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Future Traces

Current Trends in Electroacoustic Music


As a graduate student in Northern Illinois University’s Computer Music and New Media Technology program, directed by Dr. James Phelps, I participated in a course in 2008 on the Development and Practice of Electronic Music. Intended as an historical survey of developments in electronic and computer music, the class elected to approach this broad topic by partitioning it into twelve “dodecade” (12-year) periods for each student to research and present.

My particular assignment was the final dodecade, covering from 1996 through 2008. I decided to extend my time period to also explore what might be considered “future trends” that perhaps were already apparent in more recent activities in the field of electroacoustic and computer music (referred to as “ea/cm” in this article, and used in its most inclusive sense.) I imagined these as contrail traces on the near horizon, elements condensing enough to be apparent now, which may or may not solidify into something more solid in the future (but certainly in no way imagined to be the totality of a present or future landscape).

As a student, I certainly questioned my reliability as a seer to prognosticate into the future. I therefore prepared a survey and Dr. Phelps distributed it via several online ea/cm forums. I received very interesting feedback from a number of participants, which I incorporated into my presentation. As part of my research, I also identified some pre-existing panel discussions and reviewed online and conference programs and other sources to get a sampling of current work, which further illuminated the issues. (1)

In particular, I point readers to the online video, “Tulane: The Founders of Computer Music,” (2) in which six world-renowned pioneers of computer and electronic music were filmed at a gathering at Tulane University to discuss the future of the form — both as they saw it in 1967 and as they saw it in 2007. In addition to Jon Appleton, who served as panel moderator, participants were John and Maureen Chowning, Max Mathews, F. Richard Moore and Julius Smith. They discuss in great detail many of the elements that I will review herein and place them within the context of their own important historical perspectives.

Through this article and with the permission of the respondents to my survey, I share some of my survey feedback and presentation information, with the hope that it can contribute to an ongoing discussion of current and future trends in ea/cm music.

The Survey Questionnaire

Those who responded to my survey included Jon H. Appleton, Kevin Austin, David Dunn, Karlheinz Essl, Don Malone, Navid Navab, Joseph A. Paradiso, Pedro Rebelo, Margaret Schedel, Dan Trueman, Eldad Tsabary and Rodney Waschka II. (3) For the original class presentation, we were also required to include a “representative composer.” I selected Karlheinz Essl (whose work incorporated a number of the trends to be discussed and with whom class members were less likely to be familiar), who provided additional information for that purpose which is not included in this article.

To provide context for the survey feedback, below is the core text of the survey questionnaire, as sent to the participants:

… As the last presenter in our chronologic survey, I thought it would be appropriate to challenge the other students to consider where this field might be going in the future. I am, therefore, seeking commentary from interested parties on what you perceive to be the key future trends or directions in the areas of electronic/computer music. Or perhaps rather than a trend, you might feel there is a particular technology, perspective, composer, or composition that is going to have serious impact in the future? What question(s) are you feeling driven to answer these days, or what question(s) do you see others trying to answer? What limitations might be at play in the future? What forces might be fueling future directions? I am happy to receive your comments, whether brief or extended, casual or formal, which can be directed to me at ———. Please feel free to reference a composer, composition, link or other example that demonstrates your comments. Thank you to any who may choose to contribute.


Don Malone of Roosevelt University contributed the following thought-provoking starting point for a meditation on future trends: “The future is not different from the past, it is just harder to remember” (source unknown).

Jon Appleton of Dartmouth College also took a wide view, de-emphasizing the role of the technology itself and seeing ea/cm as a somewhat niche music:

I believe this music will never be central to our musical culture, just as classical instrumental music will have a very small but devoted following. The major weakness has always been that it attracts individuals who want to be composers and think that the use of technology makes them so. Its major strength is the enormous æsthetic possibilities the entire world of sound offers. One needs to think about the purpose of music to understand the future of music.

A more structured approach to a discussion of possible future trends might be a consideration of the following elements of music creation and presentation which make up the “music experience,” as they emerged in my research and the survey feedback (elaborated on below). These are not meant to be inclusive, but just a starting point:

A. Possible elements that may affect the composer in creating the work, such as:

  1. Technology advances (hardware, software)
  2. Communication advances (data transmission, e.g., the move to wireless)
  3. Media to be incorporated (video, audio, etc.)
  4. Inspirational and conceptual influences

B. Possible elements that may affect the audience in receiving the work, such as:

  1. Transmission advances, delivery systems (e.g., web streaming)
  2. Environment of performance (beyond the concert hall?)
  3. Interactivity (the end of passive audiences?)

