Listen while you work: negotiating power and meaning in post-concrete music.

PhD Thesis

Herbert, M. Listen while you work: negotiating power and meaning in post-concrete music. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church Universirty School of Teacher Education
AuthorsHerbert, M.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosopy

Following the radical affordances of the then-recent technologies the microphone and tape, Musique Concrète proposed that all sound could now become music. In that moment, new boundaries in music were crossed, not just in the way theorists and composers acknowledged at the time as a flattening of sonic hierarchies, but also in the explicit revelations of meaning and power embedded in this newly recorded sound world.

In arranging music from what I call s-sound for shorthand throughout (pronounced suh-sound), sound made not by musical instruments and voices but from traditionally regarded non-musical material sources or events, we are activating new ways and forms of both composing and hearing such that both the newly audible subject and the listener are implicated directly in the work, a recontextualising of what Barthes calls in his 1985 book The Responsibility of Forms: ‘recognising oneself in the space’. The listener can no longer be unheard, they have become a collaborator essential to both mining the strata of meaning within, and the procedural functions of the work. Along with the capacity to hear or tell stories through sound, comes an ethical dimension. Who gets to tell whose story? If composers are aware of how audiences are listening to, or missing these meanings, then it follows that this awareness and accompanying power not only interacts with the fabric of the work, but can be a tool for composition itself.

What follows is a contextualising of 25 years of practical research that culminated in a book called The Music. A PhD by publication, this thesis accompanies the following works: 20 Pianos, A Nude, A Week in The Life of a Tree, Chorus, More More More, ONE PIG, ONE ROOM, Recomposed - Mahler’s 10th Symphony, Requiem, Speaker, The End of Silence, The Machines Our Buildings Used to Hear, The Music, The Recording, The Unheard. This thesis is not intended to be a detailed analysis or exposition of my compositional techniques, or of technologies used. I shall look instead at how I have tried to amplify, construct and examine meaning in my music by using precise s-sound recordings to tell or retell specific stories and negotiate the correspondingly inferred power with musicians, collaborators and audiences. The end point of a music made this way, might well be the “birth of the listener” following the Barthesian death of the composer, and in Chorus (2016), the final work in the thesis, the listener, as part of a temporary community finally becomes the composer.

KeywordsMusique Concrète; Meaning ; Negotiating power; Post-concrete music
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Deposited03 Mar 2021
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