Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Schaeffer: Cinq études de bruits (1948)

Listening exercise – Pierre Schaeffer's Cinq études de bruits (1948)

Listening Exercise

The Cinq études de bruits consists of five individual studies, and has a duration of just over 16 minutes. If you can, we recommend you engage with all five movements.

Listen on UbuWeb

The Cinq études de bruits (or “studies of noise”) were the first standalone works of electronic music by Pierre Schaeffer, and would become the template for what he would term music concrète. Schaeffer composed these works by manipulating and combining different sound recordings on acetate discs, utilising locked grooves to create continuous loops of sounds and distinctive rhythmic motifs. Each study has a specific area of focus:

  1. Étude aux chemins de fer. An audio montage of locomotive sounds recorded at a train depot.
  2. Étude aux tourniquets. Composed using the sounds of a xylophone, bells, and whistling toy tops called ‘tourniquets’ or ‘whirlygigs’.
  3. Étude au piano I. Composed using piano materials recorded for Schaeffer by Pierre Boulez.
  4. Étude au piano II. Composed using piano materials recorded for Schaeffer by Pierre Boulez.
  5. Étude aux casseroles. Composed using the sounds of spinning saucepan lids, boats, human voices, and other instruments.

The composition of these studies took nearly a full year. They were premiered on the French National Radio in October 5, 1948. The impact of these recordings was significant. The recordings introduced the world to the possibilities of abstract recorded sound, where sound no longer only functioned in relation to the method of its production but could instead be freely composed with according to its sonic properties – where a recording of a spinning saucepan lid could be enjoyed purely for the sound it produces! The success of these studies started to bring a number of composers who were similarly interested by the possibilities of music concrète. Most notably (and immediately) was Pierre Henry, whose training as a composer of acoustic music brought a new level of musicality to what would become the GRM.

Throughout these studies we can hear Schaeffer’s use of locked grooves to repeat segments of recorded audio, creating a rhythmic pulse in the music. These rhythms are a bit different to the way we might think of rhythm or pulse in the electronic music we know of today, but we can still hear a groove emerging from the sound – the differences being that the groove is constructed from repetitions of fragments of sound objects rather than more familiar drum kit pieces, and that the music is more interested in sharing different kinds of groove to us than keeping one groove and building on it over time. This is fitting considering that the pieces are considered by Schaeffer to be ‘studies’, a term which generally refers to sketches or rough outlines of an artistic idea in preparation for a finished piece. Certainly these works conveyed a bold artistic idea which would be refined and expanded upon over the forthcoming decades.

Over to you

How did the Cinq études de bruits make you feel? What did you think was interesting, and what did you think wasn’t interesting? What kinds of musical techniques can you hear in these works that are still present in the electronic music we listen to today?


Holmes, T. (2008) Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music and Culture. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge.

This article is from the free online

English Electronic Music: Delve into the Digital Archives

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now