Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

By Joanna Demers | Go to book overview

1
Listening to Signs in Post-Schaefferian
Electroacoustic Music

Let me begin with an obvious statement: electronic music sounds and behaves differently from nonelectronic music. The earliest critical reactions to electronic music were quick to seize on the strangeness of its sounds, which seemed incommensurate with anything musical. A New York Times critic wrote of a 1953 Parisian electronic-music festival:

One’s first reaction when listening to France’s “musique concrète” or
Germany’s “electronic music” today—almost twenty-five years after the
initial experiments—was a feeling that the technician had now taken over
and wanted to show the composer what he could do with the help of
modern equipment. Hearing “musique concrète” for the first time, one
could not help being bewildered. One can sympathize with listeners who
make comparisons with railway terminals, steel foundries and tapes played
back at a wrong speed. (Gradenwitz 1953)

In 1961, another critic described musique concrète and electronic music as random tape noise (Schonberg 1961), and a third complained that experimental electronic music denied listeners familiar sounds and syntax that even dissonant serial music provided (Helm 1961). Collages of industrial noise, synthesized drones, and sounds played in reverse seemed utterly foreign to musical language as it was then conceived.

Electronic music is strange because it is so malleable. Like conventional music, it can enlist acoustic instruments to produce the pitches, scales, and rhythms of traditional musical discourse. Yet, unlike conventional music, it can also incorporate sounds of the outside world, leading Emmerson to

-21-

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Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • About the Companion Web Site ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I - Sign 19
  • 1 - Listening to Signs in Post-Schaefferian Electroacoustic Music 21
  • 2 - Material as Sign in Electronica 43
  • Part II - Object 67
  • 3 - Minimal Objects in Microsound 69
  • 4 - Maximal Objects in Drone Music, Dub Techno, and Noise 91
  • Part III - Situation 111
  • 5 - Site in Ambient, Soundscape, and Field Recordings 113
  • 6 - Genre, Experimental Ism, and the Musical Frame 135
  • Conclusion 155
  • Glossary 163
  • Bibliography 179
  • Discography 191
  • Index 195
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