C. Possible elements that may affect the presentation of the performance, such as:

  1. Collaborators (e.g., multimedia contributors)
  2. Performance space (e.g., multi-location)
  3. Economics (financing structures)

D. Professional Considerations:

  1. Where will support come from?
  2. Archival considerations for preservation and re-creation of ea/cm

To make it more concrete, within these elements I sought out specific examples of current activity that seem to be extending from ea/cm’s historical foundations and may be likely to extend into the future. I present these within the broad (and sometimes overlapping) categories of: Traditional Instruments Combined with ea/cm, Spatial Explorations, New Technologies, the “DIY” Movement and Alternative Controllers, Audience Interaction, Laptops, Multi-Location Performance, Multimedia, Social Issues, Fundamental Research and Professional Concerns. Some of these examples follow.

A. Traditional Instruments Combined with EA/CM

This approach would include combinations of traditional instruments played traditionally, with ea/cm elements, as well as traditional instruments used as sound triggers (overlapping with the issue of the development of alternate controllers and related hardware and software, another current trend discussed below.)

There are many examples in most conference programs now, with Calls for Works frequently specifying available instrumentation for live performance as well as composers using pre-recorded materials from traditional instrument performers (and vocalists). Although this trend may not be so new, there has been an extension into more unusual instruments and ensemble combinations, and the sonic possibilities continue to be explored. There does not appear to be an end in sight to further extension of this trend.

In addition to traditional instruments from European/orchestral derivation, ea/cm is now drawing on traditional, “ethnic” non-orchestral instruments from non-European based cultures around the world, reflecting the growth of World Music. In addition, the borrowing is flowing back to influence the music of these traditional cultures, with their own composers integrating ea/cm. For example, Bob Gluck’s article for the EMF Institute entitled, “Electronic Music in China,” reports:

Although the beginnings of electronic and computer music in China date back only to the mid-1980s, early initiatives by a small number of individual enterprising composers have spawned a wealth of diverse activity. Several key composers studied abroad and returned to China grounded in various European æsthetics and compositional and technical disciplines, while at the same time traditional Chinese instruments and æsthetics have often emerged as integral elements in a new, complex and fascinating musical synthesis. While electronic music in China has been influenced by the history of the field in the West, Chinese composers have begun integrating European traditions with various aspects of traditional Chinese music. This synthesis has become a distinctive feature of electronic and computer music in the country. Works composed for Chinese instruments and electronics include Yuanlin Chen’s “Primary Voice,” for Chinese traditional instruments and electronics, Zhang Xiafu’s “Yaluzangbu,” for Tibetan singers, electronic music, and orchestra, Dajuin Yao’s “Dream Reverberations,” which draws upon the tonal qualities of spoken Mandarin Chinese language, and Wang Ning’s “Wu Ji,” for computer music, voice, and Chinese instruments.” (Gluck 2006)

Numerous Chinese computer music researchers also presented work at the 1999 International Computer Music Conference in Beijing that addressed issues regarding traditional Chinese music. The integration of traditional instruments with computers and electronics has at times met with resistance from master performers of traditional Chinese music who fear diminishing the integrity of those traditions. As Dajuin Yao observes, “the use of traditional instruments in an electroacoustic setting must be done very carefully. Yes, it is indeed hard to integrate the two.”

A program description of a 2008 concert from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. provides an example of the interaction of computer music with Japanese traditional music in a concert in which a Tokyo-based collaborative combined a performance by musician Ko Ishikawa on the sho (mouth organ) with real-time processing done by a laptop ensemble interacting onstage via an audio/video network “generating an infinite field of sound possibilities.” (4) This is also one of a number of examples of laptop technology as a new element in ea/cm production and performance, discussed further below.

