Type: Research Essays
Sample donated: Mandy Clayton
Last updated: September 17, 2019
1. Grisey offers a number ofclassifications when discussing spectral music as a whole. He distinguishesspectral music in general as an answer to the prevalence of serialism in orderto explore sound to a greater degree of detail, whether it be byharmonic/timbral adjustments, temporal factors, or formal associations.
In thecase of spectral music, harmonic and timbral adjustments are grouped togetherinto one, including all sounds such as white noise into consideration, andradically redefines what is generally perceived as consonant and dissonantsounds because spectral music is no longer bound by a rigid temperament ormusical scales which had defined Western music over the past few centuries. Inshort, harmony and timbre are determined based on the meticulously choice ofsounds based on certain merits over others, leading to new perceptions of whatdefines melodic content. Spectral music is no longer bound by temporal factorsunlike some of its other strict-form counterparts; rather, time is yet anotherelement which defines the presence of sound itself, expanding and compressingof its own free will. Temporality even defines the formal boundaries ofspectral music, in the sense that the approach to creating sounds is far moreorganic and natural than had ever been done before.1 Grisey also mentions thatthese descriptions of each of the basic organizational factors which definespectralism are also consequences which hinder some of the goals that wereattempted to be achieved at the time. Of relation to harmony and timbre, theinclusion of all non-harmonic noises such as white noise can create confusionas to specifically what sounds can be determined as truly spectral. Too much ofsuch noises could be detrimental to the composition as a whole. Harmony andtimbre are also two different elements of music, with harmony consisting ofcombined sounds in general agreement with each other and timbre as the generalquality of these sounds which make them unique in some shape or form.
Althoughthe reasoning for combining these two factors together is sound, it blurs theline for determining if a sound is generally appropriate for a spectralcomposition if it is difficult to determine exactly what the sound is to beginwith when there are a multitude of them appearing together. The greatestconsequence of harmony and timbre in spectral music, however, concerns breakingout from the tempered system. This presents an infinite amount of possibilitiesin discovering new sounds (especially new pitches such as in microtonal music),and it also establishes that sounds do not have to be bound by a tuning systemdefining how they should be presented in context. However, this can stillcreate concerns as to how a sound should be defined (if it needs to be definedto begin with) if multiple other elements are at play.2 The most important temporalconsequences of spectral music are that time essentially defines form and itsimplementation defines specifically how sounds flow and ebb in a composition.In other periods of Western music history, especially the Baroque and Classicalperiods, time (specifically various rigid tempi) and meter determined how soundshould be organized within various discernible rhythmic patterns that wereclear to understand. Romantic music saw the beginning of experimenting withtime, meter, and rhythm slightly farther.
Temporality in spectral musicoutright rejects these patterns by being integrated within the very fabric ofsound construction itself. Expanding and compressing it is part of the naturalflow of the sounds which appear and disappear, which in turn creates a moreorganic approach to forming music.3 The most important formalconsequences thus stem from these factors of temporality in spectral music. Thenatural approach to sound construction further frees itself from restrictionsof time, harmony, and timbre because sounds do not have to be reliant on suchthings to determine its existence. Rather, the free-flowing approaching tosounds being processed rather than developing a specific individual sound, theme,motive, or harmony allows for the form to become unrestricted along with therest of the elements and consequences which define spectral music. Thus, thisgives these processed sounds a greater opportunity to combine and distinguishthemselves from one another as well as generate conversations with each otherwhich are free from the restrictions of time or harmony and timbre.
42. Synthesiscan generally be defined as the combination of various elementary sounds which,when brought together, forms a uniquely individual complex sound. In the caseof instrumental and orchestral synthesis, then, the singular sound of aninstrument is gradually combined with various other sounds through additivesynthesis in order to ultimately create new and unique timbres within the entireensemble.
