Curious About Music with Electronics?

Does the thought of using electronics in a performance make you think, “Ugh, forget it!” Getting started with a classical musical endeavor of this sort can feel a bit overwhelming for those not comfortable with technology. In fact, you may have never heard about ‘music with electronics.’ What is it? Well, I hope to explain that and show you a variety of possibilities of music with electronics that may be more suitable to you over a series of blog posts.

First, what is it? Let’s take a trip back in time and think of a composer in the mid-1800’s sitting down behind a piano vigorously composing the next great masterpiece; you know, old school-style with pen and paper since computers have not been invented yet. The instrumentation is for voice and piano and it’s now finished! The music is then given to performers and we can now watch and experience them making music utilizing a piano and one’s voice.

Now, think of today’s modern composer who uses a computer not only for composing, printing scores, but also creating entirely new sounds/instruments using software. In this scenario, our composer is working on a piece for “voice & electronics.” As you might have guessed, there’s no piano accompaniment this time. It has been replaced with recorded events of synthesized sounds that have been arranged and processed, recorded or stored via tape or digital file, and purposed as a unique accompaniment to an instrumental composition. In this case, it’s a solo performance. This is an example of ‘music with electronics.’

Here is a really great example of a piece with solo voice and electronics,

Milton Babbit, Philomel (1964)

Composers have been fascinated for millennia with the idea of creating unique sound worlds and new methods for making music. Philomel is an example of these new methods and unique sounds, but there are many others which will discuss in another post. Yet, Babbit’s piece is in my opinion, one of the more basic forms of music with electronics that one can learn. This method is sometimes referred to as “electroacoustic music,” or classical music with electronics, or perhaps “fixed media.”

Watching the example video above, the vocalist sang in synchrony with the electronic accompaniment which was played and amplified to the concert hall. This accompaniment could have been a cassette tape, a reel-to-reel tape, a Compact Disc (CD), or digital file (“fixed media”) and made available via Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

Here are some similar examples for your enjoyment.

Brian Ferneyhough – Mnemosyne (w/ score) (for bass flute and tape) (1986)
Pierre Boulez – Anthèmes 2, for violin and electronics (1997)
Martin Wesley-Smith – For Bass Clarinet and Tape (1986) played by Harry Sparnaay
Milton Babbit -Philomel (1964) voice & tape

I encourage you to search for your instrument with electronics. I.E. “violin, electronics, tape, computer” or any variation thereof. You never know what you’ll find as you go down the rabbit hole…

I hope these upcoming series of posts will help simplify and encourage more musicians to play this type of music. If you have questions, comments or suggestions leave them below. In an upcoming blog post we will begin discussing a method to organizing this music idiom, classical music with electronics. Cheers!

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