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Thread: What is musique concrète?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I remember a piece that consisted of only a door creaking. But what a creak! They close-miked it, and it was beautiful. Plus, you've got to appreciate an idea like that. Was it...Pierre Henry?



    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Henry
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dud4D6PeHqQ Indeed, what a creak! Fantastic. I love when the sighs come in.

  2. #17
    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    Kopa, don't forget to check one of the great masters, Francis Dhomont. He's the main influence in my humble pieces. Some personal favorites:




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    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    Thanks for the recommendations. I will check them out.

    In the meantime, as I work, I'm discovering that a piece of concrete sound can be treated in much the same way as any other musical motif. It can be slowed down, sped up, transposed in sequence, chopped, and juxtaposed. You can introduce a concrete motif and develop it throughout the piece. Like so:



    Here I have a motif that is some birds singing in the Amazon Rainforest. It is introduced as the original recorded sound pitched down first. Then it is slowed down and reversed (retrograde and augmented). The original motif is reintroduced to further establish it as a motif. Then retrograde and augmented further. Then the same speed/augmentation but the original direction.

    I have taken other sounds and done similar operations, in addition to arpeggiating other sounds with a sampler and using yet other elements percussively.
    Last edited by Kopachris; Apr-25-2020 at 02:04.

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    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    I think I'm finished with this. I could maybe refine it further, but one can always refine music further and I prefer to move on to the next project. Presented with "graphical score" and spectrogram:


  6. #20
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Like other genres of music, Musique Concrete came along at a certain time in the development of technology, so there are certain sounds and techniques I associate with it: reverberation, tape-head echo, and tape effects (speed, direction).
    Basically what enabled the creation of musique concrete was recording tape; it was the physical analog of sound, was "plastic" and could be manipulated with echo, reverb, speed changes, editing cuts, and reversing of sound.
    I think that digital technology can now re-create these effects, in order to get that "old school" sound.

    Except for the pure tones like sine waves, my old Ensoniq synthesizer uses samples as its primary sources; it also filters and triggers these sounds like an electronic synth. So who's to say this isn't essentially "musique concrete"?
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-25-2020 at 13:57.

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  8. #21
    Senior Member Kopachris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Like other genres of music, Musique Concrete came along at a certain time in the development of technology, so there are certain sounds and techniques I associate with it: reverberation, tape-head echo, and tape effects (speed, direction).
    Basically what enabled the creation of musique concrete was recording tape; it was the physical analog of sound, was "plastic" and could be manipulated with echo, reverb, speed changes, editing cuts, and reversing of sound.
    I think that digital technology can now re-create these effects, in order to get that "old school" sound.

    Except for the pure tones like sine waves, my old Ensoniq synthesizer uses samples as its primary sources; it also filters and triggers these sounds like an electronic synth. So who's to say this isn't essentially "musique concrete"?
    Now you're at last on exactly the point I started this thread to discuss! Are there any sort of rules of "purity" in this genre of music? Where is the line drawn between sampling and synthesis?

    The Mellotron was also sample-based and actually used tape to store and play those samples, as I recall. As with the Chamberlin.

    I would probably argue that if you can reprogram your Ensoniq synth with arbitrary samples (you probably can't though), then yes you can use it to make MC, especially if it gives you controls to modify the sound such as adjustable filters and envelopes (which were also in the purview of "old school" experimental MC). In this case the device serves much the same function as the tape player, only allowing you to automate the speeding and slowing of the "tape" by which key you press. In much the same way, I would argue wavetable synthesis can be used for musique concrète as long as 1) the sample used for synthesis is a found sound and 2) the results do not produce a recognizable melody or harmonic progression. Maybe not "strict" or "classic" MC, but I do believe it's still in the spirit of MC to experiment with sounds using available technology (this tech was developed in the '70s).

    Inspired by Xenakis, I've also used granular synthesis in my piece, wherein a sample is "granularized" and the playback of the grains can be adjusted to break apart the sound. He had to do it with tape splicing and a tone generator. I'm able to do it instantaneously with a computer. Does that make a difference?

