Edgar Varese

Musique concrète

[my-zeek kawn-kret]

Musique concrète (French; literally, "concrete music"), is a style of avant-garde music that relies on recorded sounds, including natural environmental sounds and other noises that are not inherently musical, to create music.


Musique Concrète was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940s and 1950s. Its development was facilitated by the emergence of new music technology in post-war Europe. Access to microphones and magnetic tape recorders (created in 1939), afforded by an association with the French national broadcasting organization, at that time the Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, gave Schaeffer and his colleagues an opportunity to experiment with recording technology and tape manipulation.

Schaeffer developed an aesthetic practice that was centered upon the use of sound as a primary compositional resource and emphasized the importance of play (in his terms, jeu) in the creation of music. Schaeffer's idea of jeu comes from the French verb jouer, which carries the same double meaning as the English verb play: 'to enjoy oneself by interacting with one's surroundings', as well as 'to operate a musical instrument'. This notion is central to the musique concrète aesthetic.

In 1951 Schaeffer established the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète (Research Group on Concrete Music) at RTF in Paris, the ancestor of the ORTF. Several notable composers, such as Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgar Varese and Iannis Xenakis, produced work while engaged with GRMC. In 1958, following the emergence of aesthetic differences, which lead to the rejection of Schaeffer's theories by both Boulez and Stockhausen, the collective became Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM).

At this time the group's core members included Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, Luc Ferrari and François-Bernard Mâche. The group continued to refine Schaeffer's ideas and strengthened the concept of musique acousmatique (a term borrowed from Pythagoras which means "perception of sounds of which we ignore the origin"). In 1966 Shaeffer published the book Traité des Objets Musicaux (Treatise on musical objects) which represented the culmination of some 20 years of research in the field of musique concrète. In conjunction with this publication, a set of sound recordings was produced, entitled Le Solfège de l'Objet Sonore (Music Theory of the Acoustic Object), to provide examples of concepts dealt with in the treatise.

In 1975, GRM was integrated into France's Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA - Audiovisual National Institute).


Much like electroacoustic music, musique concrète has been subject to conflicting perceptions about its character, with some questioning whether it should be considered music at all. The term is often understood as a practice of simply making music out of "real world" sounds, or sounds other than those made by musical instruments, while others consider it an attempt to expand the language of musical production and expression. Traditionally, classical music begins as an abstraction, as musical notation on paper or other medium, which is then produced into audible music. Musique concrète strives to begin with the "concrete" sounds, experiment with them, and abstract them into musical compositions.

Notable composers

See also

Further reading

  • Chion, M. (1983), Guide des objets sonores, Pierre Schaeffer et la recherche musicale, Ina-GRM/Buchet-Chastel, Paris.
  • Dack, J. (1994), Pierre Schaeffer and the Significance of Radiophonic Art, Contemporary Music Review. Vol. 10, No. 2: London: Harwood: 3-11.
  • Dack, J. (1993a), la Recherche de l'Instrument Perdu, Electroacoustic Music - Journal of the Electroacoustic Music Association of Great Britain: Vol. 7. London: Sonic Arts Network.
  • Kane, B. (2007), L’Objet Sonore Maintenant: Pierre Schaeffer, sound objects and the phenomenological reduction, Organised Sound, 12(1): 15-24, Cambridge University Press.
  • Schaeffer, P. (1952a), À la recherche d'une musique concrète, Le Seuil, Paris.
  • Schaeffer, P. (1952b), L'objet musical, La Revue Musicale: L'œuvre du XXe siècle, No. 212. Paris: Richard-Masse: 65-76.
  • Schaeffer, P. (1966), Traité des objets musicaux, Le Seuil, Paris.
  • Schaeffer, P. (1967),La musique concrète, Paris: Presses Universitaires de Frances.
  • Peignot, J. (1960), De la musique concrète à l'acousmatique, Esprit, No. 280. Paris, pp 111-123.

External links

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