The acoustic instrument itself serves as an elementary model of theadditive synthesis, while the end result is much more complex in nature.5A great example of a piece which utilizes instrumental synthesis can be found atthe very beginning of Grisey’s Partiels,in which a low trombone E pedal is transformed into a unique orchestral timbrewith the addition of the fundamental note’s higher partials through the use ofstring harmonics, low clarinet, and a mid-range piccolo. The most importantdistinctions between harmonic, non-harmonic, and instrumental spectra concernsspecifically the resulting sounds produced in each instance. Harmonic spectrais the combination of several sine waves comprised of a sound’s fundamentalpitch and all of its associated higher partials, thereby creating a series ofovertones based on the fundamental. While all of the partials can be heard inthe harmonic spectra, it is often the fundamental that is most distinguishable.Instrumental spectra are almost akin to harmonic spectra in this regard becausepitch and sound clarity are important to the construction of pitchedinstruments. However, the specific production of a fundamental made by theinstrument will never be entirely harmonic in nature because some partials inthe produced fundamental are generally more present than other partials (suchas a pitch in the flute’s high, piercing upper register in comparison to apitch in its weaker low register). Along with this, there is always a presenceof other noise elements associated with the produced pitch (such as thehigh-pitched plunk of a hard mallet striking the lowest note on a marimba, orthe plucking sound of a harpist’s fingernails making contact upon the string).
6Non-harmonic spectra, on the other hand, is any sound produced from instrumentswith little to no pitch associated with it. Its classifications are trickier tofully distinguish as it can be produced from colored noise (such as in strikingmetal plates or using shakers), instrumental multiphonics, the multitude ofovertones from various bells, and the stretching or compressing of a singularsound so as to distort it so much that pitch can no longer be recognized atall. Unlike harmonic and instrumental spectra, there are an almost infiniteamount of partials which can be created from unpitched instruments.7 Further examples of harmonicand instrumental spectra can be applied to the clarinet. In its basic form, theclarinet is able to produce a fundamental pitch that also contains variouspartials or overtones above it at various frequency ranges.
However, due to thephysical nature of the instrument along with its method of sound production(breathing beforehand), the clarinet cannot create a true reproduction of afundamental’s harmonic series. However, the clarinet is also unique because ithas various registers (the low chalumeau and the mid-to-high clarino) withinits range that sound different from one another. Its ability to projectfundamentals on certain frequency regions over others (or, the use of formants)helps to distinguish that this is indeed one instrument capable of possessingthis range. In this case, the clarinet’s extreme low and high ranges have morepresence than its weak mid-range where the chalumeau and clarino are divided bya break in the instrument’s build.8 The flute’s instrumental spectrais even more unique in comparison to the clarinet, mainly because of its build.
When projecting its lowest D note at mezzo-forte, it is important that thesecond and seventh partials of the note are far more present than its neighborsbecause this note occurs in the instrument’s weakest range (the low end). Thisspecific D note has the ability to activate more partials than itshigher-octave counterparts because it appears in the low range of the flute.However, the fundamental in this range does not have a strong sense of pitch,making it difficult to project at great lengths within a larger ensembletexture. The second partial helps to reinforce the pitch at this fundamental,and the seventh partial determines that the fundamental can barely be heard onits own from a particular distance. Furthermore, the fact that both of thesepartials are at extremely higher frequencies and amplitudes than its neighborsoverwhelms any sense of presence that can be given from the neighbor partials,giving way to various other noises which highlight the difficulties ofproducing a note within this range. Ultimately, all of these elements do createa unique timbral sound that can characteristically be described as belongingonly to the flute.9Grisay’s Partiels offers an exampleof this difficulty at the highest range.
In the first few bars of the secondpage of the score, the flutes play a high A and C respectively as a naturalharmonic at mezzo-piano. Apart from the fact that a note this high cannotactivate very many partials, the use of the natural harmonic techniquediminishes the fundamental pitches and the presence of the already few partialseven further, all within the highest frequency ranges of the instrument whichare barely discernible to the ear. Thus, the flutes can easily blend with thesurrounding ensemble texture, serving their function as the partials of thetrombone’s low E pedal note in the piece. 3. Accordingto Murail, IRCAM was established in Paris during the mid-1970s by Frenchcomposer Pierre Boulez, who had the major support of the French government atthe time.
