Historical Techniques for Composing Electronic Music

In electronic music, one has the opportunity not only to compose, but also to but also to pioneer new audio experiences.
— Thom Holmes

Composing music has never been a simple task. While there may be times the muse speaks to us more fluidly and things seem to come effortlessly; every composer, from the most to least gifted, has experienced a time when they are absolutely and utterly dumbfounded. This article is dedicated to the individuals in that place.  

Below is a list of techniques electronic musicians have historically engaged to move them from that uninspired place into one where they may look at things with fresh ears and eyes. Please note, this is by no means a comprehensive list of techniques--rather the ones the author found most interesting on a personal and artistic level.

Sound Crafting

This is probably the most common method modern sound sculptors use to compose. The composer sits at an instrument or digital audio workstation (DAW) and works with the audio to create something compelling, arranging by instinct until a general structure forms.

While sound crafting is a good place to begin, it can sometimes lead to mediocre or at least familiar results. (If you always make music in the same manner, with the same tools, aiming for the same aesthetic, stagnation is probably looming.)

Graphical Scores and Instructional Composition

These different approaches to scoring come from classical roots, but could be good in shaking up your process. A graphic score allow the composer to map out a series of changes in the technical components of the sound as the piece progresses. Traditional notation is usually jettisoned in favor of other symbols and visual systems to depict the timbrel evolution of sound in the piece.

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One of the most interesting variations on a graphical score is the listening score, which was created as a visual aid to help listeners follow more experimental compositions. In 1970, the artist Rainer Wehinger created such a score for Gyorgyi Ligeti’s 1958 tape piece, Artikulation. It was later animated.