Introductory Notes from the Book
Le Solfège de l’Objet Sonore (Music Theory of the Sound Object.), a sound recording that accompanied Traité des Objets Musicaux (Treatise on Musical Objects) by Pierre Schaeffer, was issued by ORTF (French Broadcasting Authority) as a long-playing record in 1967. The recording quality of these records was excellent for the time and enabled work that was originally recorded on tape to be faithfully reproduced.
When we listened to the original tapes thirty years later, we were pleased to notice that they had not lost much of their original quality. But in the intervening years our listening requirements had altered. Given the quality required by the CD format, it was impossible to use the original tapes.
Now that we are used to flawless recordings, various problems leapt out at us: background noise, acoustical changes, jumps in recording levels, audible splicing and post echo. These imperfections went unnoticed on long-playing records as they were covered by the noises made by the recording medium itself, but they are now unacceptable in the era of digital sound.
Meticulous work was undertaken to eliminate the flaws produced by the recording medium and the uneven balance between the spoken sections and the musical examples. Jean Schwarz did a magnificent job of meticulously re-editing the original tapes that were then digitally processed to eliminate background noise and also to increase the presence and enhance the warmth of Pierre Schaeffer’s voice.
Background noise was reduced using Audio Clean software that was developed by the GRM(Groupe de Recherches Musicales - Musical Research Group) and the Audio Library of the INA (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel - National Audio-Visual Institute). Jean-Fran cois Ponteftact, who led the audio restoration work at the INA Audio Library, provided invaluable help in perfrcting the techniques for correcting Pierre Schaeffer’s voice. The final work of reinserting the musical examples, that were not restored in order to keep the original sound, was made by Jean Schwarz. He was also responsible for overall balance and the flawless sequencing of the 282 tracks that make up the 3 CDs.
The temptation to re-record certain examples was great, especially those that include electronic sounds that have been damaged through tape deterioration and that would be quite easy to reproduce. We finally decided, however, to keep them ih their original condition in order to create an historic re-edition that reflects the original intentions of the artists who used the techniques available to them at the time. Likewise, the musical examples included in the Ninth Topic for Consideration: Implementation, consists of music composed before 1966. A lot of music has since been composed that puts these concepts to the test and that has since cleared the way for others, especially the concept of”acousmatic” music that was established in the 1970s by Fran çois Bayle and that is largely responsible for understanding today’s music. The major collection of recordings and written works published by the Ina-GRM will assist the large number of interested listeners and readers to approach currently unanswered questions.
In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to the writers and the creator of Solfège who have acted with conviction and originality in order to clarfy and explain concepts of the Treatise. Through their work, and with the availability of these examples, numerous musicians and music lovers have become interested and able to discover a different type of sound and a new approach to music.
Daniel TERUGGI - October1998
Music Theory was at the heart of his musical research. Despite Music Theory usually being associated with beginners, Schaeffer considered it to be at the center of his most subtle and original approach to music.
From 1963 to 1970, I was responsible for organizing this research and kept in permanent contact with Pierre Schaeffer, particularly in 1965-66 when the Traité des Objets Musicaux (Treatise on Musical Objects) was published. I was young and plunged headlong into the whirlwind of ideas and plans. At times I was more “schaefferien” than the Master, particularly in the work I accomplished in an intense collaboration with my partner, Henri Chiarucci.
It was a wonderful period when the GRM was like a beehive buzzing with a multitude of strange, unpredictable events. Instrumental and electroacoustic mediums were combined, the place became a meeting point for all kinds of music and sounds. We were prepared for anything, craving new experiences and previously unheard-of sounds, working night and day in close musical communion, the center of which was Music Theory, that compulsory beginners’ exercise that is, in fact, a distillation of the most valuable discoveries musicians have made over the centuries.
We created, transposed, fragmented, multiplied and transformed thousands of sounds that Pierre Schaeffer used to concoct his creations and gradually build up his musical language. Henri Chiarucci, Beatriz Ferreyra and myself were in close contact with Schaeffèr, sharing his moments of great intensity when the Master was as capable of anger as he was of satisfaction. Everything seems matter-of-fact when you are a beginner and it is only later that, little by little, you start to realize the importance of what you were given all at once, so effortlessly, at the beginning of your career. “The meek shall inherit the earth”, Schaeffer used to say. Thirty-five years later, now that we are beginning to explore the conclusions that Schaeffer reached, we are able to see how essential these discoveries are for musicians.
Even though the musical world has never been very enthusiastic about Schaeffer’s research, his message has been understood and has significantly influenced musical creation in the second half of the 20th century. Schaeffer has proved himself to be one of this century’s major researchers and his influence can only continue to grow.
After my Music Theory studies at the Conservatoire, I had the privilege of following in his footsteps for quite a while. My studies in Music Theory led me to create “Corps Sonores”, a natural continuation ofmy time spent with Schaeffer, where the magic of dance gave life to sound objects.
“Corps Sonores” is a tribute to Pierre Schaeffer.