Whether laptops are seen as a technology or an instrument, they can be partially encompassed within the ongoing drive to explore new timbral possibilities expressed by many classical, contemporary, musique concrète and ea/cm composers of the past fifty years. The development of new “instruments” and the sonic possibilities they present continues, and extends beyond the mechanical world that fascinated the early avant-garde. For example, Tan Dun is comfortable writing music for fifty ceramic objects or an ensemble performing with water, paper and stones. In addition, Tan Dun includes concerns about the presentation and audience experience of his works:

All of Tan Dun’s music, no matter the medium, has a strong sense of theatre and a firm belief in visual and physical reality. According to him, everything is opera to some degree, and to ignore the optical and tactile implications of sound is ultimately stupid. (Oteri 2007)

B. Spatial Explorations

Eldad Tsabary of Montreal’s Concordia University responded to the survey as follows, focusing on spatial issues:

It is always hard to tell the history of the present, it requires making some prophetical choices. What now, or in the last decade or so, will become history in the future? I don’t know that I have the answer to that. There are so many different things happening right now, but I’d say that, in general, spatial composition of acousmatic music and spatial projection of live electronic music is growing; it is becoming more and more a standard practice to present electroacoustic music in a multi-channel setup.

He brought to my attention the work of the Spatial Audio Creative Engineering Network (SpACE-Net) of the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). As their website explains, “SpACE-Net, funded by the UK’s EPSRC, has been set up to bring together a community of spatial audio researchers, practitioners and artists, drawn from the fields of science, audio engineering and the arts. By combining theoretical, experimental and creative approaches, it aims to identify and develop important new directions in spatial audio research and practice and to encourage and promote work in these areas.”

SpACE-Net conducted an opinion survey of its members with interesting results, in which they asked, “Which of the following surround technologies might the average household MOST LIKELY use in some shape or form in 10 years time?” The results were as follows:

Ambisonics (including higher order, Ambisonics for 5.1/7.1 etc.)


Wavefield Synthesis


Binaural (Headphone-based)


Crosstalk cancelled binaural (or similar “virtual surround” system)


Hybrid system based on combined technologies




Total votes


In addition to spatial issues, the technologies represented in their survey point to the issue of the influence new technology development will have on future directions in ea/cm.

C. Development of New Technologies (including hardware and software)

Kevin Austin also raised this issue in his reply to my survey:

I think the greatest change since 1996 has been the wholesale shift from stand alone equipment to computers and software finally displacing the “studio.” Sound in technology is everywhere; electroacoustics is no longer an elite endeavor. I think the future lies again, as before, in the academic institutions that are going to focus on aspects of perception and cognition. “Everything” will become easier for sound production and control. Audio quality will go up and down, although it is already bottoming out with mp3. All sounds will be available to all people all the time. There are computer projects for $100, computers for developing countries. On the top end, systems with hundreds of drivers will make some form of sound holography more available. A challenge is going to be how to control such enormous audio power. This will happen quickly (given that the world continues). China and India will soon become major players. Watch and listen to the Beijing Olympics this summer [2008] to get an idea of how far and how fast China is moving.

D. The “DIY” Movement and Alternative Controllers and Related Hardware, Software

The growth of new technology (and its related miniaturization and reduction in costs) is fueling a significant “do-it-yourself” (DIY) movement, which may be one of the more significant influences on future trends. Development of a variety of digital controllers is one area in which this is evident. In his article entitled “American Innovations in Electronic Musical Instruments,” Joseph A. Paradiso of MIT Media Lab has written the following about such controllers:

Once the domain of the few, creating and customizing sophisticated DIY controllers is now more accessible than ever. That means, if you can find what you want and you’re ambitious and knowledgeable enough, you go make your own. (Paradiso 1999 [5])

In his 2008 interview with Josh Boughey, Peter Kirn reported on one such example.

Josh Boughey was impressed by the Monome, a grid of on/off buttons, but it doesn’t provide any kind of variable control. So Josh built his own, combining a series of parallel touch strips with LED indicators. (The lights are the tricky part, requiring an obscene number of connections.) Dubbed “Stribe” (Stribe Multi-Touch Controller) by Josh, he’s working on making it into a tool for others, with completely open source hardware and software. The whole system is built on the popular Arduino platform, making it uncommonly easy to modify. (Kirn 2008)

Another alternative controller Kirn points to in a 2005 article is the JazzMutant Lemur Piano, described as:

