Repurposing an Acousmatic Skill Set for the Composition of Popular Electronic Music

Patrick Carroll




This paper compares acousmatic music and certain popular genres of electronic music such as electronic dance music (EDM) and the less dance floor-oriented styles of electronica. Specifically, this research explores how certain methods of structuring a composition in acousmatic composition can be adapted for the creative process of these popular electronic music genres.

It is less the artistic goal, and more the technical and theoretical skillsets of acousmatic composition that are being examined as valuable assets in the composition of popular styles of electronic music, namely the methods of accumulating and processing sonic material, planning and organising these temporally and creating a sense of compositional narrative. It explores this through a method of combining the top-down compositional strategy of more popular electronic music genres with the bottom-up strategy of acousmatic music work. The techniques of organising a work through grouping sounds of similar timbral and/or morphological characteristics are also explored beyond the context of acousmatic composition, in my own work Dashboard Exam. Here, the macrostructure is derived from a popular music framework, yet the musical materials are treated in an acousmatic music convention, with all sounds (save for a short synthesizer chord sequence) created from a recording of buttons and switches on the inside of a car being manipulated. During the compositional process, the sounds in the recording were processed extensively before they were installed into the already-established popular music framework, resembling Curtis Roads’ multiscale composition.

Denis Smalley’s analytical concept of Spectromorphology, provides an intuitive resource for articulating certain sonic processes in time, specifically those which occur in relation to a sound’s frequency spectrum. This concept is used to analyse the sound materials, searching for relationships among the sounds and certain behaviours over time which can suggest their possible functions within a composition.

While these concepts may be considered somewhat esoteric, the value in their ability to create new musical thought and compositions themselves, in all areas of electronic music, is too substantial to be restricted to academic zones of composition. This research invites a new group of composers (often existing outside of the field of academia) to explore elements of acousmatic music theory, within the more accessible context of EDM and electronica.


Patrick Carroll is a composer from Sydney, and a current PhD candidate at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying the intersection of traditional acousmatic theory and popular genres of electronic music. While completing his Bachelor of Music (Composition) with Honours in 2015, Carroll began releasing and publishing dance music and electronica under the alias Piecey, amassing over a million plays on Spotify to date. In 2018, Carroll began releasing music under his own name (Pat Carroll), aiming the project at more of an experimental sound, and putting the concepts at the centre of his studies to practice.