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Electronic InspirationsTechnologies of the Cold War Musical Avant-Garde$
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Jennifer Iverson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190868192

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190868192.001.0001

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The Aleatory Debates Beyond Darmstadt

(p.139) 5 Controversy
Electronic Inspirations

Jennifer Iverson

Oxford University Press

In the late 1950s, several European and American composers engaged in the aleatory debates, which ask how chance elements can be incorporated into music. The controversy was most famously visible at the Darmstadt Summer Courses in 1958, where Cage antagonized Boulez, Stockhausen, and other European composers. This chapter reassesses the who, where, and how of the debates. A series of analyses demonstrate that European composers hardly rejected chance interventions in their electronic and acoustic works. Whereas Cage, Tudor, Brown, and other American experimentalists hewed toward performer-centered indeterminacy, European avant-gardists such as Pousseur, Ligeti, Boulez, and Stockhausen experimented with open and mobile forms and statistical interpolations. In fact, composers debated together how to incorporate chance from a range of inspirations, including literature, linguistic theory, and phonetics. Aleatory experimentation on both sides of the Atlantic was highly conditioned by questions of human and machinic agency, as composers grappled with prodigious performers like Tudor, as well as with the technological limits of the studio machines and the materiality of magnetic tape. Electronic studios in both the United States and Europe were rich sites in which composers negotiated the terms of the aleatory debates.

Keywords:   John Cage, controversy, chance, indeterminacy, graphic scores, open form, mobile form, materiality, technological affordances, technological limitations, agency

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