Selected Courses on Digital Art-UOWM

29 Μαρτίου 2013

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In some quarters of academia, aesthetics is a dirty word. It calls to mind aspects of Western intellectual history that some feel are best left abandoned, such as ivory-tower professors who spout theories about the good and the beautiful without having had much contact with either. For skeptics, aesthetics is synonymous with ungrounded theorizing about the value of artworks. The discipline seems unforgivably suspect because so many works of aesthetics over the years have considered a small subset of artworks, inev- itably residing in the Western canon, as standard bearers for the quality of art made anywhere, by anyone, and at any time. While claiming to be an objective measure of what it is that artworks do, aesthetic theory seems irreconcilably ideological, an instrument for reinforcing the values and prej- udices that have kept a few artists and art consumers in comfort, while making sure that many more artworks and artistic practices lurk in obscu- rity and comparative poverty.
Aesthetics is, then, an unpopular pastime, although a few brave souls still write aesthetic theory (Danto 1997; Kraut 2007; Kuspit 2004; Levinson 2006). Many other scholars have critiqued aesthetics by means of cultural studies and sociology, disciplines that start not with theories about artistic merit but rather with empirical data concerning artistic practice. Cultural studies and sociology seem methodologically sound because they rely on ethnography and case studies, techniques that presume to minimize the author’s prejudices about a subject and empower practitioners and specta- tors to speak for themselves. With multicultural, feminist, gay and lesbian, and postcolonial studies continuing to flourish and generate torrents of
Sociologies of cultural expression tend to report and document behavior rather than interpret it. Some of the questions sociological research attempts to answer are: How do participants (i.e., musicians and listeners) derive pleasure and meaning from their music? How do participants acquire and
share knowledge about their music? As such, the sociological method focuses on participants rather than observers. An aesthetics, on the other hand, involves more subjective intervention. An aesthetic theorist must interpret forms of expression to yield insights that might not necessarily be apparent to participants. The questions that this book attempts to answer include those basic to philosophy, questions that sociology would not neces- sarily be best equipped to tackle: What is electronic music? What about it is experimental? What distinguishes it from nonelectronic music? What is specific to electronic music that is absent in other artistic practices and media? These are not the sorts of subjects that usually drive the discourse of electronic-music communities, because participants tend to assume that the reasons for creating and enjoying their art are self-evident. Electronic musi- cians have little time for contemplating why their music is ontologically dif- ferent from nonelectronic music; they may well be more interested in the traits that make a particular work unique in and of itself.
While ethnographic methods are intrinsic to disciplines like anthro- pology and cultural studies, aesthetic theory brings something to electronic music that ethnography cannot. Electronic music is not one single genre but rather a nexus of numerous genres, styles, and subgenres, divided not only geographically but also institutionally, culturally, technologically, and eco- nomically. Because of this breadth of activity, no one single participant or informant can speak about all of electronic music with equal facility. This is where the aesthetic interpretive subject comes in, an observer who reflects critically, albeit imperfectly, about what these disparate communities share. Aesthetic theory cannot and should not claim a truth content that comes easily to ethnography. It is intractably a product of interpretation but, for this reason, challenges and empowers the observer to see the forest where participants might see only individual trees.
So, to address the questions above: Electronic music is any type of music that makes primary, if not exclusive, use of electronic instruments or equip- ment. It encompasses electroacoustic music, which often enlists acoustic instruments along with electronics, as well as purely electronically produced sounds. Electronic music thus inhabits a large expanse of genres, styles, and practices. This book does not qualify as a survey, a cultural history, or any- thing approaching a comprehensive study of these different genres. Rather, I consider a few genres selectively, including musique concrète, post- Schaefferian electroacoustic music, techno, house, microsound, glitch, ambient, drone, dub techno, noise, chill-out, soundscape, and field recording. From these individual examples, I extract a set of principles that can answer the second question of how electronic music differs from nonelectronic music (more on this appears below). The traits that distinguish these genres from one another are indispensable for understanding electronic music as a
whole. Still, throughout this book, I refer to “metagenres,” larger groupings of genres. I argue that participants often claim allegiance to one of three metagenres as a means of claiming high-art credibility. These metagenres are institutional electroacoustic music, electronica, and sound art. Institu- tional electroacoustic music functions thanks to the support of governments, private industry, and educational centers like universities. Electronica means different things in different contexts but normally applies to commercial electronic music that is nominally popular, although little electronica sells any great volume of recordings. 

