EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Reality and Unreality in the Interpretation of Electroacoustic Music

Hubert Howe

Hubert Howe, Queens College of the City University of New York, Flushing, New York, U.S.A.


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In order to understand electroacoustic music, inexperienced listeners try to draw upon their previous auditory experience, primarily instrumental or vocal music, or sounds from a non-musical context; but they often misunderstand the sounds as representing objects appropriate to those other experiences. This could be thought of as the “realistic” interpretation. This paper will argue that listeners must discard their preconceptions and attempt to create meaning from the nature of the sounds themselves, even if the vision conjured up is completely “unrealistic.” This would be true even if the sounds occurring in electroacoustic music are identical to sounds from those other experiences. To simplify this explanation, the process involves nothing more than learning to listen to what might have previously been thought of as unmusical sounds as music. It is also often necessary to try to hear instrumental or vocal sounds in a new and different way, in which the meaning of the sounds is determined by the musical context and not by the nature of the vibrating bodies that produced them.

EMS12 Proceedings