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of Spectral
MT4103: Context and
Semester 1 2008/9

B. Yianni, 013901


In 4,466 words, the author introduces some binding concepts for the spectralist style of composition as a
whole and explores the supporting theory of various spectral composers.

The author discusses musical perception of spacetime as a hierarchy of composition and proposes time
as the main concern of the spectralist composer; discusses various implications of meaning in music,
questioning the creative role of the spectralist composer; and discusses various implications of
computational analysis, questioning the use of analysis in composition.
Time and Space.

Marvin Minsky suggests that music teaches the human about time, in the same way that a child ‘stacks
and packs blocks and boxes, lines them up, and knocks them down’ (1981) in a naturally driven effort to
learn about space. Interestingly, Frances notes that ‘before musical education, children do not situate high
and low sounds in space’ (1958), but can mark the passage of time by successive sound events, which
can be observed by the act of dancing.

So is it time rather than space that is perceptually relative in this case?

Gerard Grisey notes his fascination for the perception of space over time, what he calls ‘extended time
and for continuity’ (1996). He asks, ‘What language does that extended time imply?’ and ‘proposes a
scale of complexity for duration that goes from order to disorder’ (1987).

The language he refers to is the gradual development of one sound into another - what he calls ‘the
degree of pre-audibility’; the sounds between and within sounds; the barely perceived scrape before the
tone, the overtones that create timbre, and the resonance thereafter.

It is time that shapes his idea of consonance and dissonance. He asks ‘how to compose an extended
type of time?’ (1996) and his answer is to slowly reveal the component timbres of a tone that would
otherwise be perceived as one timbre only.

This ‘scale of complexity’ (1987) is not dissimilar from Katya Saareijo's introduction of the noise/sound
axis, with which she replaces the ‘dynamic function of harmony’ (1987). She uses "noise" to ‘replace the
concept of dissonance and “sound” that of consonance.’

But are perceptions of sound and noise governed by perception of time?

Hempholtz (1963) postulated that sound is a regular vibration, and noise an irregular one, be it over time
or intensity. But if an irregular vibration is slow enough, a pattern may be perceived, and fluctuations in
vibration become interpreted as musical motifs. Equally, an irregular vibration may become so fast as to
create a pure tone.

Grisey attempts to blur our interpretation of time: he claims that ‘the absolute relativity of temporal
perception’ (1987) is proven by becoming a function of the differences between successive sound-
objects: markers in time that in essence control time. This relates to Minsky's thoughts about interpreting

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sound as time.

‘If you extend time, you extend in all directions. you extend... going up... and in depth’ (1996) Grisey says,
which seems to suggest that he treats time as space: textural timbres as a vertical axis, and dynamic
range as depth. It is the slowing down of a sound that lets the listener perceive the modulations instead
as additions, additions which imply this idea of space: a hierarchy. The same as the acceleration of a
series of sounds blurs distinction until only one continuous sound is perceived.

Saariaho wonders ‘if there might be a way to organize timbre in more complex — hierarchical? — ways’
(1987) than her noise/sound axis - could this be time she refers to? The idea of an order, as in: first, next,
last implies a hierarchy as well as a space, or, a hierarchy of space.

The composer Gyorgy Ligeti reveals how he toys with perceptions of time. In his piece Continuum, he
‘creates the illusion of a... rhythmical succession which is not actually played’ by using very rapid notes
that interplay to imply a second layer of rhythm. He says that the illusion ‘is the result of distribution over a
certain period of time’ and refers to the distribution as ‘spatial’, what he calls ‘a rhythmical gestalt’, and
emphasises that it ‘is not actually performed’ (1987). So, one could say that it is purely perceived, and
also that Ligeti, like Grisey, conceptualises time within the machinations of space. In other pieces
including Apparitions and Atmospheres he introduces ‘new timbres... which are not due to the timbres of
the instruments, but which are the result of a transformation of a rhythm’ (1987). He talks about deceiving
the ears - a musical technique known as trompe l'oreille, a term included in the title of Dumitrescu's piece
Cogito trompe l'Oeil, and a technique much used by the minimalists. But by transforming rhythms Ligeti is
playing with Helmholtz’s idea of noise, sound and therefore timbre as being regular or irregular. For
example, the phenomenon of 'beating', where there occurs a periodic variation of sound or amplitude due
to the combination of similar but not identical frequencies, may be simulated using Ligeti's technique. Is it
possible then to create an irregular, regular vibration?

Dumitrescu describes his own compositional process as ‘eliminating everything around [a sound] that isn't
strictly part of it... gradually... structures can begin to develop, to extend into time’ (1997). This implies that
the minute 'beatings' that may occur in a sound and describe its timbre will be ignored. So before he
arranges a sound in time, he examines it without time, so to speak, because this interaction of tone can
only occur over time.

