Article categories: Issue 72
November 27th, 2009

The Pythagorean term ‘Acousmatic’ refers to the apprehension of sound without relation to its source.

Leah Barclay recording at Lake Cootharaba, Noosa, Floating Land 2009. Photograph by Adam Sebastian West.

Leah Barclay recording at Lake Cootharaba, Noosa, Floating Land 2009. Photograph by Adam Sebastian West.

Today, Acousmatic defines a genre of music with a particular theoretical strategy developed from the French Music Concrete and German Electronic Music traditions. The genre has faced some neglect predominantly due to contentious issues associated with absent visual referents and infinite sonic possibilities.[1] The use of natural sounds, enriched by technology, allows us to claim that this is the first musical genre ever to place under the composer’s control ‘an acoustic palette as wide as that of the environment itself’.[2] This liberating facet is one of the greatest attractions for composers as it releases a musical language of infinite possibilities. Despite this liberation, it is the underlying cause into why perception and valuation are extremely difficult tasks.

The existing literature has a strong tendency to be extremely complex with demanding terminology obscuring valid theories. Contemporary terminology often finds acousmatic music fall into other categories with similar definitions such as ‘sound art’, ‘sonic art’ or ‘electroacoustic music’. The clearest definition of electroacoustic music states that the genre is ‘music in which electronic technology, now primarily computer-based, is used to access, generate, explore and configure sound materials, and in which loudspeakers are the prime medium of transmission’.[3]

During recent years the international electroacoustic community has been celebrating different dates related to the birth of this genre. This has provided a time for analysis and reflection but also a viable opportunity to consider its future and role in the global demand for cultural content. The most prominent issue is if it continues to develop as a self-sustained art, or will it integrate with other disciplines? Electroacoustic projects that are enabled by interdisciplinary collaborations can address many of the issues in the genre. But more significantly projects that embrace methods of 360° distribution and dissemination can provide methods of sustainability for sonic art.

The concept of a 360-degree world is a dense and complex subject in itself but in this case it’s particularly looking at identifying models in other industries and applying them to sonic art. This could include requests from film industry funding bodies such as; the project must have a website, must engage an audience prior to release; and use social networking tools for promotion. These are certainly not new or revolutionary strategies, but implemented in the right way can significantly contribute to creating a sustainable practice as a sonic artist.

[For more, read the special Arts of Sound November 2009 Issue of Art Monthly Australia]

Leah Barclay
Leah Barclay
is an award-winning Australian interdisciplinary artist currently residing in Seoul, South Korea on an Asialink Performing Artist Residency at Art Centre Nabi.


[1] The acousmatic genre has however had prominence in the French and Canadian scenes for at least the past three decades, as well as in the academic British scene associated with the journal Organized Sound.

[2] S. Emmerson, ‘The relation of language to materials’, in S. Emmerson (ed.), The language of electroacoustic music, The Macmillan Press, Basingstoke, UK, 1986, pp. 17-39.

[3] S. Emmerson and D. Smally, ‘Electro-acoustic music’, in The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians, Vol. 8, Macmillan, London, 2001, pp. 59-67.

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