EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Listening in time and over time – the construction of the electroacoustic musical experience

Simon Emmerson

Simon Emmerson, Music, Technology & Innovation Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester UK


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The relationship of ‘music’ to ‘sound art’ is increasingly discussed. This seems to take two forms: firstly a discussion of terms – the meaning of words. Thus ‘is there a distinction in meaning?’ tends to become ‘is all music really sound art?’ (and vice versa!). On the other hand this must be based on a greater engagement with substance: what distinguishes these two descriptors in their practice.
A first stage distinction has often been made. Music maintains a ‘beginning-middle-end’ paradigm and demands attention from start to finish, while sound art can be ‘sampled’ without damage to the creator’s intention – indeed it may be part of that intention. Clearly such a simple dialectical split has been eroded and a continuum tentatively established. Human performance of any kind tends to be designated ‘music’ but may be sampled as if it were ‘sound art’ (especially) if extended in time and (crucially) if the venue allows or encourages movement of the audience. This clearly generates a new kind of work. Conversely, in ‘open’ spaces I have frequently observed focused listening for extended periods. Furthermore there are issues of signal to background noise ratio in the listening space. What function can dynamic range and frequency range have in ‘lo-fi’ spaces?
The freedom of some sound art (for example) to create the unexpected for an unpredictable audience cannot necessarily easily be disciplined into a narrative chain or any other kind of through composed ‘logic’. Several kinds of hybridization (and compromise) are at work here. The discussion will include issues of listening – the ‘forming’ of experience in a variety of spaces. The composer may try to create what I term ‘local forms’, sometimes ‘fractal forms’ (small segments that reveal the shape and order of larger structures). These are designed to have be grasped at shorter and more immediate timescales and to become meaningful ‘moments’. At the other extreme we may have ‘flux’ and ‘drift’ forms that seem to suspend the passing of time in their slow change – yet these, too, may allow a different kind of intense experience.
The principles of Stockhausen’s moment form in both mobile and fixed versions (Momente and Kontakte, for example) will be examined; I will argue that it may be reworked as a listening strategy and eventually an analytical approach that crosses the music-sound art distinction.

EMS14 Proceedings