EMS 09 -Abstract- Navigating the landscape of electroacoustic music: some considerations on the issues of referentiality and sound image

Daniel L. Barreiro
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This paper draws considerations about a listening attitude which differs from the reduced listening approach and mentions examples of recent electroacoustic works that invite listeners to appreciate them with both an ‘abstract’ and ‘anecdotal’ set of mind. It is common knowledge among the electroacoustic music community that the ideal of reduced listening in the context of Schaefferian paradigm has often influenced the over-spread (yet not unanimous) compositional preference for sound objects that do not explicitly reveal their source nor make easily identifiable references to meanings of extra-musical nature. This is manifested in the scope of Schaefferian solfège (Schaeffer 1966) by the distinction between sound objects that are and that are not appropriate for musical exploration. Over the last 60 years, however, works by various composers have shown different degrees of attainment of this belief, from following it strictly to following it loosely or even completely disregarding it (in which case the works by Luc Ferrari, for example, are important references). On the theoretical field, the influential book On Sonic Art, by Trevor Wishart was written with the assumption that all sounds are potentially appropriate for compositional exploration (Wishart 1996, p.8), which clearly disregards the distinction mentioned above. The richness of associations that ‘anecdotal’ sounds (and also ‘abstract’ ones) can trigger in the listener’s mind has drawn attention to the expressive potential that they can bring to electroacoustic composition. As a consequence, the role of sound image - understood as mental representations generated by sensory stimuli that reach the attentive listener – has been highlighted by composers and scholars. In this respect, John Young (2007) mentions that “the capacity for electroacoustic music to project and manipulate sonic images is now acknowledged as a cornerstone of the medium’s aesthetic potential” (p.25). Suk Jun Kim (2008) also highlights the role of sound image in his approach on listening imagination. He points out that, while listening to electroacoustic music, listeners exercise their acousmatic reasoning based on a continuous interplay between a semiotic listening attitude (centred on the identification of possible significations and references the sounds may have) and a spectromorphological one (centred on the identification of the inner qualities of the sounds themselves – related, therefore, to the reduced listening approach). Such a combination of two different listening attitudes (and its influence on composition) resonates with Jonty Harrison’s considerations about his own approach while composing (expressed in the text that presents the CD “Évidence matérielle”). Following Denise Garcia (1998) and Denis Smalley (1992), it is possible to notice that sound images generated by sonic stimuli can be also associated with other kinds of sensory experiences. Smalley identifies nine indicative fields or networks that can be present in a listening situation: gesture, utterance, behaviour, energy and motion, object/substance, environment, vision and space. According to him, the indicative relationships expressed by these fields are not restricted to sound understood as carrier of mere messages, events and information but “include a wider frame of references to experience outside and beyond music” establishing a “relationship between musical experience and our experiences of living” (p.521). Garcia mentions sonic models, visual models and spatial models that can work as guidelines for approaching sound in composition in connection with our experiences in a broader sense. This paper explores this theoretical framework and gives examples of recent electroacoustic works by various composers which play with the expressive (and aesthetic) potential of sound image generated both by 'abstract' and 'anecdotal' sounds.

Federal University of Uberlandia (UFU)
Universidade Federal de Uberlandia (UFU)
Faculdade de Artes, Filosofia e Ciências Sociais
Departamento de Música e Artes Cênicas