French composer (bom Nancy, 1910; died Les Mules, 1995). Pierre Schaeffer
is known primarily as the “father of musique concrete”, but
he was also an excellent writer, pioneer and veteran of radio, and founder
and director of many special projects within the French national radio,
in particular Le Service de la Recherche (The Research Service) which
he directed from 1960 to 1975. Finally, he was a thinker and researcher
whose ideas had applications in audiovisual communication
and, most directly, in music. His theoretical work is as important as
his limited production of music.
After graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique in 1934, Schaeffer started
working at Radiodiffusion Française (the French national radio),
where, in 1944, he created a studio dedicated to radiophonic training
and experimentation. It was in this studio in 1948 that his curiosity
led him to “invent” musique concrete through the succession
of trials-and-errors that he described with humor in his book A la recherche
d’une musique concrete. Even at that time, he was occupied with
finding a basis for understanding and defining what was both an empirical
and rigorous method for proceeding, even when the incongruity of that
approach to music fascinated and horrified him at the same time. His own
deeply felt ambivalence for the music that he invented became one of the
dominant characteristics of his creativity and thought.
In 1949, Schaeffer engaged Pierre Henry as his collaborator and worked
with Henry in composing several works, among them the well-known Symphonie
pour un homme seul (1949—50), which became the first classic of
its genre. In 1951, within the structure of the French national radio,
he formed a musical research group that he named Groupe de Recherche de
Musique Concrete. In 1958, he formed the Groupe de Recherches Musicales
(GRM), which continues today. GRM was at first mobilized to conduct group
research into its founder’s idea: The goals were to define a “solfege”
(i.e. define the “elements”) of the sound universe based on
the perception of sound and to question what were clearly false notions
about music, listening, timbre, sound, etc. Schaeffer’s monumental!
Traité des Objets Musicaux, written in 1966, encompasses the breadth
of this research.
Schaeffer later left the administration of GRM to François Bayle
and devoted himself mainly to directing Le Service de la Recherche, which
he had founded in 1960 and which kept him busy until 1975, at which time
he was dismissed from his position as part of a general reorganization
of the French national radio, and Le Service de la Recherche was replaced
by l’Institut National de l’Audiovisuel. Even after the publication
of his Traité, however, Schaeffer did not abandon musical experimentation:
Beginning in 1968, as an adjunct professor at the Conservatoire National
Superieur de Musique de Paris, and within an educational framework developed
at CRM, he led a seminar on experimental music. In numerous lectures,
publications, and other presentations through subsequent years, he continued
to develop the ideas first presented in his Traité.
Schaeffer’s musical production, which was exclusively electroacoustic,
consists of a small number of works that were composed during several
brief periods of activity. The first series of short compositions, the
Etudes de Bruits of 1948, sometimes referred to as the “primitives”
of musique concrete, remain as fresh and engaging as when they were first
composed. La Flute mexicaine (1949) and L’oiseau RAI (1950) are
brief and unpretentious “genre pieces”, whereas the curious
Suite 14 (1949) seems a serious attempt to reintegrate old music with
notes and instruments into a new music based on sound. The seeming lightness,
the unpretentious surrealism, and the comic titles of these works scandalized
the serialist musicians at the time who were more serious in their musical
attitudes. Schaeffer made extensive use of the “closed groove”,
the equivalent of the later tape loop, and it was on recordable discs,
indeed, that the first pieces of musique concrete were realised.
A second series includes works composed with Pierre Henry. In addition
to the short Bidule en “ut” (1950), there are two more ambitious
and longer compositions : La Symphonie pour un homme seul (1 949—50)
and the concrete opera Orphée (1951—1953), for which Schaeffer
wrote the libretto. The very particular tone, grating and nostalgic, of
these two expressionist works come from Schaeffer. They also remind us
that Schaeffer was a “man of radio”. The provocative association
of classical song and tape music in Orphée was considered a scandal
at its performance at Donaueschingen in 1953, as if it had been a crime
of high treason against the avant garde.
A third series of works, from a few years later and different from the
first two, represents an attempt to create a purely “musical”
musique concrete, without surrealistic and anecdotal effects, based only
on qualities intrinsic to sounds — the same qualities described
in Schaeffer’s experimental “solfège” of sounds.
