The Resurgence Of Electronic Classical Music

This audio podcast, via Boston’s WBUR, takes a look at the Resurgence Of Electronic Classical Music.

“The question of what is music is an age-old question,” Cooper tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “I like to think of music as any sound that is organized and creates a reaction in the listener, which this certainly does.”


Jacob Cooper, a Brooklyn-based composer who makes electronic music, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to share compositions by his peers who work with electronics.

His picks include works by Daniel Wohl, who processes acoustic instruments through computer software; Tristan Perich, who builds and programs microchips; Paula Matthusen, who creates multimedia installations; and Ted Hearne and Philip White, who collaborate as R We Who R We to recompose pop songs with live electronic manipulation and processing.

While some electronic classical music is experimental and might sound like noise, Cooper says it just takes a little open-mindedness.

“The question of what is music is an age-old question,” Cooper tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “I like to think of music as any sound that is organized and creates a reaction in the listener, which this certainly does.”

11 thoughts on “The Resurgence Of Electronic Classical Music

  1. Most of the people give a subjective answer to that question, nothing wrong with that…. but I reckon that while being extremely generic, or abstract for that matter, the definition of music Luciano Berio gave years ago it is dramatically objective. “Closer to the truth”, if you will. Paraphrasing off the top of my memory:

    “Music is everything that the listener intend to listen as music”.

    This includes every subjective answer whilst being very objective on what can be considered music. Especially true if you think of what was music in the past, what it is now and what could be in the future.

    my 2c

  2. Here’s my constant dirty word about all e-music: context. Too much of it is all but inscrutable, where someone seems to kind of preen over the sound production process, but leaves most of the audience puzzled or bored. Its a bit pretentious to call it music just because sound is present. John Cleese said “Creativity is not a goal in itself. It is an informed way of playing, a process.” In just my own big fat opinion, quite a lot of music doesn’t pass the litmus test for, what? Honesty? Validity? The first time you hear a piece of music, your mind’s ear should rear up the same way your nose does when it gets the first whiff of steak cooking. I rarely hear that kind of vital passion. A composition has to TAKE me somewhere or I end up looking at my watch, wondering when it’ll be over with. If all you draw from is Skrillex and rap, you’re not going to have much to say in your work. Variety in your listening is vital if you want to find your own best voice.

    “I think my cell phone is going off” is the biggest condemnation I’ve heard in a while. It encapsulates the entire dark side of popular electronic music. (Ducks down and covers head with a trash can lid.)

    1. I think composition can be more than”take me somewhere” that’s a very traditional view and I agree with it for a lot of the music I listen to. But I really want music and ideas to progress beyond the three minute pop song and these guys are really pushing the boundaries and exploring what is possible and still engaging for the listener.

      I find all of the tracks they played in this episode more engaging than many techno/house or standard pop songs which are all so similar to each other in their genre as to be indiscernible to me. There is such a thing as following a formula too closely so as to be completely undistinctive.

      But clearly my ear and enjoyment are attuned to one thing, while others may be more attuned to the subtlety of techno.

  3. I just call it electronic avant garde. I miss the music store Synaesthesia here in melbourne which used to have a fantastic collection to peruse and purchase.

    I love the relief of exploration, it doesn’t have to have a massive hook or thumping beats , it makes my mind kind of relax and just explore the sounds in a new way. It’s refreshing, and this is where radiohead rnb and daft punk steal many of their best ideas from this genre of experimentation.

  4. If I may add my 2c to the discussion – which I find really interesting btw. – I would like to point out that there is many types of music and many “functions” these types of music serve for. I’m not talking about genres or any other kind of category, also I’m not a scholar or a music historian, so this is a purely personal analysis of the thing.
    There is music to dance to, music to get high to, music to get laid with, music to get into some sort of trance with, music to question what you thought music had to sound like and music to question your reactions to what you think is not music… and of course a lot of other types.
    The thing is we need them all. I often hear academic musicians talk despise commercial pop or dancefloor house music, I often hear non-musicians talk about how boring certain avant-garde music is. They all have a point somehow, and still, I think we need all these kinds of music, the “good music and the other kind” just to quote Duke Ellington a bit.
    There is a continuous dialectic struggle between the different poles (it would be far to easy to reduce them to just two), and that’s probably the big engine that drives the continuos evolution of music as we know it.

