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Electroacoustic music

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Electroacoustic music originated in Western art music around the middle of the 20th century, following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition to fixed media during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrète, the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) studio in Cologne, where the focus was on the composition of elektronische Musik, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored. Practical electronic music instruments began to appear in the early 1900s, and "electronic sounds" were also produced using animation techniques by such artists as Norman McLaren.


Tape music

The work of Halim El-Dabh is perhaps the earliest example of tape music. El-Dabh's The Expression of Zaar, first presented in Cairo, Egypt, in 1944, was an early work using musique concrète–like techniques similar to those developed in Paris during the same period. El-Dabh would later become more famous for his work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where in 1959 he composed the influential piece Leiyla and the Poet (Holmes 2008, 153–54 & 157).

US composer John Cage's assembly of the Williams Mix serves as an example of the rigors of tape music. First, Cage created a 192-page score. Over the course of a year, 600 sounds were assembled and recorded. Cut tape segments for each occurrence of each sound were accumulated on the score. Then the cut segments were spliced to one of eight tapes, work finished on January 16, 1953. The premiere performance (realization) of the 4'15" work was given on March 21, 1953 at the University of Illinois, Urbana (Chaudron n.d.).

Electronic music

In Cologne, elektronische Musik, pioneered in 1949–51 by the composer Herbert Eimert and the physicist Werner Meyer-Eppler, was based solely on electronically generated (synthetic) sounds, particularly sine waves (Eimert 1957, 2; Morawska-Büngeler 1988, 11–13; Ungeheuer 1992, 13). The beginning of the development of electronic music has been traced back to "the invention of the valve [vacuum tube] in 1906" (Eimert 1957, 2). The precise control afforded by the studio allowed for what Eimert considered to be the subjection of everything, "to the last element of the single note", to serial permutation, "resulting in a completely new way of composing sound" (Eimert 1957, 8); in the studio, serial operations could be applied to elements such as timbre and dynamics. The common link between the two schools is that the music is recorded and performed through loudspeakers, without a human performer. The majority of electroacoustic pieces use a combination of recorded sound and synthesized or processed sounds, and the schism between Schaeffer's and Eimert's approaches has been overcome, the first major example being Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge of 1955–56 (Morawska-Büngeler 1988, 17; Stockhausen 1996, 93–94).

Sound generation techniques

All electroacoustic music is made with electronic technology, specifically a device – usually a loudspeaker, that transduces electrical energy to acoustic energy.

Circuit bending

Circuit bending is the creative short-circuiting of low voltage, battery-powered electronic audio devices such as guitar effects, children's toys and small synthesizers to create new musical instruments and sound generators. Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, the techniques of circuit bending have been commonly associated with noise music, though many more conventional contemporary musicians and musical groups have been known to experiment with "bent" instruments (Collins 2006,).

Examples of notable electroacoustic works

  • Milton Babbitt – Philomel (1964)
  • Luciano Berio – Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) (1958–59)
  • Johanna Beyer – Music of the Spheres (1938)
  • Konrad Boehmer – Aspekt (1964–66), Apocalipsis cum figuris (1984)
  • Pierre Boulez – Répons (1981–84)
  • John Cage – Imaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939)
  • Mario Davidovsky – Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sound (1970)
  • Halim El-Dabh – Leiyla and the Poet (1961)
  • Karel Goeyvaerts – Nummer 5 met zuivere tonen (1953)
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Deserted Palace (1972)
  • Phil Kline – Unsilent Night (1992), for cassettes in boomboxes (Midgette 2004; Boreal Electro Acoustic Music Society announcement 2012)
  • Gottfried Michael Koenig – Project 1 (1964), Project 2 (1966)
  • Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting in a Room (1969)
  • Ivo Malec – Triola, ou Symphonie pour moi-même (1977–78)
  • Luigi Nono – La fabbrica illuminata (1964), A floresta é jovem e cheia de vida (1966), Contrappunto dialettico alla mente (1968), Como una ola de fuerza y luz (1971–72)
  • Pauline Oliveros – Sonic Meditations, "Teach Yourself to Fly" (1961)
  • Henri Pousseur – Scambi (1957), Trois Visages de Liège (1961), Paraboles-Mix (1972), Seize Paysages planétairesl (2000)
  • Steve Reich – Pendulum Music (1968), for microphones, amplifiers, speakers and performers
  • Pierre Schaeffer – Cinq études de bruits (1948)
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen – Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56), Kontakte (1958–60), Mixtur (1964), Mikrophonie I & II (1964 and 1965), Telemusik (1966), Hymnen (1966–67), Oktophonie (1991), Cosmic Pulses (2006–2007)
  • James Tenney – For Ann (rising) (1969)
  • Edgard Varèse – Poème électronique (1958)
  • Charles Wuorinen – Time's Encomium (1969)
  • Centers, associations and events for electroacoustics and related arts

    Important centers of research and composition can be found around the world, and there are numerous conferences and festivals which present electroacoustic music, notably the International Computer Music Conference, the International Conference on New interfaces for musical expression, and the Ars Electronica Festival (Linz, Austria).

    A number of national associations promote the art form, notably the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC) in Canada, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) in the US, the Australasian Computer Music Association in Australia and New Zealand, and Sound and Music (previously the Sonic Arts Network) in the UK. The Computer Music Journal and Organised Sound are the two most important peer-reviewed journals dedicated to electroacoustic studies, while several national associations produce print and electronic publications.


    There have been a number of festivals that feature electroacoustic music. Early festivals such as Donaueschingen Festival, founded in 1921, were some of the first to include electroacoustic instruments and pieces. This was followed by ONCE Festival of New Music in the 1950s, and since the 1960s there has been a growth of festivals that focus exclusively on electroacoustic music.

    Festivals focused on electroacoustic music

    Conferences and symposiums

    Alongside paper presentations, workshops and seminars, many of these events also feature concert performances or sound installations created by those attending or which are related to the theme of the conference / symposium.

  • ICMC – International Computer Music Conference (coordinated by International Computer Music Association since 1974)
  • NIME – International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (since 2000)
  • SEAMUS – Society for Electro-Acoustic Music National Conference (coordinated by SEAMUS since 1985)
  • TES – Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium (since 2007), Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium since 2013
  • References

    Electroacoustic music Wikipedia