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Acousmatic music

Music Sound

Acousmatic music

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Acousmatic music is a specialised sub-set of electroacoustic music. It is created using non-acoustic technology, exists only in recorded form in a fixed medium, and is composed specifically to be heard over loudspeakers. The musical material is not restricted to the sounds of musical instruments or voices, nor to elements traditionally thought of as 'musical' (melody, harmony, metrical rhythms, and so on), but rather admits any sound, acoustic or synthetic, and any way of combining or juxtaposing sounds, as potentially musical.

The term acousmatic to describe this kind of music was first used in 1974 by the French composer François Bayle. It derives from the akusmatikoi, the outer circle of Pythagoras' disciples who only heard their teacher speaking from behind a veil. In a similar way, one hears acousmatic music from behind the 'veil' of loudspeakers, without seeing the source of the sound.

Acousmatic composers use this invisibility of sound sources as a positive aspect of the creative process, in one of two ways. The first is to separate the listener from the visual and physical context of the sounds being used, in order to permit a more concentrated and abstract form of listening unencumbered by the real-world associations or 'meaning' of the sounds. This form of listening is known as reduced listening (a term coined by the acousmatic music pioneer Pierre Schaeffer), and it allows both acoustic and synthetic sounds to be used to create an abstract musical discourse the focus of which is the detail of individual sounds, and the evolution and interaction of these sounds. The second approach is to deliberately evoke real-world associations by using identifiable sounds (real world objects, voices, environments) to create mental images in sound.

Although these two contrasting approaches are in some ways diametrically opposed, they may nevertheless be combined in order to exploit the tension that exists between them.

For more information see

  • Acousmatic Update by Francis Dhomont, reprinted from CONTACT!. the journal of the Canadian Electroacoustic Community

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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