Musique Concrète uses real world sounds, focusing on the musical parameters of sound rather than the sound source itself.
Where Did It Begin?
Musique Concrète was invented in the Paris studios founded by Pierre Schaeffer. He and his colleagues were fascinated by sounds and the way in which sounds had their own life, when separated from the object that created them. By recording sounds and taking them into the studio, Schaeffer and his colleagues could experiment, transform and play with sounds, making them do things that would never be possible in the real world.
They discovered that by changing the speed of sounds, reversing and splicing them, they could create radically new textures.
Listen to this clip from the piece Étude Violette (Violet Study) and hear the incredible new sounds that Pierre Schaeffer created.
What Does This Music Involve?
The word ‘Musique Concrète’ means Concrete Music. This comes from the fact that it is made out of recorded sounds which have been captured and trapped, so that they can be physically controlled and transformed.
The process of making concrete music begins with sounds. The composer experiments and builds/moulds the piece out of sounds. This is very different from traditional music, where the composer often begins with an abstract idea, written down as dots on paper, which only becomes sound when it is played by musicians at the very end.
A photograph of tape machines in the GRM studios in Paris.
Working with Sound Directly
Working with sounds directly gives the composer much more control, and allows them to mould exactly how their piece will sound at the end.
Unlike for Soundscape composition, composers of Musique Concrète are not interested in focusing on where sounds come from, but what they can turn them into.
When creating works of Musique Concrète, composers tend to make many more transformations and use these to create many new sounds.
Common manipulations used in Musique Concrète are:
See below to listen to more works of Musique Concrète:
Five Studies of Sounds
As soon as sounds are recorded, we can transform and do wonderful things with them. Pierre Schaeffer’s first works of Musique Concrète were called the ‘Five Studies of Sounds’. Each of the works was made from a different set of recordings (much like a sound card park).
The first, and most famous, was made out of train sounds.
The second was made out of spinning tops and percussion instruments.
The third was made out of piano sounds.
The fourth was also made from piano sounds.
The fifth was made out of sauce pans, canal boars, singing, speech, harmonica and piano.