What The Hell Is Electronic Music?

Hi! Ok so we’re mirroring some stuff that was on Third Option’s site here – because if it’s relevant both places, why not have it both places? 🙂

I probably should have started this “series” with this question – what the hell is electronic music? It seems like an obvious answer – it’s – uhm – electronic? And it’s music?

But it’s actually a deep thing and one of those esoteric things if you think a little on it. It’s like asking “what is technology?” – mostly we think of technology like smart phones or other electronical new fangled gadgets. But technology really just means “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge” (Merriam-Webster). That means an ape using a stick to capture termites to eat is technology.

Similarly with electronic music, how do you define it? Well Wikipedia says “Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production”. Yes. But actually, EVERY SINGLE RECORDING YOU EVER HEARD employs “electronics” in its production. So when you start out and you want to become an “electronic musician” you’re really just setting out to learn to record. All the technologies are the same as in rock, hip-hop, or even flat out acoustic music (when you make recordings of it). Even deeper than that, acoustics are the same science, sound is sound, and so on.

But – you have to admit, although TECHNICALLY “electronic music” means basically any damn thing other than a live performance with only acoustic instruments and vocals – in practice it means something else. No one refers to a rock band with a live drum set and guitars as “electronic music”. And no one really refers to hip-hop as “electronic music” although it REALLY actually is.

What is it then? Is it dance music? Not necessarily. Is it bloops and bleeps? Also, not necessarily. What it is is, music that is created with mostly synthesizers or computers, and even when performed live, utilizes mostly synthesizers and/or computers. Would turntablism count as “electronic music”? No not really, but turntablism and electronic music go hand in hand, because really what “electronic music” means is playing machines as instruments. That’s not even fully right…it’s more like…playing music with stuff that’s not the traditional thing…so it’s not playing guitars or drums or violins or pianos…it’s making turntables create a beat by sampling pieces of stuff…or programming a computer to create sounds that are musical…or…wait…playing synthesizer keyboards? Or…guitars live? Wait…it’s all jumbled up!

That’s because music is music, kid. Still – just like with techno or house or trance – you know when something is “electronic music”, even when you can’t accurately describe it with words. Pearl Jam is NOT electronic music. Limp Biskit and Bon Jovi, although both chock full of the use of synthesizers are NOT electronic music. Moby IS electronic music, even though he plays a live damn bass on stage.

Confusing. But not. Here’s an incredible, overwhelmingly long list of electronic music genres. My god!

I’ve been going through some of them, to try and more accurately describe (and target) Third Option. There’s a long list, and maybe one will fit! Or not. The reason there are SO many genres is because people come along and do something that doesn’t fit. A few people will usually copy the trendsetters, and then somebody names that style. That happens really quickly now.

Still, if you go back in time, you start to see that the pioneers of “electronic music” are also the pioneers of “recording” and really there’s not as big a separation between them and “traditional” musicians as you might think. I’ve had the privilege of hearing Max Matthews play quite a mean violin! (Check out that link – Max Matthews was one of the originals – basically invented digital audio. You can thank him for the CD – and he was an accomplished musician.)

So what the hell is electronic music? I couldn’t tell ya, but I think you’ll know it when you hear it 😉

Maybe Third Option will just invent its own genre. What do you think? Why don’t you send us an idea or two at thirdoption @ nquit.com 🙂

More to come…

— Aaron

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