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Musique concrète reenforcée

January 22, 2010

Here is some topical humour about musique concrète from Henry Reed’s radio play A Hedge, Backwards, as broadcast on the BBC’s Third Programme in 1956. The play belongs to Reed’s series about Hilda Tablet, a faddish bohemian composer. According to Reed, an earlier Hilda play, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet, was notable because “full frontal nudity was heard on the radio for the first time”. Hilda’s dalliance with the avant-garde in this play slightly pre-dates the formation of the concrète-specialising Radiophonic Workshop.

Music for the production was provided by the musical satirist Donald Swann, one half of the Flanders and Swann variety duo:

Hilda: Musique concrète. Concrete music. You know about it?
Reeve: No.
Hilda: You tape it.
Reeve: Tape it?
Hilda: And dub it to disc after. (instructively) Of course, most of the johnnies who do it rely on pure sound, amplified and speeded up and reversed and so on. Needless to say, I have my own little line on the thing. For one thing, I think the discerning listener could probably tell you almost at once that my
musique concrète is very much louder than anybody else’s.
Reeve: Is it really?
Hilda: Oh yes, quite a bit. Also, for fair measure I clamp in a few simple little haunting tunes of my own, repeated, over and over. That’s why my own brand is called
musique concrète reenforcée; reinforced concrete music…

Hilda goes on to demonstrate her piece, based on the distinctly different sounds of a zip fastener being pulled up, and pulled down.

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