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Schaeffer: Symfonia. Muzyka Elektroniczna (1966)

Listening exercise for Schaeffer's Symfonia. Muzyka Elektroniczna (1966)

Listening exercise

No, not Pierre Schaeffer but rather Polish composer Boguslaw Schaeffer. No relation (as far as I’m aware). It’s a longer piece, around 17 and-a-half minutes, but considering the lack of attention electronic music from the Eastern Bloc has received in the cannon, it felt important to provide something of significance.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Schaeffer’s Symfonia. Muzyka Elektroniczna (Symphony. Electronic Music) is somewhat unique in the history of electronic music. Rather than working directly with the materials of electronic music, as was common for so many artists during this period, Schaeffer instead designed highly detailed graphic scores, with the intention for them to be realised in any electronic music studio in order to realise the work. Here’s an excerpt of the first page

The score is arranged vertically, so it’s intended to be read from top to bottom. Each of the four columns are separate tracks, meaning that the piece utilises four separate tracks of sound events, which relate to each other over time. The score took two years to create, later published as a 68-page book including 18-pages of instructions for how to read and interpret the score.

Despite its graphic nature, this isn’t a Cagean work of chance procedures or performative suggestion – every sound relationship is very carefully prescribed according to pitch, timbre, and duration. However, the freedom of this work lies in its lack of prescription in what equipment to use in order to realise the work. Indeed, the intention appears to be that the score could be realised in two different electronic music studios, resulting in a similar but unique sounding realisations.

The score gives instructions, such as “pure tone + glissandi”, “different pitch levels + reverberation”, “a short beat, sharply finished” and leaves it to the sound engineer to figure out what processes to combine to realise these kinds of sonic events in the pitch and time durations provided. This method of thinking about electronics is unique for this period, where electronic music tends to be a product of the bespoke conditions of a particular studio, or the product of chance procedures, such as Cage’s Fontana Mix.

Over to you

What are your thoughts on electronic music that use scores? Can this be useful or does it create a barrier between the artist and the technology? What kinds of musical behaviours can you hear emerging from this work?

References

Libera, M. (2014) Alchemist Cabinet of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio: Music Scores of and for Experiments. https://post.moma.org/alchemist-cabinet-of-the-polish-radio-experimental-studio-music-scores-of-and-for-experiments/

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