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Born This Day
Louis Armstrong and Steve Andrews.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Even people who admit to being tone-deaf could once tell the difference between radio static and music. Not anymore. “We live in an era where all types of sound in art have become equally legitimate,” explains Joanna Demers, associate professor of musicology at the USC Thornton School of Music. “I don’t make this claim lightly: Electronic music has precipitated an end of music.” In a timely new book, Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music (Oxford University Press: October 2010), Demers offers the first comprehensive assessment of electronic music and how our approach to listening has radically departed from the last 500 years. Beginning with philosopher and composer Pierre Schaeffer, who lugged a turntable engraver around Paris in the mid-20th century to record the sound of trains, Demers shows how recent experimental electronic music destroyed the conventions — such as tonality, tempo, timbre and harmony — that once helped identify music and demarcate it from the sounds of everyday life. “Even though people will no doubt continue to use the word “music,” the experience of listening will be markedly different from what it meant a century ago,” Demers says. As Demers explains, electronic music introduced the possibility that the sounds of the outside world could be treated with aesthetic consideration. Building on a “rhetoric of difference” and the work of avant-garde composers such as John Cage, experimental electronic music embraced previously undesirable sounds such as feedback, field recordings and silence. “When the framing devices of Western art music began to disappear or undergo critique, so, too, vanished many reasons for regarding music as separate from the outside world,” says Demers, author of Steal This Music: How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity (University of Georgia Press: 2002). But in the absence of any musical parameters, how do we listen to previously nonmusical sounds, say, a recording of waves lapping on a beach? Theorists have postulated that the end of music might enable listeners to hear all sounds as if they were music. Or, conversely, we might begin to listen to sounds without context or meaning. Others offer the idea that music is no longer music at all, but a form of art incorporating sound and space. “Just as photography instigated a philosophical crisis in visual arts, so did the introduction of electricity into music making at the turn of the twentieth century change musical aesthetics forever,” says Demers, who teaches classes at the USC Thornton School of Music on intellectual property and music, hip-hop, music videos, and popular music history. In Listening Through the Noise, Demers distinguishes among types of listening: hearing, listening for meaning and comprehension, and aesthetic listening, that is, appreciating the characteristics of sound as aesthetic objects. Whereas once listening to music might have required full attention, Demers notes that aesthetic listening allows for listening in intermittent moments without beginning or end, reflecting the way many of us actually listen to popular music now, while doing other things. “While insiders still might still insist on the distinctions among various genres, outsiders might well perceive in electronic music a whole not only new musical experience but a new medium in which sound is aesthetic but not especially musical,” Demers says. “These sounds are strange in the real world, but they also succeed in making the real world strange.”
From a press release sent to me by OUP (USA) - What do you think?
Lance.

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