Aesthetics of Electroacoustic Performance

The key word is “performance.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about modes of presentation within the context of electroacoustic music.  There is always a bit of a conundrum when it comes to presenting music that is created with a computer.  One of the complaints I hear a lot goes something like: “just a guy with a laptop – could be just checking his email.”

No doubt that when it comes to “performance” there is not much inspiring about somebody sitting behind a laptop, especially if he or she is not doing anything else.

Today I’d like to raise a few points in response to the opinion that visuals are necessary to complete the experience of computer-based music. I have neglected to present any of my electronic/electroacoustic music because of the complaint I mentioned above, which I find to be off-putting and discouraging.

1) We listen to music without seeing the performers all the time.  That is a valid experience of music – entirely through a recorded medium.

2) It is common or typical to have electroacoustic concerts without live performers – just speakers set up in a concert location.  It’s like listening to music on your own except enhanced with a much better sound system in a space designed for the experience of sound.  Some people find this boring; I do not (unless the music is boring).

3) When I go to a chamber music or orchestral performance, it is about the sound of the music in that space at that time and not about the performers sitting on chairs behind music stands.  To me, there is not much difference between this visual and the person with the laptop.  But I’d like to emphasize: it is not about how the set-up looks, it is about the sound.

4) I find visuals distracting from the music.  Are we there for the music or for the visuals?  In film for instance, the music serves the film.  Film music is often interesting in its own right but the golden rule for film music composition is: it must not detract or distract from the film.  Conversely, if music is composed for its own sake and then visuals are added, I cannot appreciate the music as deeply if I am also experiencing the visual elements.

It seems to me that an interesting preference arises when the humans responsible for creating the music are necessarily present to make the music happen.  We need them not only to perform, but we need them to be interesting performers.

We could, however, just sit back (close our eyes?) and enjoy the music.

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