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"Electronic Music" fence line
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion Goto page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next [all]
Author "Electronic Music" fence line
Disclaimer: This may already be a well-worn topic here so my apologies to the moderators and plea for mercy. Do with it what you will.

Claim: There seems to be no real consensus (not that it's important to HAVE a consensus) about the delineating line between electronic music and other genre.

For instance, when considering someone like Edgard Varese who is heralded as an early pioneer ("father"?) of electronic music yet only incorporated electronic instruments into otherwise mostly conventional instrumentation. It is of course completely understandable to have done this considering the era but to classify it as "electronic music" seems quite liberal of a use of the term. At the time it was based on the use of Ondes Martenot and Theremin but mixed within the conventional acoustic instrument array.

My question is.. to what extent would YOU pronounce something as "Electronic Music"? I am polling for what you consider the discrete boundary of the moniker. One or two examples is okay if pertaining to WHY you consider them pro/con but just posting up your favorite songs by someone is not the point here. It is easy to say everything is electronic music now and that to a limited degree is technically correct but that is not the way the terminology has evolved to be honest.

Does anything recorded to electronic tape or digitally captured qualify?

Does the use of purely electronic instruments act as a measure?

You get the idea I hope.

I'll start. I consider Morton Subotnik's use of purely electronic instrumentation direct to tape as a qualifying candidate. I also consider a performance of the Theremin in a live setting to qualify. I have a little more skepticism about recording and mangling of found sounds or musique concrete. It fills the bill of experimental music but for me doesn't qualify as purely "electronic" sounding even though in the end it can be hard to hear any difference due to sampling in today's technology. The use of pure waveforms and obviously electronic sounds as the source material can be a tell-tale sign for me.

EDM for instance does qualify because I have a hard time understanding HOW it could be produced any other way. The sounds can be very much representations of traditional instruments and not purely electronic sounding but the whole nature of how it is presented could hardly be performed with conventional means. This flies in the face of the above statement of Varese's music era because it would be hard to do what was done in some circumstances without the use of tape splicing too. Hence my dilemma.

I started thinking this way back in the 1970's when I was working with tape recordings of sounds from the metal machine shop I work in. Things like a blowtorch into a barrel of water sound strikingly similar to a low pass resonant filter sweep. The chatter of a turned plate on a lathe will sound like feedback loop from a reverb tank etc.. I was using these sounds along with synthesizers to make experimental tracks to tape but I could never really decide what to label the experiment. I still have a problem with it but have learned to not fret over it. It has always been a curious quandary.

If this thread survives then give me your opinion and maybe a good example or two to demonstrate your reasoning. If you think it's unimportant then that is fine as well but doesn't really help the discussion much. I feel Muffwiggler's have the most potential for civil discussion of a wide open topic such as this and I am curious to find THIS community's opinion. I'm looking for honest clarity. hmmm.....
"Music is simply sound. You either like it or you don't."

Thomas Beecham

Reckon any categorisation is only useful to those (normally journalists or record store owners) who can't be bothered or don't have the space to describe the music properly. The rest of us just get on with it.

To answer your question, I don't think it matters. This is fun!

Edit: Furthermore, you use words like "dilemma" and "quandary". Not sure exactly what this question being unresolved prevents you from doing. seriously, i just don't get it
It’s a quandary for me as I can’t filter through what artists are presenting without listening to all of it first. And while that’s a noble endeavor, it’s far from practical. Not to mention that I like that an artist has some intent, so genres are welcome to me.

I agree that there feels an obvious distinction between experimental and electronic. But the word electronic music as a descriptor is virtually worthless in these times.
Interesting question, and I understand the desire for a definition.

It doesn’t worry me so much, since I don’t desire to create purely electronic music or to seek out the pure stuff. There’s music I like that happens to be electronic, and music I like that is not.

For example, Musique concrete interests me, and if I had time and space I’d use analog reel to reel decks to create it. And I spent decades playing guitar based instruments in bands, and will never escape from that experience.
kindredlost wrote:
...because I have a hard time understanding HOW it could be produced any other way.

That seems like a good starting place.

