Stace Constantinou's Étude Aux Chemins De Fer Analysis

Analyst's name: 
Stace Constantinou
Year of analysis: 
2011
Composition title: 
Étude Aux Chemins De Fer

 

A statistical analysis of the form of the piece Etudes aux Chemins de Fer by Pierre Schaeffe

 

[note: edited on 1 February 2016]

 

Sound as music is the underlying notion of this early electronic piece Etudes aux Chemins de Ferby Pierre Schaeffer. More specifically, the notion that sound can be experienced without any visual reference, thereby transforming the listening experience to focus attention on the qualities of the sonic object, or ‘l’objet sonore’ as Pierre Schaeffer describes it, in his book Traites Des Objets Musicaux (p.63, 1966). Extending this notion to a concentrated, or reduced listening ‘écoute réduite’ (p.270, 1966).  Schaeffer then applies acousmatic, a term derived from two Greek words akousma (to hear), and matia (to glimpse, with the eye).

On one level Schaeffer asks us to see with the ear, and on another he invites us to consider the symbolic link with Pythagoras.  ‘Acousmatikoi’ is the name given to the mythical disciples of the philosopher (manteio), who received the teachings of the Great Sage from behind a screen, or curtain, so as to acquire the unadulterated knowledge.

Drawing on structural analytical information provided by Michael Gatts’ ‘Typo-Morphology’, my analysis presents an overview of the musical form.  My assumption is that Schaffer’s notions have been successfully realised in his musical form; I offer no critique of its aesthetic quality.  The purpose of this analysis is, therefore, to plot out the prominent features of the musical landscape.

[Below: a statistical analysis of the form of the piece Etudes aux Chemins de Fer composed by Pierre Schaeffer.]

Sections 

Start Time (min) 

Section Length (sec) 

Percent 

A

00:00 

52 

30.59% 

B

00:52 

42 

27.71% 

C

01:34 

39  

22.94% 

D

02:13 

10 

5.88% 

E

02.23 

22

12.94% 

F

02.45 

2.94% 

Totals

02.50 

170

100% 

 

Sections 

Start Time (min) 

Section Length (sec) 

Section Length (sec) 

A

00:00 

52 

30.59% 

B

00:52 

42

27.71% 

C

01:34 

39 

22.94% 

D

02:13 

10 

5.88% 

E

02.22 

27 

15.88% 

Totals

02.50 

170 

100% 

 

Descriptive Analysis

A section begins when a whistle is heard.  The piece begins and ends with a whistle sound and this therefore provides at least two ways to interpret the musical form.  The first is to give the final whistle section, a section of its own (section E).  The other option is to consider this final blow as a rounding-off of section D (see alternative view).  The latter is easier on the eye, but is perhaps a reduction too far.  Given that it’s very difficult to find any temporal pre-planned structural features in the music such as a Golden ratio, halfway or quarter-way point that might signal a change of sonority. An alternative perspective is therefore necessary.  Train sounds have been used in other pieces by composers, such as Trainofthoughts, here.

This alternative helps us illuminate the structural themes of the piece.  Given that each section starts with a whistle before presenting a series of train sounds, it’s possible to view the whistle (A) as a signified aural sign, whilst the train sounds (B) operate as musical signifiers.  By providing, firstly, a sound with its aural context undisguised, then, by applying the formation of vaguely recognisable out-of-context train sounds, Schaeffer challenges the listener to firstly question then form new sonic correlations of their own.  The musical form can be considered as follows, therefore:

A B A B A (B) A B A B A

The sixth B section confirms the palindromic nature of the musical form.  It occurs at 1’37’’ (97 seconds) just over halfway through the total duration.

The alternative view is as follows:

A B A B A B A B A B’

This possibility shows the form is divided into two, approximately in time, equal halves:

A B A B A

B A B A B’

Each half is a palindrome.

The main feature revealed by this analysis is, therefore, that there is more than one way to consider the musical form of Schaeffer’s piece.  Whilst the underlying notion, that of l’objet sonore is manifest.  The whistle signifies a change in sonority, and the resulting sound steps into line. The piece ends with a whistle and therefore links the end to the beginning.  In the final analysis then, perhaps Etudes aux Chemins de Fer by Pierre Schaeffer may be considered as having a circular, or non-linear form?

 

References: 

SCHAEFFER, P (1966) Traté des Objets Musicaux Paris, Éditions du Seuil.