20 Years of Organised Sound: A Brief History
Issue 20/1 of Organised Sound marks the start of the journal’s twentieth year, offering the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at the formative years of OS and how the journal has developed into the focal point of electroacoustic music studies that it is today.
Organised Sound was born when Penny Carter, head of music journals at Cambridge University Press, launched a discussion with three colleagues working at the University of York – Ross Kirk, Tony Myatt and Richard Orton – in 1991, and, by chance, I was talking with them about a potential periodical as well. As thoughts developed about the possible focus of a future journal, our collaborative proposal ranged from a European version of Computer Music Journal (CMJ) to one that might help develop the musicology of electroacoustic music. Given the fact that Kirk was a member of the Electrical Engineering Department of Electronics at York, there was certainly going to be an arts–science feel to the new journal. Once the name of the journal had been selected, ‘Organised Sound’ (including a substantial debate about the British ‘s’ or the more common ‘z’ in ‘Organized’), a step was made in the direction of a journal about electroacoustic music.
The content of the early issues of OS offered a wide variety of subjects that one might find at the annual International Computer Music Conference (ICMC). The original editorial board reflected this breadth and, indeed, a Europe-based journal was born in which its very first editorial’s title was ‘The Dynamics of Computer Music’. In fact, in its fifth year of existence, a formal partnership was organised with the International Computer Music Association (ICMA), the organisation that hosts the annual ICMC conferences. This collaboration lasted for five years and included several issues that appeared either involving an ICMC event or guest edited by a board member of the ICMA.
Promising ideas from the early years that faded away included publishing books based on ‘tutorial articles’ (‘tutorial articles’ being a term that was retired along with ‘student articles’ from volume 5 onwards). The idea to publish books never gained any traction with Cambridge University Press, but in planning the celebration issue of Organised Sound the current head of performing arts books at Cambridge University Press finally welcomed the plan to launch an OS-related book series. Stay tuned!
The founding editors agreed that OS would publish book reviews, but no reviews of recordings or products, despite the fact that other journals did. The reason for the limitation had to do with our apprehension that recordings might not be reviewed completely fairly – why criticise the music of composers in a field that is already having difficulty gaining wider appreciation?
Organised Sound went online in its third year, and all media examples taken from its annual CD were placed online quickly after the appearance of each individual issue. The first video example appeared on volume 7’s CD; DVDs replaced the CDs after volume 9.
With the start of volume 6, OS underwent two important changes: Richard Orton (who sadly passed away in 2013) and Ross Kirk stepped back and became Founding Editors, and the two remaining OS editors started inviting guest editors for each issue. Two years later, Tony Myatt decided that the journal could not receive as much of his time as he thought it deserved and he joined the editorial team and has made significant contributions to this day.
The journal was the home of a few conference proceedings’ selections over the years. Issue 12/2 would be the last of these as, once more, there was a sense that OS had accepted the first-class group from the conference for publication with the rest being published in the event’s own proceedings. In fact, the editors often chose items to display the diversity of the given event, not necessarily the top ten, as it were.
Over the years OS has published some celebrated figures within our realm, such as Iannis Xenakis in issue 1/3 and Jean-Claude Risset in this one, and milestone articles, such as Denis Smalley’s key text on spatiomorphology in 12/1.
Gradually during the period leading to volume 8, the breadth of the journal’s scope narrowed; this was compensated for by its clear focus and depth and Organised Sound now has a very clear position with regard to its sister journals. Of course, other journals contain articles in the field of electroacoustic music studies, but none other than OS has it as its key focus. Although the field may be more modest, the journal sees this body of music as a broad church and thus emphasises its breadth through the diversity of its issues’ themes that have focused on, for example, acousmatic composition, sound art, electronica and dirty electronics, each including discussions that hopefully have been of interest to the entire readership.
Cambridge University Press are contributing to this twenty-year celebration in the form of a birthday present, namely expanding the journal’s size by up to a quarter for each issue starting with 20/1. This decision was based on both the amount of publishable scripts we receive and the size of the readership, in particular those downloading OS-published materials. We are very grateful to Cambridge University Press for this opportunity.