The impact of technology on the creative processes of composing electroacoustic music

Project: ResearchResearch Council - AHRC


The development of electroacoustic music has been one of the major innovations of music in the last sixty years and yet its working methods are little understood beyond its own immediate field and, perhaps as a result it lacks widespread appreciation. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the associated repertory has been materially influenced and ultimately constrained by the functional characteristics of the technologies available to each composer at the time of realisation. These developments have been made possible by an impressive range of technical advances from the development of the tape recorder to that of sophisticated high-speed computers. However with the passage of time many of the earlier technologies have disappeared into obscurity, along with the fading recollections of the composers who used them. Access to this crucial information will become increasingly difficult over time: it is already the case that many of the early pioneers are no longer alive.
Rather late in the day the research community is becoming aware of the implications of these trends and the increasing importance of revisiting the past in ways which can produce tangible outcomes in terms of our knowledge and understanding of this legacy. Although it is the creative outcome that matters in the end, technical issues are axiomatic to the production of much of this music, and developing a fuller understanding of the resulting repertory involves exploring the interaction between the creative and the technical, and learning how technology and music might best work together in the future. The range and diversity of the hardware and software will often make it difficult even for those experienced in the field to acquire a detailed understanding of how a particular work has been made.
The understanding of the interaction between technology and the processes of creativity in the creation of key compositions within the repertoire is important in a number of ways: it is important for a critical understanding of these works, it is important historically for an understanding of the ways in which the field has evolved, it is important for composition in the sharing of good practice, and it is important for the enhancement of university teaching and research in which the technical and the musical are often studied in isolation.
The principal goals of this project are twofold: Firstly, through the critical study of a range of selected works, we aim to document and examine the ways in which technology and creativity have come together in different contexts. Secondly this project proposes to extend these investigations in an innovative way through the design and construction of software-based tools that, through the processes of modelling, will allow key features of these methods of creative working to be interactively explored.
The choice of works, following consultation with leading practitioners in the electroacoustic community, will be influenced by the following criteria; i) their significance in the repertory of electroacoustic music, ii) their relevance in terms of profiling specific aesthetic approaches and compositional practices, and iii) the accessibility of the underlying technical processes for the proposed methodology in terms of their analysis and modelling.
Although the outcomes of this research are initially aimed at the academic and artistic community working in this area, an important by-product will be the development of materials that can be adapted to present these issues to the potential audiences for such music and to empower all stakeholders to explore for themselves the possibilities of new ways of working with sound. It is intended that the outputs will include both text to be published by a leading international publisher, and software applications for both Mac and Windows computing environments.
Effective start/end date1/08/121/03/15