updated 25 June 2019
© Magison

François Bayle

French composer born 27 April 1932 in Toamasina, Madagascar.

François Bayle was born in Madagascar and grew up in the Comoro Islands. When he was 14, he went to Bordeaux to pursue his studies. Musically self-taught, he worked as a schoolteacher while studying with Olivier Messiaen, then attended the Darmstadt Summer Course every year from 1959 to 1962, where he studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen.

In 1960, Pierre Schaeffer hired him to the general secretariat of the newly created Service de la Recherche de la RTF, a public institution dedicated to fundamental research in radio and television. He unofficially took charge of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in 1962, of which he was made the official director in 1966. What he called his “first true creations” date from this same year, starting with Espaces inhabitables (1966) — although in 1962 he had already composed the score for Trois Portraits d’un Oiseau-Qui-N’existe-Pas, a noted short film by Robert Lapoujade, who also worked at the Service de la Recherche. When the Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française (ORTF), the public institution that succeeded the RTF, broke apart in 1975, and the Institut national de l’Audiovisuel (INA) was created, the GRM was brought under its aegis, and François Bayle was named the head of the INA-GRM.

During his time at the GRM, he spearheaded the design of the Acousmonium in 1974 as well as the launch of the INA-GRM record label in 1976. He also produced concerts, notably the “Cycle acousmatique,” as well as regular broadcasts on the France Musique radio station (among others, Acousmathèque, starting in 1985) and supported the development of advanced-technology musical instruments such as the Syter, GRM Tools, and the MIDI Formers computer programs.

As a composer, François Bayle often referred to his works as “utopias,” constructed in the form of suites, trajectories, initiations — such as L’Expérience Acoustique (1972), Erosphère (1980), Son Vitesse-Lumière (1983), Aéroformes (1986), Fabulae (1992), La Main vide (1994) — which, as they were renewed over the years, investigate “like writing” the texts and textures of sounds, formal techniques, material for ideas, meta-forms and metaphors.

The Acousmonium, as Bayle wrote, was “Another utopia, devoted to pure “listening” … as a penetrable “projection area”, arranged with a view to immersion in sound, to spatialised polyphony, which is articulated and directed.”

Awards and Honors

  • Grand Prix Charles-Cros du président de la République (1999; for the Magison CD catalogue)
  • Officier de l’ordre national du Mérite (1997)
  • Grand Prix de la Musique de la Ville de Paris (1996)
  • Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1991)
  • Prix Ars Electronica Linz (1989)
  • Commandeur des Arts et Lettres (1986)
  • Grand Prix National du Disque (1981)
  • Grand Prix des Compositeurs SACEM 1978

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 1996

By François Bonnet

Listening to the World

François Bayle’s music is rooted in listening. As a young child, he was isolated in the Comoros archipelago, swaddled in the sounds of nature. This silent childhood1 was followed by a post-war youth spent listening to Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. But it was not written music that captivated him as much as the “bouquet of sounds that grow within the mind.”2 The radio, a technology that inherently produces situations of acousmatic listening, was also central to young Bayle’s musical experiences. Music, for him, was not a discipline or subject matter to be learned: it was a window opening onto new and astonishing sound worlds that he had to discover and explore.

Dreams of an Autodidact

In his non-academic, self-taught alternative education,3 Bayle diligently listened to musical programs on the radio. He was inspired to further his studies with Olivier Messiaen and audit the Darmstadt Summer Course taught by Pierre Boulez, György Ligeti, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. While these experiences confirmed his deep and growing desire to compose, it was Pierre Schaeffer who gave him the tools to materialize this dream. Bayle joined the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) in the new Service de la Recherche department in 1960. A few years later, he volunteered to compose the score for Trois portraits d’un oiseau qui n’existe pas (Three Portraits of a Bird that Doesn’t Exist, 1963), a film by Robert Lapoujade produced by the Groupe de Recherche Image. This short and preliminary piece (eight years later, he composed a more elaborate version, Trois Rêves d’oiseau [Three Bird’s Dreams]), marked the beginning of Bayle’s career as a composer. He continued composing in tandem with the visual medium throughout the 1960s in collaboration with such directors as Peter Foldes and Piotr Kamler, with whom he worked closely, namely on Lignes et Points (Lines and Dots), their most successful piece.