A programmable touch screen controller working in concert with its software editor. Unlike conventional touch screen tablets, the Lemur can support multiple simultaneous finger taps, making it, at least theoretically, possible to even play piano on the thing (except without key travel, it lacks the touch piano players need). You can create customized control surfaces merely by dragging intelligent user interface objects onto a layout of the Lemur’s screen. The software ships with some 16 of these widgets, including the expected sliders and knobs, along with more experimental ones like bouncing balls that react to friction. Once the interface is constructed, it can be downloaded in seconds to the Lemur over an Ethernet connection using Open Sound Control. The Lemur can communicate in both directions with the computer it is connected to and used to control anything in Max/MSP or Jitter that you would like. The possibilities are literally endless. (Kirn 2005)

Paradiso also discusses “Noncontact Gesture Sensing and Responsive Environments”:

In recent years, more musical devices are being explored that exploit noncontact sensing, responding to the position and motion of hands, feet and bodies without requiring any kind of controller to be grasped or worn. Although these interfaces are seldom played with as much precision as the tactile controllers such as keyboards with a computer interpreting the data and exploiting an interesting sonic mapping, very complicated audio events can be launched and controlled through various modes of body motion. These systems are often used in musical performances that have a component of dance and choreography, or in public interactive installations. (Paradiso 1999 [6])

Another recent controller is based on gestural inspirations, specifically the pop culture activity known as “headbanging,” and includes some of the DIY flavor that is frequently found with developers of controllers:

Bangarama is a music controller using headbanging as the primary interaction metaphor. It consists of a head-mounted tilt sensor and a guitar-shaped controller that does not require complex finger positions. We discuss the specific challenges of designing and building this controller to create a simple, yet responsive and playable instrument, and show how ordinary materials such as plywood, tin foil and copper wire can be turned into a device that enables a fun, collaborative music-making experience. (Bardos et al 2005)

E. Development Of Audience Interaction

A common area of discussion with ea/cm composers has been how to expand the audience for their music, which often leads to a focus on including audience interactivity as a part of a composition. One example of this is JasonFreeman’s Glimmer, a composition for chamber orchestra and audience which uses novelty light sticks, video cameras, computer software, multi-colored stand lights and projected video animation to create a continuous feedback loop in which audience activities, software algorithms and orchestral performance together create the music (Freeman 2004, 2005 and 2006).

In his response to my survey, Rodney Waschka of North Carolina State University pointed to generational differences that are likely to support increased DIY and “audience-becomes-performer” impulses:

I could be wrong, but it seems to me we may have reached a critical juncture in terms of performers interested in computer music. I don’t mean to say that in the near future all the famous performers and orchestras will be desperate to perform computer music, but it appears that the generation who grew up getting much, if not all, of its recorded musical experience through a computer has started to appear on stage. These folks don’t blink at the need to use a sound file or a laptop, or a less-than-usual interface in order to perform a piece. They have learned to be just as comfortable with those things as an earlier generation was with turning on a television.

F. Expansion Of Cheap Laptops And DIY Movement

The expansion in the availability of laptops priced in a range that makes them accessible to a large portion of the population has contributed to a range of DIY efforts. It has also led to a further expansion in the treatment of the computer as a musical instrument in its own right, particularly with real-time performance. By bringing it “on stage” (metaphorically or literally, depending on performance space), it now serves to satisfy some of the audience desire for a visual component in a concert performance as they can watch musicians performing on their laptops, just as they might watch a cellist or other traditional instrumentalist. The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), an ensemble of fifteen laptop-based meta-instruments, is one example of a number of laptop ensembles that have been developed. Dan Trueman of PLOrk (Princeton Laptop Orchestra) has detailed some of the characteristics of a laptop orchestra, as follows (Trueman 2007):

Laptoporchester Berlin is another laptop ensemble, which they describe as follows:

Laptoporchester Berlin interprets and deconstructs electroacoustic pieces of contemporary audio art. The musicians form an ensemble of notebooks, each functioning like an instrument. The combination of this multi-coherent network of sounds, the latest software and versatile audio systems continually opens up new possibilities for interpretation. The fundamental idea is to create and maintain an extensive repertoire of electro-acoustic and audio-visual compositions — which can be presented live in changing constellations, just what a traditional ensemble does. In the transition to visual art, self-images form an integral element of Laptop’s stage performances. Hence the Laptoporchester Berlin is permanently experimenting with different configurations of sound and vision. (Laptoporchester Berlin myspace webpage)

G. Simultaneous Multi-Location Performance

Simultaneous multi-location performance, utilizing technologies such as web streaming, is another direction that some are starting to explore (albeit still struggling with some technological challenges at times.) Possibilities for remote collaborations and live performances may stimulate new conceptual approaches and has the potential for expanding audience reach. However, it may raise some challenges for funding and production paradigms, including who covers the cost of providing the resources, how remote sites might produce and/or share revenues, and archival records and who has responsibility for the quality of the technical production.