Guy REIBEL - October 1998
In 1963, when I arrived at the Music Research Department founded by Pierre Schaeffer, the department included, besides the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, several theoretical and experimental groups devoted to production and creation, all working around a single vast theme: Communication. To questions asking “who says what to whom 7”, Pierre Schaeffer had added the all-important “how ?“, thereby including in the standard program of studies research into audiovisual communication and mass media, audible phenomena and music in general (both western and non-western).
These questions were considered of paramount importance by the Groupe Solfège (Music Theory Group) founded in 1964 within the GRM. The group consisted of the instrument maker and then director of the GRM, Bernard Baschet, the physicist Enrico Chiarucci, the engineer and composer Guy Reibel, the singer Simone Rist and myself The group’s aim was to carry out the maximum number of experiments possible that would enable Pierre Schaeffer’s intuitive, theoretical and descriptive propositions to be confirmed or rejected. The results of these experiments were then used to compile Traité des Objects Musicaux, published in 1966, completed in the following year by Le Solfège de 1’Objet Sonore published in 1967.
Our working methods were both varied and numerous. Systematic procedures for collective listening brought out new phenomena for the typology and morphology of the sound object. It was also essential to create and organise a huge amount of documentation concerning tests, analises and theories of all the areas of fundamental research, for example “Le Rapport Entre ra Hauteur et la Fondamentale d’un Son Musical” (The Relationship Between the Upper and Lower Limits of a Musical Sound) written by Enrico Chiarucci and Guy Reibel in 1965 and published in La Revue Internationale d Audiologie (International Review of Audiology) in 1966. Pre-recorded tapes were used for experiments such as eliminating the attack of notes, transposing etc. Specialized equipment such as filters, sonographs and bathygraphs were used to study the correlations between physical signals and audible perception including the study of anamorphosis. The list is endless...
I should like to add that with his Music Theory method, that was much disputed by musicians, Pierre Schaeffer attempted to put a little order into the musical mayhem for which, since the introduction of the complex note (i.e. without a definite pitch), he frlt responsible. The note with a definite pitch, that had been the basis of all music for thousands of years, no longer reigned supreme. Music Theory is worthless in itself unless it can be used to refine, awaken and make the perception of sound, and thus music, conscious.
Beatriz FERREYRA - October 1998
It is a well-established fact that our approach to music is generally twofold : this is the physicists’ as well as the musicians’ doing.
One the one hand, music is considered to be based on acoustics, or even mathematics, which ought to give it the status of a science; on the other hand, it is acknowledged that it proceeds from psychological and sociological phenomena which, over the ages, have developed into an art, itself depending on various crafts.
There is no longer any contradiction between the two approaches so long as one is prepared to accept them jointly, with enough insight to respect the methods proper to each end of the chain.
Two initial problems, therefore, must be regarded as equally fundamental the first relates to the correlation between sound, which is the physical vehicle of music and pertains to nature, and the sum of the psychological phenomena of perception which constitute the sound object the second relates to the choice of definite objects which are deemed suitable for music by reason of their perceptive criteria, and leads to a sound morphology and a musical typology.
There is, finally, a third problem that of the value that such objects take on within a musical composition, and consequently of the nature of the music (or musics) which the choice of certain musical objects implies.
It will be appreciated that these three problems belong to elementary musicology, which precedes any analysis of the musical ideas underlying composition.
Western music, 'sophisticated' though it is supposed to be, seems to have ignored these distinctions up to now, and has been content with passing on the age-old inheritance of 'simple relationships' from generation to generation. Linguistics has developed otherwise.
This is subdivided into phonetics and phonology, lexicology and syntax. One might then be tempted to draw a parrallel with acoustics and 'acoulogy' (tonic solfa), musical theory and rules of composition. To do so would mean making two rash or at least limitative assumptions not only that music is nothing more (or less) than a language, but also the one familiar to the western world for the past few centuries.
Music cannot be boiled down to a well-defined language, nor can it thus be coded merely by usage. Music is always in the making, always groping its way through some frail and mysterious passage - and a very strange one it is - between nature and culture.
Such high ambitions require some caution many different stages and infinite patience are involved.
In our Treatise on Musical Objects, an aftempt was made to synthesize the three elementary problems as far as the 'object' is concerned : the particular difficulty of such an investigation, and also the peculiar fascination which it holds, were stressed. One cannot, as in case of language, refer solely to the existing texts. Sound still remains to be deciphered, hence the idea of an introduction to the sound object to train the ear to listen in a new way this requires that the conventional listening habits imparted by education first be unlearned.
The propositions contained in the Treatise on Musical Objects can, therefore, only be based on actual personal experience. For lack of textual references, which are still under research, or established quotations, it was necessary to re-create the materials and the circumstances of an authentic 'musical experience'.
Pierre Schaeffer’s seminal account of how he created musique concrete while working for Radio France in the 50’s. An absolute must read for all those interested in this genre.
From a modern perspective, it is about the earliest attempts at sampling and sample manipulation, using wax cylinders first, and reel to reel tape recorders when they became available.