Sounding Metaphors in Early Electronic Music’s History: the Interaction of Technological Affordances, Conceptual Metaphors and Aesthetics

Brian Bridges, Ricky Graham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Histories of electronic music tend to gravitate towards either of two main narrative strategies, chronicling key technological developments (with brief mentions of pioneering creative works) or favouring thematic accounts of aesthetic schools and their conceptual rivalries. These strategies each have their own productive merits, but, when taken separately, may sometimes obscure connections between the technologies and more general features of emerging musical languages. We believe that two concepts may help us to develop more integrated narratives of early electronic music.The concept of affordances, originating in the ecological perception of J. J. Gibson (1966; 1979) and later used in interaction design, entails the ‘action possibilities’ of a particular object or technology. Rather than simply a case of the adage of ‘form following function’, affordances are cases where actor and tool intersect, with form guiding or constraining the interaction. Cultural factors may still be considered in this context, interacting with technological factors to define ‘aesthetic affordances’: shared practices and conventions. Some of the affordances of electronic music technologies could also be seen as serving as conceptual metaphors for their usage; for example, musicians’ basic understanding of the affordances of analogue synthesis technologies. In more general terms, embodied image schema theory (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; 1999) sees bodily gesture as the foundation of conceptual metaphors; our understanding of concepts, including technological concepts, may be framed by embodied logics. We believe that an approach which connects affordances with conceptual metaphors may allow for deeper understanding of the structures of early electronic musical expression.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Number of pages16
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Mar 2016
EventIdeopreneurial Entrephonics II: A Festival of Sound Art and Electronic Instruments - Dublin (organised by Trinity College Dublin Department of Music, event in Freemasons Hall)
Duration: 23 Mar 2016 → …


ConferenceIdeopreneurial Entrephonics II: A Festival of Sound Art and Electronic Instruments
Period23/03/16 → …
Internet address

Bibliographical note

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Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980), Metaphors we Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1999), Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
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Tanaka, A. (2010), Mapping out instruments, affordances, and mobiles. In: Proceedings of the 2010 Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2010), Sydney, Australia.


  • affordances
  • synthesis
  • electronic music
  • aesthetics
  • embodied cognition


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