The third series consists of three Etudes — Schaeffer liked the
form and the word — called 56 Etude aux allures (1958), Etude aux
Sons unimés (1958), and Etude aux objets (1959). Etude aux allures
1958) and Etude aux sons animés 1958) are successful works, but
Etude aux objets (1959) is Schaeffer’s masterpiece. It contains
a limited number of “sound objects” which are assembled in
five contrasting movements. It has the poetry of beautifully-written prose
— with well-marked rhythm but also with whimsical moments, discoveries,
and unexpected fits of madness. Its influence is noticeable in the works
of many composers of musique concrete and electroacoustic music.
In 1960, reasoning that music had a greater need for “researchers”
than for composers, Schaeffer stopped composing. In 1975, his release
from official responsibilities gave him free time to compose, with the
assistance of Bernard Durr, the Trièdre fertile, a series of compositions
in which he used electronically generated sounds for the first time.
The fifteen years that Schaeffer passed without composing were nonetheless
largely occupied with music, primarily with writing the Traité
des objets musicaux. The “T.O.M.”, as it is called by those
familiar with it, still not well known, is nonetheless a monumental work,
not easily accepted because it upsets too many well-established ideas.
It is an interdisciplinary work in which music is seen as an art-crossroads
where we encounter linguistics, psychoacoustics, phenomenology, etc. To
quickly enumerate some of the revolutionary guideposts that this work
poses for new music: the distinction of four ways to “hear”
(hear, perceive, listen, I understand) and the analysis of this “circuit
of musical communication” into four sectors: complementary definitions
for “sound object” and “focused listening”, two
key notions introduced by Schaeffer; a dialectic in perception relating
to “sound object” and musical structure”; critique of
classical notions of timbre and
parameters that seek to describe in a useful way the phenomena of sound,
and a counter-proposal of seven principal perceptive criteria, perceived
in the triple “perceptive field” natural to the ear; and the
use of all this to achieve a large program of musical research, for which
the Traité would serve as a preamble.
The “T.O.M.” more particularly illustrates the double thesis:
that music is made to be listened to (a challenge to all a priori conceptions
of music as composition on paper, which neglect the perceptive factor);
and that music has two sides: a cultural side, of course, as everyone
agrees, but also a natural quality, which is to say that music depends
on the natural perceptive proprieties of the ear (the octave phenomenon,
for example) that are understood in traditional music and that contemporary
developments cannot ignore with impunity.
The relative unpopularity of the Traité des objets musicaux is
understandable. It does not pretend to be a new bible of modem music,
but rather an inquiry that many have not yet dared to make. The rigor,
the depth, and the great honesty of this inquiry make Schaeffer a man
as important for music through his research as he is through his limited
productivity as a composer.
Published in 1966, the Traité proved to be prophetic, with many
of its theses subsequently confirmed by experiments done with the computer.
Schaeffer was a fascinating character, rare, even unique in a musical
avant- garde that cultivates, without qualification or nuance, a progressivist
optimism. The scruples, the questions, and the scepticism of this “man
alone”, in a concert of such unanimity, represent a necessary and
vital dissonance, a note of anxiety and truth.
Based on an article by Michel Chion, in Larousse de la Musique, 1982
In 1967, Schaeffer was awarded the Prix Charles Cros. In 1982, he was
awarded the Grand Prix de l’Acadèmie du Disque Français.
In 1976, he was awarded the Grand Prix des Compositeurs de la SACEM. In
1990, he received le Prix Mac Luhan.
speak about Schaeffer as a complainer (but complaining is not grumbling,
and if there’s a polemic there, it’s about the substance of
the works themselves and not in what motivates them or happens around
them). Complain — there probably wasn’t much of anything else
that was important to do following the second world war. Did musique concrete
eventually provide a counterbalance for other sounds? On that subject,
we’d like to read something by someone who thinks historically without
necessarily writing a history of this music.
When Schaeffer comes to mind, some questions of dates arise. At an important
time (even: real time), he took the trouble to publish a first and second
journal of musique concrete: 1948—1949 followed by 1950—1951.
During those four years, he gave his collages, which were far more valuable
than titles of nobility, to the history of music!