Serialism was the predominant form of contemporary music at the time,and it was widely believed that this was the only form suited to advance truemusical development in modern art and culture. Spectralism, then, was a blatantreaction to move against established serialism in order to experiment withsound in greater detail than ever before. Ensembles such as L’Itineraire,though not without its struggles, often programmed a multitude of new music bycomposers such as George Crumb based on if they believed these artists werestylistically accomplishing a feat which aligned with their own experimentationsat the time (such as Crumb’s timbral explorations or Sciarrino’s use of extendedtechniques in acoustic instruments). Synthesis of acoustic and electronicinstruments, whether additive or otherwise, was a forefront component offurthering spectralism during this time.10 Spectralism eventually madeits way into IRCAM when Murail assumed the role of professor and researcher inthe 1980’s. Initially, spectralism at the institution was hindered byslow-processing computers, making it impossible to complete tasks such asFourier analyses and additive synthesis in a timely fashion. Over time, asMurail wrote new compositions blending electronic and acoustic sounds together,new computers were installed at IRCAM and programs were specially created tosuit the needs of the composers involved. Older software and programs were alsoemulated where needed if the computer in question was powerful enough to handlesuch tasks.
All of these advancements and research fulfilled at IRCAM allowedMurail and other composers at the institution to experiment with differentapproaches to their compositions, such as an imperfect mixture of electronicand acoustic sounds in L’esprit des dunesor having the electronic sounds of Allegoriesfollow the conductor rather than the other way around. Ultimately, theintroduction of newer advanced computers and the creation of various softwareprograms at IRCAM allowed for spectralism to flourish in Paris to a greaterdegree than had ever been possible before.114. Grisey’sPartiels begins with a low E note onthe trombone that gradually diminishes in volume. The trombone is colored witha plunger mute that is closed the lower its volume becomes. From there, amultitude of sounds and pitches in the rest of the ensemble gradually begin totake shape.
The contrabasses give three punctuating E notes an octave lowerthan the trombone’s pedal, each of them gradually diminishing in volume beforesettling on a harmonic E note an octave higher. The first clarinet enters on aB note in its chalumeau range, followed by a high cello note on G-sharp. Firstviolas soon appear on a sixth-tone-lower D and an in-tune F-sharp, followed bya piccolo on a quarter-tone-lower A-sharp in its mid-range. Finally, theviolins appear in their highest range on C a quarter-tone lower, D-sharp, F, G,and A, all of which are an octave higher than written. It is important torearticulate the specific pitches in this first chord of the piece because ofhow they are contextually represented.
Not a single instrument is employed withvibrato, making each pitch sound cold and completely still as a result. As thetrombone diminishes in volume, the rest of the harmonic content grows from theinstrument’s individual sound, making its note much more resonant and withlasting impact. The harmonic content in general is the basis for the harmonicseries built from the trombone’s E; thus, it functions as some activatedovertones and higher partials for the note, thereby making the trombone’s notethe fundamental. The quarter-tone and sixth-tone tuning in some of the pitchesindicates that some partials within this harmonic series will always be out oftune from a tempered system of standard tuning. The timbre with the specificranges used for the flute and clarinet masks their sound within the strings,therefore making the impression that some partials in a fundamental are farmore present than others. The same can also be said for the fact that some ofthe instruments (such as the piccolo and violas) arrive to a louder dynamicthan its neighbors Finally, the emergence and repression in volume of thisharmonic content from the low trombone note gives greater presence to thepartials of the harmonic series for this specific E note.
Someof the notations in Grisey’s Partielsallows for a greater degree in sonic experimentation. His usage of a wave-likeline in between a specific range of dynamics actually gives more freedom andflexibility as to how a pitch’s presence can be perceived within the greatersoundscape. The employment of a crescendo or decrescendo marking added to itcalls for this specific notation to either grow or diminish as a whole overtime, allowing for even more independence within the pitch’s presence in thegreater texture. Aesthetically, this notation is organically introduced intothe piece as a new sound which appears from the fundamental trombone pitch andreacts in a different manner from its counterparts. Thus, when the notation isfirst introduced, a temporal and formal transformation occurs within the entireframework of the spectral composition of sound.