Sunday, 10 February 2013

In Search of a Concrete Music - Pierre Schaeffer (University of California Press)

'In other words, I wasted my life.' (interview, 1987)

The inventor of hip-hop scratch sample turntablism? No.

'I lower the pickup arm as one rhythmic group starts. I raise it just as it ends, I link it with another, and so on. How powerful our imagination is!' (p12)

'Not only were we interested in Musique Concrete but also in playing organ tone clusters and flute feedback sounds that added variety to the repeated note sequences that we recorded and mixed on tape.' (Ralph Hutter, Kraftwerk, 1981)

'The world of music is probably contained within DoRéMi, yes; but I'm saying that the world of sound is much larger than that.' (interview, 1987)

'But the readership for which it is intended is not very great at the moment,' (p188)

In search of In Search of a Concrete Music I ask the young man at the information counter in Foyles bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London. One left. He tells me it's going through a second printing. Due to popular demand? A book by Pierre Schaeffer?! Did they only print a thousand? Or are more people now interested in him? More than the publishers thought, obviously...

'In doing so, he (the concrete musician) claimed to discover and not to express in his work.' (p131)

First: 'Étude aux chemins des fer' (1948)

'You can sense that engines can't like being performers.' (p11)

The birth of Hauntological sound? 

A cheap and easy reference. The desire to attach a precedence, seek a serious lineage, join pieces of the collage as if they belong together through similarity rather than contrasting representations of something. We long to unify. Schaeffer, against Music, sought only sound, but was haunted, still, by music.

Schaeffer, the caretaker of dreams in the haunted ballroom of sound?

'There is no instrument on which to play concrete music. That is the main difficulty.' (p18)

The difficulty today is that such instruments exist. The ease with which sounds can be conjured is the problem. Today's dilemma: making the right choice. The problem with sound today: sanitation. So-called Hauntological music seeks the soiled sound of the past? In nicotine-stained TV, in pre-video mythology, in decaying machinery of old industry. 

The effort then required to create distortions of the sound an object makes may now be achieved at the click of a mouse. It is that very effort, the rewind, alter pitch, manipulation, splicing of tape etc is what we love now, what we crave in this world of immediacy.

'Blessed are those who struggle' (Mark Stewart). 

'..'real' music seems like the repose of the blessed after the contortions of damnation.' (p90)

Inside the outsider - his contradictions, doubts, insecurities - voyeurs both academic and non may be surprised to learn that a human was responsible for capturing the voices of objects, albeit in mutated form, and creating compositions from them. The intellectual, the sound scientist has doubts? Human, all too human. 

'I do not know, and doubtless will not know for some time yet, if these attics are inhabitable, whether they are a temporary prison cell or will be apartments of the future.' (p115)

Over 50 years later, listeners enthralled by the sounds of Pierre Schaeffer do inhabit his 'apartments'. 


  1. somehow (i'm not sure exactly how yet) this all relates to my new album coming soon on editions mego.

  2. That's my appetite well and truly whetted!


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