Children as Active Listeners in Francophone Electroacoustic Education, 1968-1977″

Much of the history of electroacoustic music research has focused on either the aesthetic challenges it posed to audiences and institutions or the innovations in engineering that accompanied its technical development. By this account, electroacoustic music has always been an advanced genre for expert listeners with access to exclusive technologies. In an important strand of electroacoustic research that emerged in the 1960s, however, many composers aimed at the other extreme, seeking to translate their genre’s theoretical and methodological insights into pedagogical applications aimed at untrained listeners in early childhood. This project positioned electroacoustic techniques as the key to understanding and mastering the most basic elements of aural perception and expression. It also aimed at democratising musical appreciation in society as a whole, proposing not to mould children according to pre-established forms of score-based musicological expertise, but an open-ended pédagogie de recherche in which children’s expressive play could be valued as a universal heuristic for all human musical activity.

In francophone studios by the middle of the 1970s, special workshops and instruments for children were ubiquitous. In this paper I examine offerings at the Groupe de Recherche Musicale in Paris, the Groupe de Musique Expérimentale de Bourges, and the Studio de Musique Électronique de l’Université Laval in Quebec City. Drawing upon structuralist and cybernetic models, these programmes cast childhood as a blank slate upon which to rehearse the new forms of aurality and agency their designers saw as appropriate to a modern and democratic musical future. In doing so they also responded to local and global pressures to reimagine music education as a secular mode of sensory, affective and social inculcation. Looking forward to later developments in musicology and sound studies, I argue that these exceptional experiments offer an important glimpse into the prehistory of contemporary notions of listening as performance.


Patrick Valiquet is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music at the University of Edinburgh, where he holds a two-year grant from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture. He completed his DPhil in Music at St Catherine’s College, Oxford in 2014 with a research studentship on an ERC Advanced Grant-funded programme directed by Georgina Born, and a fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. For his doctoral thesis he conducted ethnographic and archival research in Montreal, Canada on the negotiation of digital practices and aesthetics in relation to recent cultural and educational policy. His ongoing research addresses questions of discipline and knowledge practice in late twentieth century experimental music and academic electroacoustic music more widely. Current projects include an investigation into the personal archive of Quebecois composer Marcelle Deschênes that tracks the translation of pedagogical practices and aural epistemologies between the electroacoustic scenes in France and Quebec in the 1970s and 80s. This study will culminate in new editions of Deschênes’ theoretical and methodological writing, as well as a historical monograph on pedagogical, therapeutic and cognitive experiments in academic electroacoustic studios.