Pierre Schaeffer: Influences on modern music

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]. 

Pierre Schaeffer: Links to other works

Pierre Schaefer – ‘Etude aux chemins de fer’ [Online]. Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9pOq8u6-bA time 3.22

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

Pierre Schaeffer: The sonic signature of the practitioner in their genre of electronic music

“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.

Schaeffer stated: 

“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). 


Electrobeats (2107) Discover Pierre Schaeffer, The Godfather Of Modern Sampling. [Online]. Available at: https://www.electronicbeats.net/the-feed/discover-pierre-schaeffer-godfather-modern-sampling/   [Accessed: 6 December 2019].

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]. 

Reydellet, Jean de (1996). “Pierre Schaeffer, 1910–1995: The Founder of ‘Musique Concrete'”. Computer Music Journal 20, no. 2 (Summer): 10–11. JSTOR 3681324.

Taylor,D.( 2001) Strange Sounds: Music Technology & Culture. New York: Routledge

Technology as composition tools: Early Music Concrete

After the war, radio stations were limited by the available technology of the day. 

  • Shellac record players: were able to change speed ratios which could give the sound a transposed effect ( octave)
  • Mixing desk: this made possible volume  (gain) control  of 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

Pierre Schaeffer: Music Concrète historical context

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.

Pierre Schaeffer: Étude aux chemins de fer, and Music Concrète

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). 

Pierre Schaeffer Image 
 at the phonogène – a multi-speed, keyboard-controlled tape player

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).  

IMAGE controlled attack and delay by tape cutting Judd, 1961, p,58
Controlled Attack and Delay by Tape Cutting (Judd, 1961, p.58)

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”.  


Ableton (2019)   Pierre Schaeffer at the phonogène – a multi-speed, keyboard-controlled tape player IMAGE  [Online]. Available at: https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/grm-past-present-and-future-experimental-music/?utm_source=2019-12-18-grm-holiday-gift&utm_medium=email&utm_term=l10-std-suite&utm_content=header&utm_campaign=editorial+newsletter&&sc_src=email_6679488&sc_lid=321985784&sc_uid=SelHnkVfEo&sc_llid=27868&sc_eh=136a83ccadf4ce221  [Accessed: 18 December 2019]. 

Judd, F.C. (1961) Electronic Music and Music Concréte. London: Foruli Classics. 

Sonnenschein, D. (2001) Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema.   Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions.

Stubbs, D. (2018) Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music. London: Faber and Faber.

Taylor,D.( 2001) Strange Sounds: Music Technology & Culture. New York: Routledge.

La Monte Young: Influences on modern music

John Cale of the Velvet underground, was a student of La Monte Young, and through Youngs association with Andy Warhol became the house band at The Factory. 

Five key works by La Monte Young

B flat  Dorian blues  (1963)[Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNdgv0Yxyi0

Pre Tortoise Dream Music (1960-4)[Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t1Sl_gYHuw

The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys 1964 [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km0LKiGs_8g

Dream House Part 1 (1974)[Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlCg_2pK1oM

The Well Tuned Piano (1987) [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nU8UHQLQ0Qs

La Monte Young: The sonic signature of the practitioner in their genre of electronic music

The Dream House sound and configuration

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. 

La Monte Young Trio for Strings Visual Score

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.  

La Monte Young Composition 1960 #7

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).


Colter Walls, S. (2015) La Monte Young: I’m only interested in putting out masterpieces  [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/jul/30/la-monte-young-dia-chelsea-exhibit  [Accessed: 10 December 2019].

Grimshaw, J. (2011) The Ideology of the Drone:La Monte Young the Mystic [Online]. Available at: https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740208.001.0001/acprof-9780199740208-chapter-0003  [Accessed: 06 December 21019].

McCroskey, S.  (n.d)  DREAM ANALYSIS  [Online]. Available at:  http://www.melafoundation.org/mccroske.htm [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

 Negrão, M. (2009) Oscillations_X Drone Presentation and Research:  Oscillations X : DRONE, Slide 31 of 89  [Online]. Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/20020/soundspace-oscilations-x-drone [Accessed: 10 December 2019].

Drone and the Dream House

Dream House 78′ 17″  (1974) is one of the very few recordings on vinyl released by minimalist composer La Monte Young. Side 2, Drift Study is in two parts.  The first, is an  section of “The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys”, which comprises of three  generated sine waves, two voices, trumpet and trombone. The second part, is only performed by the three sine oscillators, the oscillators were a custom design and make   by sound engineer Robert Alder, and are reported to be able to generate specific frequencies and voltages  of great stability in sound generation. 

The Dream House Installation, is a project created as a static sound environment  with a  complex array of sonic frequencies.  The Drone like sound  emanating through the Dream House Installation is performed  by  Sine Wave Generators, which are set to generate varying volume, time and space as you walk through the installation. By moving through the Dream House, listeners hear the sound frequencies as moments in time,  as they “… literally “pass through” them or the spaces in which their constituent frequencies simultaneously and continually sound.” (Grimshaw, no date,  p.38). 

