Post 1980 canon #7: Acousmatic and soundscape - Smalley and Westerkamp

Following the tradition from musique concréte og Elektronishce Musik, the respectively French and German flavor of electronic music of the 1950s, purely loudspeaker based electronic music reemerged in the 1980s. A second generation of composers, many having studied with pioneers like Schaeffer or Stockhausen (but rarely both) redefined the genre. Where the original electronic music came out of the broadcasting studios, the new wave of electronic art music gained a foothold in the universities and academic institutions. And - for the first time this music gained a strong foothold in the UK. Trevor Wishart and Denis Smalley are among the great names of this second generation of what they now called acousmatic music, soundbased music for loudspeakers.

Personally I don't like the term "acousmatic" - it feels sort of exclusive (what does it mean?? Do I have to get into the whole Pythagoras/Schaeffer-thing?). I much more prefer "ear candy music." It is the ultimate high fidelity experience, especially when you hear it in a concert hall with good loudspeakers. Every time I hear this kind of music I'm puzzled that it is not more popular with the audio geeks. This should be the perfect music for an expensive multichannel HI-FI.

The music is closely related to ambient in technology and sonic character, but more worked through compositionally wise and demanding full attention. Where ambient is atmosphere, ear-candy-music is landscape. As an example of the genre I will present Denis Smalley's Wind Chimes, which he made in the GRM studio in Paris in 1987. As with many of Smalley's works it is a true classic in the genre.

As a sub genre of the acousmatic music, I must also mention soundscape, earcology or acoustic ecology. This is a form of acousmatic music which focuses on environmental sounds and sounds of nature. While acousmatic music often tend to manipulate their sound material beyond recognition, soundscape artists tend to keep their sound material untreated, or highly recognizable. The music is often linked with a strong identity of ecology, while the acousmatic is more focused on technology. While the icon of the acousmatic is the music studio, the icon of soundscape is nature - particularly water and forests. A brilliant example is Hildegard Westerkamp's Beneath the Forest Floor from 1991.


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