Early Musique Concrete Co-Composition: Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, John Cage, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Otto Luening

Musique concrete is one of the types of electroacoustic music that unite instrumental sounds with natural ones, which are usually altered during recording processes. “Early musique concrete can be seen to belong to the world of radiophonic art, here without a sense of clear narrative normally associated with most radio plays.” (Landy 31) The father of this kind of music was Pierre Schaeffer, who presented his works at the end of the 1940s. The brightest representatives of musique concrete were such compositors as Pierre Henry, John Cage, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Otto Luening. Their works and co-compositions are known to the whole world and make lost of listeners admire their creations.

In 1950, a radio engineer and writer, Pierre Schaeffer, and his friend, a classical composer, Pierre Henry, united their skills and mastery and created a wonderful Symphonie pour Un Home Seul (Symphony for One Man Alone). (Holmes, 2008, 45) In order to create this 12-movement work, the authors recorded human body’s sounds. They did not want to concentrate on the sounds of cello, which were so familiar to the listeners of those times. They made use of steps, voices, and noises, which were so inherent to humans. This work was a real futuristic ideology. It was not similar to any previous music work; such a choice was rather dangerous, but really justified. This co-composition was one of the most successful ones in the middle of 1900s.

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Another representative of early musique concrete was John Milton Cage. This American composer, one of the pioneers of electronic music, turned out to be the most influential avant-garde musician. His originality, his marvelous ideas, his unique vision of music – this is what attract so many people to Cage’s works. One of his early tape-music pieces was Williams Mix. In order to create this work, Cage divided sounds into several categories: sounds of a city, electronic sounds, country sounds, sound produced by wind, manually produced sounds, and sounds, which require amplification. (Pritchett 90) His oddness made him a really significant figure in the world of musique concrete.

One more co-composition that deserves attention in early musique concrete is the co-work of Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening. In the middle of the 1950s, these two composers established the Columbia Tape Music Center, where started creating lots of collaborative pieces of works for magnetic tapes. They both preferred the manipulation of recorded sounds. They work with nonmusical and natural sounds in order to bring out some new resonances, which are so inherent to the world of voices and instruments. (Holmes, 2002, 106) Incantation for Tape Recorder is one of their famous collaborative compositions, created in 1953.

The unity of the aesthetics of these two great composers brought satisfactory results and made them popular to the world. They both used European traditions, and created music via tape-speed vibrations and filters. Ussachevsky’s darkness and Luening’s calmness were perfectly combined in Incantation; with the help of natural sounds, their music was much closer to listeners and allowed everyone feel a kind of unity with nature.

People prefer different styles of music. Those, who are fond of hard rock and heavy metal, will hardly comprehend the beauty of musique concrete and the works by Schaeffer, Henry, Cage, Ussachevsky, and Luening in particular. Unbelievable and unknown unity of natural sounds with electronic sounds made their works captivating and rather attractive. Nowadays, lots of people still admire such works, which help people be closer to nature.

Works Cited

Holmes, Thom. Electronic and Experimental Music: technology, Music, and Culture. Routledge, 2008.

Holmes, Thomas, B. Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition. Routledge, 2002.

Landy, Leigh. Understanding the Art of Sound Organization. MIT Press, 2007.

Pritchett, James. The Music of John Cage. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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