EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Ethno-Electro – A Framework for Examining Cultural Influences In Electroacoustic Music

Peter Rothbart

Peter Rothbart, School of Music, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, USA


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In the early, evolving years of the genre, electroacoustic music was often defined in terms of technological, not cultural or geographic characteristics. Musique concrète came from the Paris studio, pure electronically derived pieces from Cologne. Columbia-Princeton was known for the signature sound of its reverb. The unique equipment that generated the sounds associated with that specific studio defined the cultural roots of the music itself, especially given the international nature of the composers who populated those few studios.
But electroacoustic music itself lost what cultural identity the technology provided when the technology went global. Only in recent years has the hardware and software developed to the point at which we can explore the cultural influences on the composer, rather than the limitations imposed by the equipment upon the composer’s expression.
Defining cultural influences in electroacoustic music becomes even more daunting, given that the genre invites the abandonment or radical redefinition of traditional characteristics of form, tonality, harmony, melody and structuring of time. The problem then becomes one of recognizing and defining cultural influences in a music that is no longer reliant on traditional structures. How can we define the cultural and ethnic influences in a music when we abandon the traditional means of the expression of that ethnicity? This paper presents a framework to examine the ethnomusicology of electroacoustic music. As an example, I examine Jewish influences in electroacoustic music with the intention of providing a model for future ethno-electro studies.

EMS12 Proceedings