If the score for Trois portraits d’un oiseau qui n’existe pas established Bayle as a composer, he presented his first large-scale work, Espaces inhabitables (Uninhabitable Spaces), four years later while he worked as the head of the GRM. The title of the piece reveals the importance of space as a central theme in Bayle’s music. In Espaces inhabitables, Bayle sees uninhabitability of space as a consequence of a redeployment of energies and sonorities. A place “out of place” emerges, pointing to the trope of a utopia that Bayle would use throughout his career. Early in the composition process, he takes space into account, considering the stereo of sound-recording sessions:

I am a child of stereophonic sound. In this way, I am different from my predecessors: Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, and others… They were struck by the impact of sound produced by loudspeakers. My passion lies in the empty space between two loudspeakers. This is where information travels.4

The traffic of sound and its transmutations would become important themes in Bayle’s oeuvre. Almost directly after Espaces inhabitables, he wrote Jeîta ou Murmure des eaux (Jeîta or Murmuring Waters), another major work that explores space, though in a different way. This piece was inspired by the Jeita Grotto in Lebanon, where in 1969 he had given a concert (and premiered his instrumental piece Nadir) to mark the opening of the recently discovered upper gallery of the cave. For Jeîta, he used sounds he had recorded in the cave, as well as electronic effects produced by the new synthesizers at the GRM studios. The piece alludes to an abstract inhabitant of the cave, fluid and multiple (Jeîta means “murmur of the waters”) — a flowing body like the “Clock of Blood” that is the “Man-Animal” as described by Paul Klee, whom Bayle references in the piece’s program notes. Bayle positioned the piece in a certain listening zone and specified, like Paul Cézanne, that nature is “within.”

The theme of listening is more apparent in Bayle’s first large cycle, L’Expérience Acoustique (The Acoustic Experience, 1963-1972). The cycle’s original program was exploration of the five dimensions, or “directions,” of listening as Bayle classified them: “alert, desire, deciphering, resonance, meaning.”5 These categories correspond to “gradations of an experience; to the progressive involvement of the body in the spirit.”6 Such a large-scale project, involving fourteen pieces and spanning over two hours, is fitting considering Bayle’s beliefs about what music requires of us:

Observing the movement of auditory intuition from within, and looking for its unknown parts — the hustle and bustle of thought when it is excited by the motion of sound; finding within this sound matter a way forward that can create illusory forms, gestures, and stories; understanding this activity, and preserving its concrete aspects and its swarm in order to represent it in images and figures — that for me is the project of music.7

Toward a Projected Music

In speaking of images and figures, one must also speak of projection. As early as 1974 and alongside his questions of composition, Bayle tackled the difficult question of how to represent music that stems from musique concrète traditions. Feeling the need to reach out to the audience member and develop a listening scenography, he pursued his ongoing study of the multi-directional diffusion of sound begun back in the 1950s. He proposed creating an orchestra of sound projectors, which he named the Acousmonium, in reference to the listening of sounds coming from loudspeakers. The term “acousmatic” had been used by Pythagoras and resuscitated by the poet Jérôme Peignot in 1955, as well as by the founders of musique concrète. It refers to a state of listening in which the original sound source is invisible to the listener, perhaps making the sound’s origin unclear.

According to Schaeffer, such conditions are favorable to reduced listening, meaning a type of listening that is detached from the context of production of the sound. In these conditions, the listener can appreciate a sound for its inherent qualities, and depth of listening becomes central to the music. It is within this logic that Bayle suggested a new term: acousmatic music. He used it to replace the then-fashionable term “electroacoustic,” which he believed detracted from the specificity of music stemming from musique concrète, meaning music created in a studio to be projected through loudspeakers in concert.

