On the Music of Sounds and the Music of Things (EMS2017, Nagoya, Japan)
After a century of great upheaval in music, the twenty-first century is demonstrating that it will provide electroacoustic (or sound-based) music with continued radical developments although they may very well be of a different sort. Technological developments certainly dictated most of the twentieth century changes in music and this influence is in no way decreasing. The key change is less in terms of radical change regarding content; instead, our thesis is that production and distribution will be highly influenced by the formation of new musical communities, often focused on increasing participation through a workshop approach. Although tendencies that have existed for centuries will continue alongside those that arose in the previous century, traditional concepts will be renewed given the ubiquity of technology. Stated in another manner, the development of artists producing Western art music or forming part of the commercial music sector may not alter significantly although interest may wane in the former and new means of packaging music may need to be developed within the ‘music industry’. This, however, is not our key concern. Our focus stems from the radical broadening that took place in the previous century, namely starting with the musical note as the unit measure of almost all music produced to the availability of any sound as musical material. We are talking about particular forms of sound-based music and how their future evolution will involve an increasing number of enthusiasts, how their position within music as a whole will redefine musical boundaries, and how their production and dissemination may form an addition to what might traditionally have been called folk music. This latter point is of great significance, as music in recent centuries has evolved from primarily an art form made by and for everyone and anyone to a more artisanal, professional trade. Our position is that an evolving eras of sampling and do-it-yourself cultures, the latter also known as hacking, will dissolve the ‘amateur’/professional distinction to an extent. This development, alongside much of sonic art’s music existing outside of clear pop/art music boundaries, will offer this young century a new form of music of the folk, whether musicians are performing together in one physical location or are performing by way of a (virtual) network. Even the notion of instrument is broadening, one exciting product of the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture. An increasing number of musicians build their own instruments and, in so doing, are designing the need for their instrument and creating music based on that need leading towards new and often surprising forms of virtuosity and even anti-virtuosity and ‘naïve’ approaches: making new sound-based instruments as a method for creating a tabula rasa. It is arguable that, following the music and associated philosophy of John Cage, musical content is not changing as rapidly and radically as it did throughout the previous century. Our century is, as far as this is concerned, one of synthesis – that is, further developing the radical musical approaches of the twentieth century. Instead, the radical nature of our time is to do with the holism related to creation and dissemination that many working within the music of sounds are in the process of developing. It is this form of radical development that will be our focus in this text. This talk sets-out to summarise the core themes of Richards’ and Landy’s research in this area. Central to their argument is the development of a ‘music of sounds’ and a ‘music and things’. Landy builds on his sound-based music paradigm - a condensed version of the key ideas presented in Landy’s two 2007 books - setting the scene for the re-examination of music’s key categories and the place of the music of sounds within that. Landy investigates the evolution of sampling culture and, in particular, sound-based approaches within it. Issues of interest involved with production include: legality and related rights issues, sequential composition, the author and ownership, the apparent lack of a ‘celebrity culture’ amongst others. Distribution channels are mainly through nonstandard means of audio production. It is, as is the world of hacking, a space in which accessibility is broad and the professional/everyone else distinction is not of particular importance. Here there are two-way influences between traditional high art and popular cultures leading towards a variety of forms of music that possesses its own space, its own communities of interest offering a variety of forms of participation. Sampling here represents a broad range of approaches from soundscape to grains of samples, from music-based sampling using sound-based techniques to sampling anything. Where hacking is highly focused on the experience of making, sampling is highly focused on the recomposition or recontextualisation of experience. Richards examines a music of things and the holistic approach of how the borderlines between instrument maker, performer and composer are becoming increasingly fuzzy or, better said, a new form of artist is emerging whose music is a manifestation of his or her (or their) instrument(s) and their self-sufficiency. He looks beyond Cage and Duchamp and the ideas of found sound and objet trouvé to discuss a new type of materialism and objecthood found in electronic music that draws on the broader philosophy of object-orientated ontology as expressed by, for example, Bruno Latour. Instrument is no longer seen as a tool for musical expression, but a self-sufficient system in which the music is ‘found’. In such cases, this demarcated system points to a technological object that has clearly defined boundaries and often limited parameters for control. The object may have the capacity to generate its own sound (self-generating). But at what point does objecthood breakdown and the sound-making system resemble a collection of things? Through making and engaging with electronic sound on a fundamental level – wire, solder, electronic components – the musician/artist is placing an onus on the constituent parts of these sound-making systems and how such elements are connected. There is a shift from the prescribed and concrete, to a relational aesthetic: how things fit together or not. A consequence of this approach, where the idea of musical instrument would seem to be subjugated, is to question instrumental virtuosity. Richards proposes a new type of virtuosity that resides in ‘listening’. Moreover, he considers the politics of, what can be broadly described of as, hacking in relation to music. He observes a new form of electronic music that has emerged that critiques contemporary culture through anti-technology manifestations and how a DIY electronic music is often used as a way of seeking self-determination. Finally, he reflects on how such practices can lead to new forms of electronic music performance and how the act of making is taken on to the ‘stage’. The talk, based on a book that the presenters are currently completing, will commence with a contextual introduction and the presentation of the talk’s key ideas. After this Richards and Landy draw parallels between the two areas of the music of sounds and the music of things. Key concepts such as recycling and appropriation, sample as object, plundering and hacking, and technological processes are discussed. Cut and paste culture is considered, not only in relation to sound, but in relation to objects and materials, schematics and code. The hardware re-mix is also presented. The emergence of new communities forms the focal point for reflection. Workshopping and participation, which echo a broader cultural milieu of ‘an age of participation’, are seen as central to DIY and sampling cultures within sound-based music. To substantiate the findings, the authors will also draw on a range of case studies and statements from artists working across the disciplines presented.
Citation:Richards, J. and Landy, L. (2017) On the Music of Sounds and the Music of Things. EMS2017, Nagoya, Japan, September 2017
Research Group:Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre
- Leicester Media School 
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