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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

1971 Musique Concrete MP3

Here’s an hour-long recording of two musique concrete pieces that should be required listening for anyone venturing into laptop music. Recorded back in 1971, it’s a textbook case of the effort required, in those days long before home-computing, to make electronic compositions built from found sounds. Now that audio-processing software comes preloaded with countless transformative plugins, the painstaking process of musique concrete — that is, of composing music based on real-world noise — has to be heard to be appreciated (MP3).

In a deadpan delivery that verges on comical (“I worked 12 days to get six seconds of music”), Don Hannah explains in detail how he went about recording a piece based on the field recordings of marbles. He first discovers they have pleasurable sonic properties when banged against various objects, including a margarine container, an empty soft drink can, a coffee mug (“good for two sounds, one with a contact mic, the other with a conventional air mic”), cardboard and a glass. He then sets about slowing and speeding the taped samples, and arranging his sound objects into a proper composition. “Small wonder,” he says, “they invented synthesizers.” The result is 10 minutes long, a spacey, percussive piece that begins precisely 23 minutes into the MP3 file, should you want to bypass Hannah’s lecture.

It’s followed (at the 33:40 mark) by a recording of an Allan Bryant composition based on the sounds of three home-made fretless guitars. Over the course of its nearly 20 minutes, it goes from chamber to orchestral, and from recognizable to otherworldly. Unfortunately, Bryant doesn’t contribute any further background information in this recording.

This file is part of the Other Minds archive at the Internet Archive (aka archive.org). It’s reportedly the ninth edition of Source, in its day “a bi-yearly publication devoted to avant-garde composers’ scores, articles and photographs.” (That numbering doesn’t quite coordinate with the Source listings at ubu.com.) By the way, that MP3 link above is to the lowest-quality sound recording available at archive.org; this URL (link) goes to an FTP folder with a variety of format options.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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