Sound art describes works that use nonnar- rative sound (either in combination with or to the exclusion of visual elements), often in a site-specific context in which sounds interact with their venue.

 Not all sound-art works contain electronics.

At the start of the twenty-first century, a good deal of the world’s music contains electronic sounds that come from instruments such as synthesizers, samplers, or laptops. Few would be so inclusive as to argue that any work featuring a synthesizer should automatically count as electronic music, but approaching an adequately descriptive definition of electronic music proves challenging nonetheless. One reason for this is that electronic music has had several definitions during the twentieth century. In academia, electronic music has referred to works composed in or near universities (e.g., the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, CCRMA, at Stan- ford) or governmental institutions (public radio stations in Germany and France or research centers like the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique [IRCAM] and the Groupe de Recherches Musicales [GRM]). During its infancy, this music was produced chiefly in France, Ger- many, Italy, and the United States, and its creators traced its lineage from European avant-garde composers like Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stock- hausen. Institutional electronic music initially encompassed musique con- crète (French tape composition using everyday or natural sounds), and elek- tronische Musik (German synthesized electronic music). Today, institutional electroacoustic music includes works featuring sampled and synthesized materials as well as those involving traditional instruments subjected to sig- nal processing. The audiences for institutional electroacoustic music consist of small communities of academics and practitioners. Participants in these communities tend to view their music as elite and intellectual rather than popular or accessible.
Electronic music has traditionally meant something very different in the sphere of popular music, which itself is, of course, not one homogeneous entity but rather a loose conglomeration of rock, psychedelic, ambient, and EDM genres, along with film music. Many gain their first exposure to pop- ular electronic music or electronica by listening to mainstream pop radio,
which has canonized songs by acts ranging from Depeche Mode to Radio- head. Others discover electronica while watching science fiction films like Forbidden Planet (1956) or A Clockwork Orange (1971), whose soundtracks feature instruments such as oscillators and synthesizers. Still others first hear electronic music while listening to seminal pop albums such as the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) or underground successes such as Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra (1974) or Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express (1977). Elec- tronica generally spurns institutional affiliations and revolves instead around pioneering individuals such as Wendy Carlos, Robert Moog, or Brian Wilson, or else the instruments themselves, such as the theremin or the Moog or Korg synthesizers.

The qualifier experimental might initially promise to narrow the field of electronic music, but this adjective is itself far from clear. Beal (2006) contrasts the institutional avant-garde, bookended by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, against experimental composers who rejected both serialism and neoclassicism to develop idiosyncratic styles.

 For Nyman (1999), the term experimental music refers specifically to the mid-twentieth-century indeter- minacy movement headed by John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Fluxus artists, a movement he distinguishes from the mainstream avant-garde of com- posers like Boulez and Stockhausen. This notion of experimental is contin- gent on unusual notational systems enfranchising performers to interpret anything from tempi to pitch, as well as whether or not to create sounds at all. Nyman’s experimental music includes mostly acoustic pieces, although some electronic works are mentioned. Nyman’s vision is anticipated by Benitez (1978), who contrasts experimental music’s disposition toward indeterminacy with avant-garde music’s intentionality. Yet in general usage, experimental music is any music that rejects tradition and takes risks through running counter to musical conventions; the term pertains equally to jazz, dub, and hip-hop. 

As Piekut (2008) notes, experimentalism is not a meta- physical essence but a series of unusual practices whose strangeness stands out in relation to whatever the mainstream happens to be. 

We could con- clude from this that experimental electronic music is anything that chal- lenges the conventions of electronic music. Yet this leaves us with a moving target, since conventions in electronic-music history have usually been short-lived. I therefore define experimental as anything that has departed significantly from norms of the time, but with the understanding that some- thing experimental in 1985 could have inspired what was conventional by 1990.
Any notion of recent experimental music is bound to overlap with sound art, which draws from many of the same influences as mid-century experimentalism. Varèse’s call (2007) for a new means of expression based on the principle of “organized sound” was an early affirmation that

