What the GRM brought to music: from musique concrète to acousmatic music

Abstract (by Marc Battier)

Sixty years ago, musique concrète was born of the single-handed efforts of one man, Pierre Schaeffer. How did the first experiments become a School and produce so many rich works? As this issue of Organised Sound addresses various aspects of the GRM activities throughout sixty years of musical adventure, this article discusses the musical thoughts behind the advent and the development of the music created and theoretised at the Paris School formed by the Schaefferian endeavours. Particular attention is given to the early twentieth-century conceptions of musical sounds and how poets, artists and musicians were expressing their quest for, as Apollinaire put it, ‘new sounds new sounds new sounds’. The questions of naming, gesture, sound capture, processing and diffusion are part of the concepts thoroughly revisited by the GRMC, then the GRM in 1958, up to what is known as acousmatic music. Other contributions, such as Teruggi's, give readers insight into the technical environments and innovations that took place at the GRM. This present article focuses on the remarkable unity of the GRM. This unity has existed alongside sixty years of activity and dialogue with researchers of other fields and constant attention to the latter-day scientific, technological and philosophical ideas which have had a strong influence in shaping the development of GRM over the course of its history.

What the GRM brought to music: from musique concrète to acousmatic music

summarised by Rachel Quigley

Electroacoustic music began in its first era at the heart of public radiophonic studio's. The tradition was established at the end of the 1940's by Pierre Schaeffer and was called the Paris School . The basis of the Paris school was electroacoustic composition. New ideas and theory based work came from a wide variety of composers such as Pierre Henry, Luc Ferrari, Guy Reibel, François Bayle.

The Italian futurists Ballila Pratella and Luigi Russolo first suggested that new music could be based on turning the noises of the world into music. This idea was expressed again and again by many different composers in the first half of the 19th century and lead to a new found inspiration among artists and musicians at the turn of the twentieth century. Sounds from the world became a part of many compositions for example; the sounds of machinery used by Luigi Russolo. This interest in the 'sounds of the world' was the so called 'turning point' for Concrète invention and indeed for a great part of electroacoustic music.

The gramophone was an instrument conceived for recording and reproduction. However many people were for the idea of it being used as an instrument for creation. Apollinaire proclaimed himself as a 'phonographist poet' while Boris de Schloezer held the idea that one could write for the gramophone similarly to how one could write for the piano or violin. In addition, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt observed that phonography could exist as music without having been created by an instrument. Carol-Bèrard was one of the first to question why common noises „such as those of a city at work, at play, even sleep“ were not used for phonograph records. A question Pierre Schaeffer would ask almost twenty years later. The techniques of recording and montage became the basis of music concrète. For Jean Epstein sound recording „ revealed what was hidden in the act of simple acoustic listening“ and Apollinaire, who during December 1913 visited the Archives of the Voice at Sorbonne and recorded three poems, found his recorded voice totally unrecognisable. These unrecognisable sounds were explained by Epstein as sounds which had distanced themselves from the individual as a result of the recording process. This idea became the basis for Schaeffer's theory which he called reduced listening.

Music Concrète was founded on the idea that an area exists 'beyond the sounds' and we can capture this by recording the sounds on a microphone. Listening to these sounds without a visual image concentrates the sound and our perception is reduced to that of 'pure listening'. Schaeffer commented (in relation to the microphone) that  „ without changing the sound, it transforms the experience of listening“ Schaeffer was extremely fascinated with the difference between what is conceived and what is perceived, he refered to this as the seperator power. Schaeffer did encounter problems due to the technology available at the time to the Club d'Essai. He found that some noises could become a sound object when their anecdotal charater could be masked while other noises kept their dramamtic character and it was impossible to erase recognition of their source completely. The approach to music Concrète was in many ways based upon the idea of Faktura and other theoretical protcols of the Russian Constructivists. The Faktura has been defined as „a material knowingly chosen and rationally deployed“. Schaeffer implemented the Faktura of Constructivism to turn the sound event into „the musical object, material that was pure sound“.