Schaeffer rhymed “sarcastique” (sarcastic) with “tourne-disque”
(turntable) before finding his Harrar which he called the Service of Research,
which in fact was, but was not well known as, the Service of Grumbling.
In brief, with Schaeffer, we must think of History at least as much as,
or instead of, Aesthetics.
If we imagine that the atomic bomb exploded in the 19th century (as a
poet affirms), then it was Webern who gathered its echoes in his Opus
6. At the threshold of the 1950s, musique concrete was less about echo
than preecho. Forgetting what was said and written about musique concrete
at that time, let’s remember this: Schaeffer foresaw (does this
verb apply to hearing?).
His Etudes de bruit conjure images of, suggest dread of, repel, signal
the coming of, and at the same time diminish what has fallen inexorably
upon us since then: the most profound disregard for the human ear ever
displayed in all of history. And that is where we are at the end of the
20th century. Our ears are more badly- treated than our consciences, which
is saying a lot. Badly treated not by works that are more or less musical,
of course, but by the production, the reproduction, and the broadcasting
of all sounds that belong, as we are made to believe, to a life that we
I am gratified that musique concrete wanted to be a rampart against this
tyranny of sound. Perhaps it failed. At the least, it will have testified
to our times. It is not worthwhile to know whether or not musique concrete
assassinates Mozart or irritates conductors. It is fundamental to understand
that this music asserted that noise could be at the source of Etudes rather
than nervous crises. There again, History instead of Aesthetics!
Musique concrete will perhaps be an important moment in the history of
the world before belonging, whether or not we like it, to the history
of music (we won’t use capital letters any more).
In our as-they-say pre-wired brains, the sounds of Pierre Schaeffer have
stirred up old things that are still usable and useful, the callings of
the combinative having provisionally become silent.
Sometimes I write “musique concrete”, sometimes “Schaeffer”,
but we must nonetheless take into account what Schaeffer himself, in his
Journal, called the “irreplaceable talent of Pierre Henry”.
Afterwards, Schaeffer continued to live his life, like the children who
had discovered the Caves of Lascaux afterwards grew up. (We can bet that
his Etudes “hold” better in the caves of Lascaux than in the
caverns of Plato.) Schopenhauer’s definition of life — a business
in which the revenues are far from covering expenses — applies rather
well to Schaeffer’s work. The work of this man (I was going to say
this “devil of a man”, and indeed why not give him this pleasure?)
recalls the object preferred by Cocteau in his catalog of bags of tricks:
object difficult to pick up — an object made with what doses of
guilt and self-punishment? No doubt with the usual doses, the doses that
paralyze but do not kill... Everyone tries to discover it wherever they
can in whatever they refuse in real life.
The Symphonic pour un homme seul was one of these objects difficult to
pick up, and it was a choreographer that did pick it up. He stole it!
Creators pass their time stealing from one another, and then depart running
so they can nourish themselves in the shade. Maurice Béjart succeeded
in making the Symphonic his own for years. Discs have recently taken it
back. Curious game of bridge. The four players are the music, the two
musicians, and the dancer. Who is the dummy? Why, it’s Schaeffer!
On the other hand one could see it as an unpublished scene from the Second
Faust. Mephisto tells the spectators: “In the end, we all depend
on the creatures that we were!” Homunculus becomes a dancer who
shouts. Is it the Eternal Feminine who pulls up the naked man who is climbing
the rope? Are Schaeffer and Henry playing the parts of Pater Seraphicus
and Pater Profundus? It is very instructive to peruse Faust again while
thinking about the Symphonie, a Symphonic “in a state of confusion”.
I like it when a work of art seems to go in every direction. Listening
Symphonic, we think as much of the whips used by Guillaume Apollinaire
as of the sounds which stay in the throat when we’re frightened
by dreams of dying, which stay inside the thoracic cavity, and we feel
the rumble of the mountain extolled by a Japanese writer of prose. We
reflect on what we want, and this desire is for the music that we become
while listening. A moment ago, we needed a historian, and now we need
I listen again to the Etude aux chemins de fer and I think about the cinema,
I think of Dziga Vertov and, as an analogy to the “man with the
camera”, I see Schaeffer as the “man with the disc”.
