Music: Static on a Hot Tin Roof

Midway through the piece, a woman loudly sneezed. The audience neither shushed nor frowned. Instead, they turned politely and inspected the big loudspeakers on the wood-paneled walls to try to determine if the sneeze was a part of the score. The scene was the West German Radio's Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne. The occasion: an international convention of 800 musicologists, gathered to sample the latest wares of Europe's hippest center for avant-garde music.

What the visitors heard last week was music pushed a step beyond the otherworldly compositions of French musique concrète, which...

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