Although I agree with Licht that sound art and experimental music are not interchangeable, many participants do treat them as sim- ilar, if not synonymous. For this reason, sound art figures throughout this book, especially in discussions of site.
There remains perhaps the most contentious issue: How can this book simultaneously consider academic and popular forms of electronic music along with electronic sound art? Most people don’t tend to think of experi- mental music as popular or commercially successful. Yet there are innu- merable examples of miscegenation between supposedly “high” and “mass” culture, enough so that to keep the spheres separate is proving to be an increasingly untenable choice. Witness, for instance, the experimental forays of Vince Clarke, Radiohead, or Frank Zappa, artists who have made names for themselves as popular musicians. One of the more impressive music-industry successes of the last twenty years was to persuade listeners to buy EDM for contemplative, sedentary home listening—a genre known as intelligent dance music (IDM). And as for sound art, even those who are sympathetic to it may hesitate to include it within discussions of music, let alone dance music that features a steady rhythm or pulse. Yet the inno- vations of artists such as Björk and Aphex Twin somehow straddle these divisions comfortably, drawing attention as much from pop-music jour- nalists as from gallery curators and academics.

My methodology takes its cue from Wolff ’s work on aesthetics and the soci- ology of art (1993), specifically her argument that the two are codependent. Aesthetics must attune itself to the culture, history, and social context of art and its practitioners and consumers. If not, aesthetics ends up working as a tool of ideology, emphasizing certain aspects of selected works that happen to agree with the writer’s values. On the other hand, aesthetics cannot reduce artworks to their cultural, historical, or social backgrounds; otherwise, there would be nothing to distinguish art from nonartistic activities. Aesthetic theory, for Wolff and for me, must be sensitive to sociology while also being courageous enough to offer statements about why art is specific to itself and distinct from other activities.
This book relies to the greatest extent possible on statements from elec- tronic-music artists, listeners, and theorists to ground its observations in empirical data. However, I admit freely that I draw a number of subjective conclusions about the nature of electronic music. I do so without claiming some purchase on the definitive truth about electronic music, for clearly there is no one truth about it. And although no one individual can be right about everything in music (or life in general), I want to avoid a paralyzing sort of relativism that sometimes impedes scholars from making any sort of conclusive interpretive statements about music. No one individual can ever hope to get everything right, but that is no reason to believe that an indi- vidual can get nothing right. By carefully studying the subject, the genres, the recordings, and the critical literature, we can get some things right.
Part of the key to getting things right in electronic music involves under- standing genre, and here I rely on the invaluable work on the subject by Frow (2005), Kronengold (2008), and McLeod (2001). It’s helpful to think of genre as a sort of social contract between musicians and listeners, a set of conventions that can more or less guide the listening experience. With enough experience, a listener comes to know what to expect in a techno track and why techno generally behaves differently from, say, house, even though both are fundamentally similar forms of EDM. The interesting moments in any genre occur, of course, when expectations are in some way thwarted, when a work does something it is not “supposed” to do according to the rules of its genre. My strategy throughout this book is to listen with two minds simultaneously, attending to how genre situates individual works amid larger groups of works, while also attending to what stylistic features otherwise distinct genres might share. Genre is of the utmost importance to any discussion of electronic music, because genre rules electronic music, dividing participants into camps that often perceive themselves as incom- mensurate with one another.
Now for the sticky subject: aesthetic value. Some readers might question the motivations behind this book, and with justification, since aesthetics used to be the discipline of choice for those wishing to push their artistic agenda in praising certain works while disparaging others. Even among aes- thetic theorists today, there is no agreement on whether the very project of aesthetics can carry on without pronouncements about the quality of artworks. Hamilton (2007) and Kraut (2007) approach aesthetics from their backgrounds in analytic philosophy and therefore avoid asserting the supe- riority of the works they discuss. Rather, the two questions that interest these writers are: What is music, and what distinguishes it from nonmusic art forms? Kraut, in particular, insists on the distinction between aesthetic theory and art criticism, the latter belonging to art-world practice rather than metaphysics. Hamilton and Kraut seem to occupy the minority among many other aesthetic theorists who openly judge art quality. Adorno (1997), Scruton (1997), and Wolff (1993) all view value criteria as intrinsic to understanding art: we cannot understand art completely unless we take into account whether we feel an artwork has succeeded or failed and how it com- petes with other works. Wolff also points out that the very act of formulating aesthetic theory necessarily entails questions of artistic value, of what to dis- cuss and what not to mention. An author who claims complete objectivity and value-free neutrality is thus being disingenuous, since every observer has a point of view.
This book takes a position much in line with Wolff’s. The relative aesthetic value of one work over another is not my central concern here, and I try to avoid making statements about my personal likes and dislikes. How- ever, I reject assertions that we can thoroughly bracket out the subject of aesthetic value or that anyone can represent electronic-music aesthetics objectively and comprehensively. Aesthetics and criticism overlap, but they are not identical.
As for the methodology of analysis itself, this book proposes that we ask of electronic music some of the same sorts of questions that Adorno and some post-1950 art critics have fruitfully posed. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1997) has exerted a powerful and positive influence on my writing through its premise that musical material engages in a dialectic with surrounding society, never completely reflective while never completely autonomous, either. I disagree with Adorno on many of his judgments about musical value, but I admire his ability to identify the tension between subjectivity and objec- tivity in the artwork. I point to an analogous tension in many electronic works that conceive of sound as a literal object, material supposedly lacking authorial bias or personal expression. As art critic Michael Fried (1998) con- troversially argues, minimalist sculpture of the 1960s conceived of a similar type of material, three-dimensional objects that were intended not as artistic creations but rather as mute, physically imposing objects. Fried’s formulation of “objecthood” and its reception in writings by Hal Foster (1996), Miwon Kwon (2002), and other art critics can help us contextualize tendencies in electronic music and sound art amid larger doubts in late-twentieth-century art about the continued relevance of art as an autonomous enterprise removed from real life. We can trace the search for nonreferential materials from Dada to John Cage, from Fluxus to minimalist sculpture, and from musique concrète to drone music and microsound. Indeed, this search inherits many anxieties from nineteenth-century art music and musicology over whether music should be absolute or programmatic. 
Remembering music from previous centuries is in fact a useful tech- nique, since this book’s premise is that electronic music is fundamentally different in character and in aspiration from any music that preceded it.

