After Mapping the Avant-Garde

After Mapping the Avant-Garde: Music, Experimentalism, Technology, Science

Lawo PTR mixing console, used by Karl Heinz Stockhausen.

Lawo PTR mixing console, used by Karl Heinz Stockhausen.

Lawo PTR mixing console, used by Karl Heinz Stockhausen.

This dissertation project is an interdisciplinary research study on the networks of the first twenty years of the WDR’s Electronic Music Studio in Cologne (1952–1972). My main concern is to assemble the studio’s human and non-human actors (Latour) and the interactions between music, science, and technology in these experimental systems (Rheinberger) and spaces of knowledge (Schramm, Pickering). I start from the following questions: What are the meanings of experimentalism for electronic music? What was the relevance of engineers, producers, and technicians in the WDR studio? How essential were the uses of technology and acoustics research for these actors? How did the machines in the studio shape the compositional processes? To what extent, in other words, should indeterminacy be understood as the result of cultures and aesthetics of experimentation?

The project addresses three more general problematics. 1. Considering the laboratory and the studio as spaces of knowledge and experimental practices, can the studio be seen as a laboratory (and vice versa)? 2. In interdisciplinary settings such as this one, how is the concept of “expertise” assembled, negotiated, and constructed across the different disciplinary setups? How was electronic music’s expertise manufactured, experienced, and distributed? 3. How is electronic music embedded in older traditions of music making? How does this influence our understanding of the wider interactions between music and science? For instance, can electronic music be regarded as acoustics research? What are the connections between electronic music practices and “pure” research in acoustics?