Musique Concrete


Schaeffer chose to name his new art musique concrete to differentiate it from normal music, musique abstraite.

Music concrete was recorded directly to tape with real (concrete) sounds , while musique abstraite was the traditional way of composing by writing down the score to be played later.

Music Concrete was based on manipulation of tape. (Although the first research involved phonograph records, eventually tape technology became more available , and with it the possibilities of splicing and pasting parts together versus a non-re-recordable fixed format). It also concentrated on 'found sounds' or natural recordings rather than electronically produced sounds such as created by synthesizers.

Pieces that would last only a few minutes could take months of recording, cutting and splicing to create. Here are some of the tape techniques used.



Cutting the tape at different angles was used to create different attacks and decays.

tape cut
Attack and Delay Cuts 
tape attack
A. soft attack or decay 
B. combined attack and decay of two sounds
C. medium attack or decay
D. hard attack or abrupt finish 
E. softer and less abrupt than D

Not only did musique concrete composers use the cuts shown above, but they would go so far as to take a long horizontal cut , cut it into smaller calculated sizes, and splice the cuts together vertically or at different angles!



Creating a loop consisted of taking tape with recorded material and splicing the ends of the tape to make a loop.

short loop  

long loop  

short loop loop long


Straight line delay:

The simplest echo effect can be created by using a 2 channel recorder. The signal is recorded, monitored by the playback head, and sent back to the lower track of the record head. At 15 ips, the delay is around 100 milliseconds.

Feedback delay:

Created by feeding the signal back into the record head of the channel originally recorded on. It may involve multiple channels and create a number of repetitions.



Obviously changing the speed of playback will affect the pitch. Lower pitch if slower, higher if sped up. Using 2 decks, pitch changes can be recorded to tape. Early flanging effects were created by lightly touching the reel as the track is being bounced to another track.


Reversing the reels of recorded material and playing the tape backwards can be used to create reverse reverbs, attacks, etc. Recording the reversed track to another tape deck is the easiest way, although bouncing the reversed track to an empty track on a multi track can be done.

Early Tape Decks


Schaeffer created the phonogene. With it he was able to transpose a loop in 12 distinct steps from using a keyboard (this led to the mellotron keyboard). The keyboard selected one of 12 capstans of different diameters, like changing gears on a bike. A 2 speed motor allowed for octave transposition.


Used in the Paris studio. It was a specialized loop deck. It had an erase head, record head, and ten playback heads with an adjustable filter for each to create special timbre effects.


Many popular artists, especially of the 60s and 70s, incorporated these techniques into their recordings. The Beatles, with George Martin, did a lot of experimentation with tape cuts and loops.

John Lennon describing creating 'Revolution #9' on the White Album:

"It has the basic rhythm of the original 'Revolution' going on with some twenty loops we put on, things from the archives of EMI. We were cutting up classical music and making different size loops, and then I got an engineer tape on which some test engineer was saying, 'Number nine, number nine, number nine.' all those different bits of sound and noises are all compiled. There were about ten machines with people holding pencils on the loops - some only inches long and some a yard long. I fed them all in and mixed them live." (Miles, B. Paul McCartney:Many Years From Now. p. 484. NY. Owl Books,1997.)

John and Yoko later ventured further into this avant garde style of recording as heard on Two Virgins and other albums.

Steely Dan used a long tape loop to try to find a perfect drum loop on Gaucho long before drum machines were used.

Pink Floyd made the use of tape loops the basis of Dark Side of the Moon (like the Beatles albums, recorded at Abbey Road).

The lengths the fathers of electronic music went to create a new sound is amazing. The excitement of pushing through new frontiers of sound must have been exhilarating. We take the technologies available today for granted...and perhaps in the far future, the technologies of today will be looked back on with the same amazement.