Pierre Henri Marie Schaeffer (pronounced /piːˈjɛər hɛnˈriː məˈriː ˈʃeɪfər/ (help·info) in English; August 14, 1910 – August 19, 1995) was a French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician of the 20th century. His innovative work and in both the sciences —particularly communications andacoustics— and the various arts of music, literature and radio presentation after the end of World War II, as well as his anti-nuclear activism and cultural criticism garnered him a wide array of appraisal in his lifetime.
Of the vast assortment of works and endeavors undertaken by him, Schaeffer is most widely and currently recognized for his accomplishments in electronicand experimental music, the epitome of which was his role as the chief developer of a unique and early form of avant-garde music known as musique concrète. The genre emerged out of Europe from the utilization of new music technology developed in the post-Nazi Germany era, following the advance of electroacoustic and acousmatic music.
Schaeffer’s writings (which include written and radio-narrated essays, biographies, short novels, a number of musical treatises and several plays) are often oriented towards his development of the genre, as well as the theoretics and philosophy of music in general.
Today, Schaeffer is considered one of the most influential experimental, electroacoustic and subsequently electronic musicians, having been the first composer to utilize a number of contemporary recording and sampling techniques that are now used worldwide by nearly all record production companies. His collective endeavors are considered milestones in the histories of electronic and experimental music.
Club d’essai & the origin of musique concrète
By that time in his life, Schaeffer had cofounded La Jeune France, which had interests in theatre and the visual arts, as well as music and certain aspects of mysticism. In 1942, he created the Studio D’Essai (later known as the Club D’Essai), which played a role in the activities of the French resistance during World War II, and later became a center of musical activity. It was from D’Essai that he successfully recorded his first work, which itself appeared on Dix Ans D’Essais Radiophoniques Du Studio Au Club D’Essai: 1942-1952, a compilation of his personal concrète, along with many other artists’ experimental pieces, released later in his life – 1953. The compilation has since become valued as a notable publication of the experimental music genre.
With the rise of nuclear power after World War II, Pierre became a notable aficionado of the anti-nuclear movement, one of the main factors associated with his personal life, other than his work in the field of music.
Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète
In 1949, Schaeffer met the percussionist-composer Pierre Henry, with whom he collaborated with on many different musical compositions, and in 1951, he founded the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète (GRMC) in the French Radio Institution. This gave him a new studio, which included a tape recorder. This was a significant development for Schaeffer, who previously had to work with phonographs and turntables to produce music. Schaeffer is generally acknowledged as being the first composer to make music using magnetic tape. His continued experimentation led him to publish À la Recherche d’une Musique Concrète (French for “In Search of a Concrete Music”) in 1952, which was a summation of his working methods up to that point. His only opera, Orphée 53 (Orpheus 53), premiered in 1953.
Schaeffer left the GRMC in 1953 and reformed the group in 1958 as the Groupe de Recherche Musicale[s] (GRM) (at first without “s”, then with “s”), where he briefly mentored the young Jean Michel Jarre, among other students. His last “etude” (study) came in 1959: the “Study of Objects” (Etudes aux Objets).
In 1954 Schaeffer founded traditional music label Ocora (“Office de Coopération Radiophonique”) alongside composer, pianist and musicologist Charles Duvelle, with a worldwide coverage in order to preserve African rural soundscapes. Ocora also served as a facility to train technicians in African national broadcasting services. Today, it is still run by Duvelle.
In 1988, Schaeffer appeared in a New York Times article on the 1988 Spitak earthquake. Schaeffer had led a 498-member rescue team in Leninakan to help find survivors in the aftermath of the quake.
Later life & death
Schaeffer became an associate professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1968 to 1980 after creating a “class of fundamental music and application to the audiovisual.” He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease later in his life, and died from the condition in Aix-en-Provence in 1995. He was 85 years old.
Schaeffer was thereafter remembered by many of his colleagues with the title, “Musician of Sounds”.