Jean -Michel Jarre (Oxygen) was a student of Schaeffer’s and considers Schaeffer to be “… the one who invented the entire way music is made these days”, and “… it was Schaeffer who experimented with distorting sounds, playing them backwards, speeding them up and slowing them down” (Patrick, 2016).
Patrick, J. (2016) A guide to Pierre Schaeffer, the godfather of sampling. [Online]. Available at: https://www.factmag.com/2016/02/23/pierre-schaeffer-guide/ [Accessed: 18 December 2019].
Other works performed as part of the first works of music concrete included Ètude aux tourinquets (Whirligig Study) included African xylophone, four bells, three zanzas (mbira) and two whirligigs. [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v43kfAk37Ik
“The history of sampling can be traced to Pierre Schaeffer, an engineer, writer, composer and acoustician who pioneered musique concrète, a style of music constructed from mixed recorded sounds.” (Electrobeats, 2017)
When Schaeffer recorded trains unleashing the sounds of their engines, he was a little disappointed with the results, so in order to embellish the sounds he resorted to the editing studio. Through his experimentation, Schaeffer discovered he could modify his field recordings which he had transferred onto shellac (acetate LP’s) through the manipulation of turntables. Etude aux chemins de fer transports the listener to a time and place where machines seem to communicate as a call-and-response dialogue emerges through the piece.
In creating this work Schaeffer developed his techniques for transforming his field recordings. He “… began devising ways of manipulating the sounds by playing recordings at different speeds with the beginning of the sound” (the attack element) removed from his recorded sounds, not only to make them less recognisable, but also to remove residual sound that might affect the sound quality of the recordings (Taylor, 2001, p.45-47).
Schaeffer seems to favour and utilise a call-and-response element in his crated sonic piece, and this also seems feature in many of his later works .
Through manipulation he found he could produce:
Slowing down speed of recordings to half speed
Speed changes by selecting the play setting 33, 45 and 33+45=78
Repeating recordings as a loop
Rearrangement of the tape sections into new fragments using odd angles of spicing
reverse, by movement of the turntable in the opposite direction
pitch shift, in early manipulations of sound by speed the pitch would also alter tone
Schaeffer made sound field recordings of trains at Gare des Batignolles in Paris. These field recordings then had to be recorded onto shellac disc (LP). Many consider Schaeffer as , “…one of the most influential figures in modern music, known for pioneering a radical innovation in 20th century music: Musique Concrète’ (Patrick, 2016).
On 5 October 1948, the first composition in the style of Music Concrète was given as a concert in Paris where Schaeffer, premieres his work Research into Noises: Cinq etudes de bruits (Five works for phonograph), which included Étude violette (Study in Purple) and Étude aux chemins de fer (Study with Railroads). Through these works by 1949, Schaeffer’s compositions are referred to as Music Concrète, where the use of sound is recognised as a compositional resource.
“when I proposed the term ‘musique concrète,’ I intended … to point out an opposition with the way musical work usually goes. Instead of notating musical ideas on paper with the symbols of solfege and entrusting their realization to well-known instruments, the question was to collect concrete sounds, wherever they came from, and to abstract the musical values they were potentially containing” (Reydellet, 1996, p.10).
Schaeffer clearly viewed technology as a way of rejuvenating music in the immediate post war era, and developed his approach after “… many years of studio research”, in his pursuit of abstracting the musical values they were containing (Taylor, 2001, p.45).
Schaeffer, was also one of the earliest pioneers in magnetic tape composition and introduced “… splicing and looping, and introducing several new inventions: a three-track tape recorder, a 10-head delay and loop machine (the morphophone), a keyboard-controlled device capable of replaying loops at various speeds (the phonogene), and several amplification systems used for spatial experimentation with sound” (Patrick, 2016).
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”.