What does it Mean to ‘Exhibit’ pre-recorded Electroacoustic Music, and How Should I do It?

College, research

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

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!

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