Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

By Joanna Demers | Go to book overview
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Conclusion

In 1986, at the age of seventy-six, Pierre Schaeffer gave an interview with Tim Hodgkinson, former member of the avant-garde rock group Henry Cow. The interview is perplexing and disheartening, showing the twilight years of a man who should have been enjoying the esteem of his colleagues and students. By 1986, Schaeffer had apparently revised his opinions about the hierarchy of music and sound. Now the move from purely representational sound to abstract sound rightfully culminates in music. This differs from his statements in the Traité that musicians and composers had wrongfully chosen to make music abstract, to remove it from its concrete origins in raw sound:

We have to not call music things which are simply sound-structures….
There’s thus a gradation between the domain of raw sound, which starts by
being imitative, like the representational plastic arts, and the domain of
language. Between, there’s a zone of gradation which is the area of
“abstract” in the plastic arts, and which is neither language nor model, but
a play of forms and material. There are many people working with sound.
It’s often boring, but not necessarily ugly. It contains dynamic and kinaes-
thetic impressions. But it’s not music. (Hodgkinson 1986)

The in-between zone between sound and music for Schaeffer is where musique concrète resided, and musique concrète evidently failed to measure up to music. Indeed, Schaeffer dismisses practically all subsequent electronic music as a failure and instead advocates what he quizzically calls “baroque music.” He answers the question “So a new music is impossible?” as follows:

-155-

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