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Electroacoustic music originated in Western art music during the modern era following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrete, 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, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored.

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. Some electroacoustic compositions make use of sounds not available to typical acoustic instruments, such as those used in a traditional orchestra. The interaction between sounds and the ways they are transfigured over time has been termed "spectromorphology" by the composer Denis Smalley (Smalley 1997).

Circuit bending

Main article: 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,[page needed]).

Examples of notable electroacoustic works

Electronic and electroacoustic instruments

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, 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 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.


  • FUTURA – Festival international d'art acousmatique et des arts de support (Crest, France)
  • Inventionen (Berlin)
  • SICMF – Seoul International Computer Music Festival
  • 60x60

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)
  • 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)

See also


  • Anon. 2007. Untitled. The Wire 275–80 (Accessed 5 June 2011).
  • Chaudron, André. n.d. "Williams Mix" (Accessed 9 July 2011).
  • Collins, Nicolas. 2006. Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97592-1 (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
  • Wishart, Trevor. 1996. On Sonic Art. New and revised edition. Contemporary Music Studies 12. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers. ISBN 3-7186-5846-1 (cloth) ISBN 3-7186-5847-X (pbk) ISBN 3-7186-5848-8 (CD)
  • Robert Normandeau On Outsight Radio Hours about electroacoustic compositions and if they are "music"

Further reading

  • Beecroft, Norma. 2009. "CEC.
  • Chadabe, Joel. 1997. Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-303231-0.
  • Emmerson, Simon (ed.). 1986. The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-39759-2 (cased); ISBN 0-333-39760-6 (pbk).
  • Emmerson, Simon (ed.). 2000. Music, Electronic Media and Culture. Aldershot (UK) and Burlington, Vermont (USA): Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 0-7546-0109-9.
  • Gann, Kyle. 2000a. "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 0-19-816578-1 (cloth) ISBN 0-19-816511-0 (pbk).
  • Guérin, François. 1983. Les musiques électroacoustiques'. À l'écoute de la musique d'ici 2. Montréal: Centre de musique canadienne. [N.B.: Bibliographical list of Canadian electro-acoustic works.] Without ISBN.
  • Heifetz, Robin Julian. 1989. On the Wires of Our Nerves: The Art of Electroacoustic Music. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses Inc. ISBN 0-8387-5155-5.
  • Kahn, Douglas. 2001. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-61172-4.
  • 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 0-313-31420-9.
  • Manning, Peter. 2004. Electronic and Computer Music. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514484-8 (hardback) ISBN 0-19-517085-7 (pbk).
  • Roads, Curtis. 1996. The Computer Music Tutorial. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-18158-4 (cloth) ISBN 0-262-68082-3 (pbk).
  • Wright, Edward. 2010. "Symbiosis: A Portfolio of Work Focusing on the Tensions Between Electroacoustic and Instrumental Music". PhD diss. Bangor: Bangor University.
  • "CEC) for an annotated "'essential reading list' for electroacoustics, including books, journals and other resources relating to electroacoustics".

Key journals for electroacoustics and sound art

  • . Published quarterly by MIT Press.
  • Canadian Electroacoustic Community.
  • . Three themed issues published each year by De Montfort University (Leicester UK).
  • "CEC), an annotated list of journals publishing articles related to electroacoustics.
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