He goes on to say that the instability of sound is very important in his music.’There is definitely not the
idea of perfecting something, of making the sounds fixed and perfect for all time. The point is to find out
how they can be different every time but in exactly the way that is right for that particular time.’ So, the
final stability is a relative one’ (1997), and this relativity is in the context of time.

Grisey talks about ‘finding the right place’ (1996) for sounds in his composition. An obstacle composers
face, he says, is ‘trying to find the right function of the right sound at the right moment.’ He notes a cultural
idea of relativity in that ‘there is no concept in the world that can tell you this is too long or too short and
tell you exactly why.’

Dumitrescu says that ‘for each person you have to discover the things that are valid’ (1997), but here he
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refers to an act of performance rather than listening. ‘Music has to acknowledge fully the uniqueness of
persons and the fact that sounds only come alive through persons’: ‘you might say that in western
thought, there is an emphasis on external time, and that in eastern though there is an emphasis on
internal time’ (1997). The rigidity of structured rhythm in western music ties in with the development of the
equal tempered scale: equal tempered time, a most unnatural or inhuman phenomenon, another structure
partially disregarded by the spectralists. This second idea of time is personal, cultural, linked to ‘the
experience of being alive in a body’ (1997), but also organic, and so shared by organisms, which he notes
can cause problems ‘when you are working with conventionally trained musicians... you persuade a
musician in the group of the rightness of a certain rhythm... then all the others... follow the same rhythm’
whereas in fact he wants each musician's part to be ‘played in its own rhythm, which is also the rhythm of
the musician at that time’ (1997).

Despite this, the idea of organic rhythm goes some way to explaining 'performance' as a concept: the best
musicians obtain merit through their expression - is this due to a heightened sense of inner rhythm?
Dumitrescu found ‘a kind of proportionality between the act of playing a note, and the pause which follows
it’ (1997). This idea of the cyclic rhythm of physical activity, ‘systole and diastole, the heart, the step’,
refers back to Grisey's ‘degree of pre-audibility’ (1987): the gap or pause - that Dumitrescu says ‘western
musical culture has succeeded in abolishing’ (1996) - as well as Helmholtz's ideas of irregularity.

These gaps are just as important as the note itself, in fact make the note what it is: indeed conceptually
there is no sound without silence.

The philosopher Husserl tried to understand how ‘entities in the human universe appear to have stability
in time’ (1950). As an image for the emergence of a complementary sense of time and self, he uses the
activity of following a musical melody, arguing that the human remembers primary impressions as well as
the ‘act-phase’ (1950) of forming these impressions. The gaps between the memory of the note, and the
memory of understanding the note, place these realisations in a temporal space.

Murail has described spectralism as an attitude towards composition rather than a style - which explains
why most commonly described 'spectralist' composers do not embrace the moniker wholly, finding the
term ‘inappropriate, misleading, and reductive’ (2000). The attitude Muriel refers to is that ‘music is
ultimately sound evolving in time’, a concept that is fairly obvious, but also implies that it is the
manipulation of time which alters how a sound may evolve, which in turn is the essence of the spectralist
composer's oeuvre, as we have seen.

Meaning and Perception.

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It is interesting to note that composers using spectralist techniques tend not to provide pre-descriptive
explanations or descriptions of their work unless regarding particular extended performance techniques.
So one cannot infer meaning by a preparatory description of performance.

The composer Alban Berg used an arrangement of orchestral strings to simulate the sounds created by
his asthmatic struggle to breathe (1969). However, a listener will not necessarily perceive this factual
simile, but is likely to experience an unsettling 'feeling' from the uncomfortable chords. If the same listener
is told that the sound mimics asthmatic breath, they will immediately hear it as such.

Although Russolo states that ‘noise reminds us of life... we think of the things that produce the noises
we are hearing’ (1954), Nattiez suggests that ‘to become art, traces of cause and effect (links between
noise and creator) must be lost’ (1987).

When we hear a cello concerto, we think perhaps of the performer, but not of the horse hair.

If we hear a steam train, we think of a steam train, and all the cultural and historical associations thereof.

So the fact that the real-sound associations of asthma in Berg's piece are lost must be due to the fact that
music is considered as 'art' by the casual listener, rather than a transcription of real-sound. It is Nattiez's
neutral carrier (1987) destroying the intent: the listener is detached from reality, because music is not real.

The result is that the emotional association with the physical pain of asthma is perceived, rather than an
acknowledgment of the asthma itself.

In Grisey's work Partiels (1975), the harmonics of a single e-flat trombone tone are disassembled
(Fineberg 2000) and brought to the listener's perception; however, the result does not necessarily bring to
mind ‘a trombone’.

So if with Berg's piece the emotional pain of asthma is interpreted, if not the asthma, and in Grisey's case
the trombone goes unnoticed, what is the emotional signifier behind this transcribed sound of a

Nattiez (1987) states that meaning is lost through the neutral trace, or 'carrier' - the necessary written or
verbalised arrangement of sound. The original meaning intended by the poietic (creative) impulse cannot
be the same as the resulting esthetic (understanding) impulse because of this, and other reasons
previously considered.

