Firstly, who listens to electroacoustic music? Electroacoustic musicians, ravers, unwitting film goers? Not a great many people would actually say they listened to ‘electroacoustic music’; there are plenty of EDM-heads around, and progressive rock generally shares a lot of characteristics with electroacoustic music – say for a distinct lack of spatiality – and film soundtracks often use heavily electronically processed sound recordings to create music (often to blur the line between the soundtrack of the film and its diegetic sounds, a great example being Tarkovsky’s Stalker). The art world is saturated with great electroacoustic music, though a purist wouldn’t like to hear it – at least, not from an amateur like me. So, we do listen to electroacoustic music, but unintentionally?
I want to know how to make electroacoustic music interesting and accessible, without it being made a side-attraction; I believe electroacoustic music has the capacity to transport a person who’s totally ‘uneducated’ (in terms of music) into a fascinating sonic environment, and I want to share that.
My question is: how does one exhibit an unchanging piece of electroacoustic music (in my case a soundscape composition) and what makes live exhibition important for pre-recorded music – if it is? An equivalent question is often posed when working with film, but unlike the relationship between film and theatre, pre-recorded music and live music are often grouped incredibly closely together, though they are equally dissimilar. I believe this is partly due to a lack of adequate notation for pre-recorded electronic music – due to the prevalence of time/pitch notation – though I won’t get into that now.
In his 2014 article ‘Shamanic diffusions: a technoshamanic philosophy of electroacoustic music’, Jon Weinel describes the phenomenon of unification (and positive loss-of-self) that can arise when a large group of people are subjected to the same piece of spatially complex and rhythmically simple music – such as a psytrance – and looks at the role of the DJ, or ‘technoshaman’, in guiding that experience. His article clearly argues a necessity for live exhibition of pre-recorded electroacoustic music to fully utilise the hypnotic qualities of psytrance and other styles of EDM, but still sees the role of the DJ as indispensable in guiding the collective psychoacoustic journey. However convincing this article is – and I was utterly convince I should be dosing up on stimulants and heading to a rave, for about an hour after reading it – the audience at such an event are experiencing a unique piece of live music, though it is often created from entire tracks. This avenue of exploration only leads me to two questions: how long does a piece of pre-recorded sound have to be to considered its own piece of music at a live event, and does the importance of exhibition in pre-recorded music lie in experiencing a collection of curated works? So, despite this being an interesting argument for the necessity of live electroacoustic music, this doesn’t apply to my situation (as I’ll be exhibiting one piece).
Another argument that can be made for the exhibition of pre-recorded electroacoustic music is simply to allow the audience to access the equipment necessary to experience the music fully. But this argument can be somewhat discounted when exhibiting a stereo composition – as most people will have access to sufficient headphones or stereo speakers to experience the full effect of the composition – which means it needn’t apply to my current work, or should be given little weight in my consideration.
We could also look at building the environment for the listening experience, and creating a space in which the listener can be fully immersed in the composition; we could add visual stimuli and/or create a multi-sensory experience. But, personally, I don’t like supplementary visual (or other) information, as almost always this information is either unnecessary or ends up being a feature of the piece and therefore equal and necessary for the composition – thus creating something new entirely, or being a distraction. But, isolation, or a controlled listening environment, is something that could benefit my work, which makes this argument quite compelling. Then again, where does one draw the line? What is the difference between a multi-sensory exhibit, and simply creating an adequate listening environment? And should one create their piece for a particular listening environment? Kevin Austin sheds a lot of light on this question in a masterclass video on electroacoustic composition and working in an electroacoustic studio – he talks about the effect your working environment will have on your final composition.
So, how do I apply this to my work; how am I going to exhibit my work? The most important thing I’ve been considering is isolation, how does one isolate a listener from their immediate environment – considering especially how to avoid making the novelty of it a distraction? I’ve been considering two options, either the use of a separate room from the rest of the exhibition, or a semi-soundproof booth within the main exhibition. Next I want to provide the technology to experience the full scope of the music, I’ll do this by simply offering the headphones I used for mixing the piece for the listener to use, or by installing high-fidelity stereo speakers into the booth or room of the exhibition. As for visual supplements: I think I’ll keep those to a minimum.
And, finally, the reason I think this is necessary for my piece is just because people don’t like electroacoustic music – normal people don’t, and this is the only time I’ll get the chance to show normal people this work. I don’t want to make soundscapes for people who understand how I made them, and will see it as an intellectual exercise; I don’t want Trevor Wishart to enjoy my piece, nor would I want Jonty Harrison to wind down to it. I don’t see electroacoustic music that way, the mystery is one of the most beautiful parts of the experience – and I guess I just want people to experience that. Exhibition of electroacoustic music is about catching a group of people and letting them experience something they haven’t before. I remember the first time I learned how to pan a track in ‘MixCraft’ when I was about ten years old: I turned off all the lights, I got my friends to dizzy themselves, then I gave them headphones and spun the entire acoustic environment around their heads until they fell over – and they thought it was magic.
Thanks for reading my ramblings!