After a preliminary concert in January 1974 at the Eglise Saint-Séverin, where Bayle presented Paradis (Paradise),8 the Acousmonium was inaugurated in February 1974 at the Espace Pierre Cardin. There, Bayle premiered the first series of his Vibrations Composées (Composed Vibrations, 1973) as well as L’Expérience Acoustique. Vibrations Composées marks the beginning of a new phase in Bayle’s oeuvre, during which he further developed an acousmatic creative process. According to him, in this process, music can be elaborated “out of time,” as it is in the studio, where the composer can let his or her mind wander, engaging in a type of suspended creativity. The results of this imaginative state are then reinserted in dynamic time through played recordings. Bayle followed this process to compose Grande Polyphonie (1975). As per its title, it is a piece using complex superpositions.

Sound Utopias

Bayle’s oeuvre is marked by cycles. They stem from, pursue, and extend the original Expérience Acoustique project, which was initially meant to span over ten hours. These cycles, which he sometimes calls “utopias” or “long-term travels,” structure his overall output. The first that follows the initial Expérience Acoustique is Erosphère (1978-1980). It comprises three pieces and three preludes. The Erosphere, in his words, is this

nervous fabric that surrounds the world with a wave network of infinitely modulating frequencies; it is this infra and supra sensorial cloud of heat, broadcasted by a megabillion biological transmitters; it is this ring where all forces circulate; it is a cosmos of desire.9

The pieces that form this cycle — Tremblement de terre très doux (Very Mild Earthquake, 1978; the title refers to the surrealist painter Max Ernst), La fin du bruit (The End of Noise, 1979), and Toupie dans le ciel (Spinning Top in the Sky, 1979) — all explore, in their own ways, a “geometry of the affects”10 and the buzzing activity of the cosmos or of the synapsis. The pieces reveal a dialectic in Bayle’s oeuvre between the intimate and the open, and between the particular and the general, thus positioning his music in an intermediary state, a sensitive thread between hybrid constellations. The preludes of Erosphère are Eros Bleu, Eros Rouge, and Eros Noir (1980), alluding to the colors of a sky in transition between day and night.11 It is for these preludes that Bayle first used computer-generated sounds created in software engineered by Jean-François Allouis and Bénédict Maillard at the GRM’s Studio 123, at the Maison de la Radio.

Almost immediately succeeding Erosphère, the cycle Son Vitesse-Lumière (Lightspeed Sound, 1980-1983) took a notable change in approach. It comprises five pieces conceived as a cycle: Grandeur Nature (The Size of Nature, 1980), Paysage, personnage, nuage (Landscape, Person, Cloud; 1980), Voyage au centre de la tête (Journey to the Center of the Head, 1981), Le Sommeil d’Euclide (Euclid’s Sleep, 1983), and Lumière ralentie (Slowed Light, 1983). In this new utopia, Bayle pursues the “extension of the musical attributes of sound now that we are working at the speed of electricity — at the speed of light.”12 After the discovery of fire, Bayle finds the mastery of electricity to be the second great revolution in the history of humankind: if the mastery of fire enabled humankind to cook food, increasing his energy intake and contributing to the general development of humanity, electricity “cooks us,” reorganizes our nervous network, and changes us from within.13

In this vein of thought, sound becoming electricity changes the conditions of its deployment. According to Bayle, when sound becomes electric modulations, it changes state, and when it comes back to the world of sound through the electroacoustic transduction of a loudspeaker, it is charged with “memories of another life.”14 It is a poetic way to portray the transformations of sound through electronic and electroacoustic media. Among the possible transformations, one can stretch sound or maintain it indefinitely. Sound in these situations becomes a general climate, a soundtrack, a landscape, and it evolves according to a free energy, as composer Régis Renouard Larivière underlined when speaking of L’Expérience Acoustique.15 When starting a cycle, Bayle thinks about these free energies in terms of spatial layout. In his notebooks he writes: “I also think about a collection of speeds in space.” It is these kinetic forms, this impulse, and this intensity that inspired him: “Of the actual matter of sound (which one thinks he is hearing), I have only taken its shape and the imprint of its energy.”16