But what of mimicry?

Horror film music, for example, mimics the symptoms of fear to inspire fear in the listener: a faster
heartbeat, heightened senses, etc, all imitated by a musical arrangement. This links to time as a
compositional tool when thinking about another much used aspect of horror film music: 'suspense', the
freezing of time created by held tones.

However these techniques are hidden from the listener's perception (unless a piece is being actively
examined). The body responds to the sounds of fear, mimicking what is being mimicked. Perceptively, the

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sound is understood as 'music'. This again refers to Nattiez's neutral carrier of composition.

Frances writes ‘the kinship between rhythmic... pattern[s] in music’ are directly related to

‘the patterns of gestures that accompany behaviour’ (1958). Nattiez clarifies that ‘this explains the
tremendous richness of music's representational capacities’ (1987), and goes on to cite a number of
works including Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787), in which the ‘play of the swords in Act 1 is rendered by the
rising violin scales’ (1987).

Movement, of course, creates space, which in turn allows movement and therefore time, a concept we
have already discussed.

What is interesting about these musics is that the listener is already aware of the subject: a preparatory
description of content is present in the title or storyline of the piece, triggering thought rather than allowing
a bodily reaction and emotive response. Horror film music comes with a horror film, so we can say the
same thing. However, listen to Don Giovanni and to the soundtrack from The Shining and you are more
likely to understand fear from the latter than swords from the former.

Ramjil Fischman proposes that this ‘strong imagery inherent in mimetic discourse’ (2008) allows
composers to conjure ‘new landscapes’, that vary from ‘the physically possible to the surreal’ to the hyper-
real. He claims that ‘human beings possess innate mechanisms necessary to construct meaning out of
mimetic discourse’ (2008), as opposed to ‘timbral aspects of sound’, citing Emmerson's language grid of
1986, in which the aural (actual) moves to the mimetic over an axis of the abstracted (displaced) to the

Hyper-reality is a concept influencing many aspects of synthesis and other spectral composition
techniques as we have seen. However, instead of building new sounds,

Westerkamp points out that in soundscape and spectromorphological composition ‘the artist seeks to
discover the sonic/musical essence within the recordings... the artist works with the understanding that
aesthetic values will emerge from the soundscape or its elements’ (1998). Fischman draws a similarity
between Emmerson's syntax axis and the potential textural functions of spectral composition, implying
that spectral and mimetic approaches can create the same results.

So, how can we understand these aesthetic values Westerkamp says are fundamental to both?

In the experiments of Manfred Clynes ‘two particular [musical] patterns that gently rise and fall are said to
suggest states of love and reverence; two others (more abrupt) signify anger and hate’ (1992). These
conclusions are relative to movement: but Carpentier, Rameau (1722), Hoffman and Lavignac (1942)
have all put forward emotive descriptions of stationary keys in western tonality. There are strong
differences and striking similarities between each interpretation. The key of b flat major is described as
‘magnificent and joyous’ (Nattiez, 1987: 125) by Carpentier, ‘storms and rages’ by Rameau, ‘rustic’ by
Hoffman and ‘elegant and gracious’ by Lavignac. We also know that for Beethoven (1962) d flat major had
associations of ‘solemnity and death’: a key described by Lavignac as ‘full of charm’.

Another, b flat minor, was a 'black' key for Beethoven, described by Carpentier as ‘gloomy and terrible’

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and Lavignac as ‘funereal or mysterious’.

These interpretations are physical, cultural and personally varied - the first person to write gloomy music
in b flat minor must influence those who hear it - but is there a running theme that exists outside of
cultural influences? Evidently, history has not much altered the common interpretations of this key...
although spectralist techniques in general move away from western tonality. Perhaps the gloomy
interpretations of b flat minor inspire composers to write in a suitable style; an effort to fit music to a key,
not unlike Grisey's attempts to place sounds where they 'should' occur.

Minsky asks:’Is there some more abstract idea that both [of Clyne's statements] embody?’ (1981). This is
the question i'm asking, which ‘is like the problem raised by Wittgenstein of what words like game mean’

A particular form of Inuit vocal music can be described as a 'game' (Nattiez: 1987) - for all intents and
purposes, is a game. so the 'real' meaning of the music that is a result of this game is 'fun', 'playful', and
so on. But the meaning interpreted by a non-Inuit differs entirely: the music is not in the western equal
tempered scale, so the western listener may experience some unease from the music's perceived
'strange' sound, which in turn they may ascribe to sadness or foreboding.

It could be said that there is 'no' meaning behind the music: that in fact, it is not music at all. It is
described by those who create it in purely extra-musical terms. The meaning is our own conception, in the
same way that we describe birdsong as being 'musical' but not music.

The descriptions of a certain type of music performed by the Mapuche Indians of Argentina (Robertson
De-Carbo: 1976) are also purely extra-musical.

