Partial Objects: Acousmatic Spectralism




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Peer reviewed



This paper addresses spectralist approaches to composition in acousmatic music. As Murail (2005) asserts, electroacoustic music in general has widened the composer’s range of sound materials and stimulated new ways of thinking about textural constructs in music, while Grisey’s imperative of (1987) ‘No longer composing with notes but with sounds’ resonates strongly with the spirit of acousmatic music.
Digital signal processing permits the investigation of sound’s intrinsic structures as well as the imposition of morphological and spectral shaping from outside the sound. Acousmatic music also turns the microphone toward the natural sound world, thus trading in the affordances of both recognisable sounds and sound objects of very obscure of remote physical provenance. In applying a spectralist perspective to acousmatics, my focus here will be on the notion of the ‘partial object’: that is to say sound progressively stripped of spectral components in order to reveal new objects that become shadows of the holistic object. Several artistic consequences of this approach are discussed:

  1. As defining features of sound are extracted or hybridised the boundaries of source recognition are explored.
  2. Interpolation of objects and transitions between textures are feasible as individual sinusoidal components are exposed and potentially blended with other objects.
  3. The filtering of complex inharmonic and harmonic sounds affords changes in perceived pitch whilst retaining morphological idiosyncrasies of a given sound.
  4. A means of immersive sound spatialisation is offered by splitting a spectrum across a diffused network of loudspeakers. A key strength of acousmatic music in this regard is that subtle morphological traits of sound and precise frequency values can be retained in processes of spectral disassembly/reassembly, giving insight into the value of pitch in acousmatic forms, but without resort to the approximations necessitated in instrumentally realised spectral works.



Spectral music, acousmatic music


Young, J. (2017) Partial Objects: Acousmatic Spectralism, paper presented at the Spectralisms Conference, University of Oxford, 15-16 March 2017.


Research Institute

Music, Technology and Innovation - Institute for Sonic Creativity (MTI2)