02 August 2010

Is There A Noise Continuum?: Part 13 - Musique Concrete

Here is another part from my paper on the Noise Continuum paper which I presented recently in Salford, Manchester...

The tape recorder as a compositional tool became the departure point of the foregrounding of non-musical elements around us: noise as music. With the post-war availability of the tape machine proliferating through Europe and the USA, it was just a matter of time before someone would harness it extensively to create musical pieces of pure electronic provenance and texture from surrounding noises. Pierre Schaeffer and his assistant, Pierre Henry, composed the world’s first tape/electronic work, Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony for a Man Alone), which signalled the final realization of the pre-Second World War sensibility and its imagination of bridging the idea of modernity with a new music to the actualisation of a truly modern art in the form of tape composition by the end of the 1940s in France. With this symphony, everyone who mattered in the modern classical world had to try their hands at it: Stockhausen, Cage, Berio, Boulez and the list goes on. Music has finally broken away from the presumptuous imitation of the natural world of sound into an abstract realm: the limit is simply constrained by the imagination and the tediousness of composing using the tape. Other key musique concrete and electronic composers like Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani who helped cultivate the sustained experimental legacy of the INA GRM produced works of pristinely beautiful but frequently aurally jarring pieces which incorporate sharp shards of electric spikes, dramatic soar and trawl of amplitude and an uncanny knack for inserting processed found sounds into the composition which helped to re-invent music and invent a noise language along the way. Noise as a self conscious musical form was thus born.

The subsequent setting up of centres devoted to the composition of tape-based works and electronic pieces was a sign of the euphoric acceptance of the musical avant-garde of this new mode of creativity. Some applied the principles of serialism (Pierre Boulez), some made use of the inherent asynchronous nature of two simultaneously playing tape machines (Steve Reich) and some, especially the axis around the INA GRM, re-imagined the found sounds surrounding us and molded futuristic and, noisy sound etudes. But it would take the world quite a while to catch on and understand fully what this all meant. Right now only with the coffers of the state and corporate sponsorship could one dream of doing likewise. Noise making like traditional composition was still in the hands of the upper strata of the society. However, the fact that the founding father of musique concrete was more of an engineer than a traditional composer with the relevant conservatory training and its attendant musical baggage was a sign to come by the time Noise became a fully insurrected genre in its own right. Most Noise artists are unable to sight-read and scribble musical staves but rely plainly on their need to create anew and concoct musical forms which defy notes, tones and musical conventions. They hijack the evolving technological forward thrust for their own sonic bliss and jouissance based on their intuition and the art of improvisation.

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