Experiencing Sound: A Hybrid Approach to Electronic Music Analysis
Selle, Andrew (author)
Jones, Evan Allan (professor directing dissertation)
Von Glahn, Denise, 1950- (university representative)
Callender, Clifton (committee member)
Richards, Mark C. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Music (degree granting college)
College of Music (degree granting department)
This dissertation addresses one key question throughout: “How does the experience of hearing a piece of music inform the ways in which we understand its formal structure and syntax?” Because electronic music is typically solely an aural experience (often lacking any sort of appreciable musical score), it is especially suited to this investigation. In analyzing electronic music, traditional methodologies that rely on or depart from a musical score are often ineffective. Furthermore, the seemingly drastic aesthetic difference between electronic and acoustic music might lead one to infer that it is impossible to perceive musical structure in the first place. I argue, however, that by focusing on the listening experience itself as a tool for analysis, meaningful musical structures emerge. In Chapter 1, I outline related work that has been done in the field in both theoretical and analytical domains. I discuss many threads that have proven to be important in this dissertation, including theories of phenomenology and sonic definition (especially Smalley’s theory of spectromorphology). Chapter 2 furthers this discussion, focusing solely on Pierre Schaeffer’s theories of listening modes and musical objects, as well as defining the analytical methodologies that I use throughout the project. Chapter 3 revolves around the perceptual segmentation of works of electronic music into smaller syntactical units. I achieve this through a process I call “parametric analysis.” This involves focusing on one’s own listening in order to determine which sonic parameters (such as dynamic, density, texture, or timbre) are important and relevant to the musical experience and then tracking the development of these parameters over the course of the piece. I measure the intensity of each parameter at any given time (on a scale of 1-5) and also the total amount of change that a parameter has undergone over a given span of time. By examining these two elements, we are able to create an effective model of each individual’s listening experience and examine how formal structures might emerge from it. I discuss four complete works in this chapter: Artikulation (1958) by György Ligeti, Sud (1985) by Jean-Claude Risset, Stria (1977) by John Chowning, and Threads (1998) by Elainie Lillios. Chapter 4 focuses on small-scale formal function present within the segments identified through parametric analysis. In other words, it examines those musical elements that make a given section function as an introduction or a transition, for example. I utilize Denis Smalley’s theory of spectromorphology, which is a way to describe the sonic qualities of a sound object and the ways in which they are transformed over time. Segments from six works are examined, including the Risset, Chowning, and Lillios pieces from Chapter 3 as well as Lösgöra (2016) by Jon Fielder, Mobilis in Mobili (2006) by Natasha Barrett, and Vocalism Ai (1956) by Toru Takemitsu. Through this examination, I reveal that formal function in electronic music can be actively experienced through the deployment of musical objects rather than passively inferred as a result of temporal location within a work. Chapter 5 extends the techniques developed in Chapters 3 and 4 into music that combines acoustic instruments with electronics, examining Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 6 (1970) for piano and electronics and Kaija Saariaho’s Près (1992) for cello and live electronics. Though each of these works reintroduces a notated score into the analytical process, my examination reveals that the phenomenologically-based procedures developed in previous chapters work equally well for music that has notation. Because these techniques are fundamentally based on the experience of hearing sound, I argue that they can be effectively utilized as a part of analyzing any genre of music, whether it is acoustic or electronic, tonal or non-tonal. Furthermore, by extending these techniques into common-practice music, I believe that we might find additional phenomenological markers of traditional musical structures present in the experience of listening. Finally, Chapter 6 provides a short epilogue detailing those musics which I was unable to fit into this project that warrant further examination through a phenomenological lens, including drone, ambient, dance, and acoustic music. Though these genres are typically more familiar to many listeners in that they contain more markers of traditionally “musical” sounds (beat, melody, etc.), I argue that a phenomenological investigation may reveal additional valuable information. Ultimately, each individual listening experience is unique and interesting unto itself, and it is worth comparing our listening experiences with one another and engaging in meaningful, critical discourse.
Electronic Music, Musical Form, Phenomenology, Sound Art, Spectromorphology
February 27, 2018.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Evan A. Jones, Professor Directing Dissertation; Denise Von Glahn, University Representative; Clifton Callender, Committee Member; Mark Richards, Committee Member.
Florida State University