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Solfege de l'objet Sonore (1966)
Pierre Schaeffer

Pierre Schaeffer in UbuWeb Sound

It is a well-established fact that our approach to music is generally twofold : this is the physicists' as well as the musicians' doing.

One the one hand, music is considered to be based on acoustics, or even matheniatics, which ought to give it the status of a science; on the other hand , it is acknowledged that it proceeds from psychological and sociological phenomena which, over the ages, have developed into an art, itself depending on various crafts.

There is no longer any contradiction between the two approaches so long as one is prepared to accept them jointly, with enough insight to respect the methods proper to each end of the "chain."

Two initial problems, therefore, must be regarded as equally fundamental : the first relates to the correlation between sound, which is the physical vehicle of music and pertains to nature, and the sum of the psychological phenomena of perception which constitute the sound object : the second relates to the choice of efinite objects which are deemed suitable for music by reason of their perceptive criteria, and leads to a sound morphology and a musical typology.

There is, finally, a third problem: that of the value that such objects take on within a musical composition, and consequently of the nature of the music (or musics) which the choice of certain musical objects implies.

It will be appreciated that these three problems belong to elementary Musicology, which precedes anv analysis of the musical ideas underlying composition.

Western music, "sophisticated" though it is supposed to be, seems to have ignored these distinctions up to now, and has been content with passing on the age-old inheritance of "simple relationships" from generation to generation. Linguistics has developed otherwise.

This is subdivided into phonetics and honology, lexicology and syntax. One might then be tempted to draw a parrallerlwith acoustics and "acoulogy" (tonic solfa), musical theory and rules of composition. To do so would inean making two rash or at least hinitative assumptions : not only that music is nothing more (or less) than a language, but also the one farniliar to the western world for the past few centuries.

Music cannot be boiled down to a well-defined language, nor can it thus be coded merely by usage. Music is always in the making, groping its way through some frail and mysterious passage - and a very strange one it is - between nature and culture.

Such high ambitions require some caution : many different stages and infinite patience are involved.

In our Treatise on Musical Objects, an attempt was made to synthesize the three elementary problems as far as the "object" is concerned : the particular difficulty of such an investigation, and also the peculiar fascination which it holds, were stressed. One cannot, as in case of language, refer solely to the existing texts. Sound still remains to be deciphered, hence the idea of an introduction to the sound object to train the ear to listen in a new way : this requires that the conventional listening habits imparted by education first be unlearned.

The propositions contained in the Treatise on Musical Objects can, therefore, only be based on actual personal experience. For lack of textual references, which are still under research, or established quotations, it was necessarv to re- create the materials and the circumstances of an authentic "rnusical experience."

Its purpose may then be manifold and those for whom it is intended many. Some are concerned with our first problern and look for proof of what is stated in the Treatise. This is precisely the purpose of the first part of this collection, which is devoted to relationships between acoustics and music.

Others are engrossed in problems of composition. They will find in this same part both the physical and physiological limits set down by nature and the key to the distortions which occur between physical parameters and perception criteria. Furthermore, the second part will give them the means for drawing up an inventory of sound by providing a morphology and a typology.

But evervone will finally have to admit that each one of us hears with different ears sometimes too refined, sometimes too coarse, but in any event always "informed" by all kinds of prejudices and preconditioned by education. Ours is therefore ail extension of the rudiments of musical theory through a radical renovation of it.

Whether one's interest lies in comprehension, in performing or ill listening, it is hoped that this work will contribute the basic elements of a musical experience. Confronting the ideas of a researcher with experimental materials is not enough, one must sense musical communication : the harmony of a group united to give meaning to the aural material, as a function of a listening intention.

It is therefore, hardly necessary to add that, decisive though the initiative of the present album's promoter and author may have been, its whole value stems from the cooperation of the research team.

To achieve such a work, several waves of researchers have succeeded each other. Following the first discoveries of concrete music with Pierre Henry between 1948 and 1953, the subject was taken up again some years later both by experienced musicians such as lannis Xenakis and Ivo Malec and by younger ones such as Luc Ferrari, Bernard Parmegiani, François Bayle and Edgardo Canton.

But it is only over the past two years, simultaneously with the final drafts of the Treatise on Musical Objects, that a small team exclusively devoted to experimental research was set up with Guy Reibel and Henri Chiarucci, and their assistant Beatriz Ferreyra. It is due to their combined efforts and to the creation of the sound examples, for which Guy Reibel was responsible, that an encounter was finall made possible between a systematic exposition and relevant examples, to why the whole team has contributed at various times.

Far more than the customary expression of thanks, this is the acknowledgment of a solidarity and a common desire to be of assistance to others : let me therefore dedicate this work collectively to all those who take an interest in such work and in particular to the younger generation.

Finally, it would be unfair to forget those who put the finishing touches to these recordings and took part in their production and edition : my thanks to Jean-Louis Ducarme, Agnes Tanguy and to François Bayle, who supervised the work.

Pierre SCHAEFFER - 1966