Leigh Landy


Leigh Landy (NL, US) holds a Research Chair at De Montfort University (Leicester, UK) where he directs the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre. His scholarship is divided between creative and musicological work. His compositions include several for video, dance and theatre. He has worked extensively with the late playwright, Heiner Müller, the new media artist, Michel Jaffrennou and the composer-performer, Jos Zwaanenburg and was composer in residence for the Dutch National Theatre during its first years of existence. His publications focus on the studies of electroacoustic music, including the notion of musical dramaturgy, contemporary music in a cross-arts context, access and the contemporary time-based arts, and devising practices in the performing arts. He is editor of “Organised Sound: an international journal of music technology” (Cambridge) and author of six books. He directs the ElectroAcoustic Resource Site (EARS) projects and is a founding member of the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network (EMS). 

The following interview was developed through an email exchange between Leigh Landy and Ricardo Dal Farra during January-February, 2014.

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Why do you make music? Why electroacoustic music?

I believe that people make art, including music, for both of two reasons: they want to and they have to. What I mean by ‘have to’ is simply that I could not consider my life without this particular outlet for creative endeavor, and, as long as the music I make can be related to play and not solely work, it will remain this way.

Since my student days, I have been interested in experimental music, first instrumental/vocal composition and performance and then slowly moving from notes to sounds. Although I think a reasonable amount of contemporary instrumental music can connect with a public larger than the elitist one associated with it, I am of the firm belief that electroacoustic music, or sound-based music as I prefer to call it, is in fact more accessible to a wider public than a specialist one due to the potential experiential links it offers with sounds and contexts that any individual encounters.
In short, it’s a challenge, it offers a sense of surprise to me when making it and it offers a sense of surprise to, communicates with and touches others. What more could one want?

Is there a role for artists/musicians in society, outside of so-called "entertainment" (or just for self-indulgence)? How do you think electroacoustic music relates to the [non-artists] community?

First of all, as I published in my two books published in 2007, I believe that a good deal of sound-based music transcends the art/pop divide. Therefore, it is not about entertainment vs. high art, but instead about a broad horizon of art made with sounds that can entertain as well as it can massage the intellect. The key question is: is there a public beyond the specialist one for this music? My answer is ‘yes’ in theory and, in due course, I expect it will be ‘yes’ in practice, too.

I have been frustrated by, fascinated with and increasingly focused upon access issues related to sound-based music. This is reflected both in my music, much of which is accessible by a wide variety of audiences and in my teaching and scholarly research. To this end, I have led projects that have focused on accessibility issues including some discussed below. This has several aspects: focusing on audience development, facilitating creative practice in communities outside of the academic one (note: composers who want to make works for the specialist public only have ever right to do so, but that is of little interest to me), investigating through case studies what aspects of music offer listeners things to hold on to and ideally enjoy in sound-based music, and offer pedagogical and resource tools to people to support the development of interest in this corpus of work.

See: “Understanding the Art of Sound Organization” (2007, MIT Press),
“La musique des sons/The Music of Sounds (2007, Sorbonne/MINT, bilingual)

Could you tell us about the Intention/Reception project?

 This project which commenced in the early nougties (2000s) is in a way a follow-up to my first project focusing on access and electroacoustic music that led to the ‘something to hold on to factor’. In this initial project I was interested in musical aspects that listeners could grasp to find a way into a piece of music. It was surprising how many electroacoustic works that I valued at the time included these. The original list has been further developed to include extra-musical aspects, such as the communicative dramaturgy of pieces.

The Intention/Reception project originally had two goals: a) to investigate the question with inexperienced listeners of sound-based music, is the introduction of a composer’s intent of value to make such works more accessible? The vast majority did find this of relevance, but take note how many composers are not interested in sharing communicative intent; b) after carefully choosing works ranging from soundscape compositions to ones bordering on abstract reduced listening works (i.e., these pieces did have to include some sounds whose sources could be identified), we asked inexperienced listeners of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds whether they would like to listen to a work like this again. In all cases researched by Rob Weale as part of his PhD project and by me the majority said ‘yes’ regarding all five different compositions used in the case studies, an unexpectedly positive result and great ammunition to lobby people regarding the potential importance of sound-based music in today’s society. The I/R project has been further developed by students and researchers around the globe including in countries such as Malaysia.

See: “The Something to Hold on to Factor in Timbral Composition”, Contemporary Music Review 10/2: 49–60, 1994.
“The Intention/Reception Project” in Mary Simoni, ed. “Analytical Models of Electroacoustic Music”. (2006, 29–53 + appendix on DVD, Routledge)
R. Weale – “Discovering How Accessible Electroacoustic Music Can Be: The Intention/Reception Project”. Organised Sound 11/2: 189–200, 2006.

