Pierre Schaeffer, the Radio Play and the Aesthetic Preconditions of Musique Concrète

Sam Ridout (Independent researcher)

By considering the historical and aesthetic relationship between musique concrète and the radio play and the documentary film, this paper argues that the aesthetic work undertaken by these forms afforded Pierre Schaeffer’s particular conception of a concrete music. Rather than following a standard telling of musique concrète’s prehistory, I claim that the most significant aesthetic preconditions are established not by Italian Futurists but by the Hörspiel and avant-garde cinema. By emphasizing Schaeffer’s work prior to the inauguration of musique concrète, the influence of Jean Epstein on his thought, as well as the persistent residues of the radio play in later works of musique concrète, I theorise the development of this form as a discursive defiguration of the radio play and documentary film, in which a representative logic is hollowed out and replaced by a musical logic. This musical, aesthetic logic never quite succeeds in purifying itself of these residues, despite Schaeffer’s intensifying disdain for an “anecdotal” mode of listening, and I conclude by examining some such residues in works by Michel Chion and Lionel Marchetti.

Sam Ridout recently completed an MA at the University of Leeds and is interested in the aesthetics of musique concrète and electronic music. Alongside his musicological work, Sam composes electronic music, some of which has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now.