Young Scholars in New Music | Elena Minetti /// Writing electronic music

di Giulia Sarno

[Young Scholars in New Music è una rubrica dedicata a giovani studiosi e studiose e alle loro ricerche in corso o appena concluse. Per segnalare le proprie ricerche mandare un mail con oggetto “Young Scholars” a con una brevissima biografia e un abstract del lavoro che si intende presentare]

[Young Scholars in New Music is a column dedicated to young scholars and their current or recent researches. To submit your research, please send an email (subject line: “Young Scholars”) to with a short biography and an abstract of the work you wish to present]


Elena Minetti graduated in Piano at the Conservatory of Siena and in Musicology at the University of Bologna, with a focus on Music Pedagogy (BA 2014) and Musical Aesthetics (MA 2017). Since 2018, she has been research associate in the trinational research cluster “Writing Music. Iconic, performative, operative, and material aspects in musical notation(s), within which she is also a PhD candidate in Musicology at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna (mdw). Thanks to the Marietta Blau-Grant (OeAD), from July 2021, she will be able to conduct research at three institutions – Daphne Oram Collection at Goldsmiths, University of London; Paul Sacher Foundation, Basel; and International Music Institute Darmstadt – to improve her dissertation.


The initial idea of her dissertation derives from joint reflections within the research cluster Writing Music, which aims at a broad theoretical understanding of musical writing, taking into account its inherent sensual qualities and its cognitive potential. The focus of her research was then more precisely outlined through the direct examination of archive materials and the resulting finding of a compositional scenario in the late 1940s, which was particularly challenging precisely in terms of music writing. The appearance of the tape recorder – a novel device not only for sound reproduction, but also for music creation – raised indeed the question of writing down the sounds recorded on tape and played back through loudspeakers, and their interplay with instruments played live by performers on stage. Composers themselves reflected on their writing systems in private compositional workshops and collaborative electronic music studios, and dealt with the forms of writing of this new genre (later defined with different and often overlapping labels, such as musique mixte, live electronic music, Live Elektronik).

Video frames from “Karlheinz Stockhausen explains Kontakte” © WDR TV 1960

In this light, Elena’s dissertation addresses the role of writing in early compositions, developed between 1948 and 1964, that involve both tape and instrumental sounds. The study explores limits and potentialities, functions and forms of visual strategies and listening practices within the creative process of selected works as case studies. As a matter of fact, traces of the encounter of composers with the (partly almost unknown) sound world of electronic music and of their search for ever more adequate notations often materialize precisely in the compositional processes.

The various compositional attempts to write down music for this specific genre in its auroral phase require a new approach to how musical writing and compositional process are observed. Based on methodical approaches of musicological sketch studies, genetic criticism and the analysis of electroacoustic music, written and aural materials are examined in the respective moments of the creative process. In addition, the manuscripts are analyzed in light of Sybille Krämer‘s reflections on an interdisciplinary concept of a non-speech-oriented writing, with special attention to a productive feature of writing, namely ‘operativity’. In particular, it is investigated to what extent ‘visual strategies’ in the creative process constitute ‘operative devices’ to support compositional thinking when encountering a new technology, to create novel aural ‘imaginary landscapes’ – quoting John Cage –, and to develop a ‘third sound space’ from the meeting of instrumental and electronic music. 

The aim of Elena’s dissertation is therefore to work out theoretical considerations on the concept of musical writing, by examining visual strategies and aural practices, and to contribute methodologically to the examination of the compositional processes of electroacoustic compositions.

© Daphne Oram Collection – Special Collections & Archives, Goldsmiths, University of London

Furthermore, the topic of the dissertation makes it possible to investigate some lesser-known histories of electroacoustic music, and in particular those of female composers. In the most authoritative bibliography on the subject, for example, strikingly rare are the contributions that address the visionary and highly innovative composition of Daphne Oram (1925–2003), Still Point (1948–50), for double orchestra, treated instrumental recordings, five microphones, echo and tone controls. 

From her direct experience as a radio programme engineer at the BBC, at the age of 24, Oram imagined a composition for real orchestra playing in front of the audience and for a previously recorded one, with sounds modified during the performance, as a sort of ‘live electronics’ ante litteram. After the BBC refused to submit her work for the Prix Italia competition in 1950, Oram abandoned the composition, which remained unpublished and unperformed. Recently, James Bully rediscovered its manuscripts and together with Shiva Feshareki premiered their restored version in 2016 and Oram’s finalised score (found only later) at the 2018 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Based on an in-depth study of Oram’s written and aural materials – archived in the Daphne Oram Collection at Goldsmiths, University of London – Elena will develop a case study focused on this work, which will be presented at the upcoming Third International Conference on Women’s Work in Music at the Bangor University (1-2 Sep 2021). 

Further reading:

Elena Minetti, “Transición II by Mauricio Kagel: ‘The most suitable form of writing for each compositional circumstance’”, in: Notation: Schnittstelle zwischen Komposition, Interpretation und Analyse. 19. Jahreskongress der Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie (= GMTH Proceedings 2019), edited by Christian Strinning, Felix Baumann, Philippe Kocher, Pierre Funck (Forthcoming).

Elena Minetti, “Auf der Suche nach einer neuen grafischen Darstellung musikalischer Gedanken. Momente von operativer Bildlichkeit in Roman Haubenstock-Ramatis Mobile for Shakespeare”, in: Juri Giannini, Andreas Holzer und Stefan Jena (Hrsg.). Anklaenge 2019. Sicherheit – Risiko – Freiheit. Fragen der (Un-)Sicherheit in der Komposition, Aufführung, Rezeption und Programmierung neuer Musik (Wien: Hollitzer, 2021), pp. 109–127.

Young Scholars in New Music | Elena Minetti /// Writing electronic music ultima modifica: 2021-06-08T09:00:00+02:00 da Giulia Sarno

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