36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 205: Musique concrète—from Vienna to teaching


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 205 — Musique concrète techniques
23-February-1972 (Mittwoch–Wed.)


Basically, a good day. If anyone else ever reads this, it’s going to be pretty boring.

Got 3 hrs. practicing of horn and piano. I think, tomorrow, at my lesson, I will attempt to begin very logically in “how” to play.

Spent rest of the day in electronic music. 7-1/2 hours. Most of this time was spent in making “a war” – and only the rocket arsenals. It just goes to show, how war is such a waste of resources.

Then saw Heiler #4—fantastic. The way he plays the music (good and with expression) just allows me to sit around and bask in it. It just makes you feel good. One of his pupils, an Austrian named Gustav—a really great guy with a sense of humor—was asked the question, “What do you think of it, Gustav?” Reply: “He’s getting the hang of it.” I’m beginning to wonder how the English language books are being made up nowadays.


A good day for horn and electronic music.

Anton Heiler. Another great Heiler concert with his interpretive style at the organ. Always a treat.

War. My electronic piece, from the sound of a breaking glass, is programmatic and emulates nature and man-made sounds. It sounds like I’m creating an actual “war.” My guess is that as I manipulated sound and it resembled real sounds, I got the idea to tell a story. Sounds corny, today. I do try to put emotion into all my projects and so maybe it came out allright.

Today, I might call it a soundscape.

Concrète techniques. I don’t remember everything I did but I do remember some of the techniques.

Tape speed. You can play tapes at different speeds, slow down, speed up and record on another recorder. Then successively change speeds again.

Layering and textures. You can layer sounds to create textures and events/motives by playing tapes of sound events on three tape recorders and recording the result on a fourth recorder.

Tape splicing. This was the big one. We were using 1/4 inch 15-inch tape reels. We had metal tape-splicing blocks, razor blades and splicing tape. I specifically remember splicing together many short “snippets” to create various rhythms and sound montages. This was probably the premier technique.

Sound manipulation. Playing sound backwards, hand-manipulation through dragging (what’s the word…scrubbing) were part of the techniques.

Filtering. I believe that we had low-pass and high-pass electronic filters that we were allowed to use to color the sound. I do not believe that we had a reverb unit.

No traditional electronics. In those days, there was no electronic keyboard, or MIDI keyboard, or the famous electronic modules from Moog, Buchla, or Serge that came about in the “electronic music” revolution in later years. We were primarily using tape recorders.

A two-second sound. The sound of the breaking glass opened the composition. It was about 2 seconds long. My first composition was 20 minutes. I was proud of the fact that “technically” I got an immense amount of sound material out of that single sound.

Teaching with sound. My Vienna experience with Prof. Kaufmann’s musique concrète course truly influenced my own composition and teaching for years to come. As a young instrumental teacher, I created an electronic music and filmmaking program for middle school students. I’ll talk about it in future posts.


- - - -