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Weekend (Ruttmann, Walter), 1930

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Musique concrète

Artistic experiments with reproduction technology were a long time coming. Although the gramophone had already been developed in 1877 and was widespread at the latest at the turn of the century, concrete suggestions for its artistic-musical use were not made until the 1910s. Around 1917 the later documentary film pioneer Dziga Vertov attempted to create a montage of noise, however his plan fell through because of the state of technology at the time.[13] In 1923 the Hungarian Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy suggested «to change the gramophone from a reproductive instrument to a productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic phenomena itself originates by engraving the necessary ‹Ritzschriftreihen› (etched grooves).»[14] In the 1990s, the sound artist Paul DeMarinis[15] referred to Moholy-Nagy's idea that a graphic ‹etched alphabet› could be found by reading sound grooves optically, as a false estimation owning to the dominance of the visual in Western culture. In the mid-1920s, Paul Hindemith experimented with ‹gramophone music› by creating a montage of recordings and playing


them backwards at different speeds. He did not get beyond the experimental stage. For the first successful noise composition experiment, in 1930 Walter Ruttmann did not use the unwieldy gramophone, but rather the optical sound technology that had been developed for film a year prior to this. Film sound, which could be cut with scissors and taped back together, enabled the creation of the first stringent sound montage. At great technical expense, Walter Ruttmann collected sound recordings over a weekend in Berlin. The montage he produced, «Weekend,» changes between narrative and sound portrait—an art of listening inspired by photography. Although he attempted to structure the montage according to musical standpoints such as pitch and rhythm, the characteristic style of «Weekend» is narrative throughout; timbre, rhythm and pitch merely organize the narrative.[16]

It was not until 1948—eighteen years after «Weekend» and seventy-one years after the invention of sound storage—that Pierre Schaeffer's approach to discovering a way to compose specifically with the gramophone led to fruition. The compositional attitude

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