 Consider that before the advent of electronic music, the sound of almost any instrument or singing voice would alert listeners within a short amount of time that they were hearing a musical sound and not, say, a sound of nature, chance, or a nonartistic machine. The timbres, attacks, structure, and syntax of preelectronic music all work together to underscore music’s status as a special type of organized sound that is separate from the sounds of everyday life. 

It goes without saying that not all listeners bring the same sort of expe- rience or musical expertise to the sounds they hear, and listening experi- ences clearly vary according to history, culture, and the music itself. Still, we can be relatively certain that most people who have grown up in a particular culture can recognize its music as music even if they know nothing else about its production or meaning.

Until the electronic era, such qualities set apart music from everyday life. 

They functioned as framing devices in a manner analogous to how a picture frame demarcates a painting from the wall on which it is mounted and, by extension, the outside world.

 And frames of all sorts are important, for although we might be used to ignoring them and focusing instead on the materials they contain, frames serve the valuable function of identifying art as art. 

When the framing devices of Western art music—tools such as tonality, dance rhythms, predictable forms, standard orchestration, and concert venues—began to disappear or undergo critique, so, too, vanished many reasons for regarding music as separate from the outside world. 

Not coincidentally, electronics and the discourse surrounding electronic music were critical in the dismantling of the musical frame. 
When Pierre Schaeffer began to lug his turntable engraver around Paris to record the sounds of trains, he permanently transformed musical aesthetics, introducing the possibility that the sounds of the outside world could be considered as aes- thetic objects. 

But here lies the dilemma. Once electronic musicians took apart the musical frame, what did they do with the Pandora’s box of sounds
unleashed into the concert hall? How does one listen to unmusical, every- day sounds?