What do you think has been the impact of the original EARS project?

The original ElectroAcoustic Resource Site (www.ears.dmu.ac.uk) was originally intended to demonstrate how varied the usage of terminology in our field has been. Subsequently, it added a structured index to support the evolving field of electroacoustic music studies and, of course, its searchable bibliography with several thousand entries. It was the first of its kind to focus on music and musicology as opposed to technology. As it is visited monthly by between 13000 and 24000 visitors, one can speak of reasonable success.

Why are you interested in the pedagogy of new music, and in particular of the electroacoustic music?

Based on what I’ve shared above, making this music accessible to a wider public is crucial. There is no better group to focus on than young people. How are these people going to find out about this music otherwise? Given the I/R results, all they need is the chance to find out about sound-based music in an engaging manner, for example by bringing in sound in computer games, then offering them the chance to listen to sounds with greater awareness and subsequently the chance to compose with sounds (which is the name of the software that we have developed with a number of European partners), not to mention learn about the music and its history. As interest evolves, there will be a wider audience that can evolve easily given dissemination opportunities offered online. Many of these new listeners may even opt in to music making. One consequence for educators like me will be that future students in the field will know much more when they arrive at conservatoires and universities. So there are plenty of reasons why it is useful to introduce this music in schools or as a form of continuing education to people of all ages.

What is EARS 2?

EARS 2 is a complete eLearning environment for children in which all aspects of sound-based music are introduced as holistically and as user friendly as possible. It has three main areas: create, learn and listen. Creating music involves the use of the Compose with Sounds software specially developed for beginners. Learning is related to a wide variety of concepts and listening focuses on aural awareness and repertoire development. Items are introduced with respect to all three simultaneously so that, history, technique, repertoire and creative practice are fully integrated. EARS 2 offers teachers’ packs and is also related to my book, “Making Music with Sounds” (Routledge, 2012) that was written for teachers and interested people of all ages. EARS 2 will launch in the late spring of 2014 and translations and cultural adaptation into several languages, including Spanish, have already been organised: www.ears2.dmu.ac.ukand cws.dmu.ac.uk.

A decade after the first EMS conference in Paris, what is your balance of the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network?

EMS fulfills an important need within the greater electroacoustic music community. Most other meetings have a strong emphasis on technology (and possibly performance). A world of music without an excellent reflection in scholarly research runs the risk of being steered by outside influences (as do certain forms of popular music). So the development of international and regional communities focusing on the study of sound-based music was needed. Such international events share good practice; however, ideally national and regional groups should evolve and equally share their ideas. Is the community sufficiently mature for this yet? After ten years, I would suggest: not quite but there is excitement on the horizon.

Unlike other forms of music, most people studying this music in this manner are practitioners whereas other types of music have specialist musicologists who do not necessarily practice the music they study. There are advantages and disadvantages here, one of the latter being that most musicians like to talk about their own work, but some have difficulty linking this up with broader issues. EMS is working on this and on many other aspects of this rapidly developing field.


How do you foresee the future of electroacoustic music?

Alive and well, even more diverse with clusters/communities of interest everywhere around the world. Its means of dissemination will grow alongside general developments of a networked world. Where I am slightly worried about the future of subsidised culture, I am not worried at all about the future of art made with sounds.

Electroacoustic music in a cross-arts context: It means a necessary deviation because of a failure from our past expectations or the possibility of a new time for the arts, with borders not so defined and perhaps, a new aesthetics?

I am not completely comfortable with the question as posed, so let me reply as follows. Sound-based music is already a rather interdisciplinary art form, so its being applied with other arts makes complete sense to me. About half of my work over the years has been with dance, theatre, video/new media art and other artistic directions. I consider this a natural state of affairs living happily alongside concert practice. Although collaborations can be hit or miss, most of mine have been hugely satisfactory. One of the expected experiences that I have had in these contexts is that one can use highly experimental approaches which, when successfully combined with something visual, are ‘easier’ to appreciate by non-specialists. By this I mean that they probably would not have opted to listen to this type of music on its own, as they might not opt to listen to other kinds of music, too, but when included in an art form they are interested in, the synergetic result can be highly successful without compromising the music and found aesthetically pleasing to a public unused to this type of sound organization.

Ten years from now, where would you like to see yourself regarding sound-based music and the media arts world?

Still enjoying it, my music being enjoyed by others and still sharing ideas about sound-based music with people around the globe – isn’t that wonderful?