After the war, radio stations were limited by the available technology of the day.
Shellac record players: were able tochange speed ratios which could give the sound a transposed effect ( octave)
Mixing desk: this made possible volume (gain) controlof sound, where several sources could be mixed together, and then sent onto a recorder and on to the speaker system. These early mixers for radio sometimes had filters or reverberation units
Shellac recorder: was able to record from the mixing desk
Mechanical reverberation: this was usually made from metal plate or metal springs, and was used primarily to fuse the sounds together
Filters: usually Hi and low pass filters, which allowed or eliminated selected sound frequencies
Microphones: early microphones such as ribbon type
This available technology allowed for discoveries in sound manipulation techniques such as:
Sound transposition: which allowed for reading sound at a different speed to that which it was recorded at
Sound looping: which involved creating loops at specific locations of a recording, but needed some technical skill to operate this function
Sound sample extraction: letting the stylus on the gramophone only reading a small segment of the recording (sampling)
Filtering: by eliminating the central frequencies of the sound signal by using the Hi pass or Low pass filters, some element of the original sound recording could be maintained
During the second world war, Pierre Schaeffer joined Studio d’Essai de la Rediffusion Nationale, a resistance French radio station. During his time at the radio station, Schaeffer developed his sound based knowledge through microphone set up and voice recordings, he was also influenced by cinema, and recording montage.
At the same time as Schaeffer was working on developing his sound practice, Halim El- Dabh an Egyptian composer was a student in Cairo, where he was experimenting with tape music using a wire recorder to record an ancient zaar ceremony, which he processed at the Middle East Radio studio, where he used: reverberation, echo, voltage controls, and re Recording. The recording was presented at an art gallery event in 1944, but due to the ongoing WWII (1 Sep 1939 – 2 Sep 1945)his work was not known outside Egypt, although in later years he did gain recognition for his influential work at Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Centre in the late 1950s.
Music Concrète, began in the early 1940s in France. The term Music Concrète, relates to a compositional practice that was initiated by Pierre Schaeffer (pictured in the image below).
Music Concréte uses recorded sounds, which are often manipulated or modified through the application of audio effects or tape manipulation (for tape splicing – see image below).
Whilst most electronic producers / composers today would use these techniques through their Digital Audio Workstation software, those preferring a more hands on approach, can still utilise the effects of tape manipulation using the above splicing guide if they have access to the equipment. Before magnetic tape became a stable format, Schaeffer used shellac players, as early tape players, weren’t reliable enough to utilise until 1950. At this time, speed variation was added to the range of sound manipulations available for early sound art performers.
Tape editing (micro-editing/ tape splicing) now became a possibility in the editing process resulting in the manipulation of sounds in new ways through rearrangement. This allowed for extremely small pieces of tape to be edited together in a way that completely changed the structure of the original recordings.
Through this process of manipulation, Schaeffer found he could make his original sound sources unrecognisable, and so these techniques become an important feature of Electronic Music creation for him and formed a part of his professional practice. Judd (1961, p.15) considers, Electronic Engineering also a part of the creation of “… Electronic Music and Music Concrète”, as it “… makes it possible to manipulate and transform sound and finally control the production of music”, furthermore, Judd (ibid) puts forward the notion that, “… electronic reproduction offers numerous possibilities of practical importance, most of which lie in the electronic circuits of the apparatus”.
Schaeffer, whilst working at the radio station, saw a more “… expansive aesthetic purpose for these captured snippets of the sound environment, rather than them being mere theatrical props” (Stubbs, 2018, p.80-1), as this access gave him, “… rare access to an array of equipment for storing and assembling the looped sounds he collated, which ranged from snatches of vocal and orchestral work to a welter of everyday objects”, among which was a “ …direct disc-to disc cutting lathe” (ibid).
According to Stubbs (ibid), Schaeffer, imagined an entire orchestra of turntables, each playing a single note. Schaeffer, first used turntables and then tape recorders, once they became commercially available. When tape machines appeared, this then opened up possibilities for Schaeffer and the development of Music Concrète. Taylor (2001, p.42), regards music concrète as a “.. kind of ‘found object’ works”, and today we would consider this composition form as sound sampling, sound art, or sound collage.
Music Concrète uses sounds from musical instruments, such as: the human voice, the natural environment, synthesizers and computer generated digital content. Most noticeably in this style of music composition, there appears to be no musical rules for melody, harmony rhythm and metre, which seem not the focus of the constructed piece. And so, this type of composition can be best described as Sound Art.