    1. and of course there is also music that just serves the purpose of showing that you can do things with music nobody thought you should/could/would do.

  5. Sure, there are different kinds of music for different purposes, but for me, “traditional” doesn’t mean a set form. It means the piece has enough of a touchstone with a common lexicon that the non-musician listener has a fighting chance at enjoying it. I’m a long-term synth player and even I hear things that make me wonder “WTF are they thinking?” I’m probably one of the smaller subset of people who love sweating their way through a complex piece, unraveling the makers’ intentions over repeated listenings. I usually need more than a 3-minute hook-&-verse bit to be wowed much. Its almost like farting in church to say it, but the democracy of cheap synths has also led to major wankery that clouds the better material in various ways. If its too easy to render, its probably too easy to digest. I wish I could find better words for the debate, but clarity comes slowly when its an abstract topic a mile high. Its like sitting at a synth and groping for a sound that’s still only in your head eh?

    Have you ever seen a double/triple-bill concert where the first band phoned it in so badly, you went to the john? Did you ever come back to see the second band really cook and have the crowd totally tuned in? I’m always striving to keep a grip on why the second band made such a splash. Its not a question with one simple answer.

    I still encourage you to give things a fair shot. We’re all here because we’re fascinated with the gig. I’ll always be receptive to genuinely inspired goods. THIS is barely musical in the usual sense, but what a home run for memorable weirdness. So how do I compare this piece with a killer live band and find the central thread that makes ’em both work on their own terms? I’m still figuring that one out. 🙂

    1. Yeah I think you make many good points. I personally am a huge fan of the three minute pop song and most of my music making is geared that way, but I also have a side project of experimentation, no rules, where I can just chuck things together and learn new tricks that make something “work”.

      Interesting I always associated the “wankiest” music with the guys who could afford $30,000 synths, and thought the cheap synths would bring in the less trained and therefore more unadventurous musicians trying to write their hit song.

      It’s all stereotypes, just interesting how I somehow developed the opposite impression to you!

      1. You make a good point about $30k wankery, heh heh. Even a few famous types have been “exposed” as using presets, but when that person is Vangelis, it changes the game. I’m restless over things that sound too simple because I’ve had the privilege of seeing people like George Duke play live. It raises your standards until one day, you look up and feel unfulfilled with ‘lesser’ music. The problem is, if you fall prey to being that uppity, you’ll overlook people like Kimbra, who knocks it out of the park here. I dare anyone to top this for overall precision and heart. Sounds as if she’s had a good voice coach as well; her range and timbral shifts are awesome.!

        So the real trick is to appreciate simplicity as well as virtuosity. Its all about the kind of feeling it draws from you. I heard a rather typical Berlin modular piece warbling away when suddenly, the guy reached over, turned two knobs and the rhythm became this riveting syncopation. Wow. That’s the grail: learning how to make the right moves and striking the right chord with people’s abstract inner ears.

  6. I think you would all love to read about ethnomusicology.

    I remember having read about a certain tribe being shown different classical recordings and having a terrible reaction to the music.

    It’s all context. Personally I’ve moved towards a kind of laissez faire definition of the term myself. I think, as it was stated already: “Music is everything that the listener intend to listen as music”.

    In fact I’d say that ‘Music’ isn’t a merit based category.

  7. This is not classical music. Duke Ellington’s is not classical music. Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio is classical music. Switched On Bach is classical music. Some of the soundtracks for TRON and TRON 2.0 are classical in scope. The formula is what determines the form. Remember, Bach and Verde were pop music at the time.

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