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Participation Over Belonging: Analysing Microsound Using Digital Methods

Christopher Haworth

Christopher Haworth, Faculty of Music, University of Oxford


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This paper presents new research in genre theory and analysis using digital ethnography methods. First, I address some of the problems and contradictions of genre in music, focusing on questions of agency, mediation, and the disavowal of genre by practitioners, art theorists, and critics. Second, I assess recent attempts to revive genre theory and make it into a workable concept for music, arguing that, alongside a focus on promiscuity, social mediation, and temporality, an attentiveness to ‘where’ it is that genre communities come together –including both offline and online spaces – is essential. In the third section, I examine the art music genre of microsound, providing a brief genealogy of the genre from its coinage by Iannis Xenakis, to its takeup on the .microsound mailing list, to its present-day form as a concept embodying sound art, DSP research, avant-garde composition, and post-techno styles. Following the rhetoric of the genre itself, I propose that microsound can be conceived of as a ‘cloud’ or ‘network’ of human and non-human actors: none of them indigenous to the genre, all having different levels of influence, and all – crucially – contributing something essential to what the genre ‘is’. The fourth section uses Richard Rogers’ Issuecrawler (an online ethnography software) to analyse microsound’s social mediations as they are performed online. Using the .microsound mailing list as a knowledge source, I analyse patterns of online interlinkage amongst artists, record labels, festivals, magazines, concert halls, and other institutions associated with the genre, furthering the insights of the earlier genealogy of microsound using these empirical methods. Further work would multiply the types of association amongst actors to include formal connections amongst artists and texts, amongst others.

EMS15 Proceedings