When I listen to those of Schaeffer’s works that I like, I think
of silent films and sometimes I think of Jean Vigo. I also listened to
the Etude aux chemins defer in an airplane. Once again I see the dancers
who interpreted the woman in the ballet Symphonic pour un homme seul.
I see Pierre Schaeffer again.
To invert the expression: If Schaeffer had not existed, no one would have
invented him. There’s no way to write The Magic Mountain with him
and it is for the better. Nothing mystical, nothing obscured in smoke,
nothing exalting, but a man who was still less pampered than the famous
man who is all the men at the end of a well- known paragraph by Sartre.
A man is only what he is and that’s already something. He innovated
a little, but not much. He irritated more than he was aware of, he pleased
less than he thought, he pleased when he didn’t know he was pleasing,
and he displeased when he shouldn’t have.
Schaeffer interests me because he does not elate me. This is never said,
Little touches like these that seem bitter enable us to create a portrait
of Schaeffer. He neither failed nor succeeded in any work, power did not
make him happy, and he did not use his power to make anyone else happy.
He is a personage of our time. It’s not his importance that counts.
It’s him. Between sorrow and nothing, he chose music.
François BAYLE writes:
If I attempt a few remarks in the margins of Pierre Schaeffer’s
well- known discoveries and works, which are surely the most singular
musical achievements of all time, it is not to add any special clarification.
No one better than Schaeffer himself, aware of the formidable potential
of his discoveries, has scrutinized and described, seen ahead, and felt
their impossible, vertiginous character. As for the music conceived in
collaboration with Pierre Henry, the strange timbre that resulted from
the shock of their coming together contained, in its resonance, an energy
sufficient to determine the destinies of the two composers, so close and
so contrary. And their collaboration produced just the right number of
answers to pose all the subsequent questions.
Luckily, Schaeffer’s notes from the time still exist. But as a musician
mixed with writer and researcher, could he have done other than what he
did? Such an eruption of problematic sonorities cannot happen without
both an irrepressible flood of unthinking intuition and troubled ideas.
In fact, which was the echo of the other? Was it a question of someone
who intuitively liberated sounds from his anxieties, or, on the other
hand, of someone who had the serious mission of delivering a profound
With luck, then, but above all with purpose, a certain Schaeffer, a man
without noble title, was guilty of overturning the existing order. He
put the abstract in the concrete, the natural sound in musical culture.
His Journal, which is informative in listening to his works, also reveals
the other side of the man, the side of the worries and hopes, the misgivings
and anticipations of an apprentice-writer taken by surprise but without
the possibility of pulling back, provocateur and himself provoked in this
unforeseen revolution of musical possibilities.
No, I don’t know what to say that would add to these unprecedented
moments, except that their singular value has not diminished. Yet, on
other hand, it seems to me that a reminder of them is particularly necessary
today, not only because this singular man was prophetic, but because these
moments directly and usefully illuminate the different varieties of our
In his work, I hear two recurring themes, and I remember them as we as
I remember the primordial quality of Schaeffer’s reporting; and
his lesson in the value of regret with a trace of hope. The lesson was
about the ambition of defined purpose with the deep modesty of a principled
and penetrating observer. These are the things that perhaps have something
to tell us now: the physical and actual courage to go and see, to be silent,
to construct, to manipulate devices and descriptions, to observe observation
itself. In the balance sheet: First, the strongly negative denunciation
— done, if possible, as a healthy reflex rather than a painstaking
yet false approximation — of the kind of knowledge that always entansles
us in self-serving detail. The despair of ever finding simple music. And
the hope to be able to deal with this profound despair, this basic human
malady which promises an uncertainty that seems to conceal, for those
who know how to understand it, the life of sounds.
“It is not only the recreation of the past, it is its explosion.
According to the humor of Pantagruel, a thousand bits of sound recompose
a different symphony, not as they follow each other but as a hand takes
them in whatever order is imposed on them
— First Journal of Musique Concrete Hardly had this little book,
decorated with a middle-ages staff with concentric circles simulating
the closed grooves of a disc, appeared and crossed my path while I was
a student of music trying to decide which way to go, when — I remember
very well the surprise that still stays with me, I was 20, and it was
its tone, its utter sincerity that totally fulfilled the requirements
of adolescence — it gave me, and still now provides me with the
most reliable guide. It promised nothing except a start in the direction
of an astonished and provoked ear. But also, feeling the necessity for
reticence, and with the strength to refuse, I found a treasure of not:
not to please but to relate a musical object to its most general context,
to the spiritual destiny of the period. And while I was being courteously
discouraged by all those around me from the impossible profession of composing,
I thought that in a few decisive moments I had received the gravest waming:
not to become involved with sound without making a necessary and complete
reevaluation, as culture and communication require, in light of the processes
and materials of the most general music possible. Once revolutions are
made — liberté oblige — the time comes for resolutions.
