Quora Answer : What are your thoughts on Electronic Music?

May 24, 2020

I like, listen to a lot of, and even make, electronic music.

But plenty of times people say "ah, if you like electronic music, you must like X or Y or Z".

And I don't much.

There's an awful lot of electronic music. And an awful lot of variety in electronic music. And lots of it I like. And lots I don't like.

And I actually like a lot of music made with "real instruments".

But I still like electronic music more.

But what I realize is that I don't like electronic music for the sound it gives you.

I like electronic music for the freedom it gives you.

Electronic music is the ultimate space for the weird outsiders in the world, to make their own music. Music made with "real instruments" is always a social compromise. You need to deal with other musicians. Either you have to convince those other musicians to like the music sufficiently to learn to play it and collaborate with you on it. Or you have to make music that is so commercially successful that you can afford to pay session musicians to work for you.

Either way, those social and commercial demands are a constraint on the music, and a barrier to entry that some people can't overcome.

But today, anyone who can get their hands on a computer and some free or cheap software, can do a fair approximation of a sufficiently rich, interesting sound, to realize their ideas.

And that is what's really exciting. To go on BandCamp and find out all the amazing weird outsiders, and eccentrics and experimentalists and just plain lunatics. And hear all their music.

When people's idea of electronic music is carbon copies of the latest EDM techniques with the approved "top plugins". Or a fuck-tonne of hipster modular devices emulating the "classic synths" of the 70s. Or people who want to meticulously recreate exactly the TR909 / DX100 sounds of late 80s Detroit Techno. Then it leaves me cold.

But when I hear something that sounds like some kid (or not so kid) just spending the afternoon freaking out and following their muse in the studio one weekend, then that is wonderful.

So that's what I think about electronic music. It's the greatest advance in music since the invention of basic recording technology, because it has removed some of the last barriers of entry to everyone making music. And with more people, and more diverse people making music, music is exploring more places.

Quora Answer : How do composers write intellectual electronic music?

Feb 8, 2014

"Intellectual" electronic music is usually a music which is very focussed on experimenting with new rules or systems for creating music. In fact, the "electronic" part is just a means to the end of exploring rules that couldn't be explored any other way, rather than because the composer necessarily wants a stereotypical "electronic" sound.

So the place to start is by wondering WHAT music could be. In principle. Music isn't just notes written on a score and played on a violin. What if the sounds were generated by an electronic oscillator? What if you could make any timbre of sound you liked simply by adding sin-waves together? What if you could play microtones between the traditional notes? And you had completely accurate control over the frequencies of those microtones? What if you could make music by assembling tape recordings of found sounds? What if you could orchestrate huge numbers of independent generated tones (in the thousands or tens of thousands) following aleatory rules? What if you used aleatory rules that followed certain statistical constraints? What if you were trying to sonify obscure mathematical formulae? Or strange data-sets like the weather or stock-prices or the low frequency oscillations of geological time?

All these are questions that intellectual composers have answered using electronics since the mid 20th century. Computers have been a big part of it, because computers are ways to automate algorithms. So they give you huge scope for exploring different rules and complexes of rules. For this reason, these composers often learn some kind of programming, to be able to phrase rules that no-one else ever has.

Now just because these composers are focussed on experimental rules doesn't mean they might not also be interested in trying to make their pieces express emotions, tell stories or even "sound good". But they do this within the constraints that the systems and rules they want to explore place on them. Pop musicians, even the "experimenal electronica" ones, despite using computers and samplers to make music, tend to pay far more attention to these qualities (does it sound good? will people dance? does it illustrate my epic story?) and will use rule-experimentation only as a means to that end rather than as an end in itself.

Related :

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to What are the various future trends in music?

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to In genres like pop and dubstep, instruments have less of a role. Is technology the future of music?

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Do you think AI's will be able to compose music as well as a professional composer within 15 years?

Quora Answer : How have innovations in electronic music been used to challenge our perceptions of music and the world around us?

Oct 6, 2019

This is a good example :

Quora Answer : Is electronic music the future of art, or is it a modern art form, the creation of electronic music?

Jul 31, 2020

Music is an art form. All music is art. Not all art is music.

