New Ideas in Sound

New Ideas in Sound

With the invention of recording technology, the way in which people thought about sounds was completely changed. All sounds could be captured, brought into the concert hall and used musically.

New Sound One

How would you describe this sound?

New Sound Two

Does it sound like anything that you have heard before?

New Sound Three

What is this sound? Where did it come from?

Activity: How were these sounds created?

  • Do they sound like anything that you have heard before?
  • Where did they come from?
  • How were they created?

Answer:

Recording technology captured the sounds, and sound editing programmes on the computer were used to transform them.

Curious about how? Click the button to find out.

New Music for a New Age

The world at the end of the 19th and early 20th century was a rapidly changing place. The invention of the motor car and the expansion of factories made the world much louder and busier.

The Italian Futurists were excited by all of the new technologies being invented at the beginning of the 20th Century: Cars, telephones, aeroplanes, trains (many of which we take for granted these days).

They felt that traditional music was out of date, boring and stuck in the past. They wanted to create a new style of music that would fit with this new modern world.

Appreciating All Sounds

One of the FuturistsLuigi Russolo, argued that most music was only made with about four or five different types of sounds:

    • Instruments played with the bow
    • Plucked instruments
    • Brass instruments
    • Woodwind
    • Percussion

He demanded:

“We must break out of this narrow circle of [note] sounds, and conquer the infinite variety of [all] sounds.

Let us therefore invite young musicians of genius and audacity { that’s you! } to listen attentively to all sounds, so that they can understand the varied rhythms [and tones] of which they are composed. […]

Then, when comparing the varied timbres of sounds and noises with those of musical tones, they will be convinced by how much more interesting [all sounds are than the few traditional orchestra sounds].”

Listen to some examples of sounds from each category. Which collection of sounds do you prefer? Why?

Orchestral Sounds

Keys – Discrete and contained pitches.
Wind – Steady pitch sound.
Percussion – Mainly only used for emphasis.
Bow – Steady pitch sound.

All Sounds

Ding – Complex vibration and beating.
Crunch –Different textures.
Thud – Solid thump.
Patter – Many small sounds with depth.

New Sounds from New Technology

As the technologies developed and improved throughout the early 20th Century, ever more exciting possibilities for creating music became available.

Pierre Schaeffer was working as a technician at the French radio (RTF) in the 1940s, when he became fascinated with the possibilities of recorded sound. He recorded sounds onto vinyl disks (like LP records) and then explored the transformations that were possible. For example: reversing sounds, transposition, time-stretch and loops.

Using these techniques he invented a style of music which he called Musique Concrète.

Etude aux Tourniquets (1948)

An excerpt from one of Pierre Schaeffer’s five studies in sound.

Extra

Inspired by Futurists like Russolo, Pierre Schaeffer made recordings of the city around him and brought them back into the studio to create works of ‘Musique Concrète’. His early work ‘Étude aux chemins de fer’ [‘Railway Study’] (made in 1948) used recordings made at a railway depot in Paris.

Using the manipulation techniques that he had experimented with, he sought to transform, collage and explore the rhythmic properties of the railway sounds, creating a work that highlighted the beauty of the sounds themselves.

Summary: New Musical Possibilities

Recording technology changed music forever. Any sound can now be captured, controlled and organised to create new works.

This allows us to do things with sounds that were never before possible, and lets us break free from the limitations of tradition.

Computers give everyone access to tools for sound transformation and organisation, opening up the full world of sounds to all.

Fact

The majority of music that we hear would not exist without the technology of recording.

References

In 1913, Luigi Russolo published a leaflet called ‘The Art of Noises’ in which he called for a new music – Read his leaflet here.
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