I pondered the question for a while and kept running into very fuzzy barricades, so I gave up. It's a "you know it when you hear it" sort of thing, except when you don't. hihi

Mostly it comes down to genre. Just using electronic gear for recording and production doesn't make the music electronic; even using an electronic instrument doesn't necessarily. Heavy metal wouldn't be the same without electronic amplification and effects and yet it's not "electronic music." Hip-hop, which depends very much on drum machines and samplers, where "producers" are musicians rather than a sort of recording supervisor, is electronic music. Dub, though dependent on electronics for its sound, might not be. 20th century classical with a Theremin or Ondes Martenot soloist may or may not be "electronic music". Ambient usually is electronic except when it's not. Pop isn't electronic music, synthpop is, but sometimes those lines are very blurry.

I'd place musique concrete firmly in the "electronic" category though.
cptnal wrote:
Furthermore, you use words like "dilemma" and "quandary". Not sure exactly what this question being unresolved prevents you from doing. seriously, i just don't get it

Nothing. I am simply asking the question to get a more informed idea of the importance of labels. I tag my music as electronic and often wonder if it is at all appropriate. I want to offer the consumer an easy way to analyze the content prior to listening as a courtesy.
For me I guess it comes down to:

Is it music made with electronics?
Is is leveraging qualities that are unique to using electronics?

So while simply using an electric guitar wouldn't necessarily equal electronic music, certainly electronic music can be made with an electric guitar - technically speaking, it's an electromagnetic multi-voice oscillator. Same with computers: say I have a bunch of tracks that originate with acoustic instruments. At this point it's all 1s and 0s triggering a DA - does that really make it electronic music? What if I then use the computer to bend the living crap out of them and turn them into something else?

Genres are both defining and confining. While it helps to identify certain sets of musical practices, I think it's counterproductive creatively to put too much stock into them.
“Electronic” is an umbrella term like “rock”. All the flavors are there. Its up to the consumer to go below the surface when discovering which variety of electronic they are looking for.
I would define it as synth or computer based music. If pop, I would add drum machine to this definition.
We all have our own definitions obviously, but when making this determination you need to ask who is the artist? What does the artist play? What kind of ensamble is there? What is at the heart of this music?
Often a composer moves the goal posts and could do electro and then acoustic, so that person or group would not be in the electronic section of the record store.
kindredlost wrote:
I am simply asking the question to get a more informed idea of the importance of labels. I tag my music as electronic and often wonder if it is at all appropriate. I want to offer the consumer an easy way to analyze the content prior to listening as a courtesy.

Labels to help people find your music are understandable.

If there's doubt as to whether your music should be classified as "electronic", then it comes down to whether you think using the label will bring more, or fewer, listeners. If you don't know, then the label might not matter.
i agree that it shouldn't really matter, but when i run into this quandary is when i'm organizing my record collection. for a while, i just had everything organized alphabetically by artist, but that made it difficult for me to just look for something when i wanted to listen to "country music" or "hip-hop", i.e. by the type or mood of music i wanted to listen to. so i went on to categorize them by genre. but then i buy something like Bibio's Ambivalence Avenue and i'm like, where should i put this? most of his stuff is electronic, but that album is mostly crunchy guitar singer-songwriter pop. or Zappa- a lot of it is rock, but some of it is electronic or concrete. in the end, the weird, experimental, or classifiable get lumped into a section unless i can immediately say i associate this album/artist with a specific genre.

so i don't think there's an answer, it's more about how you personally organize it in your head.
starthief wrote:
Hip-hop, which depends very much on drum machines and samplers, where "producers" are musicians rather than a sort of recording supervisor, is electronic music.

No, it isn't. Hip-hop depends on vocals. Rap started with MC's. Or toasters boasting selectors who didn't have anything more electronic than their turntables.

If this isn't hip-hop, I'm planting a lawn so you can off it hihi

One could argue electro was electronic music. So The Jonzun Crew was electronic music. But Newcleus wasn't. Mostly.

Heading out to the suburbs, the same goes for anyone singing songs. ABC, The Cars, Devo, The Human League, Ministry, Yazoo, etc. aren't electronic music either.

One could argue whether Propaganda used a real cello. But no one ever wondered whether Claudia Brücken was a real person.

Regardless, samplers don't make music electronic, because it's just using a recording, like turntables.

Techno is electronic music. But Ladytron and Daft Punk aren't.

So I would define electronic by the presence of synthesizers (which would include drum machines) where the sounds originate from circuitry, and the absence of physically vibrating things (with vocals being the most noticeable sound not produced by electronics).

tl;dr: Anything with a vocalist isn't electronic music.
Daft Punk is House which is most definitely electronic music! You need a history lesson!

In the beginning there was Jack...
ranix wrote:
Daft Punk is House which is most definitely electronic music! You need a history lesson!

