Listening through the NoiseThe Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Listening through the NoiseThe Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music

Joanna Demers

Print publication date: 2010

ISBN: 9780195387650

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

Electronic music since 1980 has splintered into numerous genres and subgenres, communities and subcultures. Given the differences separating academic, popular, and avant-garde electronic musicians, how can aesthetic theory account for this variety? And is there even a place for aesthetics in twenty-first-century culture? This book explores genres ranging from techno to electroacoustic music, from glitch to noise, and from dub to drones and maintains that culturally and historically informed aesthetic theory is not only possible but indispensable for understanding electronic music. The abilities of electronic music to use preexisting sounds and to create new sounds are widely known. The book proceeds from this starting point to consider how electronic music is changing the way we listen not only to music but to sound itself. The common trait among all variants of recent experimental electronic music is a concern with whether sound, in itself, bears meaning. The use in recent works of previously undesirable materials such as noise, field recordings, and extremely quiet sounds has contributed to electronic music’s destruction of the “musical frame,” the conventions that used to set music apart from the outside world. Different philosophies for listening have emerged in the wake of the musical frame’s disappearance. Some electronic-music genres insist on the inscrutability and abstraction of sound. Others maintain that sound functions as a sign pointing to concepts or places beyond the work. But all share an approach toward listening that departs fundamentally from the expectations governing music listening in the West for the past five centuries.