Structural Analogies

3.3 Corresponding Procedures: Collage and Frottage

Procedures in visual arts were also a source of inspiration for composers. Thus, with the emergence of acoustic recording media, the collage technique was used to arrange sounds, whereby, as in the visual version, entirely disparate and often already existing material was combined. This procedure had a formative influence as of the 1940s, above all on musique concrète, whose initiator, Pierre Schaeffer, made magnetic tape recordings of individual notes and fragments of sound from his environment and existing musical works, then pasted them together to create new compositions. Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, and others also experimented in the 1950s with the new possibilities offered by sound recording. In William’s Mix (1952–1953), for example, Cage collaged such brief segments as to prevent associations with the origin of the notes and in such a way that the edit or cut takes center stage, in auditory terms, thereby establishing itself as a sound in its own right that lies neither above nor between the other sounds.[11]

Other composers adopted for musical use the frottage technique first used by Max Ernst in 1925, which entailed placing a sheet of paper over an object and rubbing it, usually with graphite, to thus transfer to the paper an image of the object’s natural contours. Michael Denhoff used the first section of a Fantasy by Henry Purcell in this way as the basis for determining the notes of his sixth string quartet frottages op. 70 (1993). Denhoff tuned the lowest string of each of the four string instruments down so that the resulting sound corresponded to the four notes of the main motif of Purcell’s Fantasy: This motif, with consonances so uncommon for Purcell’s day, runs like a magic trace of ever new, resounding notes in the contrapuntal interweave of my score.[12]

Andreas Dohmen also applied the frottage technique to his eponymous ensemble piece from 2000–2001, in his case as a point of contact for acoustic filtering and the discovery of present, yet hidden musical structures.[13]