Exercise 5: Musique Concrète

Trying to Reach Alice

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:

  1. Collection of sonic source materials using the Zoom audio recorders (Do not use an iPhone, camera, etc.)
  2. 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.



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:

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:

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

In Progress

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: yourlastname_concrete

Be prepared to discuss your overall concept & approach to finding and recording the clips you will use for the finished piece.

Finished Work

Create a folder yourlastname_concrete with:

  1. 1 audio file, 2 min (WAV or AIFF): yourlastname_concrete
  2. 1 Statement of Creative Works (PDF), specify the intention of your chosen sounds and manipulation techniques: yourlastname_concrete.pdf
  3. 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: yourlastname_sounds.pdf

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.

  1. Acousmatic sound is sound one hears without seeing an originating cause.