Pierre Schaeffer

Pierre Schaeffer
(unattributed photograph)

‘The innovation that distinguished Pierre Schaeffer’s work from earlier experiments was his isolation of the sound event (“l’objet musical”) by means of the recording process. The “compositional” techniques he employed to combine, repeat, transform, and organize his sound objects were a natural outgrowth of his long experience with the equipment of radio broadcasting. With this background, it was natural for him to view the significance of his work from a musical standpoint rather than as an application of technology. The early passages of A la recherche d’une musique concrete reveal Schaeffer’s interest in a “symphony of noises” and a “piano of noises.” The implication is that extra-musical sounds could be treated musically by determining  for them a familial or a scalar ordering, yet allowing them to retain the essence of their noise-like properties.’

From Electronic Music, 1948-1953 by Lowell Cross, 1968.

[youtube http://youtu.be/D_3OsELv7D8]
‘Bilude’ (1979)
Pierre Schaeffer

‘TH: But what is the exact moment at which something becomes music?

PS: This is a difficult question. If you had the complete answer you’d be a prophet. The traditional testimony is that a musical schema lent itself to being expressed in sound in more than one way. An example is that Bach sometimes composed without specifying the instruments: he wasn’t interested in the sound of his music. That’s music, a schema capable of several realisations in sound. The moment at which music reveals its true nature is contained in the ancient exercise of the theme with variations. The complete mystery of music is explained right there. Thus a second. a third a fourth variation were possible, which all kept the single idea of the theme. This is the evidence that with one musical idea you can have different realisations.’

From an interview with Pierre Schaeffer by Tim Hodgkinson, 2 May 1986
from ReR Quarterly magazine, volume 2, number 1, 1987. Full transcript here.

[audio https://www.box.com/shared/static/o0ahluc66ns1qmovhr5z.mp3]
Pierre Schaeffer – L’Oiseau RAI (1950)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q4VgqnOznE]
‘Nicolas Cage to Pierre Schaeffer’
 on Jan 5, 2009

Pierre Schaeffer working with the phonogene in his studio; taken circa 1948 by French photographer Serge Lido


Further resources
Michel Chion. Guide To Sound Objects. Pierre Schaeffer and Musical Research, English translation by John Dack and Christine North – here
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