Compose Concrete Music for Your Compositions

From Dance Magazine, World’s Leading Dance Publican Street, New York City 10036.

A how-to with tape

Anyone involved with creating dances – from the choreographer for a professional dance company to a teacher preparing a spring recital – must have sometime confessed, “I’m absolutely stumped. I just can’t find the right music for the new dance I want to do.”

One piece of advice for anyone caught in this predicament. “Compose the score yourself.”

“But I’m not a composer. I don’t know the first thing about writing for violins and clarinets and tympani and piccolos.”

No matter. If you possess a tape recorder—or, better yet, two – and a measure of imagination, there is a form of accompaniment which you can compose all by yourself for your dance. This type of score is known as a sound score. it has been made possible entirely by modern electronic technology.

Strictly speaking, there are two kinds of sound score. First, there is electronic music: music created on tape by special electronic sound generating devices. The requisite equipment is complex and expensive. To use it properly requires specialized skills and experience.

The sound scores you can create belong to the category of what is usually called musique concrète, or concrete music. The term was invented by French composer Pierre Schaeffer who began his experiments in this direction in 1948, working in a radio station in Paris. Concrete music is based upon sounds which already exist in nature and hence are specific or concrete. But by means of the volume and speed controls of a tape recorder, plus various methods of editing, splicing, or mixing, these sounds can be modified, distorted, or completely transformed in an almost infinite number of ways. sources of sound include speech, birdcalls, running water, breathing, knocking or rattling on metal or wood, street noises, bells, typewriters, auto horns, slamming doors—in fact, anything which produces a sound can conceivably find its way into musique concrete.

Concrete music is particularly useful for the evocation of mood. The sounds can be serene to an almost unearthly degreso comic, or ludicrous; or menacing and oppressive; or sharp, grating, almost hysterical. The rhythmic possibilities of these scores are also extensive. With practice, patience and ingenuity, a choreographer can create for himself an unusual and satisfying dance accompaniment. Whatever your equipment, we suggest getting acquainted with its parts and functions. Here then, are some suggestions for making your own sound scores.

Courtesy of Dance Magazine, World’s Leading Dance Publica Street, New York City 10036.
ce Publication. 268 West 47th
Typical sounds that can be modified by amplification or speed change are typewriter noises, tongue clicks, breath sounds, water or any musical (preferably percussive) sounds.

One way to modify sound is through amplification or the increase of a relatively weak signal. To accomplish this, place your microphone very close to the action.

Loop one end of a rubber band around the corner edge of a table top. Pull the other end out with your left hand to make two taut bands or strings with pitch. With your right hand, pluck in rhythm or at random, loosening and tightening the bands to change pitch or to slide it. If the rhythm fits your movements, play the tape back at recorded real time.

You can also change the sound by changing its duration. This is done easily by modifying playback speed. Play your amplified tape back at either double or one-half the usual standard recorded speed of 334 or 71/2 IPS (inches per second). Note that if you change speed, you will also change the pitch, which rises with increasing or lowers with slowing speed.

You can enrich your tape further by mixing or combining it with elements from live or electronic sources. For a live mixture, add piano, percussion or other musical instruments, poetry, nonsense sounds or other vocal accompaniment. For an electronic mixture, add phonograph records or random sounds from radio broadcasts. You can also mix at random with your own prepared tapes using two tape recorders.

You can create new material by cutting out or eliminating parts and splicing together or joining sections in new sequence. The amplified rubber band sounds could be hooked onto a segment of slowed down water effects followed by another shortened section of rubber band track. With editing, any combination is possible.

If you succumb to the temptation of editing with scotch tape and scissors, you will produce noisy, sticky tapes that eventually disintegrate. Special editing supplies are available from electronic catalog houses or they may be purchased at the larger electronic centers
1. Razor Blades: A razor cut (with a splice bar) is used instead of a scissors to prevent clicks caused by the magnetized cutting eda of ordinary scissors. When scissors are used, they should be surgeon or stainless steel.
2. Splice Bar: Critical editing cannot be done with an automatic splicer. A bar and razor permit you to cut at a precise point and splice your tape cleanly and exactly.
3. 14-inch Splicing Tape: This size is preferable to wider tanes more commonly used for editing. Narrow tape fits into the splice bar without trimming and is simple to measure and tear when mounted on a scotch tape dispenser.
4. Leader Tape: White or light tape is used to separate pieces and is an invaluable aid to finding any section on a full reel of material. If possible, use paper leader rather than plastic. In storage, the latter becomes sticky at splice points and has a tendency to pick up noises or “print through” which will eventually transfer to your tape.
5. Black Grease Pencil: Use for marking tape at editing points.
6. Extra Reel: Use for storage of new sequences or combinations of edited material.

