Saturday, 21 January 2012

Two online journals

Dancecult : journal of electronic dance music culture. "Dancecult is a peer-reviewed, open-access e-journal for the study of electronic dance music culture (EDMC)."

Jems : journal of experimental music studies. "Jems is an online peer-reviewed journal devoted to experimental, systems, minimal, post-minimal, ‘new’ tonal and postmodern music." The same web site also hosts The experimental music catalogue and its article archive.

I've updated the meta-bibliography. All links to Music & Dance Reference should now work.

Friday, 20 January 2012

EAM and 20th century modernism

Reading Paul Griffiths' Modern music and after (3. ed.), I was struck by the author's cursory treatment of EAM, especially since he himself writes that
"[...] electronic music was soon set on a path apart from other music, to become a sphere (too often regarded as a secondary sphere) with its own institutions and proponents." (p. 18, emphasis mine)
Griffiths doesn't reveal the identity of those who regard EAM as a "secondary sphere" (nor what he means by "secondary"), but he certainly seems to belong to them, since he mentions almost no composers that have devoted themselves to EAM.

From the book's index I've estimated that, of the 10-11 most mentioned composers, Stockhausen receives by far the most attention, followed by Boulez, Cage and Nono, and then Berio, Messiaen, Ligeti, Stravinsky, Babbitt, Kagel and Lachenmann. Surprisingly, Xenakis is not among these 11, and ranks below e.g. Elliott Carter, Maxwell Davies, Ferneyhough, Henze, Kurtág, Reich, and Scelsi.

The composers Griffiths discusses in connexion with EAM are almost the same as the ones listed above. Of those that's mentioned more than twice, Stockhausen again receives the most attention, followed by Nono, Berio, Cage, Babbitt, Boulez, Chowning and Schaeffer. These composers were obviously important for the development of EAM, but many of them wrote mainly instrumental and vocal music.

Many of the other EAM composers discussed in the book are associated with either IRCAM or computer music, such as Jonathan Harvey, Jean-Claude Risset and Charles Dodge. Xenakis' EAM isn't mentioned, and also left out are the entire French/Canadian acousmatic and soundscape traditions, e.g. Bayle, Dhomont, Ferrari, Parmegiani, Radigue, Schafer, Smalley, Truax, and Westerkamp.

Of course, Modern music and after is an introductory text, and numerous composers have to be excluded (for another perspective on this, see James Primosch's blog post Whose “Modern Music” and whose “After”?). I still think that Griffiths' text is a good introduction to the main trends in 20th century modernism, and a glance through Music in the late twentieth century, the fifth volume of Richard Taruskin's Oxford history of Western music, suggests that it too suffers from the same distorted view of EAM.

But privileging EAM that emanates from serial and computer music is an unfortunate bias that carries with it notions of purity, control and academicism. It's no coincidence that David Metzer chooses Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge and Harvey's Mortuos plango, vivos voco as his prime examples of purity in Musical modernism at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Not all computer music sucks, and there is certainly boring and academic-sounding acousmatic EAM, but that's no reason for musicologists to neglect the latter.

EAM and music perception

There is an interesting discussion in the online journal Empirical musicology review (EMR) concerning the use of electroacoustic music (EAM) for the study of music perception. In "Time series analysis as a method to examine acoustical influences on real-time perception of music" (EMR, vol. 5, no. 4 (October, 2010)), Roger T. Dean and Freya Bailes use an extract from Trevor Wishart's Red bird to analyse correlations between the acoustic properties intensity and spectral flatness, and listener arousal (perceptions of change) and valence (expressed affect). They argue that
"[p]revious studies of listeners’ real-time perceptions of affect in music have attempted to map response through time to acoustic properties of the piece [...]. Missing are substantial attempts to assess which acoustic properties also drive listeners’ perceptions of the structure of the same music. Structure in this instance need not be a music-theoretic analysis of large-scale form [...], but refers to the low-level assessment by a listener of change and continuity in the music. [... M]usical forms that do not rely on hierarchical structures such as tonality or meter might exhibit quite a close relationship between acoustic properties of the work, listener perceptions of structure (change in sound), and listener perceptions of affect. EAM is one such form, and the subject of the current paper."
Dean and Bailes find that
"intensity influences perceptions of change and expressed arousal substantially. Spectral flatness influences valence, while animate sounds influence the valence response and its variance."

Marcus T. Pearce, in "Time-series analysis of Music: Perceptual and Information Dynamics" (EMR, vol. 6, no. 2 (April, 2011)), comments that Dean and Bailes
"[...] give two reasons for using EAM in their study: first, to demonstrate that their methods generalise beyond Western tonal music which is more often used in empirical work on music perception; and second, Red Bird provides an opportunity to test their methods on idiosyncratic temporally-localised timbral features in addition to the continuous features which generalise to other musical genres (see, e.g., Dean, Bailes & Schubert, 2011). Interestingly, their timbre feature of choice is spectral flatness, which they view as a more global indicator of timbre than spectral centroid, which is more commonly used in research on music perception (though this is not true of research on audio signal processing and music information retrieval where spectral flatness is one of the standard descriptors used in the MPEG 7 standard)."
Spectral flatness is the geometric mean of the power spectrum divided by the arithmetic mean. Noisy spectra have high flatness, peaky spectra low flatness. Spectral flatness is also related to the information content of the sound. The spectral centroid, i.e. the mean, barycenter or "mass center" of a spectrum, is correlated with brightness. Both flatness and centroid are included in the MPEG 7 standard. For descriptions of these and other timbre measures, see Geoffroy Peeters, A large set of audio features for sound description, 2004.

In addition, Pearce remarks that
"Dean and Bailes also argue that EAM can be algorithmically generated in such a way that the acoustic and algorithmic parameters of interest are systematically varied in creating stimuli for research on music perception. In other work, for example, Dean et al. (2011) extend their approach to the effects of intensity on arousal in two pieces written by Roger Dean, one of which is composed in the minimalist style. We might legitimately ask what advantage such algorithmically generated music has over the stimuli often constructed artificially to create experimental conditions in empirical research on music perception. The most obvious advantage is that the results gain in ecological validity from using stimuli created by composers, using stylistically legitimate methods, with an artistic purpose. These results should generalise to the experience of similar music outside the laboratory, while results obtained with artificially created or altered musical stimuli are not guaranteed to do so. The advantage of computer-generated music over other musical styles is that it can be produced so as to conserve experimental control."

Dean and Bailes respond to Pearce in another paper, "Modelling perception of structure and affect in music: spectral centroid and Wishart’s Red Bird" (EMR, vol. 6, no. 2 (April, 2011)) where they analyse the Red Bird extract using spectral centroid and find that
"[...] it is fairly clear that spectral centroid and spectral flatness bear a quite distant relationship to atomic perceptual processes, and it is still unclear how they may influence cognition. But acoustic intensity, on the other hand, is an immediate determinant of an important perceptual response, loudness, and this relationship is much better understood. Again, most studies use short tones, often synthetic, but it is clear that even with longer musical extracts, intensity is a close determinant of continuously perceived loudness."