As well as other musics, defined as such, they have Tayil, which is a verbalisation of a person's
patrilineage (called Kimpen) and can only be performed by an Eltun - a female authorised to do so.

However, if this 'music' was analysed and transcribed unto an acoustic ensemble, for example the Bath
Philharmonic, it would become music to the minds of the listeners. There is nothing else such an
ensemble can create. Referring to Emerson’s grid, this is abstracted, but not abstract.

But would the meaning of a ‘vocalised patrilineage’ remain the same?

Almost certainly, this meaning could not be inferred by the ear alone.

Nattiez (1987) states that all heard sound, depending upon how it is heard (and by this he refers to the
realisations of an individual organism) can become music.

Mache (1983) discovered that birdsong is organised by a repetition/transformation principle universal to

human musics, and posed the question: do birds posses an organised music themselves?

This in turn begs a question regarding the mechanics of a music. Is a language of music defined by the

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limitations imposed upon it - the physical properties of a bird's gullet - as it is in the case of the extra-
musical Tayil where, when transcribed unto the language of the western orchestra, it becomes music in
very real terms?

Orchestral instruments are not designed to 'play music' - rather, they are objects designed to be very
conducive for making sound. The development of early Romanian folk music, as collected by Bella
Bartok, was influenced by the capabilities of the instruments themselves, rather than the other way
around. The use of acoustic scales derived from the resonant partials of natural wind instruments is not
unlike matching a meaning-in-composition to meaning-in-key as mentioned above.

So does any sound played upon an instrument become 'musical'?

Certainly: when in accord to the composer's, or the performer's, intention.

Can we say that sound is music when governed by this controlled thought - 'intention' - which we cannot
assume of a bird? Or can intention be subconsciously driven?

What if a composer were to take birdsong, analyse, and arrange for orchestral ensemble? Many
composers have attempted this using varying methods.

There are creative processes that adapt the bird's form to fit the orchestra - methods of absorbing the
former into the theory of the latter - and there will be new methods developed to accurately reproduce
these sounds. Will the Wren's call be in b flat, and is this the composer’s decision?

Even if so, we cannot say that the final result was created wholly by the composer. Even if the birdsong is
an inspiration rather than an analysis, the composer is not totally in control of his output. It does not come
totally from the composer's mind.

Can we say this of any composed music? Surely all forms of sound influence a composer's music? Is the
composer just a channel for his own understanding of the world he lives in?

Nattiez (1987) states that the creative impulse - the poietic - comes first, and music is thusly composed.
The final stage is the listener's attempt to understand - the esthetic impulse.

I argue that there is no creative impulse in spectral composition, other than the impulse to transcribe. The
original impulse is actually to fit sound into how the composer hears it; to explain how the composer
understands, rather than create a new understanding. The impulse is a desire to share an esthetic

This fits very well with the spectralists. As a rule, they intend not to create, but to reveal what is already in
existence, as we have already discussed. If this entails an amount of creativity, then so does the esthetic
impulse - the effort of understanding.

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Analysis and Composition.

Grisey (1996) says he worked ‘very little with computers and electronics’. He complained that pieces of
his that contain implied electronics ‘have to be revised constantly because of the change of technology.
The technology of new instruments, of synthesizers or whatever, is not done for [the musician]. It's done
for the business.’

Grisey is somewhat of a technophobe, strange for a notable composer of the spectralist style. He claims
that the future development of technology is ‘endless’ (1996), perhaps echoed by Moore's Law (1965) that
the number of transistors on a computer chips doubles every 18 months.

But what does this mean when applied to computer analysis?

Arguably, Fourier's method of imaging sound is as 'unreal' as the standard amplitude to time axis familiar
to music technologists. It may represent sound more comprehensively, most notably in the frequency
spectrum, but this frequency content is also present in the amp/time visualisation. Perhaps the
representation in the latter is just not as easily recognised by humans. So the Fourier representation is a
visual alteration that fits our understanding. Following this thought to its logical conclusion, the Fourier
method of representation is less accurate than previous representations, because it has been altered the

When applied to Moore's Law, and Grisey's cry of an endless process, this means that newest and most
advanced representation is a byword for most unreal representation. Ultimately the most advanced and
most comprehensible musical analysis system will be the least related to its subject.

So the process of computational analysis is unreliable at best.

Grisey complains of using systems of analysis that are ‘already totally outdated’ and have become
symptoms of our ‘throw-away society’ (1996). Varese said in 1916 that we need new musical instruments
very badly. Grisey comments that ‘now we have the musical instruments, but today, I thought he would
have said we need new musicians very badly. and perhaps, new music’ (1996).