Pierre Schaeffer (1910-95) studied at the Ècole Polytechnique and was involved at the heart of the institution of radio. His role with the radio led him to make prolonged stays abroad. During these stays Schaeffer would persue his ideas for Musique Concrète which had been developing since 1948.  Musique Concrète received an institutional realisation from the beginning of October 1951, with the creation of the 'Groupe de recherches de musique concrète' within the Radio-Tèlèvison francaise. Another studio was also created in October 1951, it was the studio of the NWDR in Cologne. Musique concrète had a large influence internationally. One example is from the composer Mayuzumi Toshiro who on return from his studies in Paris created a work in three pieces which was directly inspired by his experiences of musique concrète in Paris. The work was called Musique concrète for X Y Z. The Groupe de recherches de musique concrète organised the first International decade of Experimental Music. Pioneers of electroacoustic music such as Vladimir Ussachevsky, Hermann Scherchen, Pierre Boulez and Herbert Eimert presented there. In 1951 Schaeffer organised the first musique concrète workshop in which Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Yvette Grimaud, André Hodeir and Monique Rollin came to study. Olivier Messiaen was assisted by Pierre Henry in creating a rhythmical work Timbres-durè es. It was put together from a repertory of repercussive and brief sounds. Egdard Varèse made the first of the three versions of Dèserts (1954) and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati produced Amen de verre (1957). Many of these composers were already established and it is clear to see that the Schaefferian doctrine would not be followed strictly. For example Pierre Boulez adapted concrète processes to the serial method in two of his études.

A repertory of techniques evolved over the years, many of which had not been established in the radiophonic studio. The techniques that are the most appropriate for the creation of musique concrète are remarkably few and consist of using the radiophonic studio technologies in special ways. We can separate these into three classes. Firstly there is the alteration and transformation of time. This was done using a turntable. Techniques such as segmentation, acceleration, slowing down, reproduction of sound back to front, repetition of a fragment and the application of a dynamic envelope using a level potentiometer were possible. Second is the transformation of texture and timbre. Perception of timbre is changed by temporal operations, for example if one cuts the attack of a sound so that only the sustain fragment can be heard the original timbre will be masked. With the arrival of phonogenes came the possibilty for speed variations which resulted in transpositions in time and pitch. The use of filters, ring modulators and amplitude modulators, as a form of treatment, developed slowly. They were progressivly installed during the early years of the GRM. However they were seen as electronic objects which worked against the philosophy of musique concrete and the GRM became sensitive to these means of transforming sounds. Finally there was the technique of spatialistation, that is, multi-channel diffusion. In 1951 Jacques Poullin invented a 'music stand for spatial application' and it was used in a concert shortly afterwards. At this concert one heard spatialised works by Schaeffer and Henry. In addition, by using a three-track and six-spools tape recorder Pierre Henry diffused a work by Messiaen with three fixed channels and a 'cinematic one'. In a statement Schaeffer made  about musique concrète he stated that he shared many interests with his German collegues but he did not believe in their „elektronische Musik“. However the music he refered to was not the typical music related to the Cologne studio but rather music based largely upon electronic instruments such as keyboards.

The art of reinventing machines into instruments of creation can be clearly seen from the progression of the gramophone. It was originally an apparatus for reproduction which changed to an instrument of production. Schaeffer used the gramophone as a means to generate unheard behaviours of sound using techniques such as closed groove- which created a loop, speed variation-which transposed pitch and tempo, reversal and removal. This lead Schaeffer towards the conception of musique concrète. These techniques allowed new sounds to be created from the original sound, which masked the identification of the source. The use of the turntable and its technical capabilities is the mark of the first works of musique concrète and was used up to Schaeffer's and Henry's Symphonie pour un homme seul. However during the work on this piece the first tape recorder arrived in the studio.

Schaeffer deliberated over what to call this type of music he had invented. He eventually established a parallel between musique concrète and abstract painting. He thought about calling it musique plastique or plastique sonore but it was Jérôme Peignot who suggested acousmatic music. He said that acousmatic „would indicate a sound that one hears without being able to identify its origin. Fifteen years later François Bayle relaunched this idea when he applied it to the music of Paris School. The idea of acousmate is linked to mysticism. It gives a mystical dimension to the phenomenon of hidden sound. This is the role now played by phonography, to make sounds whose sources are hidden. The two sources of creating phonographic sound are restitution and recreation. For example with the gramophone it holds onto the physical inscription while the listener is allowed to reconstitute the sound image and trace the origin of the sound. In 1958 the Groupe de Recherches Musicales was formed and from this point on they called it experimental music. In an interview with Michel Chion, Pierre Schaeffer explains that the term 'music for tape' is used when one „emphasises the origin, on the instrument,: the generator, the synthesizer“, musique concrète is when the emphasis is on the „approach“ and electroacoustic music when the „concrete sources and the synthetic sources are mingled“.

With the development of the studio came the question of whether one must choose between using the analogue sound  of the electroacoustic equipment or the recording studio where the microphone could „capture the resonances of the sound-producing objects“. Schaeffer chose the analogue route. This resulted in Schaeffer using the process of collage to superimpose each item, or sound, upon each other. As this idea progressed the question of finding a way to combine objects became a focus of the techniques of montage. Guy Reibel formed and developed this idea. For Pierre Henry it was the recording studio that tempted him. To him electroacoustic music was a way of gesture and invention and thus a new route for concrète practice was created.

