The Performance Practice of Electroacoustic Music

The Studio di Fonologia years

by Germán Toro-Pérez (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 156 Pages
Open Access
Series: Zürcher Musikstudien, Volume 10


This book is dedicated to the topic of performance practice of electroacoustic music, focusing mainly on the production of RAI’s Studio di Fonologia in Milan between the 1950s and 1970s. It is the result of an in-depth dialogue between musicology and musical practice, presenting musicological and practice-based contributions, some dealing with specific problems of performance practice, in particular the analysis and interpretation of the aesthetic prerequisites and production conditions of the repertoire from a musicological perspective, others focusing on specific works and on their realisation from a performer’s perspective. Overall, this publication is intended as a contribution to the performance culture of the repertoire.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Historically informed performance in electroacoustic music? The Studio di Fonologia years as a case study (Germán Toro Pérez)
  • Some problems of the present-day realisation of historical electronic pieces (Ulrich Mosch)
  • The beginnings of the Studio di Fonologia Musicale and Bruno Maderna’s Notturno (Angela Ida De Benedictis)
  • «There’s always only the first page». On the ambivalent relation between sound and notation in some early electroacoustic music, and the problems of modern editions (Veniero Rizzardi)
  • A question of «versions»!? Three case studies about «performing» tape compositions of the 1950s (taken from the European repertoire) (Pascal Decroupet)
  • The revision of Henri Pousseur’s Rimes at Tempo Reale (Kilian Schwoon)
  • Auctorial Tradition and Contemporary Practice: Performing Musica su due dimensioni by Bruno Maderna (Germán Toro Pérez)
  • Sound direction of 1950s and 1960s tape pieces from the Studio di Fonologia (Alvise Vidolin)
  • Henri Pousseur. Three source texts concerning Rimes pour différentes sources sonores (Pascal Decroupet (Transcription and text edition))
  • About the authors
  • Register
  • Series index

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Historically informed performance in electroacoustic music? The Studio di Fonologia years as a case study

After more than 60 years, the term performance practice in the context of electroacoustic music seems to be established in professional circles.1 However, the notion of the interpretation of electroacoustic music, at least of its purely electronic, non-instrumental parts, is not self-evident for experienced audiences and even for professional musicians who are not familiar with the repertoire. It is still not generally understood that this activity requires not only technological, but also musical knowledge, as well as specific performative abilities and artistic sensitivity. The practice, however, must also be further developed and consolidated inwardly. Performers have to become aware of the complexity of their task and create the conditions necessary to realise artistically valid performances.

As there is no consolidated performance culture today, it is a common occurrence for electroacoustic works to be performed without taking into account their musical and structural properties, their historical context or possible performance traditions, or for them to be realised with inadequate or technically faulty material. In some cases, this may be due to the often incomplete documentation or difficult access to unambiguous performance material. In any case, the impermanence of technical setups, and this includes all support types and instruments, adds to the difficulty of establishing favourable conditions for adequate performances. This problem is obviously more acute when dealing with works by composers of past generations. However, even the performance of works by living composers can present great challenges to performers, especially when they require specific setups or when they are inadequately documented. ← 7 | 8 →

Electroacoustic performance practice, just like instrumental performance practice, therefore has to rely on thorough philological, historical and technological knowledge. It, too, has to establish aesthetical criteria based on a critical dialogue between history and present and must rely on craftsmanship and musical sensitivity in its realisations. Nonetheless, the contributions on historically informed performance practice and the critical examination of its discourses2 illustrate the tension between the quest for historical foundation on the one hand and a presentation of the music oriented towards the present on the other hand, as well as the possible pitfalls of a historically informed performance practice. A broad understanding of historical conditions, the availability of unambiguous performance materials and ideal technical conditions do not guarantee sonic differentiation, liveliness and aesthetical relevance in a performance.

