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eContact! 21.2 — Dematerialization of the Sounding Object: Conceptual approaches to sound-based artistic practices (July 2023)


Despite the persistence of rumours circulating for years amongst the international experimental music community, scholars have long insisted that the text instruction works gathered as Con-ceptual did not, and could not, exist. In a stunning ironic turn, what was once considered to be fake news has itself, on closer inspection, proven to be fake news. The present collection, discovered in the far future by a prehistoric archaeologist after a confusing time travel adventure, is of doubtful provenance, not to mention worth, and thus most likely the work of the less-than-famed, deranged and semi-psychopathic Swedish avant-garde composer Click Nilson. An attempt has been made to bring order to this dubious and preposterous tosh, but it has been an impossible task and this editor resigns. However, before exiting to a much more editable volume on trans-dimensional, large-language models, the text is presented here as is, for the reader to judge, in the interest of transparency and musicillogical [sic] inquiry.

Nuna Moosy
Department of Forensic Art
University of Ytisrevinu
February 28, 2023


Conceptual works are an appalling sham, as I shall now demonstrate by writing some. As the greatest composer of all time, it falls to me to show the very limits of compositional space, or at least, to quickly write some conceptual works that can be interpreted howsoever you choose. My incredible and enduring Collected Rewritings (Nilson 2016), soon to be in their 1000th edition, will provide the reader with intellectual warm-up exercises that may help prevent their minds being blown too far by the works presented here. Should you proceed, we recommend doing so with caution, and to avoid making any unsolicited sounds, lest you waken John Cage’s ghost, or disturb my afternoon nap.

Click Nilson
February 29, 2023


The Sound of Conception (1974)

What sounds occurred during the conception of your conceptual piece?

The Over-Stretched Imagination (1982)

Imagine the sound of someone imagining a conceptual piece.

The Lost Work (2003)

The barely remembered sound of a piece you wrote, but then lost.

Variation 1: The sound of a piece someone else lost and you suspect once existed.

The Last Work (2003)

The sound of a piece you have just conceived, but not yet instantiated; the sound in the studio of the electroacoustic opus you just devised, after you left for lunch.

Variation 1: What you imagine to be the sound of the last piece someone else wrote but with which you are unfamiliar.

Variation 2: The updating sound of the very latest music to be composed by anyone alive, as it is created, embracing the massive simultaneity of creation worldwide.

Exquisite Concept (1987)

Collect n conceptual works. Pick one word at a time from each work, cycling around until you have what you believe to be sufficient text to perform the newly derived piece. You may select words according to the original order in the sources, or by free choice.

Missing a Key Concept (1991)

Take any existing instruction set for a conceptual piece; remove one character, and perform that piece.

Variation 1: Remove one word…

Variation 2: Remove one sentence…

Variation 3: Remove the entire piece…

conceptuALL (2020)

The sound of all existing conceptual pieces.

Universe Without You (2020)

The sound of all existing conceptual pieces, minus the ones you wrote.

conceptuALL2 (2020)

The sound of all pieces with universal quantifiers in their descriptions.

Inconceivable (0)

The sound of all conceptual pieces impossible for a human to conceive.

Pre-tension (2034)

A tense prelude formed from all concerned and aghast sounds of those who discover themselves at events that have turned out to be much more pretentious than they’d hoped for from an evening out.

Con-cepstral (1967)

The Mel-frequency conceptual coefficients (MFCCs) transform from the time domain to the dime tomain. They approximate a measure of spectral envy, sometimes also termed spectral antelope.

Too Few Notes (1786)

For time traveller, or library scholar.

By crossing them out or erasing all marks, remove as many or as few notes from an autograph score as you can bear.

Infinitesimal and Infinite (2000)

Why choose between Dirac delta function and eternal sine tone? Play both, for as short or as long a time as you like, as long as that time is either infinitesimally short, or infinitely long.

Astronomical (1995)

The sound of all the sounds in the observable universe.

Variation 1: The sound of all the sounds in the unobservable universe.

Variation 2. The sound of all the non-existent sounds in the observable universe.

Variation 3. The sound of all the non-existent sounds in the unobservable universe.

Reduced Listening (1998)

All the sounds Pierre Schaeffer ever listened to, finally freed of their original context.

Forty-Fourth Order Surrogacy (2013)

The intention to one day inquire of a friend as to the borrowing of a particular sonic device you suspect might be productive of interesting sonic adventures, were you to spend some months getting to know it, before eventually committing, after the reading of a number of relevant treatises, to initial planning of a grand piece the very substance of which currently eludes you, and will probably be abandoned anyway due to external and unresolvable pressures on your available time.

The Sound of the Future (1979)

All the sounds that have yet to be made. Why wait to hear them?

The Sound of Now (1992)

All the sounds that are being made right now. How wide the window of the perceptual present, and how much you take account of relativity, are free parameters of this piece.

The Sound of the Past (2014)

All the sounds of history that can no longer be heard.

Variation 1: Present those sounds in inverse order of time to volume. The ultimate roar of the Big Bang would utterly dominate if field oscillation in quantum soup could be taken as analogous to sound vibration… but this may be going too far.

Double Negative Sounds (1981)

All the sound ever made heard at once, with the exclusion of sonic works conceptualizing negative sound.

Con-ceptual (2007)

Take any existing conceptual work by any other artist and pass it off as your own.

Variation 1: Take any existing conceptual work by yourself and pass it off as that of another artist.

Variation 2: Take any existing conceptual work by yourself and pass it off as your own.

Lazy (1987)

The sound of all the conceptual pieces you haven’t yet written.

Reject (1988)

The sound of all the conceptual pieces you will decide not to write.

Criticism (1996)

The sound of all critics of your conceptual music.

Self-Criticism (2023)

The sound of all the conceptual pieces I would write were this not my last ever conceptual piece, thoroughly disgusted as I am with the medium.


Nilson, Click. Collected Rewritings: Live coding thoughts, 1968–2015. Burntwood: Verbose, 2016.

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