Genre, Experimental ism, and
the Musical Frame
The questions inherent in genre—what it does for listeners, why so many genres exist—dog any discussion of music aesthetics, but especially so for electronic music, since so many genres and subgenres seem to qualify as some form of electronic music. In the first five chapters of this book, I have refrained from addressing the topic of aesthetics head-on and likewise have taken as self-evident the existence of certain distinct genres of electronic music. But we cannot take definitions of either aesthetics or genre for granted, nor can we assume that the two exist independently of each other. This chapter addresses the relationships between aesthetics and genre: How do aesthetics determine our understanding of electronic-music genres, and, conversely, how do genres affect our understanding of electronicmusic aesthetics? I argue here that what motivates the effort to categorize and demarcate different genres is a growing confusion about the experience of listening to electronic music. The word music might no longer adequately describe the strange sounds, structures, and situations of this new acoustic landscape. Insistence on the small-scale distinctions among genres delays larger reflections on how all of electronic music differs from everything that has preceded it. Yet we often disregard patent similarities between otherwise disparate forms of electronic music simply because we have grown accustomed to the idea that different spheres of electronic-music production are unrelated.
Much of the difficulty in talking about electronic-music aesthetics lies in identifying what electronic music is and deciding whether it is too big to discuss as one entity. Most practitioners would probably agree that electronic music as a whole is too heterogeneous to be considered as a single