Spring2013.HONS381Homework4 History

Hide minor edits - Show changes to markup

Added lines 1-138:

Assigned Date: Friday, April 5, 2013
Due Date: Monday, April 15, 2013
Due Time: 10:50am

NOTE: No late days can be used for this assignment.

Last modified on April 16, 2013, at 05:08 PM (see updates)

This is a solo assignment (i.e., you must work on your own). You may discuss the assignment only with the instructors.

Assignment created by Prof. Vassilandonakis.


This assignment aims to:

  • develop familiarity with the genre, nuances, characteristics and repertoire of musique concrète
  • develop an ear for sound origin, processes, texture building, soundscape design as developed by early musique concrète composers
  • hone analytical skills by examining selected musique concrète pieces in terms of gestures, stylistic features, density patterns, sound morphing, registral schemes, collage and layering techniques.


Study the history, development, main representative composers, stylistic features and selected musique concrète pieces, and respond to the general posed topic questions. Finally, select a particular piece and analyze it following proposed guidelines.


Begin by accessing the following, in the order presented:

  1. Musique Concrète Documentary
  2. Musique Concrète: History and Figures
  3. Antonkoletz, Elliott: Electronic Music chapter
  4. Luigi Russolo: The Art of Noise

Afterwards, carefully listen to the following representative pieces, in any order. Plan for intense, dedicated listening sessions, with headphones, or through quality speakers (do not listen through your computer speakers), and listen at least twice to each piece.

  • Pierre Schaeffer: Etude aux Chemins de fer
  • Luc Ferrari: Tete et Queue du dragon
  • Iannis Xenakis: Concrete PH
  • Edgard Varese: Poeme Electronique - (also watch mini documentary on OAKS)
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gesang der Junglinge
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen: Studie II
  • Vladimir Ussachevsky: Piece for Tape Recorder
  • Gyorgy Ligeti: Artikulation
  • Gyorgy Ligeti: Atmospheres (for Orchestra)
  • Gyorgy Ligeti: Apparitions (for Orchestra)
  • Gyorgy Ligeti: Poeme Symphonique
  • Luciano Berio: Thama-Ommaggio a Joyce
  • John Cage: Fontana Mix
  • Steve Reich: Come out

Topic Questions

  1. What are the most important subgenres of early electronic music, where were they introduced and by whom, and how do they distinguish themselves?
  2. Describe the main technical tools of musique concrète.
  3. Musique concrète is meant to be experienced through speakers or headphones. How does that affect its effectiveness in communicating with the listener?
  4. Describe the general process of creating music using tape machines. What are the techniques/processes involved?
  5. How do you think the creative process differs between composing a piece for instruments and composing a piece with recorded sounds?
  6. Do you find that composers tend to use sounds with shorter or longer durations more? What do you think is the usefulness of each?
  7. How do you perceive the aesthetic values of this style? What are the composers after, and why are they so interested in this style, which is so labor intensive, when they could have been composing instrumental music much faster and easier?
  8. Mainstream pop music genres have been profoundly influenced by the aesthetics and techniques of musique concrète. Can you think of any additional examples of such influences, beyond those listed in the Musique Concrète: History and Figures article?
  9. Poeme Electronique and Concrete PH were developed in the same studio, at the same time, for the same project. Can you trace similarities and differencies in them?
  10. Listen to the electronic works of Ligeti and Reich, and then compare them to their instrumental pieces (two of Ligeti’s are provided above, and we have examined Reich’s Piano Phase in class). How have the electronic works influenced their approach to composing for instruments?

Piece Analysis

Select a piece from the list of Essential Works (VI) in Musique Concrète: History and Figures, find a recording of it on YouTube, and provide a detailed analysis of it, addressing the following topics:

  • Stylistic milieu: where (which studio, city) was it realized and when? How does that influence its nature?
  • What is the source and nature of the original sounds? Are most sounds of the piece taken from one source, or closely related sources?
  • How are they manipulated, and how are the generated resultant sounds presented in relation to the original sources? What, if anything, is preserved from their original source?
  • What techniques are being used to alter the sounds?
  • How does the composer combine sounds to generate texture, narrative, style?
  • How is noise used? Does it stay consistent or does it shift?
  • List the most important gestures (try to describe them) in the piece. If more than one, how do they relate to or complement each other? Are they made of the same sound source, or using the same technique? How do they shape the formal outline?
  • Are there any programmatic connotations (especially if there are vocal sounds, or sounds with clear source associations)? Is there a story being told? Does the title of the piece relate to that, or does it describe the sound harvesting or manipulating process?
  • What is the form of the piece? How does the piece change over time? Check for shifts in register, density, volume, activity, timbre. Provide a diagram of features changing over time, following the model of the Stockhausen plan on page 453 of the Antonkoletz article. Outline and mark all important shifts on the timeline, as well as any sectional divisions, pauses, or important changes.
  • Could the composer have used this diagram to design the piece? Be prepared to present this diagram to the class when listening to the piece. What makes this piece unique? Is it the material itself, or the way the material is manipulated and put together?


  • You will submit a printout of your assignment at the beginning of class on the due date. (Use MS Word or Google docs to type up your document and format it appropriately.)
  • Submit a PDF of your document. The document should contain:
    1. Your name, class, date, etc. at the top
    2. Your answers to the topic questions.
    3. The title/composer of the piece you are analyzing and a link to where a recording can be found online.
    4. Your analytical narrative, which addresses the suggested topics. Aim for at least two pages of narrative. Include complete citing of your sources. Online sources are perfectly acceptable.
    5. The formal diagram of the piece.


Your grade will be based on how well you followed the above instructions, and the depth/quality of your work.

Be prepared to present your analysis in class.