Murial says that it is ‘very hard, in general, to produce interesting electronic sounds, without using spectral
techniques to some extent’ (ref 9). Grisey speaks about ‘integrating [electronics] in a large orchestra’
(1996). Murail tries to ‘deconstruct acoustic sounds and reconstruct electronic sounds with the same
emphasis’, and points out that both types of sound are ‘not really different in their essence’. However this
sounds a lot like simple synthesis of real sounds with electronics, rather than ‘trying to find the hidden
relationships inside’ instrument spectra, ‘extracting this formal or algorithmic basis’, and creating new
sounds which ‘have the same kind of internal relationships as the existing instrument’ (ref 9). Ligeti refers
to various spectral techniques that ‘exploit the phenomenon of thresholds of perception’ (1978). He says
that ‘one would never have invented this technique, imagined this possibility, without the work at the
electronic studio’ (1978). He echoes Murial's statement about the homogeny of sound's essence: ‘...I may

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provoke the same phenomena with normal instruments and voices’ (1978).

In the same way that Romanian folk scales were based upon the natural harmonics of the instruments,
proto-spectralist composers were inspired by the complex harmonics of bells, double-stop organs and so
on. Musicians who regularly played such instruments - such as Olivier Messiaen - were steeped in the
sound and so became influenced by it.

Computer aided analysis simply speeds up this gradual process of focus, allowing anybody to instantly
examine the components of any sound. But the magnifying process has been visualised by someone
else, instead of becoming personally perceived by the composer.

Does this imply less understanding, which in turn implies that control over musical result lies with the style
of analysis? Does the responsibility of the composer become more about negotiating the notational
hurdles created by analysis?

Ligeti echoes the need for new music. Making new musical structures ‘with the use of computers, which is
only beginning, opens up revolutionary possibilities’ (1978).

Dumitrescu talks about contradictions in his own compositional approach.

‘I'm split between two tendencies, one towards the past, the other towards the present and the future
emerging in the present’ (1997). He states that ‘music is not sound’, but is ‘behind, beyond sound,
revealed by sound’. Music is an irrational communication, and in this extent ‘like mysticism’ (1997). Is this
a creative application of a misunderstanding in analysis? Mysticism, the spiritual apprehension of
knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, echoes the idea of playing with half-understood analytical
processes, especially when these processes are meant to be revealing truths about sound.

This embraces a de-individualisation of composition - the self-reference that achieves an immediate

familiarity, the repetition of themes, cannot exist within computer-aided analysis. The composer's control
is lost, other than over the analytical processes themselves, or the choice of analyzed subject.

Saariaho has experimented with multiple ways of using computer technology in composition. The
harmony of her piece Lichtbogen is based on an analysis of a cello's various transitions as it moves from
'light' sounds to noisy sounds through increasing pressure of the bow. Vers le Blanc, realised with
IRCAM's chant software, presents a three tone chord that changes into another during the 15 minute
composition. But was this progression created, analysed, and transcribed? Or were the two chords
analysed separately, and morphology created during the process of composition? Vers le Blanc questions
notions about a composer's choice, both in subject and process. Did the machinations of the Chant
software dictate the musical result? I argue that the process must influence the composition. Another style
of analysis would have yielded a very different result.

Dumitrescu embraces this concept of changeability as musical in itself: ‘there are an infinity of errors... the
errors of the first day... [then] there are the new errors, the ones that only come on the second day’
(1997). The idea of an allowable 'error' can also be thought of as something that is inherent to the

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process; a byproduct that is disregarded by the composer. For example, the concept of the digital noise
floor, when the artefacts of digital production and reproduction have become part of the sound and no
longer recognised. The 'first' and 'second day' Dumitrescu refers to can be thought of as time in terms of
technological development. The composer ‘learned to strive against dead perfection’ (1997) in light of this
mysticism of composition.

Another serious technological element relating to Fourier's spectrum is the use of microtonality.

When is it acceptable to allow inaccuracies of transcription (in the use of microtonality)? Is this a
compositional, performance or analytical consideration?

For example, player interpretations of microtonality vary, despite an often mathematical representation.
Many instruments are physically incapable of playing certain pitches or combinations, while some
extended technique methods are unreliable. Sonic results of these methods become gestural. The
clarinet for example is capable of very high cluster-pitches which are difficult to exactly reproduce every
time (W.Piston: 1955). So a composer can imply spectral content without having to be accurate about
microtonality – for example, pitch bend interaction, whispers, and noise- sounds including hitting or
scratching an instrument's body. This implication of spectral content can be accomplished to some degree
without analysis, so analysis in this respect becomes a reference rather than a generator.

Analytically, if one inspects a sound using an fft transformation, the amount of information available is
dictated by assigned parameters of the computation: the number of frequencies analyzed is up to the
human, and to the capabilities of the computer. Does this confirm the unreal-ness of the analytical model
and its inherent inaccuracy?

If the analysis is controlled by the composer, it becomes an extension of his or her perception. The model
may be tweaked until it corresponds with the composer's own vision. This has serious implications for
transcription, as the analysis becomes gestural once more. I have found that 20 resynthesized frequency
bins can recognisably recreate a musical sound, and due to the simplicity of a bell's timbre, a passable
imitation of one can be simulated with less (interesting note: timbre in Spanish means 'bell').

