Live and ‘mixed’ electroacoustic music has often been designated a ‘problem’ in tape diffusion systems. The stationary ‘live’ sound is strangely placed within the dynamic movements of any pre-recorded elements - only partly solved with ‘real-time’ processing. A dual but complementary system is suggested: no longer central control of the total soundscape but a delicate balance of local control by the instrumentalist (with clear expressive potential), with control of an environment - a field - possessing complex and possibly dramatic properties. The author relates these relatively abstract (even aesthetic) notions with a clear research agenda for the emerging generation of software packages. He will relate them to recently composed works which suggest these new possibilities.

1 Dislocation and causality (real and surmised)

In Emmerson (1994) I argued that we had lost an important relationship in replacing the word ‘live’ with ‘real-time’. This was no Freudian slip, however, as many actions (and interactions) conducted between people and machines on the concert platform in no way give cues (or even clues) as to whether there is any essentially ‘live’ (human-produced) activity. We merely have to imagine the work recorded while abandoning our insiders knowledge as to how it may have been produced. That paper went on to argue that a new generation of computer interaction software should be for strictly live performance, reassembling some of the ‘cause/effect’ chains which have been broken by recording and computer technology. This paper seeks a first step; to examine what types of transformation may help the composer in this task

It is not my aim to attempt to roll back history and to undo the three great ‘acousmatic dislocations’ established in the half century to 1910. These are (following Emmerson 1994): (1): Time (recording), (2): Space (telecommunications (telephone, radio), recording) and (3): Mechanical causality (electronic synthesis, telecommunications, recording). the aim is to be clear that in abandoning any reference to these ‘links of causality’ the composer of electroacoustic music - especially that involving live resources - creates a confusion (even a contradiction) and loses an essential tool for perspective and engagement between the forces at work.

This paper seeks to set up a simple model for the composer, performer and teacher in this field. One which allows a clear set of aims and objectives to be established within a framework based on perception as the basis for judgement and a humanist belief in the central participation of the live individual.


2 The ‘local/field’ distinction

To this end I wish to make a primary distinction in terminology; one which has its roots in a simple model of the situation of the human performer (as sound source) in an environment. Local controls and functions seek to extend (but not to break) the perceived relation of human performer action to sound production. While field functions place the results of this activity within a context, a landscape or an environment.

It is very important to emphasise that the field as defined above can contain other agencies i.e. it is not merely a ‘reverberant field’ in the crude sense but a stage on which the entire panoply of pre-composed electroacoustic music may be found. The essence of my argument is to separate out the truly live element as the ‘local’ in order to reform more coherently the relationship with this stage area (which may surround the audience). This does not preclude the possibility that these functions might interact and overlap.

The key to a realistic and meaningful distinction for the composer lies with recent ideas loosely describable as ‘ecoacoustics’ (related more to psychoacoustics than to physical acoustics proper). Not the main concern of this paper, it places the perceptive system as both the product of evolution over time and in relation to a host of environmental needs and social interactions (Smalley (1992), Handel (19??) ++??) - hence a pro-active participant and no passive observer.


3 Articulations and attributes of ‘local’ and ‘field’ spaces

3.1 The composer/listener dichotomy: real and imaginary relationships

For the composer both local and field functions may have a real or an imaginary component (or both).

Real relationships are indeed also ‘real-time’; the performer retains influence over the result through physical gesture whether directly through the sound (acoustic processing) or via an abstraction sensed from some parameter of the sound, or through transduction of some other physical gesture.

Imaginary relationships, however, may have been prepared in advance (soundfiles, control files etc.) in such a way as to imply a causal link with the performer in the imagination of the listener.

But the listener only perceives the net result of the two and may not be able to disentangle them.

3.2 ‘Local/field’ and ‘control intimacy’

In attempting to undo the ‘acousmatic dislocations’ already referred to we have immediate need of the notion of control intimacy so well described by F. Richard Moore (1988). This is the domain of human expression: while research is in its infancy (and mostly concentrated in the area of timing and expressivity) we may rely on composers who rely on their senses. Our local systems will need to articulate nuances of timbre and level (which are not independent) currently distorted by insensitive amplification systems which do not allow the performer sufficient self-knowledge to allow intimacy of control to be established. Simple subtleties of our human presence such as directionality of the instrument are also only crudely mimicked.