Spaces, Energies, Images

If space, both as a symbol and as a medium for sound projection, has always played a chief role in Bayle’s approach, it became a compositional tool, strictly speaking, in the eight-track format he used almost systematically starting from the cycle La Main Vide (1994-1995) and more precisely its last piece, Inventions, which was his first full eight-track composition. Yet, space cannot be reduced to movement. Though multichannel compositions enable sound trajectories to be created, this was not the main reason Bayle used this format.

What attracted him to the multitrack format is its capacity to distribute sounds in space, to spread the general image of the composition, and to circulate sounds through a broader area. Multitracking became a tool to extend sound transmutation: from immediate electric energy, both acoustic sound and musical sound become airborne, suspended in space. Sound, or the acousmatic image, becomes a “piece of space” or, like the title of a 1996 piece suggests, an assemblage of bits of the sky (Morceaux de Ciels).17 Bayle makes use of the multiphonic space as a surface on which his sound-images can unfold: “The acousmatic field creates this theater of representation where, on a silent and invisible screen, projected sounds function like sound-images, like fragments of meaning, like thought outside of words, like a language of the ether.”18

The sound-image, for Bayle, differs from the sound-source in two respects. First, there is an “acousmatic cut” between the sound produced in a given place and time, and the perception of that sound in another space at another moment. Second, on a psychological level, there is a logical shift when sound crosses over from a concrete event to a simulacrum, or a sign of the musical discourse. This double disjunction is a powerful fusion in his oeuvre,19 uniting the energetic aspect of sound forms and the symbolic, signifying aspect of images-as-sounds. One side projects the external space of energy deployment; the other focuses on the inner space of representations. Cycles such as La forme du temps est un cercle (The Shape of Time Is a Circle, 1999-2001) or La forme de l’esprit est un papillon (The Form of the Soul Is a Butterfly, 2002-2004) strikingly represent this permanent, delicate, and lively circulation between shapes, energy trajectories, and the poetry of images and their evocation.

Trip(s) to the Inner Mind

Image, acoustic mirage. Familiar sounds fill our lives, and their acoustic images, when detached from their concrete sources, reveal their dynamic principles. By choosing the word “acousmatic” to describe a pure and focused listening to these sounds, one insists on the power of this type of listening. Such a power has led me to construct music based on the movement of images, where questions of multiplicity, speed, mass reaction, and space organization come into play. Actions such as translation, transformation, sequences, stretching and acceleration, slowing down, inside, outside are all part of the processes that new instruments allow. I have to use them — my feelings and my actions draw me toward them. Music decodes the world and reveals it as a mirage.20

In the studio, Bayle would have the feeling of being alone “with nature.”21 He would work with an array of machines — microphones, tape recorders, synthesizer modules — to create sound-shapes and sound-images, trace trajectories, and weave together vibrations. This weaving is multifaceted. While the centerpiece of his process is indeed the creation of music, he uses whatever tools are necessary to bring it to the surface. Indeed, his music is in a continual state of emergence. It points to and anticipates a new genre: concrète in its process, electroacoustic in its protocol, and acoustic in its reception. His music is co-born with a whole new side of musicality, resonating and communicating with it. Beyond his tireless devotion to composing and to continuing Schaeffer’s line, Bayle worked relentlessly to define and invent the horizon of possibilities for this new field of music.

From the Acousmonium to the Acousmathèque — another utopia created to collect the resources associated with this music, and to draw the contours of this emerging acousmatic art — and passing through the Acousmograph,22 Bayle’s technical and intellectual contributions have been inseparable from his oeuvre. They reveal the central issue of his rich and surprisingly coherent career: that of listening. In Bayle’s oeuvre, listening must be understood as a field of exploration — listening is the great question. It is not by chance that, some fifty years after Expérience Acoustique, Bayle pursued this quest further with Projet “Ouïr” (2015-2018), a large-scale cycle that puts back on the table the possibility of a pure music for listening.

