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The newest issue of eContact! explores a few of the many possible perspectives on the electroacoustic work: reflections on history, creative influences and reception, and the relation of sound and image.


Pour que l’innovation soit crédible et cohérente […] elle doit bénéficier d’une certaine durée de vie […] et constituer un acquis supplémentaire de la pensée. (Dhomont) 1[1. In order for an innovation to be credible and coherent, it must be able to boast a certain longevity and constitute a supplementary gain in thinking.]

Is acousmatic music ready for a period of stability, or “classicism”, as Francis Dhomont claims in “L’écriture acousmatique, rappels et questionnements” (Acousmatic Composition: Review and Reflections)? While the continual addition of “new features, improved work flow and increased functionality” (Britton) is certainly welcome and desirable, electroacoustic practice has reached a position where it is relevant to concentrate on what already exists, on what has been accomplished. Just as the “systematic originality” inherent to a conditioned, modern, consumer culture cannot guarantee credible and coherent work, a period of “classicism” in an artistic practice does not necessarily imply the settling in of orthodoxy, much less its decline. With more than 60 years of sustained development, the larger electroacoustic milieu (within which acousmatic music and so many other streams of practice have evolved) has indeed attained the degree of hindsight crucial to forming a credible historical perspective. This reflection could be used to reaffirm, further develop and strengthen the defining factors of the modern era of electroacoustics. 2[2. We might consider 1948 as the point in the broader history of electroacoustics at which “early history” shifts to the “modern era”, when various forms of maturation start to be recognizable. A timeline in the Concordia Archival Project shows earlier developments and inventions, without which, many of the practices that evolved since the mid-twentieth century would not have been possible.]

The establishment of a common language, shared practices and recognizable archetypes are essential elements in defining an epoch. Charles Platel emphasizes the importance of attentiveness to the various “spaces” (physical to perceptual) that a creative work inhabits — “Les quatre niveaux de réception d’une œuvre électroacoustique” (The Four Levels of Reception of an Electroacoustic Work) — to optimising the presentation and reception of the archetypes and the listening process itself for the audience. Key works summarizing the whole of the practice at given points in its history must also exist, such as Bach’s Art of the Fugue, or Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Looking back on the early years of the modern era of electroacoustics, an analysis of “Kontakte by Karlheinz Stockhausen in Four Channels” explores the characteristic features of the work’s many sections. Kevin Austin has presented his analysis four times already in the EuCuE series (Concordia University, Montréal) and in this new multimedia version of his talk, waveform images and spectogrammes complement the analysis of an iconic work which has made an enormous impact on generations of electroacoustic composers.

Creative Influences

Despite continual advances in the quality and diversity of recording, support and diffusion systems available to the electroacoustic composer, optimising the presentation and reception of specific sounds, such as the “sonorities of the Andes Mountains environment,” is influenced not only by the technologies and venues involved but also by the listener’s own subjective reception. Manuella Blackburn’s “Electroacoustic Music Incorporating Latin American Influences: A consideration of implications, reception and borrowing” discusses cultural identity and its presence and perception in the music of several Latin American composers. A sound may imply cultural identity but the moment it is notated or recorded it is already an abstracted representation of the source. Composers have been borrowing and re-working cultural objets sonores for centuries 3[3. Although such discussions inevitably provoke the thorny question of authenticity, it is of course far too complex an issue to be addressed here.] and this practice is perhaps most evident in electronic music since the 1990s, for socio-economic reasons and due to the natural implications of digital technologies. The importance of the “amen break” to Aaron Funk’s Szerencsétlen is clear in Eliot Britton’s “Analysis of Abstract Loop-Based Composition,” but the work is also indicative of his appreciation of Bartók — whose own work is laden with Hungarian folk music influences.

While a performance by John Zorn and Z’EV might have provided an “inspirational starting point”, the real impetus for Jon Weinel’s “Bass Drum, Saxophone & Laptop: Real-time psychedelic performance software” was his interest in developing “compositional techniques to elicit altered states of consciousness.”

Image, Video and Visualization

The “story telling potential of the relation between sound and image” was one of Martin Stig Andersen’s interests while composing the music / sound design for Jacob Ballinger’s short film Rocketman. In creating a work in which the traditional distinction between music and sound effects is called into question, control of the field of “close” to “remote” identity, space and time correspondences between “Electroacoustic Sound and Audiovisual Structure in Film” was a key factor. The nature of the discrepancies of correspondence is a determining factor in whether the sound is perceived as an integrated sound effect (“screen music”, after Michel Chion) or soundtrack element (“pit music”). For example, when “culturally generated codes” are exploited successfully, sound design can use their symbolic value and implied context to indicate the “mental perspective” of the character and thereby better support the storyline. The “discussion of sound and image interaction” is by no means new, but in the electroacoustic milieu, the level of integration of the two has in recent years become possible to a much higher degree, by the simple fact that the two mediums can be made to co-exist in a single space (the digital domain) and the materials developed through similar processes. In videomusic works 4[4. Starting this year, videomusic works can also be submitted to Jeu de Temps / Times Play (JTTP), the CEC’s project supporting young and emerging composers. The next issue of eContact! will feature the results of the 2010 edition.], the correspondence is often much tighter overall than in film (or multi-media works), but it is also less common that their creators attempt to establish a cinematic or “story telling” context. Andrew Hill’s recent research involved “Investigating Audience Reception of Electroacoustic Audio-visual Compositions: Developing an Effective Methodology” in order to gauge the extent to which three videomusic works are successfully received by the audience.

When images are not a part of the creative “product”, as in videomusic and film, they might be used during the creative process as design elements or mnemonic aids, or of course as scores for electroacoustic works, made before, during or after the fact, for various reasons and intents. As he describes in “How Something is Born, Lives and Dies: A composer’s approach for thematic evolution in electroacoustic music,” Orestis Karamanlis finds that using graphic shapes as thematic elements or “musical motives”, when applied to various levels of the composition, help unify it formally. Brenda Hutchinson, in “Sound-Initiated Drawing and Memory Impairment,” describes the interactive interface and software programme she developed for her friend, visual artist Ann Chamberlain, who had suffered severe memory impairment. The interface allowed them to maintain a meaningful personal connection and provided a way for Ann to continue working as an artist by increasing and sustaining her ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods of time. Ann used a Wacom tablet configured with sound samples of her own life — her voice, the voices of friends, daily activities — to create continuous line drawings, tracking, mapping and recording her attention in the process. The large majority of scores for electroacoustic works are also predominantly “memory neumes”, descriptive (created after the work itself) rather than prescriptive (as for instrumental music) documents. There is no established protocol for the transcription of electroacoustic music, due largely to the extremely diverse needs and interests of the individual transcribers: from sketches for a new work to diffusion and performance scores to analytic or poetic representation. Evelyne Gayou, editor of the GRM’s Portraits Polychromes project, presents a sampling of this range of possibilities in “Transcrire l’écoute des musiques électroacoustiques” (Transcription of Electroacoustic Music Listening).

Columns and Reports

Completing the issue are two new entries by Rodrigo Sigal and Thomas Neuhaus in the “Focus on Institutions” column — Morelia’s Centro Mexicano para la Música y Artes Sonoras (CMMAS) and Folkwang University / ICEM (Essen, Germany), respectively — as well as a report from NIME 2010 (Sydney, Australia) by Bob Pritchard.

Enjoy the reading, and don’t forget to check out to hear works by the authors and contributors featured in this issue.

jef chippewa
28 August 2010

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