Musica ex machina: integrating the sonic pallet of machines with acoustic instruments

Lindsay Vickery



Californian composers Robert Erickson was one of the first to directly search for the “music in non-musical sounds” as the inspiration of music with acoustic instruments and electronics. He pioneered the use of analog spectrography to visualise the shapes of complex sound objects. This paper examines the evolution of the practice integrating of pre-recorded mechanical sounds and acoustic instruments. The foundations of the practice of exploring mechanical sound sound as a subject for 'musical' investigation is discussed in relation to Modernist developments including Futurism and Musique Concrète.

The discussion will focus on works from the last 50 years by Robert Erickson (1917-97), Barry Traux (1947-), Peter Ablinger (1959-), Annie Gosfield (1960-), James Saunders (1972-), Joanna Bailie (1973-) and the author. Techniques employed by composers for combining mechanical sounds and acoustic instruments including spectral analysis, sonification, transcription, resynthesis and transformation will be considered. Issues regarding coordination and sound projection of live and pre-recorded elements will also be addressed.


Dr. Lindsay Vickery: Composer/performer Vickery’s music includes works for acoustic and electronic instruments in interactive-electronic, improvised or fully notated settings, ranging from solo pieces to opera and has been commissioned by numerous groups for concert, dance and theatre. He is a founder member of ensembles GreyWing (2016-), Decibel (2009-), HEDKIKR (2001-) and Magnetic Pig (1993-2003). He writes and presents on a range of topics, most recently on the emergence of the “screenscore”, nonlinear music and the realisation of Cage’s music, in publications/conferences. He is coordinator of Composition and Music Technology at the WA Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University.