Bayle has traced his artistic path through eras marked by technical innovations (technology and musique concrète have always been intimately linked) and through the world’s upheavals. On this path, he has pursued listening and a study of the self in listening. These trips within the self created a profusion of images and impressions that invoke his childhood “bouquet of sounds that grow within the mind” — sounds that he heard in his youth, surrounded by the birds of the Comorian forests. Therein lies the act of musical faith of François Bayle.

1. According to the etymology of the French word for childhood, enfance, not speaking is the essence of childhood: Enfant comes from the Latin infans, “the one who does not speak,” and is made of present participle fari (to speak) and of the negative prefix in
2. Evelyne GAYOU, “Hasard et nécessité, entretien avec François Bayle,” in François Bayle, Portrait Polychrome, new revised edition, Paris, INA, 2007, p. 15. 
3. GAYOU, “Hasard et nécessité, entretien avec François Bayle,” p. 18. 
4. Thomas BAUMGARTNER and François BAYLE, “La forme du son est une oreille, entretien avec François Bayle,” in the CD booklet for François Bayle, 50 ans d’acousmatique, Paris, INA GRM, 2012. 
5. François BAYLE, “Mes images,” in François Bayle, Portrait Polychrome, p. 87. 
6. BAYLE, “Mes images.” 
7. François BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, Paris, INA-GRM, Buchet/Chastel, 1993, p. 17. 
8. Paradis is the last part of the Divine Comédie, a trilogy inspired by Dante and composed by Bayle and Bernard Parmegiani (Parmegiani composed Enfer while Bayle composed Purgatoire; both co-composed Paradis). Paradis is a “live” composition for two Synthi AKS synthesizers and magnetic tape. 
9. François BAYLE, introductory text for the first phonograph edition, INA-GRM, série Gramme, 1982. 
10. François BAYLE, “Contre-écoute,” in François Bayle, Erosphère, Paris, Magison, 2009, p. 11. 
11. Régis RENOUARD LARIVIÈRE, “Le cycle Erosphère” in Erosphère, p. 15. 
12. François Bayle, “Poétique…,” in François BAYLE, Son Vitesse-Lumière, Paris, Magison, 2016, p. 13. 
13. Videotaped interview in Johana OŽVOLD, dir., The Sound Is Innocent, 2019. 
14. François BAYLE, “Autour de Son Vitesse-Lumière, entretien avec Michel Chion et Annette Vandegorne,” in ibid., p. 145. 
15. Régis RENOUARD LARIVIÈRE, “Aile du son, ciel de l’écoute… de l’acousmatique baylienne,” in the CD booklet for François Bayle, 50 ans d’acousmatique, p. 15. 
16. BAYLE, “Poétique…,” p. 13. 
17. BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, p. 103. 
18. BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, p. 75. 
19. BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, p. 186. 
20. BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, p. 76. 
21. BAYLE, Musique acousmatique, propositions… …positions, p. 28. 
22. A software tool that represents sound events in graphs. 

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2019

Catalog sources and details

Compositions pour le cinéma

  • Cœur de secours (Piotr Kamler, 1973)
  • La Belle cérébrale (Peter Foldès, 1967)
  • Lignes et points (Piotr Kamler, 1966)
  • Meurtre (Piotr Kamler, 1964)
  • Galaxie (Piotr Kamler, 1964)
  • Fautrier l’enragé (Philippe Baraduc, 1964)
  • Trois portraits d’un Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas (Robert Lapoujade, 1963)

Compositions pour la télévision

  • Portrait-poème pour Léonor Fini (Jean-Émile Jeannesson, 1968, 2e chaîne)

