Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music Paperback – 30 Jul 2010
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a thought-provoking and significant contribution to our understanding of the aesthetics of electronic music. (Peter Manning, Music and Letters)
About the Author
Joanna Demers writes on aesthetics, technology, and intellectual property in post-1945 music. She is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Southern California.
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The first chapter is an interesting study of Post-Schaefferian Electroacoustic music. Schaeffer was a French composer, writer, broadcaster and engineer who is widely recognised for avant-garde music know as Musique concrète. The chapter is a fairly philosophical study of the relationship of sound, listener, understanding and the use of instruments to create a sound.
Although an interesting book part of me feels it has been written by an academic in a laboratory as a lot of the examples are certainly on the avant-garde side where more popular artists could be used E.G. Kabutogani. To be fair not all electronic music could be mentioned as it's a vast field. I was surprised Hip Hop and no mention of industrial such as Skinny Puppy. However, overall a great book crossing over philosophy with electronic music in an area that is certainly under studied.
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Demers' book is a great "connect the dots" sort of primer when dealing with this intersection of hi art, low art, philosophy and technology. In the current era, borders between academic, experimental, and popular musical styles are fluid - divisions between genres are often purely aesthetic, rather than a result of classical training or performance venue. Although it leans toward the academy, the thrust of the book is to familiarize the reader with the various rationales underpinning electronic music composition, starting with the early days of sound collages and synthesized tones.
My critiques of the book are that it's quite short, and the listening resources are limited and difficult to access. It felt like there was a lot of ground uncovered in regards to the aesthetics of systems-based (algorithmic) composition and human-machine interfacing. There's some discussion on the feedback loop between the technology and the music (i.e. how different synthesizers encourage particular ways of music creation, etc), but the bulk of the discussion was on the larger aesthetic ideas and the musical outcomes, rather than specifics on the craft and processes involved. I wish it had been longer and a bit more extensive. Additionally, this is the kind of study that necessitates a thorough listening guide, and there are often multiple musical references in a single paragraph. I found myself often reading with the internet and a music streaming service open. The included Oxford web music companion is a benefit, but is very limited in regards to the amount of music discussed, and didn't work on my mobile browser. I'd recommend starting or ending each chapter with a recommended listening list - Alex Ross did this with "The Rest is Noise" and it was very helpful.
2015 was an awesome year for genre-bending electronic music - Holly Herndon, Arca, Oneohtrix Point Never, and JLin all came out with some incredible work, and that's just what I'm personally familiar with. If you're looking for a deeper dive, or maybe you want some historical context to what you're finding on Fader, Fact or Pitchfork, this is a great place to start.
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