But I wish to go one stage further than Moore when he states that "Control intimacy determines the match between the variety of musically desirable sounds produced and the psycho-physiological capabilities of a practiced performer" (: 21).

There are two possible outcomes for the listener depending on the nature of the "musically desirable sounds". Perceived as a direct result of a live performance gesture its rightful place is in our ‘local’ domain; without this relation - I stress this is the listener’s interpretation - it has more of a field function, a relation ‘with something other’.

3.3 Local/field relationships

I am interpreting the term field in a broader sense as any activity not localisable to the performer as source and which gives us a picture of what goes on around the instrument to give a sense of location.

Trevor Wishart has distinguished landscapes based on the four combinations of real and unreal, objects and spaces (Wishart 1985, 1986). This has two components: it includes both other sounds (often but not always pre-constructed in the studio - pseudo agents created in advance) and also treatments (reverberation and other usually delay related effects) which create a sense of ‘being somewhere’. While these both constitute elements of the field they may have to be controlled in very different ways.

We are not concerned here with the myriad types of electroacoustic sound objects and structures (of which typologies exist elsewhere) but the relation of these to our live performer that we must begin to express. As a preliminary sketch we may create a list which reflects no more than a simple delineation of the ‘concerto’ relationships of western music but reduced to show deeper universals of musical interaction: supportive/accompanying, antagonistic, alienated, contrasting, responsorial, developmental/extended.


4 Control of ‘local/field’ articulations

4.1 Reclaiming local control: needs and problems

Some obvious points follow from the above. The local control by the human instrumentalist demands local point sources of sound: in other words loudspeakers in the close vicinity of the source. There are two reasons for this both of which followed the advent of the central mixing console remote from the performer. Firstly, the loss of a substantial degree of loudness control (‘level intimacy’). Secondly, the exactness of place of origin has been lost in the distribution of sound as performance spaces become larger. The virtual imaging of two (even high quality) loudspeakers at the periphery of an area is insufficient. Any off centre listener will loose the image (if there was one to start with) and thus any real sense of a performer as source. We usually ‘get away with it’ because of the visual cues additionally available and sometimes a small amount of direct sound.

Thus local and field loudspeakers should ideally not be the same type or be in the same place. One aspect of local performer amplification and projection remains unsolved. The balance of self with other performers is often carried out through the surrogacy of foldback - often inaccurate, distracting and interfering. Loudspeakers, like acoustic instruments, are directional and a similar set of skills to those developed by members of a string quartet but extended to include local electroacoustic projection need to be developed.

4.2 Field control and sound diffusion

This is the area of most conflict. From the originally French acousmatic tradition comes the art of sound diffusion; the active directing of a (usually stereo) signal to an array of loudspeakers. The fixity of any additional live performers has often been a problem. If I am advocating a redivision of labour for a typology of live electroacoustic music it does not intend to play down this role, but to add another dimension to it. Treatments may need to be controlled and altered but probably not actively diffused in this sense. This probably involves another performer. In addition the simple two channel format of this tradition may give way to multichannel formats - not differentiated by space (as in ‘quadraphony’) but by function: material related to local functions being possibly differentiated from that for field use and directed accordingly.


5 Possible interactions of ‘local’ and ‘field’

Appearances can be deceptive. Emmerson 1994 sought to make clear that ‘interactive/real-time’ computations give no guarantee that the listener will perceive that a real human being has initiated or influenced a musical event. The fact that our local protagonist may trigger events or processes in the field is not our concern, only what appears to be true to the listener.

5.1 Overlapping, extension and interaction

The listener’s perspective on the relationship of local to field may vary continuously and hence so can the composer’s aims. Local is continuous to field: the borderline varies with musical context and may in fact not exist.

For example, the field could be the ‘inside’ of an extended instrument reaching out from the live performer to envelop the audience. My own work Ophelia’s Dream II (singers and live electronics) (Emmerson, 1993) attempts to place the audience inside Ophelia’s head!

The converse can be true, too, but is less fruitful; the instrument on stage can simply ‘disappear’ into a continuous field of sound - as is true in many mixed electroacoustic works - in which case the composer might just as well have pre-recorded the live element and mixed it in. Although true, the spectacle of the instrumentalist’s struggle against the elements may be a real aim of the work, thereby producing an expressive result.