In the beginning there was Jack...

Nope. In the beginning there was Frankie Knuckles, and just his turntables.
It is an interesting question - for me Electronic Music labels music which was created wit electronic instruments out of an conceptional artistic decision.

For example I count tape music as Electronic Music or Musik that is inspired by the early electronic work of Stockhausen as Electronic Musik.

Then there is this other Electronic Music which is sequencer based or Ambiant like Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno.

Popmusic to me is not electronic music cause I don't think electronic instruments are chosen out of an conceptional artistic decision but out of economical an practical reasons.

Techno is electronic music though cause it is, again, based on the special charactersitics of electronic instruments and their workflow - otherwise it would be just Disco music, which is Pop music.

Synthpop is an early form of Pop music with electronic instruments and New Wave is using electronic instruments but the main artistic concept sets a different focus.

Hip-Hop is just modern Funk and/or Soul music played on electronic instruments as Jungle/Drum and Bass/*step is just Reggae.

My record collection tries to reflect this by going from Classical Music (what exactly is Classical music? Mr. Green ) over Concrete/Avantgarde then the Stockhausen/Ferrari like Electronic Music and Tangerine to Techno. (...and then Pop, Rock, Folk, Jazz, Reggae.)

All this is of course just my very subjective take on it but I think I am right.
"Electronic music" is not a genre. The term is mostly useful as a literal descriptor: "Electronic music" is music made mostly with electronic equipment regardless of genre. So you can have electronic pop, electronic jazz, electronic classical, electronic ambient, etc. In the same way, "acoustic music" is music made with acoustic equipment and can be pop, jazz, classical, ambient, etc.

Of course, "electronic music" as a term has a lot of baggage. As mentioned by some of you already, it used to mean not just a means of producing music with electronic equipment but also a type of music made with that equipment--experimental art music. Now most people use the term "electronic music" to mean synth-based music of various sorts--most of which is not experimental at all.

Including other requirements muddies the waters. For example, if you're going to try to figure out if it's possible to make the same music by other means you're going to spend a lot of time comparing a virtuoso keyboardist playing sax samples vs a saxophonist and whatever else--not really worth the effort when the term really is as simple as it sounds.
That’s why this question is kind of a dead end. Gets into muddy waters. Definitions are impossible to agree on. Everyone’s taste and preferences are as valid as anyone else’s.

Does “electronic music” need to be weird and experimental? Well that leaves out a lot of stuff that is purely electronic in its creation. Hello EDM. Can electronic music never have a vocal (because that is the opposite of electronic music, I mean, that makes sense, but really? If it has a vocal it can’t be electronic?).

Like I said, this is an interesting question. Possibly because it can never have an actual answer.
Yes, a tough subject indeed! cool While I don't like labels because they are so limiting, I do use them myself. I think "electronic music" is a pretty good description of most of what I've done over the past 10 years but it is pretty useless when other people ask me "what kind of music do you do" and I say "mostly electronic" and they say "Oh, like dance music?" and I say "No, more like ambient, drone, experimental and soundtrack stuff" and then they usually look blank, confused, disappointed or annoyed. meh seriously, i just don't get it

Like someone else said, "Electronic Music" is an umbrella term and maybe the only safe or accurate way to describe it is with adjectives that indicate the amount of electronic content and ignore style completely? hmmm..... Probably wont work but I'll try . . . .

A - Strictly/Purely Electronic Music
Only electronic instruments and techniques were used to produce it.

B - Predominately Electronic Music
A majority of the instruments and techniques used were electronic and/or the most obvious elements of the music were done electronically.

C - Heavily Electronic Music
At least one person in a band uses an electronic instrument as one of their main instruments and/or at least one of the most obvious elements of the music were done electronically.

D - Electronic Influenced Music
Electronic instruments were only used in certain sections of the music and/or only in supporting roles to non-electronic instruments.

E - Non-Electronic Music
No electronic instruments or techniques were used.

Now, this was hard enough to come up with these 5 categories, (if they are even that), and only A and E are likely to be agreed on by most people for a particular piece since it is easy to verify if only or no electronic instruments/electronic sounds were used.

But no matter how hard you try there will always be exceptions among people who agree with each other and even more exceptions among people who disagree! hihi

For example take Polyphony by Richard Galbraith, one of my most favorite electronically produced albums, like 95% of everything is electronic so it would fall under category A but . . . it's not very electronic sounding to me, a credit to Richard's skill for sure we're not worthy but the music style is Renaissance choral music.

