Musique Concrete

As a schizophrenic, I might ask– what is reality? What am I really experiencing? Is it authentic? If I share my experiences with others, will they invalidate or deny them?

I would suggest that in today’s world, it is getting harder and harder to distinguish reality from artifice, more and more difficult to establish what is authentic. This can be disorienting for anyone– and is especially so for a schizophrenic.

One example of the blurred lines between things is the type of music called “musique concrete”. In traditional “abstract” music, actual instruments or voices are used. A musician, or musicians, sing or play instruments in tandem.

In the modern era, recording techniques have led to the emergence of Musique Concrete, in which recorded portions of sound are used as components. Often, musicians do not play the music at all– it is assembled, or mapped out in a software program– as segments of audio that are manipulated and arranged.

This can be somewhat disorienting. A non-instrumentalist can make a song that makes him or her sound like they play in an orchestra. A man can use a female voice, or effect his voice to make it sound effeminate– or, he can make it deeper, more masculine. Traditional musical sounds can appear alongside other sounds– field recordings, sound effects, and so forth. A musician can use “loops” (or repeating pieces of sound), to create the impression that the same phrase has been played again and again.

As a result, it is hard for me to say what I am hearing, and how it was created. I literally have no idea how much of a piece is “authentic”, and how much is “artificial”, or somehow canned.

I find that this kind of music is not altogether unpleasant, but it does raise questions.

Musique concrete represents one of many ways that modern reality works against traditional experiences, which, again, can be confusing for mentally ill people (and, frankly, for healthy people, too).

A person has to either be extremely sharp and prepared, or they need to let go, no longer worrying about the authenticity of what they see and hear– giving in to the levels of artifice present in today’s world.

Author: mystified13

Sole member of Mystified and Mister Vapor.

4 thoughts on “Musique Concrete”

  1. I think Musique Concrete, or for that matter even synthesized music, demands a surrendering of expectations (this might apply to all music perhaps).

    If you are sitting in a concert hall and listening to a string quartet perform, then there is no question of the reality. Even adding a mic and amplification starts the process of unreality as such devices are not giving you the original sound but a convincing copy of the sound. It can be argued that natural room reverb alters what you hear, but it is the actual reflected sound waves from the instruments, without electronic or other intervention. Thus you can “trust” it.

    Getting to sound art and recorded music in general, we now live in an age when the studio itself is an instrument. What the original experimentalists started, was picked up and continued with by producers in all genres of music. Thus, none of it can be trusted as “real.”

    In a lot of Musique Concrete, the bits and pieces of sound, however are often assembled to reference something, to paint a picture in the mind. Interestingly, and perhaps a part of what makes it confusing, is that Musique Concrete can sometimes paint a more vivid, representational picture than other styles of music. Classical is much more abstract when you think about it.

    In some of my own works, while borrowing heavily from Musique Concrete, I attempted to build vivid little worlds, or stories, and then placed within them sounds that are unsettling and non-referential to evoke a sort of ghostly or supernatural presence. When it comes down to it, I expect the listener to understand that my music is fiction, just like ghost stories or sci-fi. You must suspend disbelief to enjoy it, but when it’s over you can say, “that was a cool story” as to do otherwise (ie. truly believe what you heard) would be a danger to ones fix on reality.


  2. A lot of your music has aspects both “traditional” and spooky. Sometimes there is a folksy quality, with the sounds of string instruments, voices and so forth. Yet, there is a mystery there. It reminds me of our discussions of “Dark New Age” music– that kind of dichotomy.

    I would say that kind of complexity makes music deeper, and more transcendent.


  3. I agree that the element of musique concrete that plays with reality is interesting and often disorienting. I’d like to add another thought: for me, when I mix my soundtracks, I like to think of elevating mundane things into art, making everyday sounds more beautiful by fusing them into a work of art and bringing them out of their humdrum existence. I suppose it’s the opposite of what earlier artists who worked for the church did when they tried to make concrete heavenly Ideals and such. (Think of Boethius’s Harmony of the Spheres.) I hope it’s just as edifying.


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