Notes 60.1 (2003) 162-163
[Access article in PDF]
Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives. Edited by Thomas Licata. (Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance, 63.) Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. [xxiv, 242 p. ISBN 0-313-31420-9. $64.95.] Music examples, analytical tables, index.
The publication of a book within the broad field of electroacoustic music studies is always something to celebrate. Given the paradigm shift this music represents, and the impact it has had on many other forms of music, one would expect that the publication of scholarly studies should be commonplace by now, more than half a decade after its birth. Nothing is further from the truth. The arrival of the new title, Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives, generated much initial excitement. The review that follows includes some reservations, however, that deserve a contextual explanation.
There are two key issues that are often worrisome about theoretical and, in particular, critical texts concerning electroacoustic music. They tend to be written for very knowledgeable specialists, and they tend to be more focused on sonic construction or a composer's theoretical concepts than, say, the listening experience. The first issue is problematic, as it seems to celebrate the fact that the music addressed is one primarily situated within a community of specialists, with little to no impact within the cultural worlds at large. This type of literature seems to avoid seeking any connection with social response. There is, of course, a place for specialist scholarship, but I have found that these discussions tend to focus on structure or formal development of material (e.g., serialism) as opposed to textural development (e.g., Denis Smalley's spectro-morphology) and spatialization, the two aspects of electroacoustic music that are perhaps most revolutionary. What I would have hoped to see in this new publication was an acknowledgment of the critical theory debate which suggests that there is a shift away from the maker towards the "taker" of art, from construction to reception, as it were. Thomas Licata's edited volume finds itself concentrating on the areas of construction and of the use of analytical tools, primarily sonograms, as points of departure for analysis. The ear, therefore, is not of fundamental importance. Reception-based studies such as Andra McCartney's "Sounding Places with Hildegard Westerkamp" (www.emf.org/artists/mccartney00/text.html, accessed 22 May 2003), a variety of texts by François Delalande, and The Analysis of Electroacoustic Music (the entire issue of Journal of New Music Research 27, nos. 1-2 , ed. Denis Smalley and Lelio Camilleri) seem to have had no impact on this collection, and this explains my disappointment in the work. Still, the title is not a misnomer, as it simply implies a number of analytical perspectives, in this case a selection extending existent lines of scholarship. Furthermore, both types of approach are successfully delivered to a greater or lesser extent.
So what is presented in this book? The tone is set in the introduction by the electroacoustic pioneer, Jean-Claude Risset, who writes: "In the case of electroacoustic music, a proper analysis explicates the technical processes involved and their necessity and significance" (p. xvii). Given the rich timbral world in which he works, this was quite a surprising remark to discover. Following the editor's introduction, there are nine analyses discussing some extremely well known and a few lesser- known compositions spanning the period from 1955 to 1987: Karlheinz Stockhausen (Gesang der Jünglinge, Telemusik), Iannis Xenakis (Diamorphoses), Gottfried Michael Koenig (Essay), Luigi Nono (Omaggio a [End Page 162] Emilio Vedova), Otto Laske (Terpsichore), Risset (Contours), James Dashow (Sequence Symbols), and Joji Yuasa (A Study in White). During my preparation for this review, I had recordings of all of these works at hand, with the exception of Laske's.
In two of the content-based analyses, it was the composer (Laske and Dashow) discussing his own work, an interesting decision by the editor. All construction-based articles are written with authority. The Stockhausen specialists, Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer (Gesang) and Jerome Kohl (Telemusik) have in-depth knowledge of his theory. Konrad Boehmer equally is well...