In Search of a Concrete Music

Concrete Music

I mentioned this book when it was recently released in English for the first time, but now that I actually own a copy and have read the first few chapters I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying reading it and highly reccomend it. It is full of pearls of wisdom and insight, directly about its subject i.e. music/sound and the evolution of concrete music, but Schaeffers writing also reflects on perception, art, philosophy and the creative process… A few examples:

April 4. Sudden illumination. Add a component of sound to noise, that is, combine a melodic element with the eprcussive element. From this, the notion of wood cut into different lengths, of approximately tuned tubes. First attempts.

April 5. My bits of wood are pathetic. I need a workshop. It’s already bad enough trying to cut them to different lengths and from various materials. Afterward, they have to be arranged so that they can be played easily. I’m up against the problem of the piano again. By ‘noise piano’ I mean the pile of materials that are crammed into the studio. Regular visitors to the Studio d’Essai, who are no longer surprised by my eccentricities, now think I am a nuisance…

It is fascinating to read of his thought processes as he moves between physical workshop and electronic studio, where some of his experiments reveal attributes that many contemporary sound manipulators I am sure have also had similar revelations (in their own way & with their own material)

May 28 I have obtained some quite remarkable transformations by playing a fragment recorded at 78rpm at 33rpm. By playing the record rather less than half speed, everything goes down a bit more than an octave and the tempo slows at the same rate. With this apparently quantitative change there is also a qualitative phenomenon. The ‘railway’ element at half speed isn’t the slightest bit like a railway. It turns into a foundry and a blast furnace. I say foundry to make myself udnerstood and because a little bit of ‘meaning’ is still attached to the fragment. But very soon I perceive it as an original rhythmic group, and I am in constant admiration at its depth, its richness of detail, its somber color.

I also appreciate the honesty expressed in frustration at developing ideas into satisfying forms, an issue that is as contemporary now as it was then:

All around me lay piles of records bearing fragments of this raw material, decomposed, compressed, and stretched, de-ossified, inverted, shattered, pulverized. I was like a child who has taken the growl out of his teddy bear, pulled out his dolly’s eyes and smashed his clockwork train. I had to admit that I had invented amazing techniques for destruction but that every attempt at synthesis fell to bits in my hands. Furthermore, at every stage of my activities, pitiless contradictions arose. Sound objects multiplied, but their proliferation brought no enrichment, at least not in the way that musicians mean: the musical idea, or shadow of an idea! The variations themselves were contradictory , too musical and not musical enough – too musical because the banality of the original cmposition persisted, not musical enough ebcause most of these sound objecs were hardsh, offensive to the ear….

As I said, I have only read (& quoted) from the first two chapters… Hearing and seeing the score for this work intrigues me something wicked!

As a side note: such is life living in New Zealand I tried to order it from the US publisher who forwarded my order to the Australian distributor, who told me it was out of stock and 4-6 weeks away… Rather than be patient I asked Amazon.com to do what I originally asked & they got it here in 3 days. Annoyingly for me (& probably even mroe so for them) this is a fairly regular occurrence with local distributors where you can wait 4-6 weeks, or buy it direct/off eBay cheaper and have it sooner… I am happy to support service & support from local companies when they actually are capable of providing it (and the local pro audio distributors are very good, so don’t get me wrong) but another example would be that Vinyl record cleaner: contact the US manufacturer, get put on to NZ distributor who tells me to go to a local shop. They don’t have stock & were told by the distributor they would not have stock for 4-6 weeks!?! I note the price, say don’t bother, go to eBay, have it here in under a week, for cheaper than their local price.

Another side note: came across this great BBC documentary, The New Sound Of Music 1979, while rummaging around on youtube (the other parts are on there too)

8 Responses to In Search of a Concrete Music

  1. !!! poc poc tatatatata!!!

  2. Olivier Maunick says:

    France’s INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel) website features several film documentaries about Musique Concrète, the GRM and its members, including this one:

    “Les 50 ans du GRM” (2008-in Fr.)

    http://www.ina.fr/art-et-culture/musique/video/VDD10001282/les-50-ans-du-grm.fr.html

  3. rostasi says:

    Hi! Is your copy the hardcover version?
    I’m hoping for a hardcover version that
    actually has a jacket cover. Too many
    HCs come without a cover. Thanks!

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