Concrete Music

Title: Concrete Music (2021)
Medium/Media: Musical Instrument (concrete, wood, springs, glass jar, contact microphone and preamplifier circuit)

Concrete Music is an instrument that defies the conventions of standard musical instrument production and embraces the dynamic qualities of sound apart from melody, harmony and structured rhythm. This instrument transforms the harsh noise of industrial materials and construction processes into new sounds, by translating them through everyday household objects; metal hanging hooks, springs, a glass canning jar and water. A 100LB block of concrete is pulled across a concrete floor, sending vibrations through a series of resonators; first through a rectangular wooden frame, then into the springs and glass jar. A contact microphone is attached to the lid of the jar, amplifying these new sounds. In playing the instrument, a process emerges that emulates the building of a house; labor involving friction, force and construction materials create the framework in which we exist in our daily lives.

The concrete block being pulled across rough ground will create a harsh noise from the friction of concrete on concrete. The vibration is harnessed by the wooden frame, then sent into a series of springs connected with metal hooks. The central hook and spring connect to the metal lid of a glass jar, half filled with water. As the block is pulled, the glass jar bounces around, creating new uncontrolled sounds that are amplified with a contact microphone and speaker. The unpredictable sounds created by the instrument, echo through a room that consists of much of the same material, fully embracing resonant qualities in the concrete, a material that was not intended for such use.

Playfully appropriating its name from Musique Concrete, a term coined by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948, this instrument takes similar departures from conventional music and delves deeper into the sonic qualities of sound and embracing the microtonal, coincidental music. Much different from the vast majority of written and recorded music that emphasizes melody, harmony and rhythm; Musique Concrete understands all sounds as a sort of music. Utilizing recorded sound and environmental noises to create or compose a new sonic environment.

multi-track composition (unmastered)

The instruments design is inspired by the heavy materials and loud chaotic noise of industry, like the construction and destruction of housing, public buildings and roadways. Being born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, and growing up near an industrial area, construction exists as part of daily life. The harsh sounds of power tools breaking and cutting concrete are ever-present, creating a distinct sonic environment. A result of Alberta’s powerful construction industry, which plays a big role in shaping the work-centred culture that tends to dominate many of the lives within the province. Being created in this culture of work, the instrument requires heavy labor to play music. Meant to be recognized as an absurd and strange process, the viewer’s perception of music is challenged and their motivations for making sound are expanded. Instrumentation that is unaffected by musicianship and allows the materials to speak for themselves. The strange sounds could be heard as a disturbing noise, but as with any other noise, once we listen to it, we find it fascinating. (Cage, 3)

Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings. 1961. Print.

Schaeffer, Pierre, et al. In Search of a Concrete Music. University of California Press, 2013.

The showing of this work in an exhibition space would involve the following elements:

a large screen projection of the Concrete Music video

a small screen viewing with headphones of the ConcreteMusic(demo) video

a listening space for recorded audio piece, along with the instrument on display

a series of live performances in space adjacent to gallery space or in gallery space, film said performances, accumulating more footage and extending the video.

With help from:

Adam Haussecker (circuits, camerawork)

Alex Moon (camerawork)

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