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Pierre Schaeffer: A Survey of the Literature
compiled by Carlos Palombini. Uploaded 13 September 2001.
E-mail: palombini@altavista.net

In 1987, when I took up research into Schaeffer's text, the situation of Schaefferian studies could be caricatured in the following terms. In "the continent", two French strongholds had contributed, one, much laudatory prose and, the other, much derogatory small talk. In the British Isles, if such manuals as Michael Nyman's Experimental Music (New York: Schirmer, 1974) and Robin Maconie's The Works of Karlheiz Stockhausen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976) were to be believed, Schaeffer would have been the technically obsolescent, artistically irrelevant and intellectually not particularly endowed musique concrète pioneer. So far as the rest of the civilized world was concerned, Iannis Xenakis (1963) and François-Bernard Mâche (1980) had done their best in entries for Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart and the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians respectively. As to music semiologists and semioticians, meeting in Italy in 1974 [1], they had made their inability or unwillingness to come to terms with Schaeffer's sound object clear: "Wishing to describe or indicate the object of what could be a musical semiotics in the present state of research, we are led to study music as text-object, that is, represented or representable sonic event; in other words, semiological domains (or domains of semiological relevance) find their point of convergence in the musical score. (The terms 'object' and 'text' here have the more usual and neutral sense; they imply neither a conscious theory of the text -- which does not exist in musicology yet -- nor theories of the sonic object such as Moles' and Schaeffer's.)" And yet, paraphrasing Mallarmé's retort to Degas: "It is not with notes, my dear semiotician, that one makes music. It is with sounds."
        The mid eighties were also the time when, in Britain, researchers and composers such as Simon Emmerson, Jonty Harrison, Peter Manning and Denis Smalley started looking at Schaeffer in search of aesthetic, compositional, historical and analytic frameworks for electroacoustic music. Off campi, techno and ecstasy were arriving from the US to the merriment of a disfranchised youth [2]. Combined with the old-gear mystique, the proliferation of sequencing and sampling devices made musique concrète into a fashionable item. Thus, Denis Smalley's Schaeffer, "the rightful heir of Western musical tradition" [3], started giving way to Alistair Riddell's and Pierre Henry's Schaeffer, "the legitimate predecessor of today's DJ" [4]. In addition, the rise of such academic disciplines as postmodern and postcolonial studies and their subsequent incorporation into the American "new musicology" and British "critical musicology" started paving the way for a resurrection of Schaeffer's music and writings. Effects upon the literature, however, were none: English language scholars, despite a number of articles, are yet to deliver a single monograph; Kodwo Eshun's adventures in sonic prose [5], though in better taste, are after all as comprehensible as François Bayle's; Georgina Born's shattering anti-modernist opus [6] pays tribute to the sad old Schaeffer of Nyman's and Maconie's manuals; and such otherwise highly commendable anthologies as Douglas Kahn's and Gregory Whitehead's Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992) and Adalaide Morris's Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technologies (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997) pay no heed at all to Schaeffer's contribution to radio art.
        The present bibliography describes and briefly comments ten titles on Pierre Schaeffer's research on sound. Published in France from 1967 to 1999, they were mostly written by members of his circle and himself. It is unfortunate that only a couple of these books has appeared in English translations. Such titles as Pierret's Entretiens avec Pierre Schaeffer, Brunet's De la musique concrète à la musique même and Chion's Guide des objets sonores, if accessible to an English speaking readership, would allow Schaeffer's thinking on sound to interact with a less -- or differently -- biased environment. Selections from Schaeffer's corpus will be tackled in two subsequent bibliographies: "the essential Schaeffer" and "Schaeffer in English".

I. Pierre Schaeffer. 1967. La musique concrète. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

II. Marc Pierret. 1969. Entretiens avec Pierre Schaeffer. Paris: Pierre Belfond.

III. Sophie Brunet and Pierre Schaeffer. 1969. Pierre Schaeffer par Sophie Brunet suivi de Réflexions de Pierre Schaeffer. Paris: Richard-Masse.

IV. Michel Chion and Jean-Jacques Nattiez (eds.). 1976. Le Traité des objets musicaux dix ans après. Paris: Institut National de l'Audiovisuel -- Groupe de Recherches Musicales (INA-GRM).

V. Sophie Brunet (ed.). 1977. Revue musicale 303--5: Pierre Schaeffer: de la musique concrète à la musique même. Paris: Richard-Masse.

VI. Michel Chion. 1983. Guide des objets sonores: Pierre Schaeffer et la recherche musicale. Paris: INA-GRM/Buchet-Chastel

VII. François Bayle (ed.). 1990. Pierre Schaeffer: l'oeuvre musicale. Paris: INA-GRM. Booklet and 4 CDs.

VIII. Sylvie Dallet, with the collaboration of Sophie Brunet. 1997 (undated). Itinéraires d'un chercheur: bibliographie commentée de l'oeuvre éditée de Pierre Schaeffer -- Pierre Schaeffer, a Career in Research: a Commented Bibliography of Published Works (bilingual publication). Montreuil: Centre d'Études et de Recherche Pierre Schaeffer.

IX. Jean-François Augoyard, François Bayle, Sylvie Dallet et al. 1999. Ouïr, entendre, écouter, comprendre après Schaeffer. Paris: INA-GRM/Buchet-Chastel.

X. Martial Robert. 1999. Communication et musique en France entre 1936 et 1986: Des transmissions à Orphée. Paris: L'Harmattan.


[1] See Gino Stefani, "Situation de la sémiotique musicale", Actes du Premier Congrès International de Sémiotique Musicale, Pesaro: Centro di Iniziativa Culturale, 1975.

[2] See Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, London: Picador, 1998.

[3] Denis Smalley, "Spectro-Morphology and Structuring Processes", in Simon Emmerson (ed.), The Language of Electroacoustic Music, London: Macmillan, 1986.

[4] Alistair Riddell,  "Ecstasy Solfège", Sounds Australian, v. 14, n. 47, 1996, online at http://www.alphalink.com.au/~amr/ES.html and Rahma Khazam, "Electroacoustic Alchemist", The Wire 160, pp. 37--40, 1997.

[5] Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, London: Quartet, 1998.

[6] Georgina Born, Rationalizing Culture: IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Posted 13 September 2001.
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