Getting Beyond the Medium Presented at EMS05, University of McGill, Montreal, Canada, October 2005

This paper addresses the issues of terminology and aesthetic diversity in the field of electroacoustic music. The definition of music through a term that is rooted in the medium rather than aesthetic considerations can hamper the way in which a music can be viewed and studied. Time and time again in electroacoustic musics the medium is used to 'define' the music. For example, tape music, computer music, multimedia, and digital music have all crept in to the broader canon of electroacoustic terminology. Furthermore, looking at musical genres that have their roots in popular music, and have, in some quarters, been accepted under the umbrella term electroacoustic music, there are also a large number of terms that derive from the medium: for example, electronica, electro, and laptronica. Such generic terms offer very little insight into the underlying aesthetics of electroacoustic musics.

If we look historically at the use of terminology in music a clear pattern emerges. When a new technology, which, for example, may be an instrument, is introduced, metaphorically speaking the medium shines very bright. But as a medium or technology are superseded by other new media, the importance and relevance of medium begin to fade. It is the 'message' independent of the medium that gains in importance with the passing of time. This is also reflected in the current trends of electroacoustic musics where, from a large percentage of initial terminology derived from the medium, there is a divergence toward more aesthetically driven terminology. For example, the term 'acousmatic', the usage of which has been gathering momentum since the 1970s, was introduced for the reason that the existing terminology of electroacoustic music had become out grown. This is shown in the willingness of many composers, for example, such as François Bayle, to be identified with a distinct musical genre of which the principles and terminology of the music are based in aesthetics. Furthermore, the term 'lowercase' sound/music, a term associated with the minimalist artist Steve Roden, is a good example of new terminology that crosses boundaries set by medium. The quiet, introspective, micro gesture, non-goal orientated aesthetics of lowercase music may apply to, or encompass many electroacoustic musics. The clear aesthetics of lowercase music are formed by the music's characteristics rather than the technique or technology used in its creation. Therefore, one might find such characteristics in a piece carelessly termed 'computer' music or 'soundscape' composition.

This paper, as well as offering views on why the medium has been given such importance in the field of electroacoustic musics, will also discuss the idea that the 'medium' alludes to an objective 'place' and fails to recognise a whole subjective musical world with aesthetic diversity based around the artist or musician. At the root of this is the notion that when confronted with the use of new technology for creating music, musicians will in time seek to find a musical 'personality' which inherently seeks to progress beyond the medium. To conclude, this paper suggests that the development of electroacoustic music studies is dependent on getting beyond the medium, not only in the terms of the terminology, but also in the underlying principles of the music.