I am fascinated by the composition of electronic music. There’s something about creating something that can move people from nothing at all. And I really mean nothing. That is, music created from instructions sent by electricity to a piece of metal and plastic that performs calculations and then stored as chunks of magnetically charged bits on a circular piece of plastic. It’s like magic, man.

But, I think it’s important to make a differentiation here. There’s electronic music and then there’s electronic music. The former type is the type you hear on a daily basis, that is regular old music made with electronic instruments and hardware and software synthesizers. That stuff is fine, and I listen to a lot of it. However, that music tends to just be music we’re used to (disco, pop, whatever) made with electronic instrumentation. Nothing wrong with it, but not all that fascinating. There are parts of it that are interesting, little bits of electronic music leaking in, but overall it’s very normal, in the way that Rock and Roll is normal, in the way that Jazz or the Blues or Reggae is normal.

The latter, electronic music, is typically much less listenable fare, but much more artful in its deconstruction of what makes music music. Here the composer plays with a variety of different sounds, sometimes purely synthetic, sometimes real sounds culled from the everyday world. The emphasis is always on pushing what can be done with this relatively new medium of electronically created music, on exploring the boundaries of what can be created. And the technology is here so that the artist is not limited in his ability to create lush, unheard of synthetic soundscapes or sparse, technical droning. That said, these aren’t the types of records you’re putting on your iPod when you go to the gym to do 30 minutes on the elliptical. No one is jamming out in their cars to this stuff. I can think of a few crossover records—Art is a Technology by Anthony Rother, Foley Room by Amon Tobin, some others—and those stand out as prime examples of art-electro, yet still totally jam-out-able.

Curtis Roads is a pioneer in granular synthesis, a type of synthesis involving incredibly tiny chunks of sound. In the videos below, he discusses the current Golden Age of electronic music production, microsound composition, and a bunch of other pretty heady, pretty geeky things that you might or might not enjoy, but that I think is excellent. You don’t have to be a synthesis geek to get something out of what Curtis is saying here. I think there’s plenty of inspiration—musician, painter, writer, whatever—to go around.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3