musique concrète

As people who know me already know, I'm a fan of musique concrète, the experimental genre founded by the French radio engineer Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940s, and subsequently developed with the Groupe des Recherches Musicales in Paris in the 1950s, which included Pierre Henry and Éliane Radigue, among others. Originally a form of sonic collage consisting of painstakingly edited natural "found sounds" recorded on electromagnetic tape (anticipated by Walter Ruttmann's 1930 audio-film Weekend), over the past half century musique concrète has developed into an international experimental music genre today known as electroacoustic music. If you'd like to know more, Simon Reynolds recently posted a nice intro over on Tidal; if you're wondering what electroacoustic music actually sounds like, this track by the UK composer Jonty Harrison is a good place to start.

I recently recommended to Simon a compilation I'd come across from the wonderfully-named Institute for Alien Research, a netlabel run by electroacoustic musician Sean Robert, called Musique Concrète for Children. In yet another homage to John Cage's legendary silent piece 4'33", every track is exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds in length, consisting of a wide range of electroacoustic sound collages that use natural sounds and human voices as sonic raw material.

The album is a great intro to musique concrète more generally, and for the past week or two I've been listening to it with my 9-year-old son every day on our morning drive to school. His favourite track by far is the second one, "The Adventures of Officer Kitty in Space!", which consists of a story about some kind of superhero character called Officer Kitty, adorably narrated by a little girl with a northern English accent, whose musical intonation is looped in places in the time-honored concrète tradition, and hilariously punctuated by unexpected electronic sound effects. The found-sound material seems to have been recorded without the narrator's knowledge (or even consent), ending with this exchange:

"Wait, it's on?"
"It's recording right now?"
"Right, turn it off."

The artist is listed as "Magic Bullet & Twizz," so this morning after I got back from dropping my son off I decided to investigate. Magic Bullet, I discovered, are a multi-instrumentalist duo claiming to be called Mick Magic and Skit Zoyd, whose Twitter profile describes as "proud to be the no. 1 experimental band in Knott End-On-Sea, Lancashire." I wouldn't have thought there are too many experimental bands in that part of the world, let alone bands specializing in electroacoustic soundscapes. One of their most recent projects consists of a cover version of 4'33" recorded on the local pier.

Twizz, who supplies the narration on "Officer Kitty", is Mick's 7-year-old daughter; the track was recorded last year during a five-month period of homeschooling while the local school was closed during the lockdown. Mick provides the background:

"How would you like to do another track with me and Uncle Skit?"
"We'll take that as a yes."

I also soon discover a second Magic Bullet-Twizz collab, "Jesus Is Dead (Let's Eat Chocolate", on another MB release last year.

On Magic Bullet's Facebook page, I post a message about how much we've been enjoying the Officer Kitty track, and am stunned to receive an almost immediate reply from Mick Magic himself, who points me to a third track recorded with Twizz, in this case a shorter version of the "Jesus Is Dead" track.

We swap a few messages, and I make an official request for a "Further Adventures of Officer Kitty in Space" track. Mick promises to "have a word when she gets back from school," and sends links to his blog posts about making the tracks with Twizz, one of which provides the full backstory of "The Adventures of Officer Kitty in Space!". The eponymous star of the track, it turns out, is Twizz's white plastic toy cat. Twizz supplied the artwork for the track, and even has a Discogs credit for artwork on a few other MB tracks. She's apparently up for doing some collaborations, although "Officer Kitty unfortunately hasn't been seen for a while, we fear he's lost down the back of the sofa somewhere...".

Needless to say I'll be sharing all this with my son when he gets back from school - he'll no doubt be amused to know that I've been messaging with the track's creator. I'm already thinking about inviting Magic Bullet & Twizz to do a set via Zoom at his upcoming birthday party in July, although we might be in the UK then. If so, attending a live set on the Knott End-On-Sea jetty would be the icing on the cake.