Maybe we are looking for an easy convenient way to describe things that are too varied to be restricted to a single definition? Maybe we need to assign both a "execution and/or content" definition as well as a "style" definition? Like "Instrumental Bassoon Hip Hop" or whatever? hihi
True, the lack of absolutes makes definitions that much harder. For example, most jazz before 1969 was acoustic. But that leaves out icons Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Smith, etc. But also "electric" became a definition not only means but also genre much like "electronic" did. "Electric jazz" of the 70s meant that you included funk and/or rock elements. (And often included electronic instruments.)

If you were to define music type statistically by the amount of music generator type used (acoustic vs electric vs electronic) then most popular music now is probably electronic. Hip hop, pop, soul, r&b, EDM, and all sorts of other genres mostly rely on laptops, samplers, synths, drum machines, etc.
We stumble over definitions created with a finite language for what is an infinite variable. As such we are never going to satisfy the need for an objective label in such a subjective arena. No one is going to convince me that Disco is electronic music just because it's littered with Moog basslines and Syndrums. However, there's a strong argument supporting the fact that everything we hear (excluding the obvious classical, folk, pure vocal, etc.) is electronic to some extent. We are using a terminology created many decades ago to describe what is happening now. Back then it was far easier to pigeon-hole something because the medium was the message. (to a large extent).

We are conflating the musical sensibilities with the physical mechanism of creation. Language is making this difficult. We need new words... "electronic" now means nothing without an accompanying paragraph of clarification.
for me "electronic music" means that instead of learning to master playing an instrument first i can program the performance detached from the performance itself so there is not neccesary a instrument-playing skill involved that one needs to master first.

if someone plays his synthrack like an instrument i just start to call that one a "musician" again ;P

I still love the early 80ies for that, electronic music was anything done with 1 or more synths, sometimes by a band, or a duo, not so many solo acts back then... NO GENRES in electronic music did mean lots of different sounds and concepts, it was all under the banner of electronic music.... ...I remember seeing Philip Glass live and was amazed that it was not sequenced but played smile at the same time you could catch Soft Cell with its popish synths, performing with 8 track tapes playing the background tracks.... and Depeche Mode and Neubauten and I could go on and on....
NOw electronic music is pretty much DJs.
Witch of course doomed electonic music for ever.

[Look out, he's going to rant]

"Electronic" used to be a pejorative term, meaning "the weird stuff they are doing in the basement", not music at all. There are still music schools that won't grant a degree to someone who performs with synthesizers. I worked my whole life to tear that fence down-- I don't want to see it built up again.

Genres are for people who want to hear the same music again and again. (And for the parasites trying to sell to them.) I don't take exception to that, we now have access to everything written since Sumer Is Icumen In, and it's hard to keep track of the music we know, let alone predict how an unknown title will fit our personal preferences. I can use the labels 1870 string quartet or 1990 downtown music to choose what matches the mood of the hour. But electronic music is not a genre.

Electronic music is simply a way of making music, just like playing the piano or conducting a mass chorus. As with any other technique it can be performed live or produced in a studio, but this is not a defining feature. Any music of any genre of any period can be done electronically, or not Cuu_Az4NoCuocPGbPSlNN
It is a vague and poorly defined term, but it is used often - hence it seems reasonable to discuss what if any consensus actually exists regarding its meaning.

Personally I regard electronic music as any music performed or composed using 'off-line' electronic processes - including sequencers, tape editing, drones, loopers, feedback, DSP algorithms.
Ranxerox wrote:

Personally I regard electronic music as any music performed or composed using 'off-line' electronic processes - including sequencers, tape editing, drones, loopers, feedback, DSP algorithms.

So you are saying the "performer" has to to be electronic? That music with nothing more than people playing only synthesizers by hand would not be electronic music? That's both a very reasonable and very disagreeable definition. Logically, it makes sense. What's the difference between a person playing a keyboard attached to a synthesizer and a keyboard attached to an organ? In both cases, the inner workings of the instrument are largely irrelevant to the actions of the musician. On the other hand, there are different fingers. As the definition would exclude music where all of the sounds were produced by electronics, but played by humans.

And it also might include this:

Which would lead to a new definition: electronic music is music where all the sounds are produced and played by electronics.
I think definitions and categories are useful, but each category has a gaussian distribution, with the tails overlapping other categories.
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