EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Electroacoustic music: from sounds of the world to a poetics of unity

Bruno Bossis

Bruno Bossis, Rennes 2 & Paris-Sorbonne/MINT-OMF Universities


PDF - 861.7 kb
Download the paper


Are recorded sounds of the world and music two separate categories? The answer to this question deserves reflection. Certainly, Walter Ruttmann explored noises in 1930 in Wochenende, and Pierre Schaeffer proposed a systematic study from 1948, as part of musique concrète. Recording has opened music to the sounds that surround human beings. However, the link between sounds of the world and music can’t be summarized as an extension of the field of sound sources in art.
In Poetics, Aristotle makes a distinction between praxis and poesis. In the Platonic tradition, arts are presented as an imitation. The memorization of real-life sounds is akin to praxis. Manipulation and integration of world sounds in a musical structure bring them to the rank of poesis. This distinction between noise and ambient music, however, raises a first difficulty: the determination of the threshold where the intervention by the artist uproots the sound from the phenomenon’s triviality. The definition of music is not absolute, but relative to the listener’s prior experiences. Establishing a clear boundary between the sounds of the world’s music remains uncertain, especially when the technologies of recording and manipulating sounds are involved.
The sounds of the world are not the world itself, but a trace of the reality remaining to be interpreted. The correspondence between sign and meaning isn’t univocal.
Contrary to language, for the sounds of the world, the link uniting signifier and signified is not arbitrary. The sign, that is to say the produced sound, is completely determined by the object that is its source. On the contrary, the signified, the conceptual aspect of the sign, is fixed, neither by man nor by nature. The meaning of a sound of the world depends on the listener, especially if the record has been incorporated into a musical piece. The music, like listening to the world, is above all an intimate experience. Recorded sounds are not just figuralisms. They further blur the line that separates the sounds of the world and the art of sound.
Faced with this complexity, Francois-Bernard Mache proposes to refer to latent thoughts revealed by consciousness. He claims an atheistic mysticism, an irrational content in nature, to which art provides an access key. Applied to recordings, as in L’Estuaire du temps, this atheistic mysticism is a means of transcending the sounds of the world into an aesthetics rooted in the depths of humanity. The sampler transforms the sounds of nature’s triviality to a universal distance. The metamorphosis of musical sounds of the sea, wind and rare languages switches them from the physical to the metaphysical world. The duality between nature and culture is the scene of an intense dialogue. It is sometimes replaced by a unity made by a higher order.
The Pierre Henry’s simple faith is expressed through the cries of souls in the Apocalypse de Jean: they are in fact some real barking. Nothing like that in the Messiaen’s Catholic mysticism. Beyond religion, the idea of a universalist transcendence go through Jonathan Harvey’s music. The lack of involvement inspired from the Rig Veda, the phenomenological distanciation formulated by Hegel contributes to the detachment of the physical aspects of the sounds of the world. The musical aesthetics becomes intermingled throughout auditory scene, whether the daily one or another produced by music. Recording and manipulation technologies, far from transfering a particular aesthetics from the sounds of world to the music, promotes their fusion. Writings and music by Harvey show how music incorporates the sounds of world in a superior unity, in an advaita.

EMS11 Proceedings