The idea of a restorative approach seems particularly problematic in electroacoustic music. This is largely due to the specific nature of electroacoustic instruments, as we will see later. Even if important issues may imply restoration processes, such as the repair and sonic improvement of performance material on sound carriers, the study of loudspeaker and sound source dispositions in historic performances, the allocation of channels intended by the composer,3 the understanding of historical devices and setups, or specific cases of reconstruction of devices and scores,4 all these processes and findings will serve as the basis for realisations under current technical conditions, rather than attempt to reconstruct historical settings.

A comparative look at historically informed performance practice of instrumental music from past centuries may help to clarify this idea. Although the issue deserves a much broader discussion, we shall at least outline some basic aspects.

There are significant similarities with regard to the fundamental aim of a historically informed practice as exemplified by Harnoncourt’s undogmatic and practice-related approach, which dismisses the notion of a mere reconstruction of historic performances.5 In electroacoustic music as well, the aim cannot be to repeat historic performances, for instance from the early phase of electroacoustic music, which is also impossible despite the relative temporal proximity. However, ← 8 | 9 → the quest for a lively representation of early electronic works using the best available means and the wish to re-contextualise them6 are concerns that are valid in electroacoustic music as well. An example for this is the restoration and remix to a modern surround format (5.1) of Varèses’s Poème électronique by Kees Tazelaar. The original context and intended spatial effect of this work cannot really be experienced by listening to the officially available two-channel mix, which also has some technical issues, but is vividly conveyed by Tazelaar’s mix based on thorough historical research.7 A piece that was perceived mainly as a historical document can now once more be musically experienced. The «acousmatic» version of Luigi Nono’s A floresta é jovem e cheja de vida, realised by Veniero Rizzardi and Alvise Vidolin, as well as studies on Bruno Maderna’s Musica su due dimensioni by this author8 are, each with its own context and motives, further examples of the quest for updated and lively presentations of historical works.

The similarity between the performance practices of music from before 1800 and of electroacoustic music is also of interest with respect to the issue of adaptation to specific situations. In older music, this concerns mainly the use of voice and/or instruments in musical works, but in electroacoustic music it concerns the sound projection over loudspeakers and its setup. In both cases, different solutions are possible. Electroacoustic pieces, too, have to be adapted to the spatial situation and technical conditions found in a specific space, especially as regards type, number and setup of loudspeakers and other sound sources and the approach taken in the spatialisation, depending on the layout, size and acoustics of the space. The selection of the individual components and the specific configuration of the electroacoustic devices also depend on individual preferences and habits. There is not one ideal solution but, each time, a decision has to be made taking into account the other pieces to be played and one’s own performative approach.

There are also similarities with respect to the interrelation between musicology and artistic practice. The need for researchers with a deep understanding of performance practice and for experienced performers with an awareness of research issues also applies to our field. Musicological research on the performance practice of electroacoustic music requires a high degree of insight into production and performance conditions as well as technical knowledge. Conversely, today’s performer has to be able to develop an understanding of philological and ← 9 | 10 → historical issues, to formulate questions and address them in practice. This is becoming even more important in view of the increasing relevance of artistic research. Ideally, this development will lead to a fruitful mutual dialogue and a common research practice.

Nevertheless, there are some fundamental differences mainly with respect to the nature of electronic sound itself, its production conditions, the properties of the electroacoustic instruments and the question of spatialisation, radically redefined in electroacoustic music. All in all, these create a completely new perceptive and aesthetical situation, affecting composers, performers and audiences alike and asking for a new type of specialised performer. A critical review of the concept of instrument within the composition and performance practice of electroacoustic music can help us to reflect on similarities and differences in comparison to instrumental music.


ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (September)
Elektroakustische Musik Aufführungspraxis Studio di Fonologia Musikgeschichte
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 156 pp., 14 fig. col., 11 fig. b/w, 13 tables

Biographical notes

Germán Toro-Pérez (Volume editor)

Germán Toro Pérez (1964) studied composition and electroacoustic music. His catalogue includes instrumental, electroacoustic and mixed compositions, music theater and works in collaboration with graphic design, painting and experimental video. Since 2007 he is director of the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology and professor for composition at the Zurich University of the Arts.


Title: The Performance Practice of Electroacoustic Music