This 'thin' resynthesis does not apply to complex ‘noise’ - which is more commonly implied, as mentioned.

Cipriani and Ligeti argue that electroacoustic music analysis is soundscape, similar terms in this context
being acoustic ecology and phonology, because of analytical parameter choice. We can agree with them;
and go further by adding that soundscape is composition; and that, in turn, analysis alone can be said to
be composition.


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The rationalised techniques of spectralism imply a reconstitution of sound that is beholden to external
considerations, be they emergent computational methods, relative perception, or notational difficulties.

I have tried to reveal that the deeper concepts of spectralism involve a personal process of translation, in
an attempt to create a reality that represents the composer's vision of reality, despite these external

I have examined three important related concepts: time; meaning; and analysis, and how these relate to
the spectralist composer's main oeuvre: perception, reality and understanding.

I have argued that time is the major consideration of the spectralist, and that the impulse to create comes
from a desire to share experience. I have shown that accurate transcription of sound is difficult in the
extreme, but also that this pure transcription is not the aim of a spectral composition, and that successes
of this type are perceptually relative.

The spectral composer attempts to create tools that mirror his own processes and perceptions, in an
effort to remove the 'personal' and place sound in its natural habitat. The result is a new type of ‘music’
that takes human perception instead of human existence as a reference for composition.

Quote and Reference Sources:

Anderson, Julian. 2000. "A Provisional History of Spectral Music". Contemporary Music Review 19, no. 2
("Spectral Music: History and Techniques”): 7–22.

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Black, J. 2007. The Secret History of the World, Quercus

Cipriani, A. and Latini, G. 2008. Soundscape Composition as Global Music, Organised Sound volume 13
August 2008

Clynes, M. 1992. Time-Forms, Nature's Generators and Communicators of Emotion; Proc. IEEE Intl.
Workshop on Robot & Human Comm. (Tokyo, Sept. 1992)

Dumitrescu, I. 1997. Interviewed by Tim Hodgekinson, published in Resonance volume 6 number 1

Fischman, R. 2008. Mimetic Space - Unravelled, Organised Sound volume 13 August 2008

Frances, R. 1958, La Perception de la Musique

Grisey, G. 1996. Interviewed by David Bundler, January 18, 1996, published March 1996 issue of 20th-
Century Music

Grisey, G. 1987, Tempus ex Machina: A Composer's reflections on Musical Time, Contemporary Music
Review, Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 239 – 275

Hempholtz, H.L.F. Von, 1963, Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als Physiologische Grundlage fur die
Therorie der Musik

Husserl, E. 1950, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness.

Ligeti, G. 1978. Interviewed by Herman Sabbe, 23 October, 1978, published in Interface, vol.8, 1979, pg.

Lavignac. A, 1942, La Musique et les Musiciens

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Mache, F. B. 1983. Musique, Myth, Nature ou les Dauphins d'Arion.

Minsky, M. 1981, Music, Mind, and Meaning, Computer Music Journal, Vol. 5, Number 3

[ref 9] Murail, T. Interviewed by Anton Rovner for Musika Ukrainia, regrettably no date is given 12th December 2008

Nattiez, J-J. 1987, Music and Discourse; toward a Semiology of Music.

Piston, W. 1955. Orchestration, W. W. Norton & Company

Rameau. J. P, 1722, Traite de l'Harmonie Reduite a ses Principles Naturels.

Robertson-de Carbo, C. E. 1976: Tayil as Category and Communication among the Argentine Mapuche: A
Methodical Suggestion. 1976 Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council.

Russolo, L. 1954. l'Art des Bruits; Manifeste Futuriste de 1913, published 1986, Pendragon press

Saariaho, K. 1987, Timbre and harmony: Interpolations of timbral structures, Contemporary Music
Review, Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 93 - 133

Scott, Marion M, 1962. Beethoven, part of the series 'The Master Musicians' edited by Sir Westrup, J.

Westerkamp, H. 1998. Speaking from Inside the Soundscape in From Awareness to Action, Proceedings
from Stockholm Hey Listen!Conference on Acoustic Ecology, June 9-13, 1998, The Royal Swedish
Academy of Music, Blasieholmstorg 8, Stockholm, Sweden.

Verma, S. 2005. The Little Book of Scientific Principles, Theories, and Things, New Holland Publishers

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(UK), p187

Selected annotated Bibliography

Piston, W. 1955. Orchestration, W. W. Norton & Company

Piston takes the reader through a detailed analysis of each instrumental grouping within the orchestra,
and then each instrument individually, providing technical information regarding the mechanics of the
instruments themselves, relative notation, performability, and subtler effects including tone-matching and
so on. He briefly examines some of the major extended techniques for the instruments.

In part 2 he takes common problems with orchestration – including relative velocity, some aspects of
microtonality and so on – and demonstrates common methods of dealing with these problems.

