What does "writing for electronics" mean? For example, when a call for scores is asking for a piece for electronics, or for another instrument and electronics, what exactly is it asking for? Would writing for synthesizer be considered writing for electronics, or should music for electronics be completely fabricated on a computer using... something else?

  • I don't think you're going to find any exact definition, other than that the instruments should produce sound electronically (duh). This definitely does cover synths and sample players. If you say “writing for synthesizer” it would actually just as vague. But for what it's worth, “percussion” also covers an awful lot of completely different instruments. If you want to be exact, say something like “for subtractive analogue synth” or “for Gamelan samples with granular synthesis”. Aug 18, 2020 at 22:02
  • @leftaroundabout I personally would not have put sample players in this category: is a clavinova an electronic instrument? Technically yes obviously, but it's still trying to reproduce an acoustic one... One the other hand, using these samples for synthesis would fall in.. Anyway, just to say I agree it's far too vague, and one could push this definition on both sides...
    – Tom
    Aug 19, 2020 at 5:47
  • 1
    Is there a bit of context? Is this for a call? Or an a music sheet?
    – Tom
    Aug 19, 2020 at 7:09
  • @Tom_C, in addition I don't think anybody ever said "I want to write a piece for the Clavinova", because there's no meaningful difference to any other piano.
    – user70370
    Aug 19, 2020 at 11:06
  • @Rol, well, synths would definitely count as electronics, so would the theremin. If you want to bring your electric violin or your Hammond organ, you should probably ask the author for clarification.
    – user70370
    Aug 19, 2020 at 11:09

4 Answers 4


Not really an answer, but too long for a comment…

If we do an analogy with "classical instruments", electronics instruments should be creating the initial sound by electronic meanings. This rule out for instance, guitar with effect pedals: the sound is electronically modified, but not generated by electronics…
"Real" synthesizers (sub, additive, FM and so, who create sounds from a continuous signal - CV, MIDI order) would obviously fall in that category. There could be a debate about sample players, as the original sound is "recorded"… Computers, depending on what you are doing with it, would fall in or out that definition…

On the other hand, the sound produced by acoustic instruments can be modified so heavily by the use of effects that it is sometimes sounding more "electronic" than some synthesizers…

So in the end, it depends mainly if you are talking about "electronic instrument" or about an "electronic sound". In all cases, it is safe to say that these definitions are quite blurry, so it is up to interpretations…


This is an educated guess. You have a call for scores and the instruction says "writing for electronics". Search on http://live-composers.pantheonsite.io/search/node/electronics gives some insight on the current state. Some explicitly say no to electronics.

One instruction:

Electronics: we are open to receiving pieces with fixed tape parts, but we are not able to facilitate live processed electronics for this iteration of the workshop


Electronics (Pre-Recorded Only; No Live Processing Please)

"Live" and "fixed" seem to be terms, (assuming fixed is prerecorded). The term is very vague as it could mean anything and is intended to be inclusive, to mean anything, to be very open.

I'd use as a good benchmark: the old term used to be "tape", e.g. a composition for flute, or flute and tape. That is: tape is prerecorded (could be of anything) and obviously just played back during performance with the acoustic instruments. Obviously with setting up the electronics (takes time, things can go wrong, etc..)

The "safe" way is to have something prerecorded.

Would likely have some form of aleatory (almost welcomed / expected)

I think it's important to have something that would be understood (This is where program notes come in, explain it very well).

Just a random example: Concerto for Isolated performer, on video call like Skype / Zoom etc..


"Writing for electronics" means precisely what the person who wrote it wanted it to mean. The rest of us can only guess!

In the context of submitting scores for a competition, I would suspect it DOESN'T include synthesizers etc. when being used simply to emulate traditional instruments.

If this question relates to a specific call for scores, ask the organisers. (And please share their reply with us.)


Intuitively it seems like a vague request.

There are numerous ways to "write for electronics". Should it be written in a DAW and exported to a specific format such as AAC, MP3, or Ogg Vorbis? Should it be written in "8-bit" format for a tracker module program? Are they expecting a MIDI file? Are they expecting a specific synthesizer?

From my perspective, "writing for electronics" means that you can compose stuff that would be impossible for a human to do on a regular instrument - especially sequences that would require more than 2 hands and 2 feet.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.