EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Electroacoustic Music Studies and Accepted Terminology: You can’t have one without the other

Leigh Landy

Director of Music, Technology and Innovation
Faculty of Humanities
De Montfort University


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This talk will summarise the conclusions of my latest book, Understanding the Art of Sound Organisation, a book that is based on recent years’ experience conceiving and directing the ElectroAcoustic Resource Site (www.ears.dmu.ac.uk). It is based on two worries: 1) current terminology usage in the field is at best fluid and at worst in a fairly weak state, especially category and genre terminology; and 2) the field of Electroacoustic Music Studies (EMS), instead of engaging in foundational issues that have yet to be resolved, tends to focus on aspects of investigation at higher levels. I often describe this situation as follows: if EMS publications were to be presented in the form of a building, there would be a significant number of upper floor suites and rooms inhabited, but at least some of the foundation has yet to be designed. This unusual architecture is reflected in patterns that are emerging on the EARS site’s rapidly growing bibliography.

Clearly, these issues are interrelated. On the basis of the creation of the EARS site’s index structure and the above-mentioned patterns within the bibliography, areas of studies in need of development will be introduced during this talk after sharing some very odd discoveries concerning terminological issues that were noted whilst the site’s glossary was originally compiled and which remain unresolved today.

The following questions offer a taste of what the paper will present.
- Is there any use at all for the term ‘computer music’ these days?
- Why is the word, ‘electroacoustic’, restricted to a narrow definition by some and a much wider one by others?
- Why is electronica such a difficult term even though it arrived relatively recently?
- Is it right to call ‘an anecdotal work’ ‘electronic music’?
- Why was ‘sonic arts’ a wrong move historically? (Answer: because in languages like French, the notion of ‘arts sonores’ already existed and is a synonym for ‘music’.)
- Is ‘sound art’ music?
- Finally, what should the umbrella term really be that brings people together to EMS06?

I shall make a proposal to use a new term, one devised whilst writing this new book in the hope that debates commence investigating how we, not only in the English language, but also in others, can start defining our terms, sharing language-based similarities and differences as part of the work needed to fill in the incomplete foundation of the EMS building. Another proposal will be to create an international working group to attempt to establish a dictionary and thesaurus of the most basic terms relevant to EMS in a number of languages. The same or another group, possibly (both) working under the auspices of the EMS Network, might consider what the field of electroacoustic music studies consists of, that is, what the full architectural design of that building.