Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Synopsis

Electronic music since 1980 has splintered into a dizzying assortment of genres and subgenres, communities and subcultures. Given the ideological differences among academic, popular, and avant-garde electronic musicians, is it possible to derive an aesthetic theory that accounts for this variety? And is there even a place for aesthetics in twenty-first-century culture? This book explores genres ranging from techno to electroacoustic music, from glitch to drone music, and from dub to drones, and maintains that culturally and historically informed aesthetic theory is not only possible but indispensable for understanding electronic music. The abilities of electronic music to use preexisting sounds and to create new sounds are widely known. This book proceeds from this starting point to consider how electronic music changes the way we listen not only to music, but to sound itself. The common trait in recent experimental electronic music is a concern with whether sound, in itself, bears meaning. The use of previously undesirable materials like noise, field recordings, and extremely quiet sounds has contributed to electronic music's destruction of the "musical frame", the conventions that used to set apart music from the outside world. In the void created by the disappearance of the musical frame, different philosophies for listening have emerged. Some electronic music genres insist upon the inscrutability and abstraction of sound. Others maintain that sound functions as a sign pointing to concepts or places beyond the work. But all share an approach towards listening that departs fundamentally from the expectations that have governed music listening in the West for the previous five centuries.

Excerpt

In some quarters of academia, aesthetics is a dirty word. It calls to mind aspects of Western intellectual history that some feel are best left abandoned, such as ivory-tower professors who spout theories about the good and the beautiful without having had much contact with either. For skeptics, aesthetics is synonymous with ungrounded theorizing about the value of artworks. The discipline seems unforgivably suspect because so many works of aesthetics over the years have considered a small subset of artworks, inevitably residing in the Western canon, as standard bearers for the quality of art made anywhere, by anyone, and at any time. While claiming to be an objective measure of what it is that artworks do, aesthetic theory seems irreconcilably ideological, an instrument for reinforcing the values and prejudices that have kept a few artists and art consumers in comfort, while making sure that many more artworks and artistic practices lurk in obscurity and comparative poverty.

Aesthetics is, then, an unpopular pastime, although a few brave souls still write aesthetic theory (Danto 1997; Kraut 2007; Kuspit 2004; Levinson 2006). Many other scholars have critiqued aesthetics by means of cultural studies and sociology, disciplines that start not with theories about artistic merit but rather with empirical data concerning artistic practice. Cultural studies and sociology seem methodologically sound because they rely on ethnography and case studies, techniques that presume to minimize the author’s prejudices about a subject and empower practitioners and spectators to speak for themselves. With multicultural, feminist, gay and lesbian, and postcolonial studies continuing to flourish and generate torrents of . . .

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