The Telematic Circle is an online collective of several ensembles rehearsing and performing in real time via Internet. Participants include Soundwire Ensemble from CCRMA, Tintinnabulate Ensemble from Rensselaer, PLOrk and UCSD musicians (including Pauline Oliveros).

A more recent example is the series of multi-site network performances called, “Netrooms,” the 2009 version described by Pedro Rebelo as:

The performance is part of the curated exhibition for ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art) and will take place at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast. “Netrooms: The Long Feedback” is a participative network piece which invites the public to contribute to an extended feedback loop and delay line across the internet. The work explores the juxtaposition of multiple spaces as the acoustic, the social and the personal environment becomes permanently networked. The performance consists of live manipulation of multiple real-time streams from different locations which receive a common sound source. Netrooms celebrates the private acoustic environment as defined by the space between one audio input (microphone) and output (loudspeaker). The performance of the piece consists of live mixing a feedback loop with the signals from each stream. To participate contact … and we will send you a PD patch. You can participate from anywhere in the world with a broadband connection. All you need to do is load the patch during the performance times and listen… You can make a sound, be silent, play music, talk to others and listen… but remember it’s a long feedback loop. (Rebelo 2009)

H. Exploration Of Various Multimedia Combinations And Installations

Margaret Schedel of Stony Brook University reflected her own work with collaborative arts in her survey response. “I think the future is going to see more collaboration between art forms using the computer as a neutral interface where all art forms exist in digitized form, allowing communication between mediums.”

Schedel is a founding member of NeXT Ens, an ensemble with the specific mission to perform and support the creation of interactive electroacoustic works. She also is the musical director of Kinesthetech Sense, founded in 2006 by Alison Rootberg and Margaret Schedel,

with the intent to collaborate with visual artists, dancers and musicians, creating “ferociously interactive” experiences for audiences throughout the world. In addition to their performances, Rootberg and Schedel also teach seminars on computer vision, sensors and interactivity. Performers (dancers, actors and musicians) can influence other media such as sound playback and video projections, through the combination of computer software, microphones, sensors and video cameras. (Kinesthetech Sense homepage)

Schedel describes their composition The Color of Waiting as follows:

Although we usually use some sort of video tracking or sensor system to track the dancer, in this piece the cellist (between two screens on the right) is watching the dancer for cues on how to adjust a structured improv. Therefore it looks as if the video is following the dancer, but it is really that the cellist is following the dancer and controlling the pacing of the video, the height of the water and the direction of the eyes. (Kinesthetech Sense myspace webpage)

I. Inspirations And Incorporation Of Current Social Issues In Content And Conceptualizations

Composers’ inspirational and conceptual influences and directions are another area ripe for exploration for new trends for the future. Current issues such as ecology, environmentalism, climate change, globalization, world music, terrorism, political power shifts and innumerable others are being reflected in music, directly or indirectly. It may be hard, however, to forecast what new inspirational influences may be the dominant elements in future compositions. Likely, some of the issues currently getting attention will continue to be explored for some time, while others may lose relevance or evolve.

In a 1997 radio interview, Austrian composer Karlheinz Essl (KHE) from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna discussed his social concerns with interviewer Bruce Duffie (BD):

[KHE] I am very concerned about the future of our living on Earth. There are a lot of threatening facts. In the arts, we are sometimes very much outside those things, so we reflect them of course. Sometimes an artist has the gift of prophecy to see things in advance, to express it and to find a symbolic representation of these things that could warn us.

[BD] Does all of this manifest itself in your music, or is it something that you keep separate from your music?

[KHE] I think it should manifest itself, but normally I don’t speak about these things.

[BD] Why not?

[KHE] I hold with what Wittgenstein said, “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” That’s also the reason why I make music. There are things which you cannot express in words. That’s the justification of making arts and music.