The ways in which we listen to unmusical sounds hinge on whether we believe that sounds signify or possess meaning. And this very topic consti- tutes the essence of recent electronic-music aesthetics. In response to the earlier question of what distinguishes recent electronic music from other media, I argue that it is a concern with the meaningfulness of sound. To an extent unrivaled in all previous forms of music, recent electronic music is obsessed with the question of whether sound, in itself, bears meaning. And while participants are unanimous in their curiosity about sound’s meaning- fulness, they are very much divided in their opinions about the matter. For some, it is impossible to hear sound separately from the contexts that lead to its creation and consumption. For others, successful electronic music purifies sound to its most basic materials, elements that possess no residual associations to the outside world. This book derives its three-part structure according to three discernible conceptions of the meaningfulness of sound: as sign, object, and situation. I divide each part into two chapters, each of which addresses one or a few genres and their strategies for eliciting (or avoiding) signification. (I should also mention that chapters 1 through 5 are case studies of specific genres, while chapter 6 presents a more general dis- cussion of the three metagenres in tandem. Readers looking for the red thread may find that the introduction, chapter 6, and the conclusion provide an adequate overview, while the five intervening chapters furnish more detailed analyses.)
Part I examines genres that operate on the assumption that sound func- tions as a sign, a relationship between some signified thought and some sig- nifier sound. Chapter 1 begins with post-Schaefferian electroacoustic music and its efforts to control the listening process. Preelectronic Western art music fueled extensive debates and polemics concerning the semiotic prop- erties of music, specifically concerning whether music can be heard or read as a language. And at many instances in that history, audiences heard, read, and understood musical utterances with exactitude. In certain styles, for instance, a descending bass line communicated lamentation, a strident 4/4 rhythm conveyed militancy or horses, and a chromatic melody described sensuality. But in electronic music, especially the post-Schaefferian electro- acoustic music that chapter 1 considers, the absence of musical parameters such as tonality or regular rhythm pitches music into a no-man’s-land. With the absence of musical syntax, should we hear nonmusical sounds as abstract utterances or as representative of their origins in the outside world? Should we hear a recording of a rising tide lapping on a beach as music? As non- music? And what would be the difference between two such experiences? Post-Schaefferian electroacoustic music is especially conflicted about such questions, in part because of the ease with which it abstracts sounds from the outside world. Schaeffer’s own approach in using such materials was to advocate that listeners practice “reduced listening,” a bracketing out of the cognitive associations that would normally accompany recognizable mate- rials. But many post-Schaefferians, even those who might have studied with Schaeffer himself, reject this manner of imposing a discipline on listeners. Instead, they think that it is incumbent on composers to work with, rather than ignore or repress, external associations of sounds as integral aspects of their works. Post-Schaefferian music can thus be characterized as a debate about the extent to which the semantic content of a sound can be manipulated. Running parallel with this is an anxiety over how much post-Schaefferian music should leave the discourse of music behind. With seemingly unlimited technical abilities for incorporating the sounds of the outside world, some electroacoustic composers create works that bear little, if any, affinities to music as it has been known. Yet others use the rhythms and syntax of post- tonal serialism. The choice of whether to retain or reject the trappings of music and whether to use mimetic or abstract sounds tells a great deal about whether composers see in their materials purely iconic representations of the outside world or more metaphoric, distanced referents.
Chapter 2 explores how electronica conceives of sound material as a metaphor. Compared with post-Schaefferian electroacoustic music, elec- tronica spends less time dictating listeners’ responses. Sounds of the outside world, sounds of other works, and sounds newly created all figure in elec- tronica. What matter in electronica are not the origins of sound so much as the metaphors that portray sound as malleable material, the product of con- struction, reproduction, or destruction. Frequently, though not always, these metaphors go hand-in-hand with actual sound-production techniques. Construction is often synonymous with sound synthesis, reproduction with sound sampling, and destruction with the defacement of the phonographic medium. But of course, the most interesting moments in electronica occur when the metaphor describing sound does not correspond with the actual means of producing it. When digital-signal processing hides or disguises the provenance of a sound, listeners can hear in an old sound something sup- posedly new.
Part II assumes a position antithetical to the genres discussed in part I. Here, sound is not a sign but rather an object, an entity with no preexisting semantic content. And although the genres that part II profiles are nomi- nally minimalist, they closely approach Schaeffer’s ideal for reduced lis- tening, because they contend that listeners can disregard whatever external associations sounds might have. As such, the genres in chapters 3 and 4 are the modern-day answers to absolute music, music that spurns narrative, explanation, or other references beyond itself. Chapter 3 looks at the
minimal objects in microsound, a form of electronic music that utilizes brief, usually quiet particles of sound. Microsound artists exhibit surprising consistency in their search for sounds that are supposedly expressionless, and I connect this predilection to a similar desire among minimalist visual artists of the 1960s for “objecthood,” where sculpture appropriates discrete objects for their physical rather than referential attributes. Chapter 4 explores maximal objects in drone music, dub techno, and noise music, subgenres that test the physical limitations of listeners through excessive durations and volumes. These various manifestations of excess all purport to transcend meaning, to push sound beyond semiosis to a state in which it communi- cates directly to listeners’ bodies.
In part III, the pendulum swings back toward forms of electronic music that conceive of sound as meaningful but hear that meaning deriving not so much from the sound’s innate characteristics as from the ways in which sound reflects its situation, its placement both within the physical world and within networks of cultures and other musics. Chapter 5 discusses ambient and chill-out, soundscape, field recordings, and sound art for widely dif- fering tacks on how sound can communicate space, place, and location. Chapter 6 takes a step back to consider the three metagenres of institutional electroacoustic, electronica, and sound art. Participants in each metagenre describe their music in terms borrowing from the discourse of experimen- talism, a discourse that pits a distinguished minority against a commercial mainstream and an indifferent public. Despite the fact that the three meta- genres insist on their difference from one another, however, all three encourage a type of listening that resembles less what we think to be tradi- tional musical listening (at least in Western art music) than a move toward a new type of attention, which I call aesthetic listening.