Electronic music is undoubtedly a crucial part of music going into the future. There's unlikely to ever be much music again that isn't electronic in some sense (even if that's just in the sense of being recorded and distributed electronically)

As I point out in Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to What are your thoughts on Electronic Music? Electronic music is less a particular sound or style than it's an opportunity for people to make music with few resources, and that opens up a vast space for creativity. "Going back" to pre-electronic music means, primarily, going from music which is cheap and accessible to music which is expensive and exclusive.

It's very hard to see that happening outside a very, very narrow niche.

Quora Answer : What principles of classical music don't apply to electronic dance music?

Sep 12, 2019

It's not really about chords or scales or things like that that people seem to get hung up about. EDM can use any kinds of chords, melodies etc. you like. From simple triads to the most complex "coloured" chromaticism you can dream up.

Unlike music played by "real" musicians, complexity isn't even a barrier. A beginner can just click in chord sequences which contain 9ths and 13ths and which vary from one key to another almost as easily as they can click in simple triads in C major. You can be as tonal, chromatic, atonal, microtonal etc. as you like.

It will still sound like EDM.

The real difference between classical music and, say, EDM is what the music is used for and how this influences overall structure.

A classical piece is intended to be listened to as a whole. That means that it contains its own narrative arc. It has a beginning, a middle, an end. It has contrasts between light and dark. Fast and slow. Happy and sad. Possibly it has a build up with a crescendo. It may have one theme, then development of the theme. Or two themes in a dialogue which come together.

Whatever clever / skilful tricks the composer uses to create this structure, the composer is writing with the assumption that the audience will listen to the whole piece and follow its narrative arc. From the beginning, through to the end.

It sets its own rules. Defines its own identity.

Whereas ...

most EDM type music (from the beginning of the disco era up until today) is written with the assumption that individual "pieces" are actually components of something larger : the mix that the DJ assembles in the club.

EDM tracks are not there to tell their own story, but as supporting characters, or supporting colour, scenery, energy, in the story that the DJ is telling over the course of the set. EDM tracks are like Lego bricks. They might have different sizes, shapes, functions. But their most important characteristic is to be easy to plug together into other bricks. To build up a structure which is greater than themselves.

THIS is why EDM tracks don't have an interesting narrative arc, or dynamical structure which changes subtly over time. Because we don't know how much of the track will actually be played. The track won't necessarily start from the beginning but be mixed in from the previous track. We may have two or three sections : a loud energetic one, a quiet beat-less one, a medium sustaining pulse. And we care about a good transition from one of these moods to another. But we don't know if the DJ will choose to use all of these sections in the set. Or just one, to make an interesting custom juxtaposition with a different track. Even playing something else on top of ours.

Because EDM composers don't really control the amount of time, or the context of what is coming before and after themselves, they can't make ambitious structures that evolve over time. Their job is to create music that has a very strong personality, in terms of its melody, energy, rhythm, which comes in and gets to the point and shines as quickly as possible. Then stays around long enough that the DJ can keep that message going for a couple of minutes. Maybe that vibe has its own internal contrasts .. the dramatic builds and drops which are now mainstream. But they can't disrupt the mood of the overall set too much. We can't just wander off, trying to turn the DJ's high-energy party into a melancholic lament. We have to leave the mood more or less where we found it, so that the DJ can fit the next record, within roughly the same genre, in.

This is the real "principle of classical music" that doesn't, and - when you think about it - can't apply to EDM. "Larger scale narrative structure". Because EDM artists are making music for a context where that large scale narrative structure is out of their control. And the DJ themself, while having control over that larger scale structure, typically doesn't have full control over the microstructure within the individual pieces.

It might be interesting to see how this evolves in future. For example, we might see "DJ"s playing not just with pre-rendered tracks from other artists, but with subcomponents that are "tracks" that offer more generative options. Possibly we can imagine in future that a DJ will have third-party plugins in, say, Ableton or Fruity that act more or less like a "track" (eg. they are bricks to build the larger structure out of), but also allow more parameters to be controlled. Perhaps even allowing common chord sequences or melodic material or motifs to be threaded through them. So that the large scale structure that the DJ builds up, does have the kind of thematic unity of a great symphony.

That's not where we are yet, but it's getting technically feasible. And if it works aesthetically, might well be where we're going.