From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Musique concrète (French; literally, "concrete music"), is a style of avant-garde music that relies on natural environmental sounds and other non-inherently-musical noises to create music. This genre starts to raise questions about electronic music and its composition.
Much like electroacoustic music, Musique concrète has been subject to conflicting perceptions about its character. The term is often understood as a practice of simply making music out of "real world" sounds, or sounds other than those made by musical instruments. Rather, it is a wider attempt to afford a new way of musical production and expression. Traditionally, classical or serious music begins as an abstraction, as musical notation on paper or other medium, which is then produced into audible music. Musique concrète strives to begin with the "concrete" sounds, experiment with them, and abstract them into musical compositions.
Concrète was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940s and 1950s, facilitated by developments in technology, most prominently microphones and the commercial availability of the magnetic tape recorder (created in 1939), used by Schaeffer and his colleagues for manipulating tapes and tape loops.
From the contemporary point of view, the importance of Schaeffer's work with musique concrète can be summed in three points.
- 1) He developed the concept of including any and all sounds into the musical vocabulary. At first he concentrated on working with sounds other than those produced by traditional musical instruments, removing them from their original context. Later on, he found it was possible to remove the familiarity of musical instrument sounds and abstract them further by techniques such as removing the attack of the recorded sound.
- 2) He was among the first to manipulate recorded sound in the way that it could be used in conjunction with other such sounds in the making of a musical piece. This could be thought of as a precursor to contemporary sampling practices.
- 3) Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of play (in his terms, jeu) in the creation of music. Schaeffer's idea of jeu comes from the French verb jouer, which carries the same double meaning as the English verb play: 'to enjoy oneself by interacting with one's surroundings', as well as 'to operate a musical instrument'. This notion is the core of musique concrète.
Schaeffer, a Paris radio broadcaster, experimented in a studio starting in 1948-1949. He created the "Research Group on Concrete Music" (Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète - GRMC) in 1951 when he established himself at the R.T.F., the ancestor of the ORTF public radiobroadcaster. Pierre Schaeffer began to use the classing of sounds to create what he called musical objects. Several composers, among whom Pierre Boulez, Luc Ferrari, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Jean Barraqué would pass by the GRMC for a few concrete studies. The "Group on Musical Research" (Groupe de Recherches Musicales - GRM) is then created in 1958 by Pierre Schaeffer, along with Luc Ferrari and François-Bernard Mâche. The GRM is integrated in 1975 in the Audiovisual National Institute (Institut national de l'audiovisuel - INA) and, as of 2006, is still in activity.
Concrète was combined with other, synthesized forms of electronic music to create Edgard Varèse's "Poème électronique". "Poème" was played at the 1958 Brussels, Belgium World's Fair through 425 carefully-placed loudspeakers in a special pavilion designed by Iannis Xenakis.
After the 1950s, Concrète was somewhat displaced by other forms of electronic composition, although its influence can be seen in popular music by many bands, including The Beatles, in their song "Revolution 9"; Pink Floyd, most notably in the finale of the song "Bike" and in the albums Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and The Dark Side of the Moon (although concrete music techniques can be traced in several compositions of the band, including their abandoned Household Objects project), and Roxy Music, in the intro to their song "Re-Make/Re-Model". Around 1967 and 1968, musician Frank Zappa made several musique concrète pieces with the help of the "Apostolic Vlorch Injector" at Apostolic Studios in New York City. The resulting sound, as heard on "The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" from We're Only In It For The Money and "Dwarf Nebula Processional March & Dwarf Nebula" from Weasels Ripped My Flesh, is a series of bizarre, swirling buzzes, beeps and whooshes.
Traditional and non-traditional Concrète experienced a revival in the 1980s and 1990s. Artists like Ray Buttigieg with his experimental series "Earth Noise" and "Sound Science Series" and John Oswald's Plunderphonics use found and intended sounds in old and cutting edge techniques, although modern sampling technology is now often used in place of magnetic tape.
Popular music forms
Recently, the growing fame in all forms of popular electronic music has led to a re-birth of Musique concrète. Artists such as Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Matmos, Girl mk2, Christian Fennesz, Francisco Lopez, Ernesto Rodrigues, Junkielover and Scanner use many Concrète techniques in their music while often being classified under more common electronic dance music genres such as Ambient Techno or downtempo. Music magazines such as The Wire regularly feature articles and reviews of musique concrète.
- Pierre Schaeffer, A la recherche d'une musique concrète ("The Search for a Concrete Music" - 1952)
- Delia Derbyshire
- Francis Dhomont
- Halim El-Dabh
- Luc Ferrari
- Pierre Henry
- Bernard Parmegiani
- Steve Reich
- Pierre Schaeffer
- Iannis Xenakis
- Mario Gómez Calderón
- Absolute music
- Acousmatic music
- BBC Radiophonic Workshop
- Electroacoustic music
- San Francisco Tape Music Center