It is not my intention to democratize electronic music by imposing a solidarity that would not otherwise come naturally. Part of the pleasure in listening to this music involves giving in to this rhetoric of distinction. First-time electronic-music listeners are rightly fascinated by what they hear and frequently conclude that some works are “edgier,” “more sophisticated,” or “more demanding” than whatever they might define as the mainstream. Yet I do want to expose the shared tendencies on all sides of the high/popular divide, because they point to something unmistakable and crucial: a growing sense that listening to electronic music constitutes an act that is fundamen- tally different from how listeners have been used to hearing Western art music for the previous five centuries. 

This new experience, which I dub aesthetic listening as opposed to conventional music listening. Aesthetic listening resembles the way many listeners hear popular and some non-Western musics. In listening aesthetically as opposed to musically, we may choose to attend to development, or else we may pay only intermittent attention to sound while also attending to other sensory phenomena. Aesthetic listening also acknowledges that nonmusical sounds, the sounds of the outside world, can have aesthetic interest and that we can listen to them for more than simply their informational value. That aesthetic listening has arisen in electronic music is nothing short of revolu- tionary. Electronic music in its three metagenres pits itself as a high-art form yet, unlike previous forms of Western art music, does not demand attention to form or development. The experience that electronic music affords reflects more accurately the ways in which humans actually do hear the world and is thus less dogmatic about how we should hear it.

The art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto (1997) has spoken of the “end of art,” the moment in twentieth-century art when ready-mades, objets trouvés, and commercial advertising so permeated high-art scenes that they destroyed any remaining justification for differentiating between “art” and “nonart.” 

Danto naturally refers to John Cage, who similarly urged listeners to open their ears and minds enough to consider all sounds as music. 

Throughout the following chapters, and above all in the conclusion, I want to apply some of Danto’s and Cage’s conclusions to electronic music, but with some important exceptions. For all of the enthusiasm that Cage’s philosophy has generated, it did not succeed in making listeners hear every sound as music, nor did it make listeners approach the other extreme in hearing all sounds, even those of the concert hall, as sounds outside the musical frame. 

I agree with Danto insofar as electronic music has precipitated an “end of music” or, rather, the end of practices and philosophies that took for granted the separation of Western art music from the sounds of the outside world. 

The subliminal pulsations in a work by microsound com- poser Kim Cascone or the ferry shuttling captured in a field recording by Toshiya Tsunoda may sound foreign, industrial, or simply mundane, but they do not sound conventionally musical. Yet the fact that listeners submit to certain rituals in hearing these sounds, whether by putting on headphones or going to a performance space to hear a live rendering, demonstrates that we still hear these sounds in artworks differently from how we would if we encountered them in everyday life. 

The customs governing how we listen to electronic music do not demand the same sort of continuous discipline as concert-hall attendance, with listeners sitting in silence and attending to a piece from start to finish. Listening to electronic music is intermittent and interrupted; listeners may leave a venue and then return (or not), press pause on their iPods but restart several hours later, or
transfer their attention from the repetitive beats of the dance floor to a conversation they are overhearing at the bar of the club. All of these activ- ities constitute listening that is aware of the aesthetic value of sounds, not strictly as conveyors of meaning but not strictly as musical utterance, either.

But I am getting ahead of myself now. Before we can consider the end of music and other grand subjects, we need to unpack my claim from above, that electronic music’s primary concern is with the meaningfulness of sound. Let me explain what that means.

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