Exercise 5: Musique Concrète
Musique concrète (French; literally, "concrete music"), is a form of electroacoustic music that utilizes acousmatic sound1 as a compositional resource. - Wikipedia
This exercise extends the practice of sound production by introducing level metering, microphone placement, audio abstraction, audio editing, and sonic collage composition. It is broken into two parts:
- Collection of sonic source materials using the Zoom audio recorders (Do not use an iPhone, camera, etc.)
- Manipulation and editing of the Musique Concrète composition.
In preparation for the assignment, you will need to read two essays. Try to think about your sound in the ways proposed by Schaeffer in his essay Acousmatics and Lopez in his essay Environmental Sound Matter. You are not trying to re-present the particular event or environment you recorded the audio in, but rather to use that recording as raw material that you will sculpt using audio processing and editing techniques.
For this exercise, you will need a Zoom H4n audio recorder (or equivalent model) from TechCheck. Before you start recording, reformat the SD memory card in the camera and set the record mode to WAV 48k/16bit. Instructions can be found on the Tech notes page.
- The New Sound of Music - BBC 1979
- Etude aux Chemins de Fer - Pierre Schaeffer 1948
- Williams Mix - John Cage 1952
- The Delian Mode - Delia Derbyshire documentary
- John Cage performing Water Walk on I've Got a Secret, Jan 1960
- Some Assembly Required radio show & podcast 1999-2011
Using the open source sound editing application Audacity, create one 2-minute audio composition using only your original recorded sounds.
This assignment is meant to emulate the ways that early tape musicians/composers worked with audiotape. To keep in that spirit:
- Your composition must use only your own recorded materials and Audacity.
- Your project should not use multi-tracking (no layering/stacking), only the left and right channels of one stereo file.
- The only Audacity effects that can be used are: Change Pitch, Change Speed, Change Tempo, Fade In, Fade Out, Normalize, & Reverse.
- No individual sound clip should exceed ten seconds in length when recording. (short clips)
- No audio segment/scene should be longer than 5 seconds in the finished piece. (short scenes)
- Do not use understandable spoken words/conversation.
For a greater historical context: Musique Concrète wikipedia
Do not use: song/tune/melody (in any shape or form) and avoid recognizable sounds, both when recording and in the finished piece.
Techniques to explore:
- removing the beginning/middle/end of sounds
- reversing sounds
- slowing down or speeding up sounds
- repeating sounds
Save your completed audio with these specs: AIFF or WAV, 48k, 16bit or higher
Refer to the syllabus for subject matter that will not be accepted for projects in this class.
What To Turn In
All audio should be recorded for your composition, minimum of 5 minutes total (more is better). Place the clips from the Zoom recorder SD card in a folder:
Be prepared to discuss your overall concept & approach to finding and recording the clips you will use for the finished piece.
Create a folder
- 1 audio file, 2 min (WAV or AIFF):
- 1 Statement of Creative Works (PDF), specify the intention of your chosen sounds and manipulation techniques:
- 1 detailed audio log (PDF) of sounds you recorded with a brief description of the microphone placement for each sound, and a list of all sounds used in the final sound file. This will be in a similar format to the audio log from Exercise 2:
Prepare to present your work to the class in a 5-minute presentation.
Prepare for electronic transfer onto the instructor computer at the beginning of class.
Submit work by the start of class on the due date. Work submitted after the start of class will be considered late, incomplete projects will not be accepted; in addition, work not labeled according to assignment specifications will be subject to grade adjustments - see syllabus for breakdown of grades. Save your work as you will need all deliverables for your final portfolio.
Acousmatic sound is sound one hears without seeing an originating cause. ↩