14 Schaeffer

Pierre Schaeffer

Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995), a trained radio engineer and announcer, is well known for his theories about musical listening. He is also the founder of musique concrète, a genre of electroacoustic music that uses sounds that the listener does not see (acousmatic) and are not tied to traditional musical elements (harmony, rhythm, melody, etc).

In this excerpt from his Treatise on Musical Objects, Schaeffer describes what he calls "reduced listening" or "acoustmatic listening," especially in reference to the, at the time, new technologies such as radio and the phonograph. These new technologies made it possible to hear sounds in a phenomenological way, which is to hear a sound without reference to its source. He continues to explain that when you separate "signal from source," you can describe the difference between sounds in and of themselves and not in relation to their sources. This in turn creates what Schaeffer calls a sonorous object that is completely separate from, say, the violin that actually created the sound.

Schaeffer goes on to explain that when working with tape compositions that involve any number of modifications to the original sound, the magnetic tape is not the sonorous object. He explains, "When listened to by a dog, a child, a Martian, or the citizen of another musical civilization, this signal [what is on the tape] takes on another meaning or sense."

I thought this was an interesting way of thinking of sound and recorded music. Personally, I found a strong connection with what Schaeffer had to say on the subject of acousmatics to what Suk-Jun Kim does in his compositions. The disembodied sounds that Kim uses create a very interesting "sonorous object." I also found it very intriguing that Pythagoras used a curtain to create this effect while he was teaching so that only his voice reached his pupils. Of course, it goes without explanation that his students knew that it was Pythagoras' voice, so the question can be raised: Is that really a phenomenological experience?

Wikipedia article about musique concrète

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