In 1948, the first composition in the style of music concrete, composed by Pierre Schaeffer was produced from the sounds produced by trains. By utilising sound as the primary source of composition, Schaeffer, utilised new emerging technologies in post war Europe. Working with microphones, magnetic tape recorders and phonograph Radiodiffusion Television Francaise (his employer), allowed Schaeffer and his colleges (Luc Ferrari, Beatriz Ferreyra, Francois -Bernard Mâche, Iannis Xenarkis, Bernard Parmegiani, and Mirelle Chamass – Kyrou) the opportunity to experiment.
Schaeffer was one of the first to recognise that the envelope of a sound can affect the way in which it is heard and perceived by the listener. As a feature of this new sound movement, Scheaffer wanted to create Laws about the “… nature of the sound object and reduced listening”, and also to remove residual sound that might affect sound quality of the recording (Taylor, 2001 pp.59-60). Sonnenschein (2001, p.58), informs that foley and cartoon were developing parallel to Music Concrète at this time in history, and that many instruments can be played with “… extended techniques”. Whereas Judd (1961, p.68-9), considers techniques for electronic music and Music Concrète to be similar, he puts forward the notion that Music Concrète is often confused with electronic music, which he informs started in Germany, where they were concerned with “… the electronic manufacture of sounds built up from basic tones”, whereas, Music Concrète makes use of real everyday sounds which are “modified by tape manipulation and electronic treatment, where compositions can also include instruments”.
Even though the Dream House is based on minimalistic principles, there are reported to be thirty- five speakers (McCroskey, n.d.) , which produce …
“ … precise and various effects of the configuration of the room on the standing waves are unplanned, as aleatory as the quite pronounced whirs and eddies formed by any motion, any disturbance of the air. But the multifaceted form of the (currently) thirty-five speaker construction is the principal reason it changes hallucinogenically with every minute shift in perspective and why the tones freeze in place as long as one is perfectly still while the slightest gesture will startle forth unnameable, wildly plumed melodies from the luxuriant harmonic foliage.”
La Monte Youngs first composition, Dream Chord was developed out of individual pitches. Trio for strings in 1958, becomes the first composed minimalist piece. The composition is made entirely of sustained notes, but doesn’t seem to impress or gain recognition then from his fellow students or teachers. The visual representation of the musical score (see image below) shows La Monte Youngs composition style at this time.
These long tones of D#, C# and D natural were held for a very long time. This work later inspired the developed four pitches : G# + A and F# + D and their frequencies, which in later works become his dream chord:
G# 1… 50H A 1… 55Hz F# 2… 92Hz D 3…146Hz
However, The Second Dream (from the recording Dream House 78′ 17″ ), is made with four pitches F, Bb, B,C according to McCroskey (n.d.). The sustained tones of the oscillators, came about with La Monte Youngs interest in intonation, vibration, time, cycles and rhythm sensation in a single pitch. Commentating on this phenonium, McCroskey (ibid) puts forward the notion that , “…Young has been able to create a sense of profound continuity, of an enduring, eternal and expanding Moment”, where “… the otonal form of just intonation, in which all the tones are derived as overtones of a single fundamental”, “… strive for a condition of “timelessness” in co existence with “each tone participates in an enveloping drone that is the result of repetition on an “atomic” level.”
Drones feature in many of the musical compositions of La Monte Young, even in his minimalist period (see image below). However, he found that these notes could only be held as long as the performer could physically play them.
Alternately, using electronic components as instrumentation, Young’s long-in-process electronic drone music was possible.
Grimshaw (2011), in his book The Ideology of the Drone, explains how …“the development of Young’s mystical persona coincided with several important musical developments, including: his creation of The Four Dreams of China, his adoption of just intonation or ratio-based tuning, his involvement in the psychedelic scene, and his study with North Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath. Particular attention is paid to The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys and the activities of The Theatre of Eternal Music”.
Young, “the godfather of minimal music is still performing at 79, and since few recordings exist of his work, his live performances are more essential than ever” Colter Walls (2015). As it seems, Young is only interested in “putting out masterpieces”, and has been developing The Well Tuned Piano for “more than a quarter-century, refining his performance to its final state: a six-hour DVD that includes Zazeela’s light-installation work, and which is also currently out of print’ (ibid).