Material As Sign in Electronica
Chapter 1 argued that a nagging preoccupation in much electroacoustic music concerns whether the listening experience can be controlled and enhanced. This discussion, oddly enough, often avoids technical descriptions of how sounds are created, sticking instead to how sounds are received. A chief distinction between the discourse surrounding institutional electroacoustic music and that surrounding electronica is that the latter discourse concentrates on sound material rather than the acts of composing or listening. What I mean by material here amounts to the objectified, audible phenomena in electronic music, from notes and rhythms to sound grains, clicks, timbres, and even silence; it is, as Adorno puts it, “what artists work with” (1997, 147). Material necessarily refers back to its own generation, and so any discussion of material must include the actions and devices involved in its creation. My usage of material is thus distinct from Schaeffer’s formulation of the sound object, which Schaeffer insisted is separate from its modes of production and the media on which it is affixed (Schaefer 1966, 76). Material also needs to be distinguished from the listening theories detailed in chapter 1, for while those theories offered prescriptive or descriptive accounts of perception, electronica’s materialist discourse focuses more on the perceived objects themselves. Material is admittedly not a term that all of the artists considered in this chapter would use to describe their sounds or musical building blocks. But as a concept, material may encapsulate the dual concerns of sound itself and sound generation, concerns that, as I demonstrate, are traits held in common among many electronica genres.
In particular, I want to focus on material generated through three activities central to electronica: the construction, reproduction, and destruction