Compositions pour la scène

  • La Nostalgie, camarade (François Billetdoux, 1974, Comédie française)

Catalog source(s)

Compositions pour le cinéma

  • Cœur de secours (Piotr Kamler, 1973)
  • La Belle cérébrale (Peter Foldès, 1967)
  • Lignes et points (Piotr Kamler, 1966)
  • Meurtre (Piotr Kamler, 1964)
  • Galaxie (Piotr Kamler, 1964)
  • Fautrier l’enragé (Philippe Baraduc, 1964)
  • Trois portraits d’un Oiseau-Qui-N’Existe-Pas (Robert Lapoujade, 1963)

Compositions pour la télévision

  • Portrait-poème pour Léonor Fini (Jean-Émile Jeannesson, 1968, 2e chaîne)

Compositions pour la scène

  • La Nostalgie, camarade (François Billetdoux, 1974, Comédie française)

Liens Internet

(liens vérifiés en juin 2019)


  • François BAYLE, La musique acousmatique : propositions… … positions, Bry-sur-Marne, Ina éditions, 1993.
  • Michel CHION, François Bayle : Parcours d’un compositeur, Ohain, Musiques et Recherches, 1994.
  • Daniel TERUGGI (dir.), « François Bayle », Portraits polychromes, Paris, INA-GRM, 2007.

Discographie sélective

  • François BAYLE, Trois rêves d’oiseau ; Espaces inhabitables ; Jeîta ou murmure des eaux ; L’Expérience acoustique ; Divine comédie ; Vibrations composées ; Camera oscura ; Erosphère ; Son Vitesse-Lumière ; Motion-Émotion ; Fabulæ ; La Main vide ;  Morceaux de ciels ; Arc, pour Gérard Grisey ;  La Forme du temps est un cercle ; La Forme de l’esprit est un papillon ; Univers nerveux ; L’Oreille étonnée, dans « 50 ans d’acousmatique »,15 CDs INA-GRM, 2012, INA G 6033/6047.
  • François BAYLE, La Forme de l’esprit est un papillon ; Trois rêves d’oiseau ; Mimaméta, dans « La Forme de l’esprit est un papillon », 1 CD INA-GRM, 1998, INA e 5009.
  • François BAYLE, Concrescence ; Si loin, si proche… ; Tempi ; Allures ; Cercles, dans « La Forme du temps est un cercle », 1 CD Magison, 2001, MGCB 1501.
  • François BAYLE, Jeîta ou murmure des eaux ; L’infini du bruit ; Jeîta-Retour, dans « Jeîta », 1 CD Magison, 1999, MGCB 1399.
  • François BAYLE, « Motion/Emotion », 1 CD INA-GRM, 1998, INA e 5009.
  • François BAYLE, Grandeur nature ; Paysage, personnage nuage ; Voyage au centre de la tête ; Le sommeil d’Euclide ; Lumière ralentie, dans « Son Vitesse-Lumière », 1 CD Magison, 1997, MGCB 9097.
  • François BAYLE, Bâton de pluie ; La Fleur future ; Inventions, dans « La Main vide », 1 CD Magison, 1996, MGCB 0896.
  • François BAYLE, L’Aventure du Cri ; Le Langage des Fleurs ; La Preuve par le sens ; L’Épreuve par le son ; La Philosophie du non, dans « L’Expérience Acoustique », 1 CD Magison, 1994, MGCB 5694.
  • François BAYLE, Fabula ; Onoma ; Nota ; Sonora, dans « Fabulæ », 1 CD Magison, 1993, MGCB 0493.
  • François BAYLE, « Vibrations composées / Grande polyphonie », 1 CD Magison, 1992, MGCB 0392.
  • François BAYLE, « Théâtre d’ombres / Mimaméta », 1 CD Magison, 1991, MG CB 0291.
  • François BAYLE, Tremblement de terre très doux ; Toupie dans le ciel, dans « Erosphère », 1 CD INA-GRM, 1990, INA C 3002.