Sound collage

Sound collage

In music, montage (literally "putting together") or sound collage ("gluing together") is a technique where sound objects or compositions, including songs, are created from collage, also known as montage, the use of portions of previous recordings or scores. This is often done through the use of sampling, while some playable sound collages were produced by glueing together sectors of different vinyl records.[1] Like its visual cousin, the collage work may have a completely different effect than that of the component parts, even if the original parts are completely recognizable or from only one source.



The origin of sound collage can be traced back to the works of Biber's programmatic sonata Battalia (1673) and Mozart's Don Giovanni (1789), and some critics have described certain passages in Mahler symphonies as collage, but the first fully developed collages occur in a few works by Charles Ives. Earlier traditional forms and procedures such as the quodlibet, medley, potpourri, and centonization differ from collage in that the various elements in them are made to fit smoothly together, whereas in a collage clashes of key, timbre, texture, meter, tempo, or other discrepancies are important in helping to preserve the individuality of the constituent elements and to convey the impression of a heterogeneous assemblage.[2] What made their technique true collage, however, was the juxtaposition of quotations and unrelated melodies, either by layering them or by moving between them in quick succession, as in a film montage sequence. When layering melodies, Biber, Mozart, and Ives also pioneered the technique of using of different tempi for different sections of the orchestra at the same time, a technique which creates the illusion that two distinct pieces of music are being performed simultaneously.[citation needed]

Although the technique of collage is generally associated with painting, the use of collage in music by Biber, Mozart, Mahler, and Ives actually predates the use of collage in painting by artists like Picasso and Braque, who are generally credited with creating the first collage paintings around 1912. In the third movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 1, completed in 1888, for instance, a slow, minor key funeral march based on the French song "Frère Jacques" unexpectedly gives way to what sounds like a klezmer band, only for this second theme to be suddenly interrupted by an even more exotic sounding melody.[citation needed] Ives, on the other hand, in his piece Central Park in the Dark, composed in 1906, creates the feeling of a walk in the city by layering several distinct melodies and quotations on top of each other.

The first documented instance of sound collage created by electronic means is the piece "Wochenende" (in English, "Weekend"), a collage of words, music and sounds created by film-maker and media artist Walter Ruttmann in 1928.[3] Later, in 1948, Pierre Schaeffer used the techniques of sound collage to create the first piece of musique concrète, "Étude aux chemins de fer", which was assembled from recordings of trains. Schaeffer created this piece by recording sounds of trains onto several vinyl records, some of which had lock grooves allowing them to play in a continuous loop. He then set up multiple turntables in his studio, allowing him to trigger and mix together the various train sounds as needed.[4]

Sound collage became more common with the widespread use of magnetic tape in the early 1950s. Recording engineers soon discovered that tape could be cut with a razorblade and spliced back together in a different order, and even from different sources. It wasn't long before artists began to explore the new possibilities. Iannis Xenakis is the first well-known composer to have worked with sound collage[citation needed]; other early artists who experimented with it include John Cage, Brion Gysin, and William S. Burroughs. The most famous examples in popular music are to be found in the work of The Beatles: George Martin cut up and randomly reassembled a recording of a carousel in "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, and John Lennon included a long pastiche of sound effects and crowd noises on The Beatles titled "Revolution 9".

The cultural awareness of dada sound collage was greatly increased in the 1980s and early 1990s due largely to two lawsuits: the first by the Canadian Recording Association against John Oswald for his seminal collage work Plunderphonics and the second by Island Records against the band Negativland for their EP titled U2. The latter was provoked by Negativland's misleading cover art. The popularity of two new musical genres that included elements of sound collage—rap and house music—over the same period also helped to popularize it.

Today audio collage may be thought of as fluxus postmodern and a form of digital art. An example is George Rochberg, an artist well known for his use of collage in pieces including Contra Mortem et Tempus and Symphony No. 3 (Rochberg).[5]


Micromontage is the use of montage on the time scale of microsounds. Its primary proponent is composer Horacio Vaggione in works such as Octuor (1982), Thema (1985, Wergo 2026-2), and Schall (1995, Mnémosyne Musique Média LDC 278-1102). The technique may include the extraction and arrangement of sound particles from a sample or the creation and exact placement of each particle to create complex sound patterns or singular particles (transients). It may be accomplished through graphic editing, a script, or automated through a computer program.[6]

Regardless, digital micromontage requires [6]:

  • creation or compilation of a library of sound files on several different time scales
  • importation into the library of the editing and mixing program
  • use of the cursor, script, or algorithm to position each sound at a specific time-point or time-points
  • editing of the duration, amplitude, and spatial positions of all sounds (possibly done by a script or algorithm)

Granular synthesis incorporates many of the techniques of micromontage, though granular synthesis is inevitably automated and micromontage may be realized directly, point by point. "It therefore demands unusual patience" and may be compared to the pointillistic paintings of Georges Seurat.[6]

Sound collages in broadcasting

Sound collages can occasionally be heard on the radio as well. They are used when a radio station is stunting towards an eventual format change. Broadcasted sound collages often contain random bits of music, movie clips, sound effects, and other audio which may or may not relate to the previous or upcoming format. In addition, they may be interspliced with messages prompting listeners to tune in at specific date and time to find out what the new format will be. After dropping its Free FM talk format, WFNY-FM in New York City played a sound collage for several hours on May 24, 2007 before returning to the rock format the station previously held. The collage was interspliced with messages inviting listeners to tune in "today at 5" in order to find out what format the station would adopt.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ John Bush, "Christian Marclay", Allmusic. Accessed 04:48, 3 January 2008 (UTC).
  2. ^ J. Peter Burkholder, "Collage", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001).
  3. ^ Richard James, "Avant-Garde Sound-on-Film Techniques and Their Relationship to Electro-Acoustic Music", The Musical Quarterly 72, no.1 (January 1986): 78.
  4. ^ Horace Kemwer, "Case Study: Pierre Schaeffer", Against the Modern World. Retrieved on 2009-12-29.
  5. ^ Stephen Jaffe." Conversation between SJ and JS on the New Tonality", Contemporary Music Review 6 , no. 2 (1992): 27–38.
  6. ^ a b c Curtis Roads, Microsound (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001): 182–87. ISBN 0-262-18215-7.

Further reading

  • Blais, Joline, and Jon Ippolito. At the Edge of Art. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006.
  • Buci-Glucksmann, Christine. "L’art à l’époque virtuel". In Frontières esthétiques de l’art, Arts 8,[page needed]. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004.
  • Couchot, Edmond. Des Images, du temps et des machines, dans les arts et la communication. [Nîmes]: J. Chambon, 2007. ISBN 2742769404.
  • Forest, Fred. Art et Internet. Paris: Editions Cercle D'Art / Imaginaire Mode d'Emploi, 2008. ISBN 9782702208649.
  • Liu, Alan. The Laws of Cool: Knowledge, Work, and the Culture of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Lovejoy, Margot. Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age. London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. London and New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2003. ISBN 0500203679.
  • Popper, Frank. From Technological to Virtual Art. Leonardo (Series). Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. ISBN 026216230X.
  • Taylor, Brandon. Collage. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2006.
  • Wands, Bruce. Art of the Digital Age. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2006. ISBN 0500238170 (hbk.), ISBN 0500286299 (pbk.)

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