Electroacoustic performance as an act of creation: networking with technology with musical imperatives

Martin Laliberté

Gustave-EiffeL University, France



Since the 1960’s, electroacoustic music has aimed towards live performances, both with fixed-media pieces with sound diffusion systems or different “acousmoniums”, and with live tools such as synthesizers, microphones, sound sources and various real-time sonic treatments.

Since the 1980’s it also became possible to perform live totally digital pieces and carry on the analog live habits and methodologies.

In the wake of Boulez, Manoury, Murail, Dufourt and many more, real-time digital music was the musical challenge of my generation born in the 1960’s. Now is perhaps a good time to reflect on 40 years of digital live performance.

I often wonder if we attained our goal. Did real-time really solve the problems of refined musical expression of electroacoustic music, limited for so long by poor sonic tools compared with acoustic musical instruments or refined tape-music? Many great composers (Vaggione, Stroppa…) do not think so and still prefer mostly fixed-media pieces.

On the other hand, today the sonic possibilities are truly immense, both for the studio and for the stage, and often very pleasing to the ear. But are we up to the task of making quality music with those technologies? Or are we a bit lazy still or simply drowned in too many options? In this regard, the current resurgence of modular synths, with their rather poor “analog” sounds and limited sonic options, but with many performative possibilities, seems to make some sense. Could they be more than just a commercial push for ever-changing technologies?

Since the 1990’s, the impact of the joint possibilities of open modular programming languages, such as Max, Pure Data, Super Collider or ChucK, with various gesture and sound acquisitions tools (MIDI or USB instruments, joysticks and pots, sonar, IR pads, cameras and mics of all kinds…) appears very significant. In my opinion, despite their individual limitations, the accumulation and networking of those various tools, surprisingly stable overtime, allows to create proper “meta” musical instruments that an experienced performer may invest time in, in order to go beyond the slightly lazy approach and truly start to perform musically in the highest sense.

This conference will try to argument and demonstrate that live composition, improvisation and performance are now more than ever possible and that we may achieve satisfactory artistic results, providing we do not lower our musical expectations.

This conference could be illustrated by live examples and/or a short performance (voice and live electronics).

Keywords: live performance, electroacoustic music, critical thinking



Martin Laliberté Composer and Tenured Professor University Gustave-Eiffel was born in Quebec in 1963. Following musical studies since childhood, he studied musical composition and computer music in Quebec, California and France, 1980-1990. After working freelance as a composer in Hollywood and in Quebec, he moved to Paris in 1988 where he finished a Ph.D. at IRCAM in 1994. He was appointed Professor at the Music Department of the University of Burgundy in 1995 and at University Gustave-Eiffel in 2002, where he teaches composition and electroacoustic music. His research centers on the esthetics and practice of contemporary music and the emergence of electronic and computer musical instruments. He has written chamber music and interactive computer music, as well as lyrical or orchestral pieces. His piece les abandons de nos miroirs has received the SACEM award at the international orchestral music contest of Besançon. His third electroacoustic chamber opera, Mes mains écartent le jour was premiered in 2018.