François Bayle – Fifty Years Of Musique Concrète

21/10/2011

François Bayle for the booklet of the compilation “Ohm, The Early Gurus Of Electronic Music, 1948-1980” (Ellipsis Arts… 2000):

Musique concrète, or, in a broader sense, sound as a musical material, must not be confused with several other types of music, which belong to neighboring fields. The use of electricity to produce a sound wave dates back to 1906 with Thaddeus Cahill’s “telharmonium”, followed by Léon Theremin’s “aetherophone” in 1921, and the ondes Martenot (invented by Maurice Martenot) in 1928. The futurist movement also had its composers, including Luigi Russolo, who published a radical futurist music manifesto entitled “L’Arte dei rumori” in 1913, while the American composer John Cage gave the first stage performance of a work using variable-speed turntables and frequency recordings (“Imaginary Landscape”, 1938). As for that great pioneer Edgard Varèse who composed “Ionisation,” a score written for thirteen percussionists, in 1931, and, before that, in 1926, “Integrales”, in which he envisaged a spatialization of sound, such gestures remained within the framework of conventional music, even though he tried to break away from it. The invention of musique concrète by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948 had nothing to do with these developments, except that it used a resource that had never been used before: sound presented on a medium and accessible from that medium without having to return to the initial acoustic causes (tape manipulations of naturally occurring sounds). Several degrees of freedom then suddenly became apparent: freedom from things, from time, and even from moments of sound.

At the end of his life, Olivier Messiaen himself declared that the invention of what he succinctly called “electronic” sound was the greatest adventure in music, going so far even as to influence conventional composition. New confers were born by the dozen, composers by the hundred, and works by the thousand. From the creation of a prestigious institute such as the IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique/Musique) by Pierre Boulez, to spontaneous popular movements, from rock to techno, from the synthesizer to the computer, from real time to the Internet, the coming of sound has attained a major dimension.

In the worldwide dynamics of technological music, we must note the importance of the GRM, which has been present since the very beginning, the exceptional career it has achieved over the past fifty years, its extraordinary pertinence at each of the technical stages and turning points, which in fact confirmed every time the fruitful nature of the “concrete” approach, clearly postulated and established by Pierre Schaeffer.

Selection of articles on the same subject

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