Russolo, L. 1954. l'Art des Bruits; Manifeste Futuriste de 1913, published 1986, Pendragon

Russolo in this letter to the composer Pratella states that noise did not exist before the 1900s. He
proposes that sound is ‘something apart, different from life’, something that does not occur naturally so
that when the first pipe was blown, humans treated the sound as deity.

He goes on to describe man’s music as travelling from the most simple to the most complexly polyphonic
and dissonant, stating that anything less ‘no longer arouses feeling’.

He discusses the possibilities of orchestrating the bustle of crowd noise, sliding shop doors and so on,
and includes a poem by Marinetti that describes a war experience in descriptive and sound terms (of the
futurist style of the period).

He says that noise reminds us of life, and states that soon the sections of the orchestra will be mimicked

He notes that ‘modern’ dissonance moves closer and closer to ‘noise’, but the ultimate result cannot be
attained through classic instrumentation. He hypothesises that any noise still contains its dominant
vibration, or tone. He points out that the variety of sound is ‘endless’, and should not be hampered by
available instruments. He makes an interesting reference to the ‘rhythms’ of noise.

He finishes by urging Pratella to take up his ideas, and coins the phrase the Art of Noise.

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Nattiez, J-J. 1987, Music and Discourse; toward a Semiology of Music.

Nattiez introduces a conceptual theory of musical semiology, summing his previous work on the subject.
He explains semiotics as the study of signs, and states that music is 'not merely a whole composed of
"structures" (configurations)' but is also 'constituted by the procedures that have engendered it, and the
procedures to which it gives rise'. He introduces his categories of definition as the neutral or immanent,
the poietic, and the esthetic, which are the 'carrier' (the written or verbalised description necessary to
musical replication), the creative (composition), and the interpretive (listening or understanding)

He discusses 'the semiology of musical fact', and presents a cultural concept of music itself: being that
sound is a necessity of music; the 'musical' is any intentionally constructed sonic event; the relevant
culture of a music is entirely relevant to the music itself; and that universals of music 'must be sought at
the poietic or esthetic level' rather than the immanent.

He goes on to discuss concepts of 'musical work', proposing that improvisational structures and open
compositional structures prove his 'tripartitional' theory of analysis given above. he discusses the 'sound-
object' and questions the 'sense of continuity within the succession of isolated moments' that create
music in light of immanent and esthetic structures. He discusses the symbolism of 'musical meaning',
stating that 'music is not a narrative, but an incitement to make a narrative' and claims that humans are
'symbolic animals' who, when confronted with the neutral, 'seek to interpret it, to give it meaning,' in light
of cultural and personally perceived references.

He mentions that his theorems can be applied to analysis itself, and breaks the process down into the
object - in this case, music - the metalanguage - which music communicates by - and the method of
analysis. He notes that 'one cannot grasp the import of an analysis' unless one considers the connections
between an isolated work and a series of works, and considers where the analyst is situated between
musical universals and the particular properties of a work. He points out that these reasons create very
few strictly comparable analyses.

He discusses the semiology of musical analysis itself, stating that it draws 'its legitimacy from its link to
another symbolic fact'. He goes further, discussing the principles of an endless semiology: the fact that a
metalanguage is a symbolic event that refers to other symbolic events. He attempts to set out a discipline
of speech that he will use to refer to music in analysis, and expresses hope that others will adopt this
discipline. He breaks this analytical language into formal and informal, and within this structure global
models, and linear models. He questions the existence of intermediary models. He begins to apply the
systems he has set out, in particular to Debussy, to demonstrate their use.

He discusses analysis from a composer's viewpoint, both in terms of their own music and music in
general, and begins to question any possibility of objectivity.
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In the conclusion, he affirms that theory and analysis are purely symbolic constructions, referring again to
his tripartite theory. He returns to closer musical analysis and examines several works in light of a short
history of harmonic principles. He discusses compositional techniques in terms of a listeners expectation
of what is to come, in light of his semiological principles.

He finishes by again questioning the validity of his analysis.

Grisey, G. 1996. Interviewed by David Bundler, January 18, 1996, published March 1996 issue
of 20th-Century Music

In this published interview, the composer speaks informally with a knowledgeable interviewer about his
compositional approaches and perspective.

They discuss interpretations, applications and genesis of the 'spectral school', which is denied real
recognition by the composer. They discuss spectralism as dealing with 'a better equation' between the
concept of the score and the perception of the audience.

He discusses the perceptive limitations of the human being, and discusses complexity as a concept of
dissonance, recognising the cultural considerations of composition implied.

He emphasises his own work as dealing with concepts of time in light of perception, as well as the
'physical aspects' of sound.

He declaims the use of electronics to generate composition, regarding it as an aid to the concept-percept
equation. He expresses personal dissatisfaction with the systems of minimalism. He notes that spectral
techniques, once ground breaking, are now in common usage.

