Vol. 27 Issue 3 Reviews
Thomas Licata, editor: Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives

Greenwood Press, 2002, ISBN 0-313-31420-9, 242 pages, illustrated, notes, references, index; available from Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., 88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881-5007, USA; telephone (+1) 800-225-5800; fax (+1) 203-750-9790; electronic mail info@greenwood.com; World Wide Web www.greenwood.com

Reviewed by Michael Hamman
Urbana, Illinios, USA

Electroacoustic Music: Analytical Perspectives is a collection of nine analytical essays, each focusing on a specific electroacoustic work. The collection contains essays by Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer, Thomas DeLio, Konrad Boehmer, Thomas Licata, Jerome Kohl, Otto Laske, Agostino Di Scipio, James Dashow, and Kristian Twombly. It includes a forward by Jean-Claude Risset. The essays cover works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Luigi Nono, Otto Laske, Jean-Claude Risset, James Dashow, and Joji Yuasa.

The essays in this book reflect a broad range of analytical approaches. This methodological heterogeneity, and the solidness of each and every one of the essays, may very well come to distinguish this book as a milestone in scholarly research on contemporary music. This very heterogeneity acknowledges a perhaps somewhat uncomfortable fact regarding music of the second half of the 20th century, namely that its technical and performance dynamics constitute something of a paradigm shift, inviting, if not requiring that we come to a completely different understanding of musical art and the social relations its composition, performance, and study project.

Take, for instance, what many regard as electroacoustic music's principle problematic: the lack of a score. The musical score has been, for at least two centuries, the totemic idealization of the very notion of art music. And yet, understood in post-structuralist terms as a “text,” we might surmise that the score itself exists within a network of related texts: the composer’s notes and charts; the composer's own writings, published or otherwise; interviews with the composer; and even performers' marks in the score, reflecting significant decisions made either in close collaboration with the composer, or simply as recognized interpreters of the composer's work. The increasing heterogeneity of source texts engulfs an ever-widening circle of technological means, from chemical analysis of original manuscripts to programs that search for patterns in Bach chorales.

One could say that music analysis has itself become the cultural artifact of a settlement of activity, reflecting a particular technological attitude, or techné, with respect to which the subject under analysis is framed and understood. In this sense, analysis adopts the technological imperatives and history of its subject matter. Therefore, it is to be expected that the calamity of contact in the early electronic studios which thrust the composer into an unprecedented technological hermeneutic, thrusts the analyst into the same hermeneutic, like it or not.

The essays in this book embrace this dialectical understanding of the relation of analysis to composition. Several methodologies are presented, ranging from proto-phonological analysis (using sonograms), to procedural analysis of compositional process, to detailed analysis of sound synthesis techniques, composer’s sketches, and Music V instrument and score files.

Three of the essays make considerable use of sonograms, not only in communicating ideas, but in the very formulation of their analytical method. The use of sonograms in music analysis achieved widespread recognition through pioneers such as Robert Cogan, among others. Many will argue that sonograms are imperfect representations—compared, say, to a traditional score—leaving out musical data that are otherwise readily apparent to the eye. And yet, as Mr. Cogan, among others, has demonstrated in a number of essays and books, sonograms facilitate a wholly new approach to the analysis of musical works, thus allowing the analyst to discover and reveal aspects of musical and sonic structure that would otherwise be inaccessible and hidden. Effective use of sonograms develops its own language (just as effective use of pitch-class diagrams and Schenkerian graphs do). The analyses in this book which build upon the use of sonograms reflect the phonological methodological perspectives introduced by Mr. Cogan. As such, the use of sonograms is not merely a mechanistic flourish; their use is deeply epistemic, pointing the way to a more general, lucid technical arsenal for analyzing many kinds of musics.

Of particular importance in the phonological approach taken in these essays is the notion of oppositions. In his analysis of Iannis Xenakis's Diamorphoses, Thomas DeLio traces the work’s structure in terms of juxtaposition, transformation, and opposition of two contrasting frequency regions and two contrasting timbral evolutions. Over the course of the piece, these sonic materials are brought together and broken apart in order to articulate what amounts to one continuous, though ultimately dialectical, unfolding.

Thomas Licata, in his analysis of Luigi Nono's Ommagio a Emilio Vedova, takes an even more overtly phonological approach. In this analysis, the author views the essential structure of the work as being based in "a gradual movement from a high degree of contrast and opposition… leading toward, and set against, far greater degrees of compression and uniformity" in the latter part of the work.

Kristian Twombly’s chapter considers Joji Yuasa’s The Sea Darkens at once from the point of view of its phonological oppositional structure and in terms of its temporal structure. Among the features that project the work’s oppositional structure are noise versus pitch, single words versus full readings of text, Japanese versus English. As these oppositions unfold through the piece, they engender a dramatic interplay of differentiation and synthesis.
Analyses such as these would be unthinkable without the tools and theoretical infrastructure projected by the notion of timbral analysis. In this sense, the use sonograms frame analytical activity in much the same manner as the tools provided in Schenkerian analysis or pitch-class analysis.

No fewer than three of the essays cover an exquisite sampling of works emanating from the Cologne studio of the 1950s and early 1960s. Each of these essays seeks to understand the musical work in terms of the larger technological and theoretical frame in which it was conceived.

