Sound Material Correspondence and Temporal Relationships in Acousmatic Composition: Proposing a Taxonomy of Recurrent Phenomena

Authors: Seddon, A.

Conference: Electoacoustic Music Studies Network Conference (EMS)

Dates: 11-15 June 2012

Publisher: Electroacoustic Music Studies Network

Place of Publication: Stockholm


Impressions of musical structure can often be traced to sound materials that occur and recur throughout a work, and the concept of recurrence in acousmatic music composition is currently being researched and developed to provide a view of structuring processes in terms of a work’s constituent sound materials and the observed connections among them. The concept of recurrence in acousmatic music was originally presented at EMS-07 (Seddon 2007), and aims to stimulate both analytical and creative strategies; existing works may be appraised in such terms yet an awareness of the various issues may enrich the compositional process. Recent research has focused on the development of a taxonomy of recurrent phenomena, which seeks to clarify the ways in which sound material recurrences might be observed and how they relate over different timescales, providing a framework for assessing and discussing recurrence within acousmatic works. This paper will explore two significant aspects of the proposed taxonomy: the issues of sound identity correspondence and the temporal relationships existing among those corresponding identities. In this way the paper will address the conference themes of analysis, taxonomy and terminology.

The notion of recurrence is not new. Many genres of music, both present and past, make use of recurrence at different levels of structure, and examples can be found in (but are, of course, not restricted to) classical symphonies, popular songs, and jazz standards. However, the means through which recurrent phenomena may be observed within acousmatic works deserves particular attention because the range of potential sound materials and transformational possibilities available to the composer is so broad. A recurrence can be defined as a repeatedly occurring event over both short and long timescales. During this paper, the notion of musical recurrence will be expanded to encompass sound materials that evoke projection back to earlier related instances, whether overtly similar or of moderate or minimal correspondence. This might include returning states, event types, and/or the perception of their derivations through transformation processes. Accordingly, recurrences may explicitly refer to previous instances, yet subtler connections among sounds may also be perceived through particular common characteristics. In order to recur, sound material must have a strong identity and be memorable in the first instance. Striking aspects of a sound’s identity may draw attention to recurrent instances, and these aspects can usefully be considered in terms of contour, spectromorphology (Smalley 1997), source association and gist (Harding, Cooke et al. 2007; Kendall 2008).

Listening approaches and attitudes will be briefly addressed, suggesting that, in adopting a recurrence-based approach to acousmatic music, it is assumed that memory has a fundamental role in the musical experience, and that the remembered sound materials have a structural significance. Furthermore, the difference between listening in real-time and the concentrated listening of study, as highlighted by Nattiez (1990) and Roy (2003), will be acknowledged.

A taxonomy of recurrence applicable to acousmatic musical works will then be introduced, focusing on the two key areas of sound identity correspondence and temporal relationships.

Different aspects of sound identity correspondence will be considered, and a continuum of correspondence will be proposed, indicating the degree of consistency among correlating sound materials. This continuum can be viewed from the perspectives of spectromorphology or source bonding, to use Smalley’s terminology (1997), and the viewpoint adopted depends on how correspondences are most strongly perceived. The notion of spectromorphological correspondence accounts for aspects of spectromorphology that connect identities whatever their provenance, and connections perceived may draw apparently different identities together in unique ways, illuminating more covert relationships. Source-bonded correspondences will be founded on impressions of common source and/or cause among instances. In certain circumstances there will be a degree of overlap between these two perspectives; in many cases source-bonded correspondences will be perceived because the identities are sufficiently spectromorphologically consistent with one another that they share their source bondings. Additionally, source-bonded identities can usefully be considered spectromorphologically, as this may reveal potential connections aside from solely the presumed source and/or cause. The relevance of space will also be briefly addressed because (i) it is a significant and essential aesthetic aspect of acousmatic music, and (ii) all sound identities (and composites of identities) exist spatially and convey a sense of spatiality, which will affect notions of correspondence.

Temporal relationships among corresponding identities will then be outlined, based on the different timescales over which they occur. These range from lower-level to higher-level relationships, referring respectively to connections among identities at local and global levels of structure. In all cases recurrent phenomena will be perceived through the comparison of identities, assessing their aspects of correspondence. The notion of what constitutes a lower- or higher-level relationship may change as the work unfolds, and lower-level relationships may develop higher- level significance over time. The significance of structural function will be acknowledged because the nature of a temporal relationship and its musical significance is defined by the contextual role that each recurrence fulfils within the structure of the work.

Lower-level temporal relationships will be described in terms of repetition and identity variation, which can be viewed as complementary: identity variation is founded on the comparison of instances and the ways in which they differ. Different types of repetition and variation will be outlined, in relation to the musical function that they fulfil. While there is no single ‘lowest level’ structural unit for all acousmatic music akin to the note in instrumental music, discrete events arranged over relatively short timescales may establish lower-level relationships.

Higher-level temporal relationships occur among recurrent phenomena that provide a more global sense of structure, and may be conveyed by discrete identities or events, as well as spatial environments or settings. Seven categories of higher-level relationship will be proposed and described in terms of their musical significance or function. Each relationship type is founded on the notion of return, implying that an earlier instance has been ‘left behind’ in some way but is then recalled. (Return is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: “v. 1. come back or go back to a place. 2. (return to) go back to (a particular state or activity).”)

The contemplation of recurrence from the perspectives illustrated in the taxonomy potentially illuminates analytical and creative practice. In conclusion, future directions and practical applications of the concept will be briefly outlined.


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Source: Manual