The impact of technology on the creative processes of composing electroacoustic music.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Huddersfield
Department Name: Sch of Music Humanities & Media


The development of electroacoustic music has been one of the major innovations of music in the last sixty years and yet its working methods are little understood beyond its own immediate field and, perhaps as a result it lacks widespread appreciation. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the associated repertory has been materially influenced and ultimately constrained by the functional characteristics of the technologies available to each composer at the time of realisation. These developments have been made possible by an impressive range of technical advances from the development of the tape recorder to that of sophisticated high-speed computers. However with the passage of time many of the earlier technologies have disappeared into obscurity, along with the fading recollections of the composers who used them. Access to this crucial information will become increasingly difficult over time: it is already the case that many of the early pioneers are no longer alive.
Rather late in the day the research community is becoming aware of the implications of these trends and the increasing importance of revisiting the past in ways which can produce tangible outcomes in terms of our knowledge and understanding of this legacy. Although it is the creative outcome that matters in the end, technical issues are axiomatic to the production of much of this music, and developing a fuller understanding of the resulting repertory involves exploring the interaction between the creative and the technical, and learning how technology and music might best work together in the future. The range and diversity of the hardware and software will often make it difficult even for those experienced in the field to acquire a detailed understanding of how a particular work has been made.
The understanding of the interaction between technology and the processes of creativity in the creation of key compositions within the repertoire is important in a number of ways: it is important for a critical understanding of these works, it is important historically for an understanding of the ways in which the field has evolved, it is important for composition in the sharing of good practice, and it is important for the enhancement of university teaching and research in which the technical and the musical are often studied in isolation.
The principal goals of this project are twofold: Firstly, through the critical study of a range of selected works, we aim to document and examine the ways in which technology and creativity have come together in different contexts. Secondly this project proposes to extend these investigations in an innovative way through the design and construction of software-based tools that, through the processes of modelling, will allow key features of these methods of creative working to be interactively explored.
The choice of works, following consultation with leading practitioners in the electroacoustic community, will be influenced by the following criteria; i) their significance in the repertory of electroacoustic music, ii) their relevance in terms of profiling specific aesthetic approaches and compositional practices, and iii) the accessibility of the underlying technical processes for the proposed methodology in terms of their analysis and modelling.
Although the outcomes of this research are initially aimed at the academic and artistic community working in this area, an important by-product will be the development of materials that can be adapted to present these issues to the potential audiences for such music and to empower all stakeholders to explore for themselves the possibilities of new ways of working with sound. It is intended that the outputs will include both text to be published by a leading international publisher, and software applications for both Mac and Windows computing environments.

Planned Impact

This project seeks to maximise the dissemination and impact of its outcomes by engaging with digital modes of delivery that hitherto have not played a significant role in this field of research. These are predicated on a fundamental reappraisal not only of the means by which the outcomes of the proposed research are disseminated but also the scope and nature of the materials to be communicated, not least in terms of achieving their maximum impact not only within the more immediate academic community but also the wider context of other potential beneficiaries. The traditional methods of articulating and disseminating the outcomes of music research in Western music are predominantly text-based. Although such findings are sometimes accompanied by audio materials, augmentations to the text more usually are limited to graphic representations, albeit extending on occasion to sonograms and/or other visual representations of music data especially in the case of works belonging to electroacoustic and non-Western music genres. In this context a common understanding of the characteristics of Western music and the relationship between the content of a music score and its acoustical realisation provides a powerful conduit between researchers and their intended audience. In the latter context such shared modes of understanding rarely exist, no more so than in the case of electroacoustic music.
The constituencies here are both academic and non-academic, embracing in the latter context those who work professionally in the audio industry and also hobbyists who are keen to learn more about the creative possibilities of music technology. What makes the outcomes of this project particularly appealing is that they include both a means of engaging aurally and interactively with the repertoire and a toolkit of synthesis/processing models in a format that allows easy access for all on standard personal computers. These models are designed both to facilitate further study of the techniques used in the composition of the electroacoustic works on which they are based and also allow the user to apply them for their own creative purposes. There will also be significant opportunities to use the models in educational contexts, their value here being underpinned by the explanations of the underlying theory and practices to be included in the accompanying book.
In seeking to model key technical processes in the case of each work to be studied the resulting benefits are twofold: Firstly such an approach provides a practical environment for the study of the compositional processes and the active testing of the hypotheses that arise in this context. Secondly it will become possible for the wider community to engage directly with key aspects of these models and thus acquire a significantly enhanced understanding of the creative legacy that has resulted from the development of the medium. The practicalities of such an approach have already been tested in the context of work carried out by the PI, for example, on Jonathan Harvey's 'Mortuos Plango' (Clarke 2006), used in the creation of a BBC Radio 3 program on the work. In addition the PI and CoI have tested key criteria for the development of the proposed approach in a number of publications, for example their article in Organised Sound on Karheinz Stockhausen's Oktophonie (Clarke and Manning 2009a), and further preparatory work has been completed by the CoI in a critical analysis of Pierre Schaeffer's pioneering techniques of Musique Concrète as a contribution to a forthcoming book on his life and work (Manning 2012).
Description The TaCEM project has discovered important findings on a number of levels: In terms of methodology it has developed important new techniques for the deployment of an interactive aural approach to the study of electroacoustic music and demonstrated how this might be put into practice, allowing researchers and their audiences to investigate the music as sound and to interact with it. The project has also demonstrated the close interrelation between musical creativity and technological innovation within this repertoire. We have also developed important findings in relation to each of the individual works examined as case studies within the project, especially in terms of their musical structure, their technical development and their historical context.
Exploitation Route The interactive aural approach will, we hope, be developed further by ourselves and others and adopted in the study of a much wider range of works in the electroacoustic repertoire. We also intend to develop and adapt this approach for use in other areas of music. These might include, for example, contemporary acoustic music, improvised music, aural/oral traditions, and the study of music as performed.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections