Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis

By Hunt, Joel, V | Notes, June 2018 | Go to article overview

Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis


Hunt, Joel, V, Notes


Expanding the Horizon of Electroacoustic Music Analysis. Edited by Simon Emmerson and Leigh Landy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. [x, 407 p. ISBN 9781107118324 (hardback). $120.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

Recent advances in music technology have extended the modes of expression for electroacoustic musicians. Beyond conventional sample-based acousmatic composition, twenty-first century musicians are exploring the creative potential of live sampling and processing, interactive and generative music systems, hyperinstruments, audiovisual installations, soundscapes, sound sculptures, and game audio. Eclecticism and innovation continue to push the music in new directions, challenging the expectations of listeners and requiring analysts to develop new methods for understanding and describing the repertoire.

This collection of essays attempts to bring clarity to the multifarious world of electroacoustic music analysis. Eighteen contributing authors address a wide range of genres and analytical techniques that have emerged during the last twenty years. The editors offer no conclusions but leave readers with a thorough understanding of the current state of electroacoustic music practice and analysis. They invite composers, performers, educators, musicologists, and analysts to engage with the mate - rial and build on the concepts.

The collection consists of four parts. In part one, the editors address the analytical needs of the various genres and categories of electroacoustic music, while rightfully acknowledging that there is no all-encompassing methodology that can account for all of the variants within the discipline. They do, however, lay out some guiding principles. First, they prioritize a listenercentered approach, in which the intentions or creative processes of the composer may influence the analysis but not take precedence over the listening experience. Second, they help analysts define their task by posing a question that addresses four parameters for the analysis: (1) users; (2) works or genres; (3) tools or methodologies; and (4) intentions. Third, they propose the use of a template of headings to establish consistency of presentation in analytical writing. The editors submit these guidelines to the authors of analytical essays in part four of the collection, but few explicitly make reference to them. A unified showing could have confirmed the applicability of this initial theorizing, which seems on the surface to have significant practical value.

The authors in part two explore issues related to the perception of meaning, form, process, and texture. Building on Per Aage Brandt's five mental layers, and employing ideas from schema theory, Gary S. Kendal explores the multilayered nature of listening and the cognitive processes that give rise to meaning. John Young reconsiders "moment" and "morphic" forms, musical rhetoric, and narrative in support of an emergent conception of organization, which replaces conventional notions of structure with dynamic "forming" processes (p. 61). Michael Young tackles the perceptual and aesthetic challenges of generative music, questions the extent to which analysts should be concerned with the involvement of machines in creative processes, and posits that analysis may function as an evaluative tool in this repertoire. Raúl Minsburg draws on the work of Leonard Meyer and Albert S. Bregman to highlight the role of texture in the perception of form, and proposes new perception-based texture classifications.

The authors in this part of the collection investigate theoretical concepts with depth and clarity. They engage with previous scholarship and support new ideas with examples from the standard repertoire (Minsburg also refers to works by lesser-known Argentinean composers). However, some of the discussions would benefit from incorporating analytical texts on music outside of the electroacoustic realm, as many of the underlying principles in electroacoustic music also operate in acoustic music from the last half-century. …

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