What do we call what we do?

just never talk to anyone ever. problem solved.


The bio/artist statement drives me nuts. You can’t really apply to festivals, or for grants or anything else really for that matter saying “I make boring, slow ambient music” which is how I often explain what I do to my childrens’ friends’ parents. However, I’m having a real hard time coming up with a way of explaining my exploration of life/death/impermanence through sound, without sounding ridiculous.

And yes, every time I tell someone I use a synthesizer, they make the ‘playing the keyboard’ hand gesture. I performed this weekend as part of the local Nuit Blanche and kept running into parents from my kids’ school and I’d mention I was performing, and then wind up in this same conversation, over and over. I feel like telling people I create ‘sound art’ while fairly off base, would probably give people a better idea.


I rarely talk about any of my sound art/music/bleep-bloop endeavors because it is mostly spacing out to drones for my own pleasure. I try to dodge the connotations and expectations that are created when people think I’m a “real” musician and/or produce EDM tracks.

I like “sound artist.” It’s not perfect, but it’s general enough to encompass what we typically call “music” (i.e. composer) as well as what we typically call “sound,” specifically non-music (i.e. sound designer, noise artist, etc).

I like to think of it as a composer who’s widened their definition of music. It works okay.


I just say electronic musician, and if people ask for more details I add the word experimental and that’s usually it…

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Things I have posted on here were electronic musical experiments (but wouldn’t call myself an experimental electronic musician)

I do improvised live electronic music.


I always liked how those early DMZ releases had “Built by X” on them, like that term.

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My mildly-pretentious bio refers to myself as a ‘composer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist’ who makes ‘atmospheric and textural music’.

Over time, I’ve gradually come to de-emphasize the words ‘ambient’, ‘experimental’, and ‘electronic’…

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sound artist, or avid listener both seem general yet specific enough

my new go-to when asked in the airport is “i play the computer” which usually leads to no follow up questions.


I go with sound artist as well. Even though I guess somehow it is more linked to electro-acoustic practices, or physical contraptions that make sound.

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“Sound artist” makes me think of installation pieces, but I’m starting to warm up to it for basically every other reason. :slight_smile:


in days gone by… :slightly_smiling_face:
anyone who played shows (of any kind)
was labeled an 'entertainer
by the industry cats ('suits, we used to call 'em /even though we were wearing suits too- from the thrift store, taken to the taylor, just to mess with it)
'nob hill style
we called it

these days
doing more vocals
I’ve been trying to make peace with the label 'fool
as dr dre does in this track

(gets labeled a 'fool, at the end, and keeps it in)

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It depends very much on who is asking. In writing i tend to like “sound art” or “working with sound(s)”. It’s vague yet precise, encompasses wide ranges and levels of practices.
I don’t think that i make “music” and avoid this word as a descriptor. “Music” comes with so much different rules and histories and expectations that i prefer to “ignore” it (step aside) rather than trying to subvert those contexts that i don’t master. “Musician” is worse (sorry!), in my head it alludes to various contradictory notions of which the uninspiring ones keep rising at the surface. I also avoid characterizing me rather than what is given to hear.

Most times i elude the question or answer an unhelpful line so we don’t have to pretend understanding or being able to explain, embarrassment is saved on both sides, and the conversation can move on to more important topics.


I’ve never made peace with labels, categories, even descriptive text - even terms for specific genres mean something different depending on who’s listening.
I also make films so the “what I do” text has been “moving image and sound maker” for many years. Vague enough to encompass whatever I might do without making me worry about expectations,
That doesn’t work in A-cah-deee-mee-ah, so for my day job I’m “filmmaker and composer”, but I’ve never been comfortable with that.
Back in the 80s I used the term “postmusic” for my sound / music work. The term ended up being adopted by some of the other folks in the little subculture I was part of. I noticed recently it’s being used elsewhere, probably to mean something different.
I do use “musician” sometimes, and some of what I do fits the expectations usually associated with that, but much of it doesn’t. It’s useful shorthand when the conversation isn’t likely to go much beyond it in the first place.

After trying to be inclusive yet not create a description that’s too long, I’ve landed on “sound artist”.

I don’t self-identify as a musician, but when I’m busking (with the intent to surprise and delight passersby by replacing their ordinary soundscape with something more alien) I often get asked what I’m doing, so I hope this sign will help answer their questions:


I plan to start saying “experimental musician” just as soon as I print up little experiment-consent forms with feedback questionnaires on the other side