On visiting the Dream House Centrepompidou-metz.fr (2018), inform us that, when“ …visitors step into such a space, they are bathed in light and music, literally immersed in colour and sound, and invited to experience all the subtlety of their nuances”. In addition as you step inside the Dream House Licht (2013) describes it as, “ you’re enveloped by a voluminous, dizzying chord emanating from four speakers – it fills the room with buzzing overtones that seem to appear and disappear with even the slightest movement of your head.”

The music for the Dream House started in the early 60s  at Yoko Ono’s apartment where Young put on the First  concert, where they had, “… tuned their instruments to the underlying drone of the city”, and replicated the  “… 60Hz hum of the city’s electrical system”, which happens to relate to  the note B1.

La Monte recalls in an interview with Alan Licht (2013)  for Red Bull Music Academy that “… it came to me like a vision in the ‘50s  that sustained tones were really necessary to allow music to evolve to a higher level”, but, “ … nobody  knows where the drones really came from, but we know that they are more prevalent in Indian classical music than anywhere else. Furthermore,  La Monte continues “ …once I had sine waves available to me  and frequency counters in my ear and oscilloscopes, I was able to put whole number ratios on an oscilloscope with lissajous patterns”, (lissajous pattern is a two or three  dimensional pattern that can move, at frequencies that are  not  stable. When frequencies are stable the pattern will appear fixed / still). Young finds it interesting that, “ … both sound and light are in the electromagnetic frequency range but sound is measured by the body completely differently than light (ibid).


Centrepompidou-metz.fr (2018)  Exhibitions  La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, Dream House, 1990. From 16th of June to 10th of September 2018 [Online]. Available at: https://www.centrepompidou-metz.fr/en/la-monte-young-marian-zazeela-dream-house-1990 [Accessed: 06 December2019].

Grimshaw, J.  (n.d.) The Tabula (not so) Rasa: La Monte Young’s Serial Works and the Beginnings of Minimalism, 1956-58 . p. 25-61 [Online]. Available at: http://labos.ulg.ac.be/cipa/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2015/07/grimshaw.pdf  [Accessed: 06 December 21019].

Licht, A. (2013)The Hum of the City: La Monte Young and the Birth of NYC Drone[Online]. Https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2013/05/the-hum-of-the-city-la-monte-young [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

Historical context: Drone music

Early examples of Drone can be found in pedal organs in many of the medieval churches and cathedrals, which used specific harmonic pitches to  accompany sustained tone signing (also known as drone singing- e.g Gregorian chants). The notion of Drone can be found in many world music traditions  such as in India and Tibet, and in the natural world  through the sounds  generated by the rivers,  sea and wind.  This drone effect occurs, when you listen for a time to the resonance produced in the soundscape until the vibration falls away. 

Drone music’s sonic signature  can be best described as … a  gateway to  transcendental experimental music with a minimum of means which is heavily influenced by   Eastern influences. Kyle Gann (composer), commenting on La Monte Young’s work in an interview with BBC   states … “once your left brain gives up trying to make sense of it then the right brain is given an opportunity to listen in its own time (Charles Hazlewood, Tones, Drones and Arpeggios, 2018a, at 17:35 – 17:53).   Therefore, a drone can be best described as:  the presence of a constant sound where pitch has no noticeable variation in  it’s intensity. 

Drone can also produce a meditative, transcendence, altered state of mind,  feeling in it’s listeners  ..  generates a feeling of in the moment. Drone historically was experienced with psychedelic preparations  which  previous to the 1960s,  had been used for many thousands of years in shamanic religions to enter/ gain a state of altered consciousness to gain visionary like experiences. La Monte Young commenting on the use of drugs says, “… we got high for every concert: the whole group” as “ It allows you to go within yourself and focus on certain frequency relationships and memory relationships in a very, very interesting way”.  He  also suggests   he never performs the Well Tuned Piano without being high on Cannabis (Potter, 2002, p.67)


‘Tones Drones and Arpeggios’ (2018a)  Tones Drones and Arpeggios Episode 1. BBC4 Television, 02 March. [Online]. Available at:  https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6hwgzw [Accessed: 06 December 2019].

Potter , K. (2002) Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass.  Cambridge University Press  p.67. 

[Online]. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=sc61Gy3r8HAC&pg=PA67&lpg=PA67&dq=we+got+high+for+every+concert:+the+whole+group”++la+monte+young&source=bl&ots=byVcafTRFP&sig=ACfU3U0jsEqJqWEpK8cN_g2cbPT8wp-6gg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwicv4ObwrfmAhXPPsAKHaaBCbwQ6AEwAXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=we%20got%20high%20for%20every%20concert%3A%20the%20whole%20group”%20%20la%20monte%20young&f=false[Accessed: 10 December 2019].

Pioneers in Electronic Music: La Monte Young- Drone Music

La Monte Young: The Dream House

La Monte Young (see image below),  is credited as being one of the creators and early pioneers of  Minimalism, of which Drone music became part of before finding it’s own niche and specific genre. Minimalism,  began it’s humble beginnings in  1958 in the lofts, galleries and collective spaces of Downtown New York and San Francisco, and   brought about a  musical  revolution  in the way sound was made and thought of.

La Monte Young IMAGE
La Monte Young

La Mont Young, traces his musical developmental influences  back to the wind whistling across the logs of his parents’ humble cabin; the drone of the machines in the shop where he worked as a youth, and the hum of the electrical transformer next to his Grandfather Grandy’s gas station.