The Shapes and Functions of Continuous Processes in Contemporary Electronic Dance Music

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Jeremy Walter Smith


This article examines the shapes, and functions of continuous processes in contemporary electronic dance music (EDM), providing an analytical framework for discussing their structural and aesthetic roles in this repertoire. Continuous processes are musical gestures with continuous changes to musical parameters, rather than discrete, “step-by-step†ones. Examples include pitch slides (glissandos), crescendos, fade-ins, accelerandos, and filter sweeps. Most of the music discussed is from the 2010s, and from the large category of genres under the umbrella of house and trance.

Continuous processes in this repertoire are created with “continuous controllers†such as sliders and knobs, or are programmed into tracks with “automation curves.†Perceptually, most continuous processes in EDM behave like linear, sinusoidal, or exponential functions. A heuristic model is proposed to represent our perception of continuous processes in EDM as variations of these basic shapes. Functionally, continuous processes often provide sonic instructions for dancers. They can be used by creators at strategic times to provide orientation, disorientation, ornamentation, or intensification. This article adds to existing analytical scholarship by drawing attention to the many roles of continuous processes in EDM, and showing how they contribute to the emotional waves experienced when listening to this music.

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