Examples of the role of pure sound and field recordings in music.
Examples of interaction of composers and musicians with their surroundings, with sound as language.
Starting with a composition by Claude Debussy – ‘La Mer’ or ‘The Sea’, that is clearly recognisable as traditional ‘classical’ music: an orchestra with traditional instruments plays this work about the sea.
Also interesting is that it sounds a bit like film music – it inspired a lot of film music composers, because it really tells a story with music.
One can hear that the composer has a passionate bond with the sea and wants to tell the audience about it.
This was made in 1905. A number of artist and composers where still using nature in their work – while other where starting to use the industrial revolution and urbanisation in their work. They thought that the change of circumstances needed to be present in music. In fact the whole relationship between man and the world was changing dramatically because of the mechanisation and the overwhelming reality of life in the big city.
Here are two compositions that have the City as subject: a composer from Paris who made a work about America and an American who made a work about Paris –it is in fact called ‘An American in Paris’ composed by George Gershwin
It really is a light and playful piece and some instruments imitate the claxon sounds of the Paris streets. A bit superficial – similar to a postcard of the Eifel tower a tourist sends. Typical American entertainment music.
Totally different is this composition by French composer Edgar Varèse – ‘Amériques’.
Real sirens are used in this work, as an additional to the traditional instruments.
American composer George Antheil also used sirens, but made a step further and composed the music for the movie ‘Ballet Mécanique’, written for 16 player pianos (or pianolas), 2 regular pianos, 3 xylophones, at least 7 electric bells, 3 airplane propellers, siren, 4 bass drums, and 1 tam-tam.
This is not only music about mechanisation and the excitement and turbulence of modern life, but it uses mechanical devices as instrument – very revolutionary.
This composer recorded the sounds of trains and composed a work with it:
Pierre Schaeffer – ’Etude aux chemins de fer’ – study of the railways.
No instruments, but is still a composition: it is organised sound. Recognisable as train sounds.
’Ritratto di Città’ or ‘City Portrait’ made by Italian composer Luigi Russolo.
He designed his own noise instruments, to be able to make the music he wanted to make. It is an orchestra of mechanical devices, producing abstract sounds.
These compositions are all classical music – it is made by composers who studied music.
Within the rock and pop culture, people noticed these ideas from the classical world and began using them in their music.
One good example of a mix between rock and ideas coming from the academic world is
the Berlin band Einstürzende Neubauten, a typical band of the 80’s. They used waste and metal objects found in Berlin and mixed it with rock elements as guitar and voice: ’Sehnsucht’ for instance.
They also made works with no rock elements in it, just the pure sounds of the materials themselves: ’Das Schaben’
So, we listened to compositions who had modern life, industry and the city as subject and even as instruments.
But in he same time there where composers who had nature as subject.
Here are examples of the use of sounds of nature in compositions, coming from the academic world as well as the so called subculture:
Greek composer Iannis Xenakis recorded the sound of burning charcoal and manipulated the recordings with taperecorder and arranged it to an abstract work called ‘Concret PH’
‘Things did seem kind of magical’ by Australian sound artist Kate Carr is a combination of field recordings and synthesizer.
John Cage has also used the sounds of water, but very different, in a composition called ‘Water Walk’. This work is not so much about emotion as the work of Kate Carr, but it is about ideas: a kind of playful research of the sounds you can make with water. This is in fact a cold and distance, but also a humoristic approach to the element water.
Totally different is this video by the French group Étant Donnés, who use natural sounds and their voices to show a powerful and intense bond with nature. We are back to Claude Debussy, but the techniques and methods have changed. Here is a segment of their video ‘Royaume’.