In his article entitled, “Acoustic Ecology and the Experimental Music Tradition,” David Dunn predicts the future will:

bring issues of the natural environment into foreground awareness through sound, with new techniques and tools for this purpose. Awareness of the historical moment signaled through extensive loss of biological diversity, global climate change and the impacts of human over-population will demand an even further shift in how the sonic arts move beyond purely expressive concerns, or documentary and sensory heightening strategies alone, towards participation in scientific research and subsequent interventions in growing environmental dilemmas. (Dunn 2008)

Ear to the Earth is an international network of musicians, composers, sound artists, scientists, environmental activists and members of the public who are concerned about the environment.

It’s a network that connects to an annual festival in New York, to other events throughout the world, to documentation of our sound environment, and to events and activities yet to be defined. [The] website is the focal point of that network. Our idea is to engage the public in environmental issues through environmental sound and sound art. It’s a new idea. And it’s an important idea. Listening can get people involved. Listening is close and personal. And we believe that by connecting people with the sounds of the world, we can involve people in what’s happening to the world. (From the mediateletipos website)

J. Fundamental Research

Fundamental research in the science of sound is another rich area where future developments may stimulate significant new directions in ea/cm. For example, research in the areas of bioacoustics, neurophysiology, data sonification (e.g., utilizing the ability to hear differences in a golf swing) and bio-musicology (biological origins of music) may change both the nature of compositions as well as the ways in which music is recorded, performed and/or perceived (Hanlon 2005).

Navid Navab, a Montreal-based composer, looked forward to new research directions in ea/cm and focused on a number of elements in his response to my survey, including foreseeing the following:

He elaborated:

These have all been already done but some very, very powerful software is on; it’s with “Enactive” Interfaces. Organizing sound will be/is like drinking water… we will then need composers with ears as powerful as their software. I think there is a need to explore more and not stick with multi-channel concerts in the dark as the standard medium. A need for regular concerts where people sit and engage in mesmerizing emergent interactive sonic theater and many other new forms. (This too, of course, has been done but I think playback of fixed compositions in concerts is not, and should not be, the most valued and explored way of doing sound art). And mm… There would be no more heroes but only massive collective forces (wait… again, it is already like that maybe).

One of Navab’s projects is the Enactive Walkway, which is designed to utilize “tileboxes.” He describes his concept as follows:

A walkway in public space; walking along the surface perturbs the system. Below: a surface that responds haptically (by touch), sonically and visually. Above: a screen optically interacts with people’s movement. The surface of the walkway is comprised of a series of tile-boxes. Each contains a different substance. When the tile-box is stepped on, the surface moves, disturbing the contents of the tile-box. L.E.D lights interact with these disturbances. Above, an image of the contents of the tile-box is printed on lenticular lenses. The sound of the disturbance of the contents of the tile-boxes is audible in real-time.

The Tile Boxes are described as follows:

The substance will be chosen based on its sonic and optically qualities (water, broken glass). The tile-boxes are transparent so the contents can be seen. The tile-boxes will move on four axes (on an absorbent element like foam.) There will be contact microphones and accelerometers embedded in each tile-box to capture the sound of the contents and the movement of the boxes.

K. Professional Concerns

All of the previously discussed areas for future trends hold the potential for requiring or instigating changes in the profession of music and how it is structured and operated. A frequent concern is the question of funding and other support, and the influence that may be exerted in various ways with support coming from universities, public sources, private sources, or the art market gallery system. Performance venues outside the traditional concert hall raise the issue of revenue streams from and for alternate performance sites. This appears to be an area in which future directions are far from clear and are likely to be reactive rather than proactively determined.

In addition, as Barton McLean has pointed out in his article, “What May Happen to Your Music When You Die and What You can Do About It,” if ea/cm hopes to establish its own “repertoire” of classics — the reproduction of which may be used to develop a sense of “performance standard” for excellence — better preservation and documentation of compositions needs to be done. This would include archival preservation of scores, legacy playback equipment and video/audio records of performances (McLean 2001). It would seem there is great room for future work on such a challenge, to spend part of the future preserving the past and the present.

In McLean’s response to my survey, he covered a broad range of many of the possible future trends that have been discussed. He sees areas for optimism as well as pessimism:

I see some directions, which are not pretty. Having just come back from a panel judging 400 entries in the New York State NYFA fellowship [in 2008], and in my history as touring electroacoustic composer full time since 1983, I note that there has been a steady increase in ease and elegance of technology, coupled with a reverse decrease in the quality of the music produced. What was once a cutting edge adventure for many of us has turned on its head, resulting in audiences no longer capable of accepting hard driving, experimental music (although they love to see experimental software and equipment and new means of controlling sounds, especially video game technology.)