Schaeffer wanted to adapt the studio's newly aquired tape recorder in order to explore the transformations of recorded objects more elaborately. Several machines were invented and made by Jacques Poullin. Firstly there was the keyboard phonogène, made by the Tolana company, which allowed a magnetic tape in the form of a loop to be played according to a selection of twelve playback speeds. Secondly there was the sliding phonogène constructed by the Sareg company. This had a lever which allowed a gradual change in speed. This resulted in a kind of 'spectral and temporal glissando'. An example of this can be heard in Orphèe ou toute la lyre by Schaeffer and Henry. Next came the morphophone. This read a loop of magnetic tape using ten heads which one could place anywhere along the loop. This allowed one to produce repetition. The universal phonogène was created in 1961 and was an adaptation of the principle of the Springer Tempophon created in Germany by Axel Springer. It allowed one to work independently on speed variation and consequently pitch transposition. With the founding of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales came a new phase with a new way of electroacoustic composition and there are several works that mark this. They are characterised by an effort to create a unity of the material by inserting it into a formal, coherent discourse. Schaeffer created two études, the first one, Étude aux allures (1958) uses a number of types of processing and also the keyboard phonogène. The  keyboard phonogène produced a „kind of melody of resonances, of bandpass filters, which cuts off the spectra of resonant rich sounds“...“just as from constructions of hybrid objects tied two by two through editing, according to an outline of expansion/contraction.“ These were the sounds in delta, an electroacoustic pattern commonly use at the Paris school which was based on the shape of the Greek letter. For Etude aux objets Schaeffer used approximately one hundred sound objects and arranged them in the most natural way possible.

In 1966 Schaeffer published his treatise, the Traité des objets musicaux, which he claimed took fifteen years to write and is 672 pages long. Schaeffer explained Reduced listening as the way in which we perceive the captured and recorded object or sound. He claimed that this was the driving force behind concrète invention. Reduced listening allows you to disengage the musical properties of the 'fixed object'. Isolating and defining the musical characterisitics of recorded sounds was refered to, by Schaeffer in his treatise, as acoulogy, or in other words the science of sound. Several years later Chion proposed to widen the field of acoulogy to the 'science of hearing in all aspects'. Chion did not believe that it had to be mainly focused on music but rather that its objective should be knowledge about the science of hearing. Chion illustrates how a lot of Schaefferian thinking can be applied to many different fields and not just to music. Acoulogy is the way to distinguise between two levels of work. The first, typology, allows the classification of sounds by types of objects. The second level, morphology, categorises the ways of describing the classification of the objects. Schaeffer then further distinguishes between internal morphology and external morphology. Internal morphology applies to those objects that have a certain unity of character. Whereas external morphology applies to those objects made up from a number of detached elements which differ in nature yet stem from the same source. All of the above ideas were experimental and were intended to serve as the foundation for creation. Schaeffer united them in his project solfège of sounds. He undertook an enormous catalogue of examples of sound and was helped by Guy Reibel, Beatriz Ferreyra, Francois Bayle and Henri Chiarucci. One of the main ideas of the treatise was that the sound may eventually be a substitute for the note. In addition certain properties of sounds found in the Traité represent classifications currently in use and terms such as 'allure' have become part of the vocabulary of electroacoustic music. Schaeffer proposed the question to the GRM of what connection should there be between the musical object and composition? Should one not place the idea of structure before that of object? Schaeffer proposed the project of a concert which would be fed by all at the GRM. An experimentation followed but the results showed that the subject of musical structure had not been of great importance. For the concert Iannis Xenakis was responsible for the programme and suggested a model based on combinatorial theory. This would lead to working on the musical fragments made by certain composers with those provided by others. The project was then conducted through a theorem based on a formalisation of sound. Schaeffer requested musical structures which could work with the mathematical models put forward by Xenakis even though in doing so he was advancing indisputably towards a structuralist approach. This therefor led to a series of profound upheavals at the GRM. 

