Pierre Schaeffer's Musique Concrete Pierre Term Paper
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The basic materials might include tin cans, fragments of speech, a cough, canal boats chugging or natural snatches of Tibetan chant (all these are in a work called Etude Pathetique).
Musical instruments are not taboo: one piece used a flute that was both played and struck. Differences in balance or performance can also be used to extend the range of materials. All of this is very similar to the way that the sample integrated into popular music have included news actuality, political statements and fragments of other people's compositions." (2003) Nisbett additionally relates that the "preliminary concrete recording was described analytically in terms of a variety of sound qualities" as follows:
Instantaneous content - frequency spectrum or timbre (which might contain separate harmonics, bands of noise or a mixture of the two);
The melodic sequence of successive sound structure; and Its dynamics or envelope (the way sound intensity varies in time). (Nisbett, 2003)
Nisbett also relates that: 'The second stage in building musique concrete was treatment of the component materials to provide a series of what its composers called 'sound subjects', the bricks from which the work would be constructed. To help classify the growing range of 'manipulations' the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrete distinguished between:
Transmutation of the structure of sound - changing instantaneous around content to affect melodic and harmonic qualities but not dynamics. This includes transpositions of pitch (whether continuous or not) and filtering (to vary harmonic structure or coloration);
Discontinuous transformation of the constituent parts of a sound by editing - a sound element that could be dissected into attack, body and decay. (Nisbett, 2003)
The work of Timothy Dean Taylor entitled: "Strange Sounds: Music, Technology & Culture" relates that technological changes during the wartime and postwar era "affected every aspect of daily life and the industrialized world., not just at the level of jet engines or computers. In France, the U.S. development of the atomic bomb precipitated a renewed drive to fund science and technology, and played a pivotal role in the rise of modern, technocratic France..." As well as throughout the world. This time was one that was characterized by a view of "the ideological power of science and technology" which inevitably affected the arts. (Taylor, 2001; paraphrased) This era was one referred to as "an era of extraordinary techno-scientific revolutions [the exogenous forces acting on the arts] were predominantly technological." (Eric Hobstawn; as cited in Taylor, 2001; p. 44) Leo Marx is noted as having written that "the culture modernism of the West in the early twentieth century was permeated by [a] technocratic spirit" or a "kind of technocratic utopianism." (Taylor, 2001; p. 44)
Taylor relates that implicated in this technocratic spirit was the "...music in France...as any other art." (Taylor, 2001; p.45) According to Taylor, the composers in France pursued various ideas about the direction of new musical. "Pierre Schaeffer noted the two possible paths art could take in an era of high technology; either technology could come to the rescue of art (his position), or the ideas of science and technology could be adopted for use and making art. (p.45 REF 16) Technology, in the view of Schaeffer was a way "of rejuvenating music in the immediate postwar era while at the same time critiquing his rival composers..." (p.45) Taylor goes beyond merely providing an overview of Schaeffer and musique concrete but instead discusses the "...issue or meaning - both signification and communication, major concerns in the early days of this music - and to a lesser extent, historical prestige." (Taylor, 2001; p.45) Taylor relates that musique concrete was to Schaeffer "not...simply a genre, but a compositional aesthetic arrived upon in 1948 after several years of studio research." (p.45) Schaeffer states that they have not called "our music 'concrete' because it is constituted from pre=existing elements taken from whatever sound material, be it noise of conventional music, and then composed by working directly with the material. "(Taylor, 2001)
According to the analysis written by Taylor (2001): "The term concrete was probably borrowed from "Max Bill's idea of 'concrete art' which was reasonably well-known at the time, referring to a style that was clear and antinaturalist; later, however, Schaeffer's idea of the concrete shifts to become virtually synonymous with Claude Levi-Strauss's." Schaeffer informs that the intention of the term 'musique concrete' is to note or "point out an opposition
with the way a musical work usually goes. Instead of notating musical ideas on paper with the symbols of solfege and trusting their realization to well-known instruments, the question was to college concrete sounds, wherever they came from and to abstract the musical values they were potentially containing." (2001; p.45) Taylor states that musique concrete was "like figurative - not abstract - painting because it, like figurative painting draws on objects from the visible world, in a way resembling collage." (2001) Levi Strauss poses the argument in the Raw and the Cooked that in contrast musique concrete "is akin to abstract painting in that 'its first concern is to disrupt the system of actual or potential meanings,' since musique concrete composers endeavor to alter the source sounds so that they are not easily recognizable. As a result, 'music concrete may be intoxicated with the illusion that it is saying something; in fact it is foundering in non-significance." (Taylor, 2001; p.45)
Schaeffer held the belief that making source sounds in a way that would not be recognized was necessary "in order to allow the formal properties of the particular work to emerge, for it listeners concentrated on recognizable sounds they would be distracted by these rather than on the composer's skill. This problem of what we might call residual signification is central. Recognizable sounds might evolke residula meanings that listeners might associate with the sound's origins which would mean that the composer is neither creating, nor in total control of, a self-contained aesthetic object." (Taylor, 2001; p. 46)
In 1952 it was written by Schaeffer that "...even if noise material ensured for me a certain margin of originality in relation to music, I was...led to the same problem: the extract of sound material from whatever dramatic or musical context, before wanting to give a form to it. If I succeeded, there would be a musique concrete. If not there would be only trickery and procedures of radio production." (REF 23; p. 46) in other words, in order to really create music from these 'concrete' objects it was necessary to hide the knowledge that these were indeed ordinary concrete items in everyday life while creating music with and from them. In other words, there are sounds of life and there are sounds of music and to enable a cross over of common sounds into musical composition is what validified musique concrete in the view of Schaeffer.
Taylor notes that in musique concrete the sounds are "complex...[and]..."inseparable from its situation in the sound spectrum" whereas "in classical music, C is C, whatever its register." (2001) However Schaeffer did understand that "listeners would inevitably associate musique concrete sounds with their origins, and so moved toward a composition that included instruments and began devising ways of manipulating the sounds by playing recordings at different speeds and removing the initial attack (the beginning of the sound) of the recorded sounds, which renders them much less recognizable. (Taylor, 2001) This would allow him to circumvent the possibility of listeners hearing residual significations and reexert control over the 'quality' of the sound itself." (p.47)
Schaeffer devised methods of sound manipulation "by playing recordings at different speeds and removing the initial attack" or the sound's beginning...which renders them much less recognizable." (REF 27; p. 47) Schaeffer was encouraged by prominent artists in France such as Oliver Messiaen, Henry Michaux, and Claude Levi-Strauss to "make a break with the past with musique concrete." In addition, since Schaeffer was not trained as a composer, he held little interest for the tradition of music making "the burden of tradition. lighter on his shoulders: in Foucaldian terms, he was less disciplined by a compositional tradition." (Taylor, 2001; p.47) Schaeffer was at odds with composers in Austria and Germany and Taylor describes the disagreements as being "instructive" in nature and "in order to understand them it is necessary to spend some time outlining the state of composition in postwar and Germany." (Taylor, 2001) in postwar Austria and Germany, "finding music of the past to draw on for inspiration was still important for most composers." (Taylor, 2001) the emphasis of postwar German composers what that which the Nazi's has demonized so instead of a fresh beginning these composers desired greatly to stand on the composers who had gone before them.
Critics and Critiques of Musique Concrete
Taylor relates that the composer is not able to totally conceal the residual significations of the source sounds in musique concrete however Schaffer's efforts to do so have created in musique concrete "theoretically...new ways of listening" (2001) which has been adjudged by many critics to be "more lasting [of a]…
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Dennis, Brian. "Experimental Music in Schools." London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
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