On the recent conference „recycling_sampling_jamming“ held in Berlin in February this year, Leigh Landy spoke on the subject of sampling in music. Unfortunately I was ill during the course of the festival but the lectures are still available in mp3 format here for those who missed it like me. His keynote was particularly entertaining and provocative, expecially when it comes to the role contemporary art music plays in the perception of a wider public, or should I say non-perception? In an act of resampling itself I reduced his one hour presentation about the sampling culture to my favourite sentences that can be heard in the accompaning sound file. The last comment in German stems from Rolf Großmann who moderated the panel.https://silentlistening.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/leigh-landy-talk-excerpts.mp3″
Leigh Landy is in fact most well known as main editor of the Organized Sound Journal published by Cambridge University Press and as the author of „Understanding the Art of Sound Organization“, which was released by MIT Press in 2007. This book tries to build a comprehensive musicological framework to study sound-based music, which is a term coined by Landy himself to incorporate the different strains of electroacoustic art music, turntable composition, and acoustic and digital sound installations under a new umbrella term. The reader should have some basic knowledge of the relevant repertoire and the underlying theories of electroacoustic composition, but for those interested to get a profound overview of a cluster of genres and categories often considered as being separate but being in the process of convergence in recent years according to Landy’s observations this is a splendid read.
As one can guess from the audio excerpts of Landy’s lecture his mission is to promote a higher level of accessibility to sound-based music. He states that „the twentieth-century drive toward novel forms of abstraction, as deeply profound as they may be, has tended to alienate many people or at least keep them at a proper distance, in particular in terms of contemporary art music, as many listeners find such works fairly inaccessible.“ For him the problem lies in the dissociation of art from life, since contemporary art music often failed to make clear links with our day-to-day experience. As a way to get out of this dilemma, Landy proposes something he calls the „something to hold on to“ factor. He finds proof in Jean-Jacques Nattiez’ superb book „Music and Discourse“: „An object of any kind takes on meaning for an individual apprehending that object, as soon as the individual places the object in relation to areas of his (or her) lived experience – that is, in relation to a collection of other objects that belong to his or her experience of the world.“ We as listeners often try to place sounds within our personal experience. „ When we try a new cuisine, we tend to say that something tastes like something we have already eaten; when we listen, we react analogously“, Landy states ironically. Later he cites Salomé Voegelin: „It is the job of the artist to work in relation to existing (sonic) contexts to challenge them and thereby to challenge perception, listening, continually. And it is the role of the listener to be jarred, confused and challenged to find a new relationship with what he/she hears. If the artist’s work exists too far away from a recognisable expression this chasm between recognition and unfamiliarity is too wide to be overcome by the listening activity. The listener feels alienated and abandons his/her engagement.“
How to avoid this chasm? First, there should be some common ground between composer and listener. If this common ground relates to a diversity of personal experiences on the listeners side such artworks can come closer to daily life and therefore offer some things to hold on to as a means of entering the works. Appreciation will naturally follow. Second, sound-based music can also celebrate local values in at least the same extend than universal or formalistic concepts in order to support diverse communities of interest and thus access. This would enhance the social significance of sound-based music and free it from its typical ivory tower status. Of course, the definition where the compromise between challenge or innovation on the one hand and public appreciation on the other lies, is a very individual one and this is probably the point where Landy’s argument remains a bit vague.The conflict between the independance of artists and the marginalization of original artistic approaches is probably unsolvable. Nevertheless it is refreshing to have an academic promoting the idea of accessiblity of contemporary art music with such profound knowledge and the courage to summarize all the scattered musical endeavours of organized sound.
The longest second chapter of the book deals exactly with this broad field of dispersed musical genres. Landy delivers a terminological overview and defines such terms like musique concréte, electronic music, electroacoustic music, soundscape composition, sound art, electronica and many more. There are many modes of listening that have been invented and theorized by composers, apart from the different listening forms of Schaefferian reduced listening, Landy refers to contextual, reflective, causal, semantic, indicative, reflexive, referential, interactive, taxonomic, empathetic, immersed, hightened and non-listening, among many others. This part of the book can easily get confusing, but as a great bonus all these terms are catalogized on the splendid EARS ElectroAcoustic Resource website, which represents most of the research Landy did in recent years. It serves as an unrivelled reference point for any questions concerning all terms used when dealing with electroacoustic music. Finally Landy proposes the term „sound-based music“ as the new umbrella word for what typically designates the art form in which the sound, that is, not the musical note, is its basic unit. The third chapter deals with placing the studies of sound-based music into interdisciplinary contexts such as acoustics, acoustic ecology or semiotics. This might be more interesting for the musicologist but there are enough rewarding thoughts for the music practitioner in the rest of the book. Landy writes at the end of the first chapter: „The art of organized sound offers us new means of celebration, of ritual, of sharing. As technology evolves, music as celebration will take on a range of new forms. Each community will be albe to define its own celebration(s). To anyone interested in achieving greater access and accessibility to sound-based music, the investigation of the appropriate forms of participation and presentation of this music, whether known or not yet discovered, cannot be ignored.“