Is Electronic Music “Real Music”?

by evanhechtman

My roommate is something of a music snob.

He enjoys going to the orchestra and opera.  Beethoven is his jam.  Most of all, he loves The Who and classic rock.

However, his taste isn’t eclectic enough to include electronic music.  In fact, he believes electronic music isn’t really music at all.  To him, music requires an instrument and a player.  The physical act of playing an instrument validates the music, making it legitimate.  Creating something with a synthesizer or computer just doesn’t quite cut it.

Of course, his criticism is mostly leveled at popular songs that proliferate frat parties.  But as we journey into experimental music, with less instruments and more technological wizardry, perhaps it is still worthy of consideration.

Obviously, “Etude aux Chemins de Fer” or the Reich piece “It’s Gonna Rain” sounds quite different from a symphony.  Is this a bad thing?  Is a piece of music somehow less authentic art if the sounds are not being produced by humans playing instruments?  Certainly there is still a creative process involved in its production, but it is not quite the same.  Instead of coordinating a team of players, a single person stacks varied sounds together as desired.  How, if at all, does this make technological and electronic music fundamentally different than what we’ve previously studied?

I believe the core of my roommate’s criticism is that electronic music cannot be performed in the traditional sense.  We can go to the orchestra, and even the Who are still rocking out live in their advanced age.  But the experimental pieces for this week and Calvin Harris aren’t quite the same.  Once an artist has created an electronic piece, you don’t exactly go out and play it in front of an audience in the same way one performs a concerto or rock song.  Instead, you just hit play.  Does this make electronic music less authentic?  Is live performance a crucial aspect of music?

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