“Etude aux sons tendus” by Luc Ferrari, Pierre Schaeffer, Yannis Xenakis (1959)

I’m struck by the thoughtful way in which Ferrari et. al build a coherent sonic vocabulary of “tense sounds”, from what seem to be disparate samples. In some ways, this piece reminds me of Stockhausen’s “Kontakte”; most noticeably, they both make use of found sounds and shrill, high-pitched tones. But “Etude aux sons tendus” is more disciplined than the Stockhausen piece, in the way that it makes few if no appeals to tonality and rhythm. To my historically uninformed ear (still amazed that this predated hip hop and ambient music by at least a decade), this seems like a truly experimental piece of music, “experimental” in the older sense established by Schaeffer.

Googling around, I see “Groupe de Recherche Musicales”, an offshoot of the earlier “Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète”. This second group contains the likes of Ferrari, Schaeffer and Xenakis. Could this piece be a product of that group? I can’t find very much information about it online.

There’s nothing I particularly dislike about it. I realize that as a product of musical research, it’s not meant to be pleasant – although there is an argument to be made that “tense” emotions can be very exciting. (I certainly think so.)

– Miles


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