    Regarding speed changes, we have another modern innovation that brings new life into this technique—Paulstretch, an algorithm that similarly granularizes a sound but then smears the grains together to infinitely prolong any sound. This forms the background of my piece, wherein I've taken an 8-second sample of existing music and stretched it to over 6 minutes. But should it be barred by dint of being to modern? I would say the pioneers of MC certainly would've used this technique if they had it available. It creates fantastic soundscapes ranging from hellish to heavenly. If it's not barred then why not newer manipulation techniques such as convolution, distortion, and I can't think of a third thing right now but I'm sure there are other techniques we have available now that they didn't then...

    So then... I think the technology used is less important to musique concrète than the original sounds and how they are treated. If the sound is pitched and treated as a pitched instrument, there is nothing special there. But a pitched sound treated as its own motif, or an unpitched sound treated as a pitched instrument, or an unpitched sound treated as its own motif, that is different.

    Perhaps a distinction should be made in the character of the music? I.e. musique concrète is largely perceived timbrally and texturally rather than melodically. What do you think?
    Last edited by Kopachris; Apr-25-2020 at 19:12. Reason: explained what I used Paulstretch for

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  10. #22
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Agreed on everything. I think that what distinguishes musique concrete from traditional music is that it is not pitched; it's more like percussion in this sense, in that it is "noise"-based instead of sustained pitch-based.

    Yes, this makes it more timbrally and texturally experienced. We still have an extremely wide palette.

    Since sound, even sustained pitches, consists of individual harmonics, which Karlheinz Stockhausen demonstrated in his piece where he placed a microphone on a sustained gong sound at various places, producing the individual harmonics (which sounded like electronic sine tones), then the continuum is revealed. He also showed that pulse-tones (sounding like drum beats), when speeded-up, become pitches. It's "all one." Good luck with your adventures in sound.

    About the Ensoniq, I also have a Yamaha A4000 sampler, which would be excellent for creating musique concrete, or pitched sounds. It's basically a new type of "tape recorder". These units can be gotten used for fairly cheap.

    Also, I think there's something to be said for the "old school" approach to the studio; instead of having everything in software, have it in discrete hardware units, like samplers, pulse generators, etc, like Stockhausen did.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-26-2020 at 14:25.

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  12. #23
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    One of the differences for musique concrète compared to say acousmatic music is also the time period and aesthetics of it all. Musique concrète as a concept is quite tightly connected to the RTF studios and the philosophy of Pierre Schaeffer which was really quite different than say the Cologne Studio when that popped up. That said, a lot of more modern aesthetics are also connected to it to this day such as a lot of the Belgian and Quebec traditions. There are of course exceptions but to just give a general jist of it.

    Also something that is incredibly important to musique concrète is the concept of reduced listening which Schaeffer developped. For him musique concrète was an abstract form of music in which the sounds had to be appreciated for how they sounded, not what they were. This is why he didn't really completely get along with some of Ferrari's concepts, and it's also the source of his disagreements with Xenakis which eventually made him leave. Another important aspect in the aesthetics was the idea of playing around with the recorded sound, almost in an improvisational matter. Schaeffer was a visionary but he's often considered to be a rather lackluster composer and also rather limited in his views of the possibilities of the technology and concepts of musique concrète. A lot of other composers would come along and then expand on it.

    Although the lines are blurry to a certain extent, there is a difference between musique concrète, electroacoustic music, acousmatic music, etc. These differences also vary a bit from territory to territory. Today, few people would say they compose musique concrète unless specifically meant as an homage to that aesthetic.

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    I have somewhere a book by Luc Ferrari where he talks about the battles he had with Schaefer because of the way he edited and assembled found sounds in Presque Rien. It’s many years since I last read it, I’ll try to find it again later. I remember also how surprised I was that Herman Scherchen was a mover and shaker in the musique concrète movement, providing support to buy studio time etc.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-20-2020 at 17:00.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Just by the spelling, you can tell that it's a French phenomenon. Henri Pousseur is one of the great exponents.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Pousseur
    Excellent, ironic name right there!!

  15. #26
    Senior Member SanAntone's Avatar
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    Presque Rien n°1 — Luc Ferrari


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