This has resulted in the university and related electroacoustic community being increasingly isolated and lacking in funding (most events are performed free), and the center of electroacoustic music reverting to pop, jazz, hip hop related areas. I see this continuing, and also see the eventual channeling of experimental and adventurous electroacoustic music into a few ghettos (such as universities which have enlightened people who are willing to buck this trend), and as for the vast bulk of the activity, it will merge completely and seamlessly into the pop culture. This has been exacerbated by the steadfast refusal of organizations such as EMF and SEAMUS to recognize the problem, and to refuse to find funding and support for the activity that is left, rather reverting to endless freebie festivals.

I also see an increasing interest in innovative means of controlling sounds with gesture, light, movement, dance integration, etc., along with an integration with video in terms of real time processing as the computers get more powerful.

Strangely, the music itself does not seem to change all that much and may even be more conservative than it was 30 years ago. Video, however, is undergoing an explosive change and this will continue in the future, rendering much of what we do in video now obsolete, unlike music.

And, as I said in an article in Electronic Musician 15 years ago on the topic of the future, I see much of the activity migrating from the concert hall or alternative space to the home, as home systems become more integrated and powerful. This will be coupled with more broadband sharing, to the point of many people doing sound and image improvisation with other people who are based in distant areas. What is now being done crudely on YouTube will become more elegant and streaming-based.

I also see the emergence of commercial software and possibly hardware that will be specifically designed for this purpose. Furthermore, I see the emergence of this sharing with videogame technology, to produce a powerful creative tool easily accessible and of a very high level starting point with relatively low learning curve, allowing this powerful creative tool to be available rather cheaply (since it will be mainly software-based) for anyone with a high definition digital/audio setup and broadband connection.

Karlheinz Essl’s advice to the next generation of composers (in his radio interview with Bruce Duffie) seems pertinent to this consideration of future trends in ea/cm. Perhaps the most important future change won’t occur outside of us, but within:

[KHE] I would say, “Be alert and sober, have an open mind, challenge your mind, step across borders, and don’t trust yourself too much.”

[BD] Trust others, you mean?

[KHE] No. Be always critical, and always strive going beyond the step that you can take. Don’t be content with what you already have achieved.

Perhaps a lack of contentment will be the ultimate driving force stimulating future trends in the field of electroacoustic and computer music?


  1. See Appendix II for a list of some of the sources I examined.
  2. YouTube. Published online by Tulane University, New Orleans. Last accessed 18 November 2009.
  3. Detailed information for participants is provided in Appendix I.
  4. Last accessed 18 November 2009.
  5. Paradiso’s article contains extensive information on interfaces.
  6. See the article section “Noncontact Gesture Sensing and Responsive Environments”:


Bardos, Laszlo, Stefan Korinek, Eric Lee and Jan Borchers. “Bangarama: Creating Music with Headbanging.” Proceedings of the International Conference on New Instruments for Musical Expression (NIME) 2005 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 26–28 May 2005), pp. 180–183. Available online at

Duffie, Bruce. “Karlheinz Essl interviewed by Bruce Duffie.” Interview took place on 2 March 1997. Broadcast on WNIB, Chicago IL USA, in August 2000. A slightly edited transcription of the interview was made in 2005 and is available on the composer’s website at

Dunn, David. “Acoustic Ecology and the Experimental Music Tradition.” New Music Box, “Matter — Analysis, Viewpoint, Advice.” American Music Center, 9 January 2008. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Freeman, Jason. Glimmer. Version for 15 players. 2004. Score available from the composer’s website at

_____. “Large Audience Participation, Technology and Orchestral Performance.” Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC) 2005: Free Sound (Barcelona, Spain: L’Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya, 5–9 September 2005). Available on the author’s website at

_____. Glimmer: Creating New Connections. Video of the composer presenting his work Glimmer at Digital Arts Weeks (DAW) 2006, 13 July 2006, Zurich, Switzerland.

Gluck, Bob. “Electronic Music in China.” EMF Institute, 2006. Republished in eContact! 11.3 — Logiciels audio « open source » / Open Source for Audio Application (September 2009).

