NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1951 __ Morphophone
Comment : In 1951, RTF provided Schaeffer with a new studio. It included a tape recorder. This was an important event as the phonograph had been his tool for composition up to that point. One of the recorders had 5 track capability. One, known as the Morphophone, had 12 playback heads, which allowed for tape echo and a pseudo reverb effect. Two other decks known as Phonogenes were designed to play prerecorded loops at different speeds (one came with a 12 note keyboard!). At this time, while stereo was still in developement, Schaeffer had the means of playing up to 5 separate tracks with 5 separate speakers. (MPEG-2 technology allows for 5 distinct outputs as used in DVD production, here we see the idea in affect almost 50 years ago). This allowed for spatial experimentation of sounds. Four speakers were used for playback. Two speakers were located in front of the stage on the left and right, one was placed directly in the back in the middle, and one was suspended from the ceiling. The ceiling speaker allowed for experimenting with vertical sound placement as well as the usual horizontal placement. The fifth track contained an additional channel spread between the four speakers that represented a performer using a handheld coil which could be positioned near one of four wire receiving loops that sent the info to each speaker. (Jeff Snyder)The morphophone machine was conceived to build complex forms through repetition, and accumulation of events through delays, filtering and feedback. It was basically made of a large turning disk, 50cm in size, on which a tape was ‘stuck’, with its magnetic side looking towards the outside. (The morphophone permitted formal-type modifications by accumulation of events, filtering and reinjection. It consisted of a turntable on which was set a loop of magnetic tape. Around the table was a unit comprising several heads, whose positions were adjustable. The heads were as follows: an erasing head, a recording head, and ten playback heads. A sound was recorded on the tape, either in a loop or continuously, and the ten playback heads could be adjusted to provide different delays. The sounds could be filtered and re-injected to obtain artificial reverberations or continuous threads.) A series of magnetic heads were distributed around the disk, in contact with the tape and their position could be moved along the circle. There were twelve heads: a recording head, an erasing head, and ten playing heads. The principle was that a sound was recorded along the looped tape (four seconds of sound could be recorded) and then the ten playing heads would read the information with different delays in relation to their position around the disk. Each playing head had its own amplifier and a band-pass filter in order to modify the spectrum of that sound; feedback loops completed the system and could send the information towards the recording head. The result consisted of repetitions of a sound at different time intervals, with the possibility of filtering and creating feedback. Artificial reverberations or continuous sounds could easily be obtained through this system. The morphophone permitted formal-type modifications by accumulation of events, filtering and reinjection. It consisted of a turntable on which was set a loop of magnetic tape. Around the table was a unit comprising several heads, whose positions were adjustable. The heads were as follows: an erasing head, a recording head, and ten playback heads. A sound was recorded on the tape, either in a loop or continuously, and the ten playback heads could be adjusted to provide different delays. The sounds could be filtered and re-injected to obtain artificial reverberations or continuous threads. (Daniel Teruggi)
French comment : "Le morphophone par exemple c’était une grosse bécane, je ne sais plus s’il y avait 24 ou 36 têtes de lecture différentes où on passait la bande magnétique comme ça pour faire des effets de tremblement, de ralentissement, etc… Tout ça évidemment paraît dérisoire maintenant à l’heure où il suffit de tourner un bouton pour obtenir tout ça mais il fallait le fabriquer. Songez que c’est là au Club d’Essai qu’on a fabriqué la première chambre d’écho, en mettant un micro tout simplement dans la fosse, la fosse sceptique. Oui, oui, donc tout ça se faisait là. C’était la période typologie. C’est-à-dire qu’on fabriquait des sons, on avait l’oreille tendue toujours dans la rue, un peu partout.". (Robert Arnaut, recueilli par Thomas Baumgartner)Cet appareil est essentiellement un magnétophone fonctionnant sur boucle fermée et possédant dix têtes lectrices, chaque tête attaquant un préamplificateur dont on peut modifier le gain et la courbe de réponse à l’aide de filtres simples. Les préamplificateurs débitent, en mélange, sur l’amplificateur de sortie (constructeur S. A. R. E. G.). Une première utilisation de l’appareil est d’engendrer une réverbération artificielle de forme et de couleur variables puisque la durée de l’extinction de tout phénomène sonore sera prolongée suivant une loi qui dépendra des réglages des préamplificateurs de lecture. D’autre part, un élément de matière homogène de dynamique stable défilant successivement devant les têtes lectrices subira une modulation dynamique et accessoirement, si on le désire, des variations spectrales. Toutefois, si les divers réglages de l’appareil permettent de déterminer a priori l’aspect dynamique d’un objet sonore, ils ne peuvent recréer des attaques assimilables aux attaques instrumentales dont les durées peuvent être de l’ordre de 1/100 de seconde. Pour imprimer à l’objet des transitoires d’attaque préalablement fabriqués par un système auxiliaire, A. Moles a imaginé un dispositif qui consiste à faire précéder les têtes lectrices d’une tête d’effacement dont on peut faire varier l’efficacité suivant une loi conditionnée par ce système auxiliaire. Le dispositif actuellement à l’étude permettrait la substitution d’un transitoire initial par un transitoire déterminé. Le transitoire initial préalablement lu et détecté aurait pour effet de déclencher, au moment opportun, une modulation de l’oscillateur d’effacement suivant la loi d’attaque choisie. On serait ainsi maître de la loi d’émergence du phénomène sonore dans les limites de temps qui pourraient être de l’ordre des durées d’attaques instrumentales. pincées ou percutées. (Jacques Poullin, “L’apport des techniques d’enregistrement dans la fabrication de matières et de formes musicales nouvelles. Applications à la musique concrète”)
Source : Teruggi, Daniel (2007). “Technology and musique concrete: the technical developments of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and their implication in musical composition”, Organised Sound, 12(3): 213–231, 2007, Cambridge University Press.
Urls : http://www.quietamerican.org/download/dropbox/Phonography,%20Musique%20Concrete,%20and%20Acoustic%20Ecology.doc (last visited ) http://www.furious.com/perfect/ohm/inagrm.html (last visited ) http://www.ars-sonora.org/html/numeros/numero09/09f.htm (last visited ) http://oreille.blogspot.com/2005/10/le-morphophone-et-autres-histoires.html (last visited )

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