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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Electroacoustic music includes several different sonic and musical genres or musical techniques.

Electroacoustic music is a diverse field. 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, the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Festival (Bourges, France), 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 the Sonic Arts Network in the UK. The Computer Music Journal and Organised Sound are the two most important journals dedicated to electroacoustic studies, while several national associations produce print and electronic publications.


Questions of definition

All electroacoustic music is made with electronic technology. Many works in the field are concerned with those aspects of sonic design that remain inaccessible to either traditional or electronic musical instruments played live. Some electroacoustic compositions make use of sounds not available to typical acoustic instruments, such as those used in a traditional orchestra. These sounds sources may be prerecorded sounds, transformed sound recordings, or synthesized timbres. Some electroacoustic music places less emphasis on the “traditional” concerns of score-based music — rhythm, metre, harmony, and melody — and instead tends to explore the interplay of gesture and texture. This interaction between sounds and the ways they are transfigured over time has been termed "spectromorphology" by the composer Denis Smalley (Smalley 1997). Electroacoustic compositions can also utilise the manipulation of sound in space, using various loudspeaker based spatialisation techniques.


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). Most standard music history and reference texts date the formal birth of electroacoustic music to the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in particular to the work of two groups of composers whose aesthetic orientations were radically opposed. The Musique concrète group was centered in Paris and was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer; their music was based on the juxtaposition and transformation of natural sounds (meaning real, recorded sounds, not necessarily those made by natural forces) recorded to tape or disc. 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 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. While serialism has been largely abandoned in electroacoustic circles, 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).

Isolated examples of the use of electroacoustic and prerecorded music exist that predate Schaeffer’s first experiments in 1948. Ottorino Respighi used an (acoustical) phonograph recording of a nightingale’s song in his orchestral work The Pines of Rome in 1924, before the introduction of electrical record players; experimental filmmaker Walter Ruttmann created Weekend, a sound collage on an optical soundtrack in 1930; and John Cage used phonograph recordings of test tones mixed with live instruments in Imaginary Landscape no. 1 (1939), among other examples. In the first half of the Twentieth Century, a number of writers also advocated the use of electronic sound sources for composition, notably Ferruccio Busoni, Luigi Russolo, and Edgard Varèse, and electronic performing instruments were invented, such as the Theremin in 1919, and the Ondes Martenot in 1928.

Alternative terminology

The term acousmatic music is often used to refer to pieces which consist solely of prerecorded sound — a form of matured musique concréte.

There are dozens of other terms that are either synonymous with “electroacoustic music,” or that describe super- or subsets, offshoots, or later parallel disciplines from the genre. These include: sonic, audio, or - most commonly - sound art; computer music; electronic music; microsound; lowercase; soundscape; radiophonics; live electronics or electroacoustic improvisation; musique concrète; field recording; experimental electronica.

Electroacoustic techniques

Audio feedback is a special kind of feedback which occurs when a sound loop exists between an audio input (for example, a microphone or guitar pickup) and an audio output (for example, a loudspeaker). While audio feedback is usually undesirable, it has entered into musical history as a desired effect beginning in the early 1960s. It is now well associated with the history of rock music where electric guitar players such as Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix have used it extensively. Some of the earliest users of guitar feedback were 1950s musicians with Albert Collins, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Guitar Slim all independently recording and publishing music featuring that effect. Outside of the rock tradition, an early user of feedback was the contemporary American composer Robert Ashley who first used feedback as sound material in his work Wolfman (1964).

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,).

Notable electroacoustic music composers

A more comprehensive List of acousmatic-music composers and electroacoustic composers, both living and dead.

See also


  • Collins, Nicolas. 2006. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415975921 (pbk)
  • Eimert, Herbert. 1957. “What is Electronic Music?” Die Reihe 1 [English edition] (“Electronic Music”): 1–10.
  • Morawska-Büngeler, Marietta. 1988. Schwingende Elektronen: Eine Dokumentation über das Studio für Elektronische Musik des Westdeutschen Rundfunk in Köln 1951–1986. Cologne-Rodenkirchen: P. J. Tonger Musikverlag.
  • Smalley, Denis. 1997. "Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound-Shapes". Organised Sound 2, no. 2:107–26.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1996. "Electroacoustic Performance Practice." Perspectives of New Music 34, no. 1 (Fall): 74-105.
  • Ungeheuer, Elena. 1992. Wie die elektronische Musik “erfunden” wurde…: Quellenstudie zu Werner Meyer-Epplers musikalische Entwurf zwischen 1949 und 1953. Kölner Schriften zur Neuen Musik 2, edited by Johannes Fritsch and Dieter Kämper. Mainz: B. Schott’s Söhne. ISBN 3-7957-1891-0

Further reading

  • Chadabe, Joel. 1997. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0133032310
  • Emmerson, Simon (ed.). 1986. The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0333397592 (cased); ISBN 0333397606 (pbk)
  • Emmerson, Simon (ed.). 2000. Music, Electronic Media and Culture. Aldershot (UK) and Burlington, Vermont (USA): Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0754601099
  • Gann, Kyle. 2000a. It's Sound, It's Art, and Some Call It Music . New York Times (January 9)
  • Gann, Kyle. 2000. "MUSIC; Electronic Music, Always Current". New York Times (July 9).
  • Griffiths, Paul. 1995. Modern Music and After: Directions Since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198165781 (cloth) ISBN 0198165110 (pbk.)
  • Heifetz, Robin Julian. 1989. On the Wires of Our Nerves:The Art of Electroacoustic Music. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses Inc. ISBN 0838751555
  • Kahn, Douglas. 2001. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0262611724
  • Licata, Thomas (ed.). 2002. Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives. Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance, 0193-9041; no. 63. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313314209
  • Manning, Peter. 2004. Electronic and Computer Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195144848 (hardback) ISBN 0195170857 (pbk.)
  • Roads, Curtis. 1996. The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0262181584 (cloth) ISBN 0262680823 (paper)
  • Wishart, Trevor. 1996. On Sonic Art. New and revised edition. Contemporary Music Studies 12. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. ISBN 3718658461 (cloth) ISBN 371865847X (pbk) ISBN 3718658488 (CD)

External links

National Associations:

(Also see listings on the CEC’s Wikipedia page)

Other organisations:

  • AIME-IAEM — Academie Internationale de Musique Eléctroacoustique de Bourges / International Academy of Electroacoustic Music
  • CIME-ICEM — Conférence Internationa le de Musique Eléctroacoustique / International Conference of Electroacoustic Music
  • GRMGroupe de recherches musicales / Musical Research Group, based in the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) (Paris)
  • IRCAMInstitut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique / Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination Institute (Paris)
  • IMEB - Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges.
  • EMS — Electroacoustic Music in Sweden
  • Musiques & Recherches — Belgian association dedicated to the development of electroacoustic music
  • CCRMA — Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (Stanford CA USA)
  • EMFElectronic Music Foundation
  • NOTAM - Norwegian production centre for work with sound - in music, research, education and mediation.
  • STEIM - Center for research & development of instruments & tools for performers in the electronic performance arts (Amsterdam).
  • EMMElectronic Music Midwest




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