Hanlon, Mike. “Yale technology enables you to hear your golf swing.” gizmag, 6 August 2005. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Kirn, Peter. “Cycling ’74 Shows Lemur Programmable Touchscreen.” Create Digital Music, 27 May 2005. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

_____. “Hands-on, Interview: Stribe Multi-Touch Controller.” Create Digital Music, 18 February 2008. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Navab, Navid. Enactive Walkway.

McLean, Barton, "What May Happen to Your Music When You Die and What You can Do About It.". New Music Box, “Matter — Analysis, Viewpoint, Advice.” American Music Center, 1 August 2001.

Oteri, Frank J. “Tan Dun: Tradition and Invention.” New Music Box, “People & Ideas in Profile.” Tan Dunn interviewed by Frank J. Oteri on 8 October 2007. American Music Center, 1 December 2007. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Paradiso, Joseph. “American Innovations in Electronic Musical Instruments.” New Music Box, “Matter — Analysis, Viewpoint, Advice.” American Music Center, 1 October 1999. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Rebelo, Pedro. “Netrooms: The Long Feedback.” Project webpage. Last accessed 18 November 2009.

Trueman, Dan. “Why a Laptop Orchestra?” Organised Sound 12/2 (August 2007), pp. 171–179. Available from the author’s website at

Appendix I — Survey Participant Information

Jon H. Appleton
Arthur R. Virgin Professor of Music, Emeritus
Dartmouth College
Hanover NH, USA

Kevin Austin
Concordia University Music Department
Montréal QC, Canada

David Dunn
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Karlheinz Essl
Professor of Composition
University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, Institute for Composition and Electro-Acoustic Music
Vienna, Austria

Barton and Priscilla McLean (McLean Mix)
Petersburg NY, USA

Don Malone
Professor of Music Composition, Director of ElectroAcoustic Studios
Roosevelt University, Chicago College of Performing Arts
Chicago IL, USA

Navid Navab
matralab, Concordia University
Montréal QC, Canada

Joseph A. Paradiso
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge MA, USA

Sony Corporation Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Co-Director, Things That Think

Pedro Rebelo
Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Margaret Schedel
Assistant Professor of Composition, Co-Director of the Computer Music Studios, Core Faculty of the Consortium for Digital Arts Culture and Technology
SUNY Stony Brook Music Department
Stony Brook NY, USA

Musical Director
Kinesthetech Sense

Dan Trueman
Princeton University Music Department
Princeton NJ, USA

Eldad Tsabary
Concordia University Music Department
Montréal QC, Canada

Rodney Waschka II
Professor of Arts Studies
North Carolina State University
Raleigh NC, USA

Appendix II — Resources Consulted

Ars Electronica

International platform for digital art and media culture consisting of four divisions (Festival, world’s premier cyberarts competition — the Prix Ars Electronica, Center, FutureLab).

Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA)

Multi-disciplinary facility where composers and researchers work together using computer-based technology both as an artistic medium and as a research tool.

Center for Research in Computing and the Arts (CRCA)

UCSD research community represented in a broad array of media and digital arts, including interactive multimedia, digital audio, digital video, sound spatialization, virtual environments, robotics, computer composition, installation, artificial intelligence and World Wide Web art projects.

Communauté électroacoustique canadienne / Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC)

The Canadian national asociation for electroacoustics.

Computer Music Journal (CMJ)

And other journals and magazines.

Concordia University Music Department

In Montréal, Canada, various concerts/conferences, including EuCuE and more events.

Consortium to Distribute Computer Music (CDCM) / Centaur Records

Texas-based computer music label and distributor. (dev. MIT)

Sound design, music synthesis and signal processing system, providing facilities for composition and performance over a wide range of platforms, 77 composers listed, other info.


Montréal-based distributor of CDs and DVDs of ea/cm published by empreintes DIGITALes and other international labels.

Electronic Music Foundation (EMF)

empreintes DIGITALes

Electroacoustic music record label based in Montréal, representing 90 composers.

Global Visual Music Project

Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (Ircam)

European institute for science about music and sound and avant-garde electroacoustic art music.

Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges (IMEB)

International Computer Music Association (ICMA)

International affiliation of individuals and institutions involved in the technical, creative and performance aspects of computer music. It serves composers, computer software and hardware developers, researchers and musicians who are interested in the integration of music and technology.

New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME)

International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression is currently in its seventh year. Researchers and musicians from all over the world gather to share their knowledge and late-breaking work on new musical interface design.

Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the US (SEAMUS)

The American national asociation for electroacoustics.

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