EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Questioning the ’Experimental’: Electroacoustic Improvisation as ’Experimental’ case study

James Andean

James Andean, Music, Technology & Innovation – Institute for Sonic Creativity, De Montfort University


As pointed out in the conference call, the concept of ’experimentation’ and the experimental in music was central in the development of the electroacoustic art form, as indeed it was for many areas of twentieth-century music, especially post-WWII. However, it is indeed timely to return to this notion of the ’experimental’ in our art form, now that it is seventy years old and has survived into a new century. The conference call also focuses somewhat on the question of musique concrète as an experimental art form; this, I think, leads directly to several questions. The broadest would be:

- Can the electroacoustic endeavour still claim to be ’experimental’?
- Would acousmatic music (as the inheritor of the musique concrète tradition) be the likeliest site within the broader electroacoustic landscape for this ’experimentalism’ to currently be located?
- Or, has the experimentalism once found in the glory days of musique concrète now migrated elsewhere within our broader field?

Perhaps unsurprisingly with such a leading question, I will argue that this is in fact exactly what has happened – i.e. that:

- the conference call is correct in asserting the experimental nature of the early days of musique concrète;
- the conference call is equally correct in being somewhat sceptical of any claimed ’experimentalism’ in today’s acousmatic music;
- however, rather than implying the extinction of this experimental spirit, it is rather that it has indeed migrated elsewhere – specifically, towards the area of Electroacoustic Improvisation.

This presentation will therefore consider:

- the nature of the ’experimental’ in electroacoustic music, and its location; – the possibly ’experimental’ qualities of Electroacoustic Improvisation;
- comparison and contrasts with the concrète/acousmatic tradition.


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EMS18 Proceedings