Tatarstan, confided me I was Gengis Khan’s doppelganger.

Luck smiled at me again. The recording of incidental scores to children tales got me three rewards by the Charles Cros Academy. Marne-la-Vallée university offered me a post to teach music writing and arrangement for four years, commissions too were coming back.

2008 saw me becoming a freelance composer again. My music is played by an ever growing inner circle of instrumentalists. I remain outside the usual circuits, but I earn my life with my work. In 2012, I composed more than four hours of music for many instrumental combinations.