I was warned, confronted with individual and collective work to be done.
“It is because entry into the domain of musique concrete is so new,
renewing so profoundly the phenomenon of musical communication and contemplation,
that it seemed necessary to me to write this book. These first steps require
what all beginnings demand: a knowledge of the object, a preparation of
the subject. But the target public, for the moment, is not a very large
public, neither is it a public of specialists. It is a small fraction
of the public at large — an experimental public, like us —
which we’ll have made the effort to prepare. It is to this public
that these lines are addressed, and still more to those who will confront
that public with a direct offensive of their sounds.” — A
la recherche d’une musique concrete
May those who read and listen to these original works, these first aural
pictogrammes traced directly on the surface of our collective awareness,
put in the most open and active state of mind by the text and the music
marks, blank spaces, questionin forms which, according to Heraclites words
lent to the Sphinx, designate what neither shows nor conceals, but beckons.
We have not always understood what it was that he tried to do.
Inventor of musique concrete, the dictionaries say. If it was just that!
First, he devoted ten years of research to study the way that listening
functions, to describe sounds in words (see his book Traité des
objets musicaux, 1966), and he led this project, which no Zone had previously
risked, with total rationalism. I would say more precisely: it was with
a desperate rationalism, as if he had always been certain of being badly
understood. The exploration of sound was much more important to him than
adding a few bizarre samples to the Museum of Innovation or flying over
a terrain of natural sound to take photos and then make beautiful maps.
As a being of language, he put himself at risk in a virgin forest. He
studied the live materiality, the substance, of sound, this archaic thing
that had almost entirely been left unnamed and in limbo. Certain sounds,
confined to the shadows because they had not been notated or notatable
in a musical score, owe their existence for the human ear to him because
he gave them names.
At the same time, we must remember that this systematic researcher composed
only by impulse. He enjoyed giving the name of Etudes to works which were
among the most unpredictable, the most dis-symmetric in contemporary music;
even the three Etudes of 1958—59 (aux allures, aux sons animés,
aux objets), composed in principle to show his students the correct path
in musical research. It was a strange correct path, where one didn’t
know the direction in which one was being led from one second to the next.
In fact, these works, ironic, melancholic, secret, which have the strangeness
of delirium and the lightness of the concrete and of the everyday, have
suffered because they have been viewed only as historical pointers, buoys
on a road of ‘progress” too traveled in all directions for
anyone to think of stopping to simply listen to them.
With Boulez, his junior, Pierre Schaeffer shares the curious privilege
of being one of the best known names in contemporary music whose works
are known only ... in name. Therein lies the importance of this collection,
which not only revives pieces that had become impossible to find, but
which also brings to light previously
unpublished works and, most of all, represents the first attempt to join
the diverse facets of his work — as a lover of words and an adventurer
in sound—that earlier had been viewed as separate activities. It
has occasionally been said that Pierre Schaeffer loved only words, even
as much as a gourmand loves food, freely and with pleasure, and that the
self-proclaimed composer did not like sounds. It is possible. We don’t
demand that a poet necessarily likes words or that a painter likes colors.
We ask them to make words and colors live. It’s a different thing.