During the 1960's Schaeffer put together new teams for research. The Group for Technical Research focused on the development of new electronic instruments. While the Group for Image Research focused on audiovisual questions. François Coupigny was the director for the Technical Research group. He had the responsibility of developing a device for electronic production. He produced an ensemble of electronic modules designed to generate signals and to process external sources. They emerged around 1969 and were refered to as a synthesiser. The synthesiser functioned as a remote control for the tape recorders and also was the model for a portable unit still in use today! It became the heart of the new studio 54 at the GRM which was installed by Henri Chiarucci in 1970. Due to this the compositional aspect of the GRM became heavily focused on the use of electronic devices. This occured worldwide for example with the cybernetic inventions of Louis and Bebe Barron in New York, Raymond Scott's electronium in America, Josef-Anton Riedl's Siemens studio in Germany, the Belgian IPEM studio in Ghent and the Dutch studio in Utrecht. Due to this change the question of musical notation arose. There are few examples of prescriptive notation in the Paris School. Schaeffer had originally tried to notate his figures of concrète objects for his first étude but this experiment was quickly abandoned. While François Bayle's concept of the acousmonium in 1974 hastened the usage of notation. For the Paris School, notation was not something to be inscribed in the conception but in the gesture. Even with the arrival of computer technology, which forces one to specify exact data, the gesture remained a focus for the GRM with the creation of the Syter digital machine. The development of digital music in Europe was late and very gradual. The GRM was one of the first to invest in this technology, despite Schaeffer's extremely cautious view towards it since 1970, and it was up to Francis Régnier to explore the possibilities. At this time the most developed software for digital synthesis and processing was Music V. It was developed by Max Mathews and his team at the Bell Telephone Laboratories. The program was placed on a mini-computer in Studio 123 of the GRM. However the composers of the GRM did not take to the software initially as it was necessary to predetermine the data and code things exactly, hence the musicians could not find the equivalent of the gesture, which was so important to the GRM. The answer to this setback was found in the development to digital programs conceived to emulate conventional processing of sounds. The idea was to attempt to reproduce in software the manipulations of the analogue studio so that composers would find themselves in familiar territory. Following this came the idea of a conversational type of programme to studio 123. With this type of programme the user could choose the values of transposition and display them as variables similar to conventional machines. This idea was defended by Bénédict Mailliard. One of the most notable tools of this was the set of resonant filters which allowed sound to 'pass through adjustable frequency bands up to a level where the filter itself resonates and accompanies the treated sound with a sort of spectral reverberation'. In addition the musician could choose the number of filters he wanted to use as it was software-based rather than hardware-based and the only limitation was that of the machine or computer. The effect of this can be heard in the first work that came out of Studio 123 by François Bayle called Erosphère. After having tried to spread the use of Music V the GRM chose to create an environment based on gestures. This resulted in the development of the Syter project, a program using a real-time audio-numeric system. It allowed composers access to real-time and interactive control of processing programs for digital sound. The software for Syter was transferred to platforms of personal computers. This allowed the treatment techniques in use at the GRM to become accessible to a wide public of users.

In 1966 François Bayle became the director of the GRM. This lead to a new phase of musical research which marked the compositional direction of the Paris School. It can be seen from Bayle's catalogue that until 1970 the most prominent works were of chamber music without an electroacoustic dimension. Only some of the works involved magnetic tape and they also included traditional as well as less traditional instrument such as the glass harmonica and the hammond organ. Some notable works conceived during Bayle's time as director are Jeîta ou Murmure des eaux, l'Expérience acoustique (1969-1971) Vibrations composées (1973), Grande polyphonie (1974) and Camera oscura (1976). Bayle rarely wrote for live sources and writing for tape became systematic for him. New terminology came about during the 1960's such as 'bounces, rustlings' etc which were generally referring to the cause of the sound. As a result of this there came a new form of writing. The idea of motion in Schaefferian theory was evolved further and there was a new attitude towards conducting sounds. Instead of examining the object's properties the sounds were  influenced by the movements that caused them. A good example of this can be seen in Bernard Parmegiani's De natura sonorum. The principle of the work is to ally concrète objects to electronic sources. This can create an unstable fusion of texture and tone, sometimes of radical contrasts. Musique concrète progressed with the putting together of individual sound sequences which were generally quiet short especially the initial studies in 1948. One of the main ideas behind the reformation of the Paris School was the idea of morphogenesis. Bayle directed this towards the question of the flow of energy that animates the sounds. By giving composition this direction towards certain dynamic material Bayle was able to generate sonic forms in motion. As a result of this the style of the GRM was completely changed. Bayle made images of sounds emerge from forms which he called iSounds. All of this emerged from the end of the 1960's. It was during these years that the term 'acousmatic', approved by Schaeffer at the end of the 1950's, was adapted to describe music recorded onto sound media. Bayle promoted the term acousmatic above all to make visible the new theoretical status of the musical object. Schaeffer declared to Bayle that 'until then the musical object gave life to time, but after Bayle had further evolved Schaefferian ideas, it was time that gave life to the musical object'. 

red Characters are quotes from Marc Battiers article!!

Taken from the Article by Marc Battier in: Organised Sound, Vol. 12, Number 3 (Dec 2007)
summarised by Rachel Quigley (Erasmus student from Ireland at TU Berlin)