Konrad Boehmer’s essay focuses on a classic of electronische Musik, Michael Gottfried Koenig's Essay. Mr. Boehmer foregrounds the explicitly technological imperative which this and other Cologne studio compositions clearly articulated. He describes the dialectical nature in which studio technique reflected serial thinking, and vice verse. He writes: “Within the field of ‘electronic music,’ the subsequent mediation between various production techniques and the serial way of thinking led to results that would have otherwise been impossible to obtain through a mechanical serialization of orchestral instruments.” Further, Mr. Boehmer observes that for composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mr. Koenig, the point of composing at the level of sound was not to generate “new sounds” per se, but to find a way to understand and articulate a generative relation between sound, as sound, and form. His chapter proceeds to a fairly detailed analysis of Essay, focusing on the unfolding dialectic of form and material as reflected in the score, and revealing the curious fact that the composer’s “score” to Essay itself constitutes at once a kind of self-analysis and a step-by-step instruction kit.

Jerome Kohl's chapter on Mr. Stockhausen's Telemusik takes a somewhat similar holistic approach. In his discussion, the author describes the composer’s notion of morphological schema through extensive excerpts from interviews and writings. In the foregoing analysis of the work, he describes its temporal structural as well as the synthesis and modulation techniques employed in the work’s execution. Throughout, the author continues to refer the reader to quotes and excerpts from the composer’s writings on matters ranging from extended serial thinking, to musical time, to studio technique. As Mr. Stockhausen has been as prolific a writer and commentator as he has been a composer, the extensive inclusion of those texts reinforces the composer’s own emphasis on the importance of the procedural dimension of creative activity.

In their chapter on Mr. Stockhausen’s Gesange der Jünglinge, Pascal Decroupet and Elena Ungeheuer tackle some of this composer’s most formidable music-technical formulations. Working from what must have been a considerable collection of the composer’s sketches, the authors provide remarkable insight into the composition-theoretical universe from which this piece emerged. Their coverage of the work’s details is as impressive as their contextualizing those details in relation to Mr. Stockhausen’s serial thinking as it had evolved to that point in time.

While the three analyses just discussed situate their subject compositions within a larger procedural context, the analyses by Otto Laske, Agostino Di Scipio, and James Dashow highlight the capability of the computer in bringing that procedural dimension to the very foreground of analysis. In his essay, Mr. Laske differentiates a “score synthesis” approach to electroacoustic music from a “sound synthesis” approach. The latter characterizes the more common approach in which input data is generated by the composer and fed into the various unit generators constituting the sound synthesis system. By contrast, a “score synthesis” approach focuses on the production of outside time structures that become the basis for the formation of compositional scores. In composing Terpsichore, Mr. Laske used Mr. Koenig’s Project I algorithm to design the outside-time structure. He then wrote a set of “macros,” using William Buxton’s SCED (“score editor”), to transform his output from Project I into possible in-time realizations. In describing his compositional process in this work, and in the more recent Trilogy, the composer/author reveals how computer music tools can be used not merely to produce new works but to link the very production with an explicitly objectified theory of composition.

For his analysis of Jean-Claude Risset’s Contours, Mr. Di Scipio turns directly to Mr. Risset’s Music V score and instrument files. However, he quickly extrapolates from these an initial sketch of the work’s outside time structure: a bipolar continuum involving the two primary oppositions which galvanize its overall structure. The two continua are synchronous/asynchronous and harmonic/inharmonic. During the course of this analysis, the author introduces quasi-standard score notations in order to bind the generative structure to a listener’s experience. This binding of generative structure to the audible results celebrates Mr. Risset’s own, perhaps unique, way of using the computer in composition. As Mr. Di Scipio reminds the reader, this composer has contributed significant research to the field of psychoacoustics. As such, his compositional production is almost always tied to psychoacoustic research, a fact that is evident in the rich auditory effects his works have displayed over the years. The Music V “source code” discussed in the analysis is provided in the chapter’s appendix.

James Dashow’s chapter is one of two in which an author provides an analysis of his own work (the other being the chapter by Mr. Laske). Given the more general emphasis of the volume as a whole, this was a deft touch by the editor, reminding the reader of the relevance of analysis to compositional activity, and vice versa.

The author metaphorically likens the overall structure of Sequence Symbols to the notion of a “stable, broken symmetry” as found in physics, in that sequences in which the articulation of a musical idea is interrupted are overlaid at various time dimensions. The piece was composed using Music 360, a derivative of the Music V synthesis framework. In describing the structural details of the work, Mr. Dashow provides a kind of “catalog” of the 18 Music 360 instrument constructs used in the composition. He then describes the unfolding structure of the piece in considerable detail, relating the various musical episodes to the specific instruments used to generate their sound material. Along the way, he provides score renderings in which he focuses on pitch structural features that characterize the harmonic language of the piece, and which reflect the composer’s idiosyncratic dyad system (a thorough description of which has been provided in a previous publication).

I must say, it is refreshing to come across a book which so nicely balances the language and technical expectations of music analysis with the composition-theoretical imperatives of the music considered. I would hope that this volume energizes further efforts along these lines.