As a composer, Pierre Schaeffer maintained a total and dramatic relationship
with sounds. For him, sound represented a lost music (as pure “language”,
an ultimate state of abstraction, he preferred the music of Bach), but
also an invitation to lose himself. And when a word becomes sound or rather
returns to become the sound that it was—as in speech—it is
only in pain. For nothing can hide the fact that there was, first, the
cut. It has not been said often enough that Pierre Schaeffer did not invent
musique concrete as a “music of all sounds”, but first and
foremost as a music based on editing. One “snatched” an acoustic
sound — most of the time created for that purpose—from its
cause-and-effect context, and worked with it as a recording where it became
orphaned from its original context. No one more that Pierre Schaeffer
viewed recorded sound as something cut from its original continuum —
above all when he was dealing with the human voice. All recorded voices,
for him, came out of a decapitated head: that of Orpheus—he replays
the original scene before his eyes without stopping — which myth
he used for a long time to explain himself. But, in any case, the unity
of cause and effect 49 is always lost, and there is only the tearing apart
and contradiction with which one can compose. If it had been only his
business, “his problem” as common sense says today, when he
was feeling pressed to return to what he found reassuring!
Pierre Schaeffer is not reassuring. It is for this reason that, in spite
of everything, it is him, and not the beatified-alive official “revolutionaries”,
that is rejected—and it is towards his false note, his necessary
dissonance, anxiety and truth, that one turns, because that is where there
is something to hear. And perhaps we have put too many words between the
listener and this music. And one day we’ll have to listen to his
works, not as dates in a calendar, but as works with their absolute strangeness,
their irreducibility as objects designed by a man and taken in the end
to their private destinies ... so that listeners may once feel “a
man alone” in front of them, as Pierre Schaeffer was alone in confronting
Jean-Christophe THOMAS writes:
All the same, we must ask ourselves;
What is it about the flavor o
For it is ambiguous to us, contemporaries of the compact disc; who perceive
this ancient sound and taste it as is; is it the OBJECT that we like or
1 (SIGN OF THE TIME) In changing us, time changes objects that it does
not even touch; It’s our perception that has changed. Masquerage,
as Chion would say; one should not confuse, however, and not make allowances
for the perversity of the author of La Ronde, who deliberately plays with
the “medium” (sign of the times), as if it were an instrument.
That’s not the case with Schaeffer, who, dealing with his medium
in 1948, is innocent. Like his contemporaries, who naively believe that
‘ the drama of their time is engraved in this wax without honey”
(Obaldia) ... and therefore will remain intact ? mistake: time has since
added its honey to a honey already there. And for us from now on, each
work is a flower dried in lava, at once preserved and changed, compromised
made of similar substance as the wax that welcomes it; one hears the work
as well as the wax: it’s the amalgam that is precious.
But even without fetishism, we can still taste the pathetic Etudes of
1948! Absolutely ... The “signal” remains stimulating even
if one does not take into account its “noise” from the time.
It’s that something very mysterious comes to us from the marvel
of the discovery. The first impulse was “frozen” with the
wax. One enjoys a simple voice in reverse, so long as it is in Pierre
Schaeffer. Why? Perhaps it’s because this music, as a genre, has
little descendance. It maintains a unique way of hesitating between poetry,
literature, and sound art. It does not therefore stay for us as a respected
(obsolete) “primitive”, but as an example without anything
following it, an intact fermentation.
2 (CRYSTAL OF TIME) And then it has a singularity, which is that it stops
time. Schaeffer, more “photographer” than “cineast”
has a known weakness for
the object, the fixed image. And he does not get beyond the marvel of
the “closed groove’, this device to petrify, to make discoveries,
this insolent toy. The closed groove, in comparison with the actual and
fertile editing, and also
perhaps the principle of purity. In any case, a snatchin of time. He is
enchanted by the fragment of sound that has neither beginning nor end,
burst of sound isolated from an temporal context, crystal of time wit
sharp edges”.1 The everyday flux frozen, appearing as a strange
nugget, a piece of something that “doesn’t belong any more
— says Schaeffer — to any time”. In freezing the movement,
we extract the banal. The added value of the fixed image is evident. Schaeffer
does not satisfy himself by dismissing sight (invention of the acousmatic),
he 51 tries to dismiss time: his poetry arises from a universe where “hateful”
movement is something that dilutes an unsuspected beauty: “We were
creating a number of little motifs
some of them were unforgettable, and would never have been heard so well
had they been included, stuck in their initial matrices”.
3 (SPELLUINOING) These marvelous snapshots ... If need be, Schaeffer could
do without making music with them: and he would content himself with a
catalog of motionless shimmering images (like black discs) ... A scandalous
or mystical composer who quit, he would like to arrange his findings hi”
herbals”: “By warning
people that it is enough to know how to listen, that the whole art is
in hearing”... He dreams of a certain music.