He presents an ecological attitude toward sound and music, and refers to 'finding the right place' for them
both. He discusses 'games of predictability' that all composers play, and considers being 'without an
established musical language'. He discusses 'point of reference' relating to these concepts.

He discusses some composers as being unmusical, and in doing so emphasises his position as a
composer, not an analyst. He discusses the 'wrong thing' and the 'opposite thing', in terms of expectation
- cultural and musical.

He talks about notational difficulties, and discusses the polarity of music as a discourse, or as a 'state of

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The interview finishes with grisey again declaiming the use of genre-labeling.

Dumitrescu, I. 1997. Interviewed by Tim Hodgekinson, published in Resonance volume 6

number 1

The composer begins by discussing particular works of his own making, and particular concepts that drive

He discusses technical limitation as liberation from the 'conventional, impersonal music', comparing
western facilities (ircam) with facilities available in his homeland Romania.

He examines his compositional approach in light of the principle philosophies of phenomenology, citing
reduction, focus, meditation.

He discusses the importance of instability in his work, stating that stabilising sounds is a matter of
technique, and goes on to differentiate between the role of composer and performer.

He compares performance to 'life', the experience an individual has that must colour a performance.

He mentions his use of 'free time' in orchestral composition, which is a 'big risk', as compared to strict

He argues that his own interpretations of music and sound are ingrained and unalterable, personal to him,
and discusses the difficulties in transcribing this to another individual, as in the case of performance. He
mentions that some of his musics have come fully formed to him in dreams. He briefly discusses a
concept of semiology relating to his experiences in war and the music these experiences inspired him to
write, stressing the importance of individuality in composition.

He discusses his experiences of a totalitarian government and the freedoms that artists experience even
within these constricting political structures. He opines that for 'uncultured people', there is no perception
between different musics and the problems they may pose (this is relevant to his political leanings).

He discusses his educational and creative history as his work became globally recognised, and speaks of
this time as being when he first moves away from the internal machinations of composition, describing
these experiences as his 'first contact with musical life'.

he notes cultural effects on Romanian music, explaining that it is rare to find jazz or rock musicians there,
formal training being more usual, which he sees as another limitation that can open doors.

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He notes that formal training can close the mind of the performer to the deeper concepts behind the

He discusses internal and bio-rhythm in light of folk music, and discusses pauses and gaps as part of the
process of making a sound.

He discusses numerology as an influence on his work. He disuses the contradictions in his own work
between rationalisation and intuitivism.

He discusses the notion of not knowing what one is going to conduct, when the piece has been
conducted several times already: the absorption of music and meaning into the life of the conductor, and
discusses this concept in light of composition.

He finishes by repeating his notions of individuality in every musician, and his attempt to 'release' this

Saariaho, K. 1987, Timbre and harmony: Interpolations of timbral structures, Contemporary

Music Review, Volume 2, Issue 1, pages 93 - 133

Saariaho uses examples of her own work to discuss the creative use of timbre-as-harmony in music, and
the use of the computer in this respect.

She introduces her concept of the noise/sound axis, in which noise can replace dissonance and sound
consonance, implies the importance of time having a developmental role in her composition, and further
discusses the role of computer technology in 'building' sounds and their 'pitch organisations'.

Husserl, E. 1950, The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness.

Husserl creates a phenomenology of time that attempts to account for the way things appear to us as
temporal or how we experience time. He investigates the ‘essential structures of consciousness that
make possible the unified perception of an object that occurs across successive moments’, offering
neither metaphysical speculation about time’s relation to motion, nor the psychological character of time’s
past and future moments, nor transcendental-cognitive presumptions about time as a mind-dependent

He states that time-consciousness is central to Phenomenology. ‘The most fundamental and important of

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all phenomenological problems’, Husserl’s theories of constitution, evidence, objectivity and inter-
subjectivity all relate back to time-consciousness.
He deems time-consciousness the most “important and difficult of all phenomenological problems”, and
uses the concept of a melody to express his philosophy, stating that for a melody to be perceived, it must
have ‘distinguishable though inseparable moments’. And for consciousness to understand a melody, its
structure must have features capable of ‘respecting these features of temporal objects’. He states that the
‘act phase’ – the memory of realisation – works together with the memory of the event itself to place the
event in time-consciousness.

Husserl claims that if our consciousness were structured in such a way that each moment occurred in
strict separation from every other, then we never could apprehend or perceive the unity of our
experiences or enduring objects in time. To avoid this quantitative view of time as a container, Husserl
attempts to articulate the conscious experience of lived-time as the prerequisite for the Newtonian,
scientific notion of time’s reality as a march of discrete, atomistic moments measured by clocks and

He goes on to say that we experience spatial objects, both successive and stationary, as temporal. We do
not, on the other hand, experience all temporal objects as spatial. He breaks his theories down into (3)
world[ly] or objective time; (2) personalistic or subjective time; and (1) the consciousness of internal time,
demonstrating that all three may exist at once.

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