Tag Archives: influences

Listening Through the Noise

If you are a musician who ever thought “what am I doing?” or “why am I doing this?” about your music and performance, I recommend Listening Through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music by Joanna Demers. The book surveys and analyzes aesthetics of electroacoustic music, electronica, sound art, and many of their subgenres. Aesthetics is not an easy subject for me, but all the post-it notes I have put in the book should  attest that I have throughly enjoyed reading this book.

DemersThe author defines experimental music as “any music that rejects tradition and takes risks through running counter to musical inventions”, and experimental electronic music as “anything that challenges conventions of electronic music.” I recently witnessed a passionate debate on the definition of experimental music, and perhaps that is why I read this book again. I like the author’s emphasis on the risk in defining experimental music. Experiments assume that there is always a chance to fail, and I’d like to think that experimental music has risk to fail to be conventionally musical or meaningful, which is not a bad thing.

One thesis of the book is that the electronic music has “dismantled the musical frame.” When electronics are involved in music making and listening, non-instrumental sounds such as field recordings, noises, and silences become musical and valuable. Those sounds also blur boundaries between real-world sound and music. The author ends the book by stating that the sounds in electronic music are “strange in the real world, but they also succeed in making the real world strange. ” That is a beautiful thing for me, and I think this is why I keep making music with electronic devices.

To finish this post, I would like to share a piece that I asked myself “does this work?” and “am I doing a right thing?” It is a good sign that these thoughts came up in my mind. Electronic music is good at asking questions.

No Ideas But in Things

I love Alvin Lucier’s music. I still remember the strange mental state I experienced when I heard I Am Sitting in a Room for the first time in 2000. Watching No Ideas But in Things,  a recent documentary about Lucier, reminded me that, but also taught me a few new things about his work ethics and aesthetics:

1. Lucier knows, thinks, and composes acoustics. He is fond of how sound affects rooms, ears, electronics, and everything around. He is fond of converting invisible or inaudible things in our world into sounds. I resonate with his approach on music more than ever because I struggled to teach Musical Acoustics last semester.

2. A significant amount of his pieces are written for him, or other non-virtuoso solo performer (or no performer at all). I was happy to realize that I am following his path, as I am interested in developing solo electroacoustic repertoire for the past few years.

3. He is a good and experienced teacher.  I know that there are few things that I could only have learned and understood through teaching. I wonder what Lucier has learned from his students during his years at Wesleyan University.

I have met Lucier twice. The first was at a conference in 2006 where he was a featured artist. I was fortunate to talk to him at the hallway and get a sign on my I Am Sitting in a Room CD.


The second instance was purely coincidental. I was at my favorite Chinese Restaurant in Philadelphia, and I found him eating a meal by himself a few tables away from me. I approached him and thanked for all his work, and he informed me that he is visiting Philly to present a concert. I cancelled all my schedules and went to see the concert where he played Opera with Objects (the first piece you see in the DVD trailer.

To end this post, I would like to share my take on I Am Sitting in a Room.