While waiting to have a sense of their aura, he drugs himself with them,
he gives in to the charm of repetition (that a “young” composer,
Parmegiani, will later call “the power of Orpheus”), to the
spell cast by staying in place: “Drugged with this new substance,
we would pass them around, we would play them for one another when it
seemed to us that we 52 had a good take.”
4 (TIME FOUND AGAIN) They must in some way be put back into action in
a temporal situation (“in the era when one thing followed another”):
music calls for it, “ars bene movendi”. The first pieces,
jewels still very close to the material from which they were derived,
are focused on their discoveries. What they so arduously capture is all
the more full of meaning to the ear; these musics continue to have an
erupting, explosive side. Musics of stealing. Stutterings and rumblings
(there are a lot of human voices), hoarse blossomings of material. The
pick-up picks up, in the magma, some shapes, some sensations. By whiffs.
It plays with the implicit and the explicit (“on your lips”),
with the musical, the dramatic, the semantic. Not without jolts, badly
polished charm, we pass from constraining structure to sharp spurts, so
stimulating and sharp that they seem heroic conquests. It is sufficient
to listen, to draw out ... As in a minute of the Etudes aux tourniquets,
limping and glittering in an “exotic” polyrhythmic shaking,
everything floating in its precision ... or as in all of the allegorical
piece Paroles gelées, with its delicate surface, its burlesque
rejection of patterns, glazing over the “horrific” recitation
(“For God, give me more!”). The pathetic Etudes aux casseroles,
which takes off decisively, becomes fluid again, puts wings to objects,
and takes flight: With what good humor it reconciles time and the eternal!
1 The quotations are from Schaeffer’s A la recherche d’une
musique concrete (Seuil).
2 (THE TIME TO LISTEN) The great art, for Schaeffer, is to listeo. If
one stops time, it is for that reason above all. To listen. And to reflect.
To reflect on listening, on the object, on the subject. That was the program
of the Research. Sapiens
Sometimes judged at the wrong time, doing came only afterwards. Faber
is often bashed about: musicians have no ears, they have only a will of
their own; composers are not musicians
The primacy of listening (rather than of doing) is already suggested,
it seems to me, in a tendency towards vertigo. This contemplative fascination
above the black well of the findings: “As soon as a disc is put
on the turntable, a magical force captivates me Out of this came a program
of research based essentially on the study of listening: “What subtle
musical pleasure could a practiced ear feel, by learning to listen and
the writer Schaeffer, brilliant alternate for the faltering composer (or
put momentarily on holdj, eloquently paints “the sequence of color,
the changes of time” ... all “ the secret, qualitative life”
of sounds. It follows that the research is the same dialogue of dizziness,
continued, led differently, between the subject and the object. But the
aesthetic abyss becomes a well of science, and the silence becomes a law
of the universe. The object really has “something to tell us”,
and one goes there to find out what that is. Study — like music
— is there “to settle vertigo” (Rimbaud).
And the concrete adventure (music and reflectionj emerges in good form
from this stopping of time: necessary, it seems, to freeze the infinite
richness — of the actual, the subtle — so that we can rub
against it, add to it, learn it. The “image” that a closed
groove opens up for the first time, turns out to be an ideal meeting (
... and because it is material, given through a mediumj between the subject
and the object. The confusion of the special relationship of subject—object
has not yet
been fully explored: Bayle (who is himself the composer of motion) says:
“The more fixed the object that one observes, the more variable
is the sense that one gets from it ... Freezing the moving object allows
us to do an in-depth inquiry on the different layers of awareness, sometimes
based on the feelings of one day, sometimes of another day”.
It was an inquiry that Schaeffer led, given his tendency as “researcher”,
without working too much with the objects (without composing — or
almost: certain Etudes). With a minimal “vertical” material,
what he scrutinized above all was the internal experience. “Research
is not in the things but in the subject”. His findings were mirrors
I o#S3 him. “If music is a thing, its place is in the man (...)
who experiences it”. And he preferred the experience to the things.
The object and the subject, finally, were declared twin requests for attention,
separated only (we know the formula) by the thickness of the ear drum.
3 Colloquium “Ce Son de Ia Musique” (“The Sound of Music”),