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Displaying the beauty: The beachcomber-bowerbird approach to composition

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The ‘call for papers’ for the conference From Tape to Typedef: Compositional Methods in Electroacoustic Music, held at the University of Sheffield in January 2013, described a number of possible compositional methods, of which the very first was: ‘In some cases, composers rely upon serendipity – sounds are “found”, processing is inherently experimental, and the electroacoustic work emerges gradually, without predetermination or planning’. This article proposes a name for this method, drawing parallels between the author’s methods in musical composition and her ‘window ledge practice’, illustrated with photographs. Questions discussed include: is ‘searching’ a necessary prerequisite for ‘finding’? If sound processing is used less as a compositional process and more as a realm in which the same ‘finding’ process takes place, how does this change the composer’s approach to tools? Are the aesthetic decisions involved in selection (defined as effective rejection) similar to those assumed to act in ‘creation’? Can the compositional process, as well as the sound selection process, be ear-led rather than pre-planned? Is an intuitive, un-formalized practice academically valid? How can knowledge and skills be developed? Can it be taught or only mentored? Discussion is rooted in an account of the author’s own practice and is presented informally in the first person.
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Keywords: acousmatic music; compositional method; electroacoustic music; found sound; listening-led processes; soundscape

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Freelance composer

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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  • The Journal of Music, Technology and Education (JMTE) explores the issues concerning the use of technology in music education. It examines pedagogy at all levels and across genres such as composition, musicology, performance and music production. It is the only journal specifically dedicated to the educational aspects of music technology and the technological aspects of music. Peer-reviewed, with an international editorial board, JMTE aims to draw its contributions from a broad community of educators, researchers and practitioners who are working closely with new technologies in the fields of music education and music technology education.
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