Commission Music

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Tuesday, 25 February 2003

Tape Music

I like tape music. Here's an easy definition: music composed for tape, CD or other recording medium. Wasn't that easy? If I write music that only exists on a recording and it isn't played live, that's tape music. I write load of tape music. It's easy and fun. Record some synthesizer sounds, tweak them in protools and viola! tape music.

but all the calls for scores these days want "electroacoustic" music. What does that mean? some folks say it means musique concrete. It's always good to define jargon in terms of other jargon. I know it's why folks love computers. Anyway, musique concrete is an extinct French school of tape music where sounds from real life were recorded and used to make tape music. No synthesizers allowed. Americans liked using synthesizers and not found sounds. After a while, the two nations put their differences aside and started using synth and found sounds together. We all ate French toast to celebrate.

But dark days are here again and once again the US and France are split. The high-art world, as always, is taking the French side. American mavericks like John Cage (and me of course) are being ignored! Why no calls for scores for tape music that's electronic? I like electronic sounds. My dog never starts inexplicably barking on electronic recordings. Airplanes flying overhead do not interfere. No freeways, no computer fan, no refrigerator, no doorbells, no dishwasher, no fistfights between my cohabitants, nothing but the electronic sounds. And I don't need to invest in good microphones or pre-amps.

I'm looking at a call fro atpes right now that wants "acousmatic" music. I don't know what that word means either. Clearly, I'm ignorant. I blame the American education system. I don't know the capital of Wyoming either. Although the devious, French pacifists behind these musical terms don't know the capital of Wyoming either, so I'm only two points behind them. It's very hard to google a definition for electroacoustic, but this one I've had more luck with. Clearly,

Acousmatic music is a particular kind of tape music. To quote Jonty: "Acousmatic music on the whole continues the traditions of musique concrete and has inherited many of its concerns. It admits any sound as potential compositional material, frequently refers to acoustic phenomena and situations from everyday life and, most fundamentally of all, relies on perceptual realities rather than conceptual speculation to unlock the potential for musical discourse and musical structure from the inherent properties of the sound objects themselves - and the arbiter of this process is the ear."

An acousmatic piece, then, grows upwards from the sounds used in the piece, rather than downwards from an overall concept. Because acousmatic pieces grow upwards from the sounds, they represent a "qualitative" and "organic" approach to composition, according to Jonty, as opposed to the "quantitative" and "architectonic" thinking of much traditionally notated music, and also much electronic music.

Diffusion, in this context, is a electroacoustic performance art. It is the practice of taking a (typically) two-channel piece and playing it back on many more than two speakers, the performer manipulating the spatial distribution of sound in real time. Jonty considers that this approach represents an organic approach to space in opposition to an architectonic approach, where an 8-channel work (say) is played back over an 8-channel speaker system and all the spatial placing of sounds is worked out in advance.

(from Well, that clears everything up. but wait, there's more! says, "An English neologism, which comes from the French acousmatique , has its origins with Pythagoras (6th century BC) who was (it is said) delivering his�uniquely oral�teaching behind a curtain to prevent his physical presence from distracting his disciples, allowing them to better concentrate exclusively on the content of his message. " While my education was skipping Wyoming, it certainly wasn't spending the saved time on the classics. That quote is from a paper (at the above link) about the definition of "acousmatic." A whole paper. somebody else wrote a whole book about it! A Perceptual Approach to the Description and Analysis of Acousmatic Music It's a PhD thesis. which explains the recent spike in calls for scores for this kind of work. Clearly, they need to find out if their grad students are just making stuff up or if there's actually folks making this kind of music. The internet defeats them. I got a call for scores. I saw a new term, I googled it, I got the paper, I read the paper and then I made music to conform to the paper's thesis. It becomes real when it's written down. It's so post-modernist I could cry. this is like a monument to my generation.

the most popular definition seems to be "Acousmatic sound is sound one hears without seeing their originating cause - a invisible sound source. Radio, phonograph and telephone, all which transmit sounds without showing their emitter are acousmatic media." (from How this is different from my good old fashioned tape music, I don't know. sometimes you have to invent new terms to get rid of all the fakers and folks not keeping up with the lastest things. That might be me.

I still have no idea if any of my existing songs qualify as electroacoustic or acousmatic. What's clear here is that I really do need a graduate education, because I don't seem to know enough about tape music.

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