Between these two extremes lies the more subtle world of jeu. The interplay of these two spheres of operation. Of course a local event may trigger a field response and vice versa. But here a curious ‘double take’ must be made by the author. I have argued above that appearances are everything: if in the musical discourse A appears to cause B then it has done. But in practice we have all experienced the frustrations of the real performer; straight jacketed by a tape part, unable to hear the overall effect of live electronics etc.; perhaps our position has moved to too great an extent towards the listener. One of the greatest dislocations of western art music (the performer/listener distinction) must not blind us to the need to let the performer have some control even over those elements which may not necessitate ‘expressive’ detail. Moore’s ‘control intimacy’ refers to the self and its relation to sound production (control over the phonology, if you like); naturally the signals a performer puts out to the field environment may not always have such an immediate effect. These signals are at the level of a syntactic (even semantic) musical discourse where a different type of causality prevails.

We must ensure that the control functions derived from the performer must be clearly appropriate to the type of interaction envisaged. There may be a temptation to equate signal processing controls with local concerns and event processing controls with field interactions, but this distinction may not be complete. The 1980s saw a research concentration on the latter (see Emmerson, 1991) with a welcome return to some sort of balance in recent years.

While Denis Smalley (1986, 1992) has argued for some sort of surrogacy and indicative fields with reference to our ‘real’ world in purely acousmatic tape music, it is rarely the specific gestures of the real human being which are sought. I am arguing that a successful extension of a humanist aesthetic to live electronic music would usefully make a distinction between essentially human (local) and essentially environmental (field) narrative metaphors thus helping clarify the performance and composition space of this genre.


6 Conclusion: future research including composer and performer training programmes

We must be careful not to give primary research into new systems some elevated status over applied composition and pedagogical aspects. Too many often valuable systems have fallen by the wayside due to insufficiently wide availability and use.

6.1 Local

1. The need for efficient local loudspeakers.

2. Person/machine interfaces with control intimacy.

3. The need (given suitable technology) for performer awareness of timbral nuance, level sensitivity and inter-performer balance.

4. Greater performer control over mobility and directionality of modified source sounds.

6.2 Field

Differentiation of the functions of sound diffusion:

1. Influence of the performer on the diffusion.

2. Additional field processing performer(s).

3. Possible differentiation of field material by function necessitating more controllable routing and mixing functions.

6.3 General

1. The mapping of performer gesture to control function: expression is multidimensional hence individual parameter choice and scale may need to be the result of a cluster of parameter controls each following a different law: Hence the creation of global control functions which ‘decide’ more detailed values.

2. Transformations: the need for transitional algorithm research: from simple cross-mixing to complex interpolation of values. The possibility of smooth transisions.

It must be said that many of the above suggestions for research are under way but much strictly for studio music; the need for further collaborative venture research remains as pressing as ever.



[Emmerson, 1991] Simon Emmerson. Live electronic music in Britain: three case studies. Contemporary Music Review 6(1) pp.179-195, 1991.

[Emmerson, 1993] Simon Emmerson. Ophelia’s Dream II. In Dreams, Memories and Landscapes. London: Continuum Records (CCD 1056), 1993

[Emmerson, 1994] Simon Emmerson. ‘Live’ versus ‘real-time’. Contemporary Music Review 10 (2): pp.95-101, 1994

[Handel, 1989] Stephen Handel. Listening: An Introduction to the Perception of Auditory Events. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989

[Moore, 1988] F. Richard Moore. The Dysfunctions of MIDI. Computer Music Journal 12(1) pp.19-28, 1988

[Smalley, 1986] Denis Smalley. Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes. In The Language of Electroacoustic Music (S. Emmerson (Ed.)) . Basingstoke, UK: The Macmillan Press, 1986

[Smalley, 1992] Denis Smalley. The listening imagination: listening in the electroacoustic era. In Companion to Contemporary Musical Thought (Eds. Paynter, J., Howell, T., Orton, R., Seymour, P.), pp.514-554, London: Routledge, 1992

[Wishart, 1985] Trevor Wishart, On Sonic Art. York: Imagineering Press 1985

[Wishart, 1986] Trevor Wishart. Sound Symbols and Landscapes. In The Language of Electroacoustic Music (S. Emmerson (Ed.) pp.41-60, Basingstoke, UK: The Macmillan Press; 1986

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