Around 1948 a couple of French musicians Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer started to play with tape recorders. They realised that tape recordings allowed them to do things they could not do before. They could speed sounds up; they could slow them down; they could make them louder or quieter; they could repeat a sound, cut pieces out of it, filter it and then, they could do the whole lot again playing the sound backwards. German composer, Karheinz Stockhausen, and others were also experimenting in Cologne. They were among a number of musicians around Europe and beyond who began to see that the gramophone and tape recorder were the start of something new in the world of musical composition. Around 1957 a couple of Studio Managers in the BBC Drama department, Daphe Oram and Desmond Briscoe, recognised the need for the BBC to have a facility to make unusual and unreal sound effects to add a new dimension to drama, both on television and on Radio. they could take sounds from real life everyday objects they could use any sound from real life and turn it into music.
Composers who worked at the BBC RWS over the years included: Daphne Oram, Dick Mills, Maddelena Fagandini, Brian Hodgson, Delia Derbyshire, John Baker, David Cain, Malcolm Clark, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Elizabeth Parker. Sir David Attenborough’s explorations of natural history; funny sound effects for comedians like The Goons; theme tunes and backing music for schools’ TV programmes; and a vast amount of work for Doctor Who all benefited from the work done at the BBC.
Traditional editing using a razor blade required patience to sit for hours, recording, altering tape speed, re-recording, cutting, sorting, joining tiny pieces of tape to make your finished work. mechanical tape recorders we used to get the sounds you want. Then we came into the digital era using recording studios and macs or pcs to edit the sounds. We longer require to sit with a razor cutting tape we can do the same job faster and much easier than ever certainly makes us realise how the pioneers for sound could only have dreamed to do such things…
four decades followed, some of the most poineering advances in musical creativity were inspired there. Among many bands and artists to be directly inspired by some of the workshop’s composers are acts including: The Beach Boys; The Beatles; Pink Floyd; and, more recently, Sonic Boom.
HOW MUSIC CONCRETE IS MADE
Musique Concrète is about building music from concrete or recorded sounds. Some composers refer to these as found sounds
The original sounds can come in four categories:
Tones: The sounds made by musical instruments, played normally;
Mistones: The sounds we can get doing things we are not meant to do with musical instruments [like playing a percussionist’s wire brush across the strings of a piano, or trying to play a guitar with a violinist’s bow, for example];
Pseudotones: Sounds we can get by trying to imitate the sound of a musical instrument using some other device – saucespans and dustbins as percussion, for example, or blowing across the top of a bottle to sound like pan-pipes; and
Sones: Any other sound we can make or record.
Once we have our concrete sounds, then we can manipulate them by adjusting their pitch; changing their duration; chopping pieces from the beginning, middle or end; filtering them to take out or emphasise part of the sound; applying other effects – and other processes.