Before you attempt precise editing, familiarize yourself with the location of your machine’s playback and recording heads. The manufacturer’s descriptive literature (the factory will usually send a free schematic of your model at your request) or your dealer or repair man can help you locate these essentials.

Take particular note of the location of the playback head. To edit, you must know where to mark the tape as it comes through the mechanism in order to know exactly where to cut it. Since sound is reproduced at the magnetic gap of the playback head (a tape path at the center), a measurement may be made to simplify editing.

Remove the head assembly covers from the deck top or front, Locate the gap in the playback head and measure a spot on the deck a few inches in a straight line toward the takeup reel side of the machine. Mark the spot at, for example, 2 inches.

Reassemble the covers and experiment with the marked spot. you play a tape, touch the stop button exactly when you wish to a cut. Mark the tape with a grease pencil to correspond with ” inch marked spot on the deck. Cut the tape 2 inches back from mark. This should match the exact desired cutting spot at the player back head. After you have determined your convenient measured space between the playback gap and marked spot, you need never again remove the head cover nor make calculations for editing purposes.

You can further simplify editing by incorporating your splice bar and its mounting into the marking pattern:
1. Place the splice bar cut point in line with playback head.
2. Match splice bar mount marking to the deck marking.
With these guides, you need only to match all marked points as vou line the tape into the bar for editing. Your razor cut will automatically occur at a point corresponding to the gap on the playback head. Once you synchronize markings for tape deck, tape and splice mount, editing becomes simple and automatically accurate.


With editing, you can make a loop or continuous tape which plays indefinitely. Make your first loop uncomplicated by keeping it short. Record approximately 8 seconds (30 inches) of the mouth sound SHHHHH at 3 3/4 IPS. Cut the end off and hook it to the beginning by splicing. For playback, place the loop into playing position on the feed reel, thread through the regular playback path and loop over the takeup reel. Play the loop back at real time or alter the speed.

To make a longer loop, the mechanical path of the tape must be more carefully considered. Solve the problem by using two tape decks, or construct a simple takeup device by setting a pegboard with a hook on a chair a few feet away.

Loops with repeating percussion or precise rhythms require more editing skill to fit together than do sustained sound tracks. Loops as basic tracks can be used alone or they can be mixed just as you would mix any other basic track.

It is possible to increase the ratio of speed changes of sound by transferring material from a broadcasting to a second receiving tape recorder. To connect the machines, plug one end of a connecting or patch cord into the output marked monitor or line out of the broadcasting recorder and the other end into the input marked auxiliary or line in of the receiving recorder (do not use the microphone input). Adjust the recording volume and you are ready to transfer a track at one speed to the new half or double speed. For instance, if you recorded a drum beat at 3 3/4 IPS, play it back at 71/2 IPS, transfer the 7 1/2 IPS playback to the new tape deck at 3 3/4 IPS recorded speed and play that second version back at 7 1/2 IPS, you have quadrupled your original speed. As has been stated, for every alteration of speed, there is a corresponding alternation of pitch, either up or down depending on whether you slow or speed your sound.

With a second tape recorder, you can also add another to your recorded material. While transferring the sound playback volume control slightly on the receiving recorder duces a repeat or deepened echo-like effect which can be stored percussive material. Careful adjustment of volume must has since too much playback volume will cause enough feedback to destroy the sound.

Stereophonic sets have double controls for both playback and recording of multiple channels (usually two). On some machines, you can record a second track that will be synchronized with a first track recording made at an earlier time. Such recording made at two differ ent not simultaneous times is possible only on newer models which have a synchronizing mechanism. However, one can delay-record and mix certain types of non-precise tracks on any stereo machine. For example, use your short loop SHHHHH tape (channel 1) and add to it by recording mouth sounds TK, TK, TK, TK, (any rhythm or ran dom) at 3 3/4 IPS (channel 2). Play the loop back at real or double speed.

We have explored new ways to record by modifying sound through amplification and speed change. We have mixed that sound with new components, and finally by editing, we have constructed new sequences as well as monophonic and stereophonic tape loops. With the addition of a second tape recorder, we have further altered playback speed and experimented with tape repeat effects. These are the basic mechanics, methods to unlock the door to your adventure sound. As your familiarity and experience with the techniques increase, so will your facility and the scope of your sound imagination increase. In time, you will expend relatively small effort materials to enhance your dance composition and you much personal satisfaction from the tapes you have made.

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