Re: electroacoustics/10 second rule :)

Subject: Re: electroacoustics/10 second rule :)
From: bill thompson (
Date: Fri Aug 06 2004 - 17:16:36 EDT

Hi everyone,


[warning…long, boring post up ahead..i just finished it and realized I wrote a book…skip if easily bored!]


This is a funny thread to me, in that I opened up my mailbox today to find 50 posts on what is THE definition of COMPUTER music. It’s funny in the sense that I think it’s a matter of semantics and that discussions like this can be fruitless if there isn’t a point beyond the definition to be made. Meaning, if there were a point beyond the definition, one would just come to terms with how he intends the title ‘computer music’ to be understood and then get on with ‘the’ point, which for me is always more about computer MUSIC and not COMPUTER music, if that makes sense..


After all, most music that most people hear today is music that has been created with, produced by, transmitted via (etc ad nauseam) a computer. By THAT, I mean that when we listen to any cd, tape, eight track, record etc…those sounds were placed on that media with the aid of computers…radio is transmitted with the aid of computers…the equipment used is designed with the aid of computers etc. Even ‘acoustic’ music is made with instruments that in today’s world are often manufactured with the aid of computers.


It’s the same approach many authors start books on electronic music with…that most music today is ‘electronic’ in the sense that electricity plays some part of varying significance in its creation, production, transmission etc.


While this wide open definition is not what is typically meant by computer music, it still sheds light on the idea that one definition of computer music is any music made with the aid of a computer at some stage of its creation or transmission. This would be a useful definition if the discussion was about how computers have become such a powerful tool in the world of music and how it’s infiltrated almost every stage of music production.


On the other end of the spectrum is the stylistic definition of what computer music typically “sounds like”, and using that as the defining property. That is decided more on the basis of genre, what has come before, and how it is perceived by those who produce it and listen to it…more of a social definition. Of course if someone used lots of creative/extended techniques to create music that sounded incredibly similar to music made by a computer or ‘a computer musician’ without the aid of a computer…I don’t think we’d call it computer music…we might not even call it music (haha! Now that’s a much more interesting discussion to me ;).


As to computer music only being music that is ‘programmed’, as in defining the genre based on how the computer is USED, that’s interesting, but I think slippery because then you aren’t arguing about the computer anymore but what ‘use’ of the computer is valid, and to what degree that use is used.. ;) such as the ideas of programming. For me that has some validity, but not in the sense of it defining the genre by the fact of programming itself, but more in the social sense that that is how most people creating and listening to this music define it. The problem is that some were saying only if you’re “writing code” can you consider yourself a ‘computer composer’…I think c++ was mentioned as compared to a graphic environment like max/msp…when really we all know that anyone who programs in anything other than machine code is really kidding him/herself about being a programmer. (I’m kidding here, but get my point?)


I think this definition of programming implies an algorithmic definition…in the sense that a true computer composer is doing more than using someone else’s code, they’re creating their own algorithms etc…but algorithmic composition IS composition in the traditional sense…as in writing a score (program) to be played (executed) by a musician (computer)..just the media has changed, the tools more sophisticated…but we wouldn’t necessarily confuse Mozart’s music with computer music unless we were making a point….yet, it’s still a program in the sense that it’s a series of steps recorded on a media, transmitted, to be carried out or followed…and we all know that a computer’s one good skill is that it does what you tell it to do, very well. So I don’t think this can be the final definition either.


And of course there’s the AI definition, that computer music is music created by computer (programs.)…Just because of it’s simplicity I like this one the best…though I haven’t heard any thing written by a computer that I’ve enjoyed.


It seems that if you take any definition of any ‘thing’ and exaggerate it enough, the fallacies of the definition always shine through. I think most useful definitions of anything usually are both well defined in relation to a point to be made (so that we’re all on the same terms) and usually a compromise between extreme positions.


So, after all that, I confess that I don’t really have a good definition of computer music myself, but I again, I think it’s much more interesting to talk about computer ‘music’ than ‘computer’ music…(however that’s done) and not the definition…[funny thing to say considering the horrendous length of this post]


I do use a computer and various programs extensively in my compositional process and in my performances. I don’t define myself as a computer composer though, or say that I make computer music because for me the definition has more to do with the music that I create than whether I’m using a computer. If anything I say that my music is ‘experimental’ though I’m not really experimenting…or if pressed that it’s often electronic or electro-acoustic.


The funny thing, and this is it for this post…sorry it’s so long,…is that these terms really don’t carry much meaning either. I mean, I bet most people on this list know what electronic, or electro-acoustic music is and ‘sounds’ like but not a one of you could really say what my music sounds like even though I described it as electronic and electro-acoustic. Even if you heard it, to describe it to someone else, you’d probably have to use an example of someone else’s work that my music sounded like and that both of you were familiar with…my point being that words fail us here and that trying to tie a word down to an idea is ultimately not satisfying (for me) if there isn’t something waiting to be discussed later with the agreed upon definition.


Anyway, Jesus this is long! That’s it…glad to be back on the list ;)




ps...from calvin: "If something is so complicated that you can't explain it in 10 seconds, then it's probably not worth
knowing anyway."

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