EMS 09 - Abstract- Spectromorphology in instrumental music

Bryan Holmes
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One of the most influential paradigms in contemporary music is the so called “liberation of sound” (LALITTE, 2005) or “aesthetics of sonority” (GUIGUE, 2007), by which music came to be composed not just with notes but with sound itself. Exploration of timbres, acoustics and the movement away from twelve-tone compositional processes are well illustrated by futurism, microtonalism and the music of Varèse, to name a few examples in the first half of 20th century. However, electroacoustic music can be considered the height of this historical and aesthetic development. Composers who passed by the proliferating studios were noticeably inspired and some of them didn't return to instrumental non-recorded means (for DELALANDE, 2001, the invention of recording was music's “second technological revolution” after the first one, music notation). Nowadays almost every western musician is, at least indirectly —and very often unconsciously—, influenced by these “spectromorphological structuring processes” (SMALLEY, 1986 and 1997).
Pierre SCHAEFFER (principally 1966 and SCHAEFFER & REIBEL, 1967) unveiled a possible typomorphology of sonic objects as his most successful achievement (PALOMBINI, 1993; THORESEN, 2006), and adaptations of typomorphology have worked especially well as pertinent methodologies for the analysis of electroacoustic music. Most of these adaptations ignore the difference between musical objects and sonic objects, placing analysis in a more neutral position. Lasse Thoresen proposed at EMS06-Beijing a graphic analytical tool, very close in its base to Schaefferian typomorphology, appropiating that of Smalley's original term spectromorphology. It makes use of a specially-designed computer font called Sonova, which is one of the leading illustrative means for this paper. The font was already “tested” in HOLMES (2008).
Non-recording-based music has not been researched, in a consistent way, under spectromorphology's optics, considering what was said about aesthetics of sonority. Some instrumental written works have been interestingly reviewed through their recordings (Thoresen has, in my opinion, written convincingly about this), however those approaches use to “put between brackets” the written score, that “privileged witness” of composer's intentions (GUIGUE, 2007). This may be explained because of sonic object's non-written nature, once Schaeffer showed how defective traditional music notation can be —especially when faced with new sonic materials— and proposed solfeggio's reinvention. But many instrumental music composers and analysts have learned from reductive listening's “lessons” and today it is perhaps possible to extend the original concept of sonic object, or otherwise use new terminologies, for “sonic” analysis not only through recordings and spectrograms, but also by using the score as a valuable guide. This is what Guigue calls “desconcretization of sonority”. Schaeffer himself explained most of his categories through instrumental music and Traité des Objets Musicaux shows a few score-based examples.
This paper is an abstract of my Masters thesis to be defended in march 2009 at UNIRIO, Brazil. It aims to set a precedent for an eventual contemporary orchestration treatise based in spectromorphology, while also providing evidence of the feedback between electroacoustic and instrumental music by using the concept of technomorphism, or, maybe less specific, technographic signals, as defined by CAESAR (2008). Because it is not possible to cover a wide exemplification in one paper, I have limited my analysis examples to one subject regarding a technographic signal: reverb. This is for not limiting spectromorphological criteria. Thus, using the Sonova for graphic analysis, I reviewed several fragments of music (i.e., micro to medium-structures, just as traditional orchestration treatises do) which present an emulation of, or even a more “poetical” analogy to, reverberation, describing their spectral typology and morphology. I observed solutions taken from the most “classic” contemporaries (Debussy, Stravinsky, Varèse) to newer ones (Malec, Grisey, Romitelli).
CAESAR, Rodolfo [2008]. O loop como promessa da eternidade. In: Anais do XVIII Congresso da Associação Nacional de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação em Música(ANPPOM). Salvador (Bahia), setembro de 2008. p.286-290.
DELALANDE, François [2001]. Le Son des Musiques: entre technologie et esthétique. Paris: INA-Buchet/Chastel, 2001.
GUIGUE, Didier [2007]. Estética da sonoridade: teoria e prática de um método analítico - uma introdução. Claves, nº 4, p.37-65, novembro de 2007.
HOLMES, Bryan [2008]. Análise Espectromorfológica da Obra Desembocaduras. In: Anais do XVIII Congresso da Associação Nacional de Pesquisa e Pós-Graduação em Música (ANPPOM). Salvador (Bahia), setembro de 2008. p.82-88.
LALITTE, Philippe [2005]. Varèse's architecture of timbre: meditation of acoustics to produce organized sound. In: Actes du Colloque interdisciplinaire de musicologie (CIM05). Montréal (Québec) Canada, 10-12/03/2005.
PALOMBINI, Carlos [1993]. Pierre Schaeffer's Typo-Morphology of Sonic Objects. PhD thesis. University of Durham, UK.
SCHAEFFER, Pierre [1966]. Traité des Objets Musicaux. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1966.
SCHAEFFER, Pierre & REIBEL, Guy [1967]. Solfège de l'objet sonore. Trad. Abbaye traductions (Avant-propos), Livia Bellagamba (english), Laura Acuña (spanish). Réédition. Paris: INA-GRM, 2005.
SMALLEY, Denis [1986]. Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes. In: EMMERSON, S. (Ed.). The Language of Electroacoustic Music. London: Macmillan Press, 1986. p.61-93.
_______________ [1997]. Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound-Shapes. Organized Sound, Vol. 2, Issue 02, august 1997. p.107-126.
THORESEN, Lasse [2006]. Spectromorphological Analysis of Sound Objects: An adaptation of Pierre Schaeffer's Typomorphology. In: Proceedings of Terminology and Translation - Beijing - EMS06.

Bryan Holmes
Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO)