Re: electroacoustics - rap to tap

Subject: Re: electroacoustics - rap to tap
From: John Oliver (
Date: Wed Jun 30 2004 - 15:47:18 EDT

acoustic music = produced by sounding bodies
electroacoustic = produced with the aid of electroacoustic "instruments"

Sure these are "means of production" terms. It's the ideas that count.
And that's where the terminology problem arises. It's better to use
other terminology that does not confuse the means of production with
the aesthetic intended by the creator. Thus "Cinema for the ear"
communicates an idea that "electroacoustic music" does not. But I think
we use "electroacoustic music" to describe both the technical truth and
the aesthetic umbrella.

A film is a film. Then we talk about content.
A photo is a photo.... etc.

You can say "photo-based" art to give the viewer an idea of the means
of production and the role that may have played in the creator's
process, but in the end, the viewer may be more interested in the
effect of the work, rather than the process of creation. Some creators
want their audience (viewers, listeners, etc.) to follow their own
perception concerns to the letter. Others like to create things that
invite their audience in but let them free. I have always been
interested in the technical so that I can create interesting sounding
pieces, but I don't want to stand beside the listener and say "listen
hear where I did this this way," etc. They should hear it without my
interruption. Of course, "free" is a relative term and depends on how
(and how much) the sound is organized.

The fact that new technology allowed for the addition of more
reliably-built and larger valved brass and keyed woodwind instruments
to the orchestra changed the sound of orchestral music was of interest
to the composers, but a work of art still needed to be made with the
new tools.

Better to talk about music/sound art and include all the interesting
works of art that are organized sound, rather than exclude some based
on their means of production.

Try this: compare the achievement that is Yves Daoust's "Quatuor"
(created in 1979) with any string quartet written within the ten year
period previous. This is an excellent starting point to reveal some of
the advantages to the techniques of recorded sound manipulation over
purely acoustic sound organization. Then compare many string quartets
written around the same era that seem to imitate the complexity that
one can achieve by ea means (mainly the 'neo-complexity' movement of
the 1980s). A good example is Xenakis "Tetras." Here the means of
production are acoustic, but the ideas of sound production are clearly
influenced by ea sound production.

It seems to me that it is this ("techniques of recorded sound
manipulation") that is meant by the global term "electroacoustics." In
that context, it becomes clear that the resulting "electroacoustic
music" refers to music in which one can clearly identify that
techniques of recorded sound manipulation have played a fundamental and
irreversible (or irreplaceable) role in the resulting work (i.e. the
work is otherwise impossible to realize). That would then exclude a
number of examples of music where such techniques might make the result
POWERFUL, but that the music would survive without it. For example,
most commercial and popular music since the invention of live
amplification survives "unplugged." It's technically, but not
aesthetically "electroacoustic." When individual ea sounds are added,
these sounds are decoration. As soon as the ea techniques in any music
come to the fore ad become essential, ea composers and fans start to
get interested, even if a genre may otherwise be clearly in the 'pop'
or commercial realm. (The same observation can be made about orchestral
music: compare percussion in Mozart versus Varese. But that's another

Then try this: take the word "recorded" out of the definition, so that
we talk about "techniques of sound manipulation" and then you are back
to all the fantastic music created without any electroacoustics at all
by Varese, Xenakis, Ligeti, Cage, Berio, Partch, Reich, etc. from
minimalist to maximalist. All influenced by the tools of their time,
the ideas of their time, but using whatever means came to them or that
they developed. Now our discussion includes ALL music, all organized
sound: an open discussion of music.

Then "electroacoustics" becomes a subcategory of the topic: Techniques
of Sound Manipulation. And that topic encompasses all music:

monody, homophony, heterophony, polyphony, ornamentation, modal,
chromatic, microtonal, etc. (Open a Dictionary of Music for


difference tones, phase cancellation, aliasing, nyquist, frequency
modulation, granular synthesis, etc. (open your Handbook for Acoustic
Ecology, Computer Music, etc.)

(One day the damned "Dictionary of Music" will get completely up to

Everyone manipulating sound is then a 'composer' (and that 'debate'
(Some still might say "so and so is not a composer," but that's just
shorthand for "not a good composer." To say "not a composer" is to shut
down debate; to say "not a good composer" invites discussion.)

And so then we are free to talk.
(Caviat: music education must include all music as so defined!)

Then we may ask "why do we use this technique to manipulate sound?"
Some may answer "because it rocks;" others may answer with a 300 page
book. Vive la difference!

Open rather than bound.

John Oliver

On Jun 30, 2004, at 6:39 AM, macCormac wrote:

> otherwise unamplified music is purely acoustic ... ? ... what is th %
> we hear electroacoustic / acoustic communication then & now ?

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