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Musique Concrete

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Musique Concrete

Music has existed since the beginning of time, evolving and changing with the times and culture. From monks chanting to the Beatles in the 1960’s, there is a long line of the evolution of music. The existence of musique concrete was another step in the world’s music history. But before going any further perhaps the definition of musique concrete should be specified. “ Musique concrete is the name given to a class of electronic music produced from editing together fragments of natural and industrial sound.” (Wikipedia) It is also, basically, one of the first pioneered, derivative styles of electronic music. Musique concrete could not have been made without a long line of predecessors and roots but also could not be what it is considered today without the plethora of artists that progressed and evolved this distinct style. The creation of musique concrete was also not just the invention of a new genre but also a whole new way of looking at and treating music, sound, and technology.

The foundation of musique concrete can be accredited to Pierre Schaeffer, but the roots of it cannot. There is a long history of artists working to expand their art beyond conventional music that contributed to musique concrete’s overall existence. Beginning in even 1644 with de Caus’s hydraulic organ, artists were working to expand the typical concept of music. Another early invention was the glass harp, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1763, used by both Beethoven and Mozart. The Italian Futurists also played a role in spurring progress toward musique concrete. Ferruccio Busoni, in his “Futurist Manifesto”, “…called for a worldwide artists’ revolt against the ossified values of the pastвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚Ñœ(Appleton, 7) And in 1914, Luigi Russolo, a Futurist painter, created an orchestra of “intonarumori” which were basically noise machines. The hissing and grunting machines were played at the Russolo’s “Art of Noises” concert, in Milan, with traditional music to make a new kind of bizarre noise leading up to musique concrete. Another example includes Antheil, who created his Ballet Mechanique out of mechanical noises such as car horns, saws, and airplane propellers. Yet another artist who helped this progression was Darius Milhaud, who experimented with the speed of phonographs to create new sound formations. And finally, the most important element was Allgemeine Elektrizitats Gesellschaft’s invention, the tape recorder. This was invented in 1935 and truly made musique concrete possible.

With the gears having started, in 1948 Pierre Schaeffer really brought musique concrete into existence with his electronic music studio (the first of it’s kind) and at this point the history of musique concrete was formally begun. Schaeffer, a French radio broadcaster, created the studio with technology such as microphones, phonographs, variable speed tape recorders and sound effect records. In this studio he created what we know today as musique concrete. Schaeffer coined the term musique concrete because “…it is made of concrete material and is organized experimentally, whereas ordinary music is created abstractly, written in symbols, and results in instrumental sounds only when it is performed.” (Appleton, 11) Schaeffer’s first, short experiments included Etude aux Chemins de Fer, Etude aux Tourniquets, Etude au Piano I, and Etude aux Casseroles. These pieces used a variety of sounds from locomotive samples to variable-speed phonographs. At the Ecole Normale de Musique in 1951, the first musique concrete performance occurred featuring Low Speed by Otto Luening. And yet another step occurred in 1951 when le Groupe de Recherches Musicales was formed to research the newfound form of music. The Radiodiffusion Francaise organized the group, and the head was, appropriately, Pierre Schaffer. Their studio had many electronic devices specifically for “technical, acoustic, and artistic research.” (Appleton, 11)

In the beginning musique concrete was somewhat restricted and progress was tentative. Many work used pre-established music forms just because the genre was such unknown territory. Often times, composers used few sound types for each composition, and the pieces frequently sounded eerie or futuristic with low frequencies and drawn out notes. This can be seen in the early work of Otto Luening in Low Speed (1952). This piece is made up of recorded flute samples, which were then made slower making the flute go below normal ranges. Luening also used feedback delay to created soft echoes after the separate flute statements. All of which together created an unworldly, eerie musical piece. With time, as would be expected, musique concrete evolved and transformed, adding more rhythm, complexity and speed. And as is customary when any new art form is created, there were critics who said that musique concrete was not truly music. In response to this Schaeffer said “...traditional music is not denied; any more than the theatre is supplanted by the cinema. Something new is added: a new art of sound. Am I wrong in still calling it music?” (Appleton, 11) Despite some opinions, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, musique concrete became very popular, it could be found everywhere from radio to film.

But musique concrete was not just a new genre of music pioneered by Schaeffer. Instead it was a whole new and different way of viewing sound, music and composition. There was “…an increased awareness for all types of sounds. Composers were now beginning to think in terms of вЂ?pure’ sound, and they were no longer restricted to using



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