Area of Research and Methodology

Today, the term electroacoustic is a flexible designation that could embrace an immense area of musical styles (Landy 2007: 12-14): EARS (, for instance, lists 81 genres and categories of electroacoustic music.

I confine the examination to the field of music that approaches to sound as a `sculptural' and complex material to handle, reflecting on it as a dense and tangible entity. This comprehensive description continues to be fairly generic and vague but allows going beyond electroacoustic music definition as a formal combination of acoustic and electrical sounds. The attention of this paper is drawn to identify similar perspectives and outcomes of different musical proceedings, thus including electroacoustic, acoustic or pure-electronic practices.

On the one hand, composers like G. F. Haas, F. Romitelli and B. Lang have advanced their research, each one in his own method, continuing to approach sound as a complex substance to handle. On the other hand, post-minimalists and electronic performers, such as A. Lucier, E. Radigue, coming from the exploratory school of Cage and Schaeffer, have made free use of these musical theories, combining them into more instinctive works.

In this cross-genre area, it is possible to distinguish different perceptions of sound: as a physical phenomenon, (e.g. audio-acoustic experiments, sound installations, A. Lucier, J. Kirkegaard); an object (e.g. M. Chion); an entity (e.g. G. F. Haas); an image (e.g. F. Bayle); a corporeal event (e.g. P. Niblock, PanSonic); an absolute perception (e.g. sound art); an extreme result of a technological atomization process (e.g. R. Ikeda, B. Truax).

The following pieces have been analysed:

In order to analyse a heterogeneous material, this study focused on the cardinal components of the pieces, following a step-by-step analytic procedure:

  1. Each composition is divided in musical events (e.g. in a narrative or a musical texture partitioning) (Giomi and Ligabue 1998, Roy 2003, 149-152);
  2. These events are described as a cross-combination of the four factors: time, dynamics, spectrum and mode.
  3. Each event has various effects based on space, sound's characteristics and repetition/difference practices (Table 1).

This taxonomy aims to simplify the recognition of similar units within our selection.

  Factors of... Effects on...
tex2html_deferred Time (e.g.pulse,decay,waves. layers
Spatial Aspects (e.g. expansion/contraction, filling/removal, layering/uniqueness...)
  Dynamics (e.g. crescendo, contrast, distortions...)
  Spectrum (e.g. acoustic, electronic, real-world sounds)
  Mode (e.g. acousmatic, multi-channel....)

A complete examination reveals many musical practices with similar qualities and comparable effects within the selected compositions. These correspondences led to the identification of the nine musical attributes that are nearly common to all pieces. These are:

In some pieces these designations are frequently combined, e.g. glitch- electronic music usually exhibits repetitive clusters within rhythmic frameworks, while the use of repetition in Lang and Haas' pieces could at times be associated to non-rhythmic hypnotic reiterations or to more complex structures.

For instance, a representative case such as "harsh interventions scattered into continuous layers of sound" consists on the superimposition of musical elements (i.e. mode factor, Table 1) of different type (i.e. time and spectrum factors) and opposite impact (i.e. dynamic factor) and reveal the following attributes:

More generally, written contemporary compositions (i.e. Haas and Lang's pieces) make elaborated use of simple musical elements to create new effects. On the other hand, electronic pieces apply drastic timbric solutions providing analogous results. There are evident parallels within our selection, when static musical episodes are examined or even when electronic devices are used in written compositions.

Considering the global results, each work has in common with the others at least eight out of nine attributes. Therefore, even if these traits are pretty general, their concomitant fulfilment allow the definition of a clear frame of reference that validates our premises. In this manner, these nine musical features represent a description of a common cross-genres perspective.

One could argue that this selection of pieces includes borderline examples that facilitate the comparison. However, this cross-genres examination is innovative, therefore it appears important to start with a solid musical platform that offers clear models of a shared outlook.

adrian 2015-06-03