Beats, flesh, and grain: sonic tactility and affect in electronic dance music

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This essay sets out to explore the tactilization of sound in electronic dance music (EDM), which offers an important sensory-affective bridge between touch, sonic experience, and an expansive sense of connection in dancing crowds. EDM events tend to engender spaces of heightened tactility and embodied intimacy, and so it should not be surprising that their musical aesthetics also highlight tactility. In track-titles, lyrics, and other text-based media surrounding EDM, ?feeling? is often deployed in a polyvalent manner, highlighting the conceptual overlap between emotion, affective knowing, perception, and touch. This bleed between modes of feeling extends into the sound of recordings themselves, which use vibration to engage with tactile, haptic, and kinaesthetic senses in addition to hearing. This article focuses on ?house? and ?techno? styles of EDM, especially the ?minimal? continuum of sub-styles that were in ascendancy during the first decade of the twenty-first century. These styles invoke tactility through a range of modalities, of which three will be the focus of this essay: percussive ?beats,? fleshy timbre, and sonic grain. The notion of sonic grain will be developed through a close engagement with the work of musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer?in particular, his yet-to-be-translated treatise on sound-objects, Traité des objets sonores (1966). While building upon existing studies of EDM aesthetics, this article strikes out in a somewhat orthogonal direction, attempting to account for aspects of this genre that are not well described by symbolic representation or musical form. The aim here is to go beyond the representation of tactility in lyrics and visual imagery, turning instead to the sound of EDM itself, which foregrounds percussion, texture, grain, and other sonic elements that resonate with heightened haptic experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59–76
Number of pages17
JournalSound Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

8,468 words


  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Tactility
  • Texture
  • Grain
  • musique concrète
  • Electronic Dance Music
  • synaesthesia
  • affect


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