The Beginning of Musique Concrète
The purpose of the gramophone was obviously to be able to enjoy music in the comfort and convenience of one’s own home. But the recordings people were listening to were usually of concerts that were originally intended to be heard live. In the 1930s it was a relatively new idea that music would be recorded with the intention of being enjoyed only on a gramophone and not in person. Music critic Andre Coeuroy wrote at one point:
“perhaps the time is not far off when a composer will be able to represent through recording, music specifically composed for the gramophone.”
This way of thinking sparked a new sense of creativity in composers because they were no longer restricted to what could be performed live. The first true Musique Concrète composer was Pierre Schaeffer, a French composer, who, in 1942, began experimenting with radio and cinematic soundtracks to form original sound collages. By the end of the 1940s, Schaeffer’s work was known publicly as Musique Concrète. His contemporaries stated that this style was more about sound envelopes rather than timbre. It was about “plastifying” the music.
Composers started disregarding tempo and time signatures. The focus became centered on the sounds you could create and how you could combine them with other sounds to create a collage of noise, recordings and melody.
Magnetic Tape: Razor blades and tape became the essential tools for Musique Concrète composers. Recording anything that clanged, bonged, pinged or clashed became the norm. Instruments could be anything and everything that you could get your hands on. Tape would then be stretched, spliced, reversed, and glued back together to create new manipulations of the sounds.
The Chromatic Phonogène: A device much like a modern day vocoder, this was a one octave set of keys that would manipulate a loop of tape. Each key represented a different tape speed, ultimately playing the sounds back at different pitches.
Morphophone: This device was quite powerful and had a variety of effects to apply to tape including delay, filters and feedback.
Modern Day Musique Concrète
Bits and pieces of the Musique Concrète styles can be found in many different genres today including ambient electronic, leftfield instrumental hiphop, and most experimental genres. The following are some more modern examples of this style of music including U.S. producer Fractal who has been creating collage-like soundscapes for years now.