1. choice of sounds based on certain

1.     Grisey offers a number of
classifications when discussing spectral music as a whole. He distinguishes
spectral music in general as an answer to the prevalence of serialism in order
to explore sound to a greater degree of detail, whether it be by
harmonic/timbral adjustments, temporal factors, or formal associations. In the
case of spectral music, harmonic and timbral adjustments are grouped together
into one, including all sounds such as white noise into consideration, and
radically redefines what is generally perceived as consonant and dissonant
sounds because spectral music is no longer bound by a rigid temperament or
musical scales which had defined Western music over the past few centuries. In
short, harmony and timbre are determined based on the meticulously choice of
sounds based on certain merits over others, leading to new perceptions of what
defines melodic content. Spectral music is no longer bound by temporal factors
unlike some of its other strict-form counterparts; rather, time is yet another
element which defines the presence of sound itself, expanding and compressing
of its own free will. Temporality even defines the formal boundaries of
spectral music, in the sense that the approach to creating sounds is far more
organic and natural than had ever been done before.1
            Grisey also mentions that
these descriptions of each of the basic organizational factors which define
spectralism are also consequences which hinder some of the goals that were
attempted to be achieved at the time. Of relation to harmony and timbre, the
inclusion of all non-harmonic noises such as white noise can create confusion
as to specifically what sounds can be determined as truly spectral. Too much of
such noises could be detrimental to the composition as a whole. Harmony and
timbre are also two different elements of music, with harmony consisting of
combined sounds in general agreement with each other and timbre as the general
quality of these sounds which make them unique in some shape or form. Although
the reasoning for combining these two factors together is sound, it blurs the
line for determining if a sound is generally appropriate for a spectral
composition if it is difficult to determine exactly what the sound is to begin
with when there are a multitude of them appearing together. The greatest
consequence of harmony and timbre in spectral music, however, concerns breaking
out from the tempered system. This presents an infinite amount of possibilities
in 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 system
defining how they should be presented in context. However, this can still
create concerns as to how a sound should be defined (if it needs to be defined
to begin with) if multiple other elements are at play.2
            The most important temporal
consequences of spectral music are that time essentially defines form and its
implementation defines specifically how sounds flow and ebb in a composition.
In other periods of Western music history, especially the Baroque and Classical
periods, time (specifically various rigid tempi) and meter determined how sound
should be organized within various discernible rhythmic patterns that were
clear to understand. Romantic music saw the beginning of experimenting with
time, meter, and rhythm slightly farther. Temporality in spectral music
outright rejects these patterns by being integrated within the very fabric of
sound construction itself. Expanding and compressing it is part of the natural
flow of the sounds which appear and disappear, which in turn creates a more
organic approach to forming music.3
            The most important formal
consequences thus stem from these factors of temporality in spectral music. The
natural approach to sound construction further frees itself from restrictions
of time, harmony, and timbre because sounds do not have to be reliant on such
things to determine its existence. Rather, the free-flowing approaching to
sounds being processed rather than developing a specific individual sound, theme,
motive, or harmony allows for the form to become unrestricted along with the
rest of the elements and consequences which define spectral music. Thus, this
gives these processed sounds a greater opportunity to combine and distinguish
themselves from one another as well as generate conversations with each other
which are free from the restrictions of time or harmony and timbre.4

2.                 Synthesis
can generally be defined as the combination of various elementary sounds which,
when brought together, forms a uniquely individual complex sound. In the case
of instrumental and orchestral synthesis, then, the singular sound of an
instrument is gradually combined with various other sounds through additive
synthesis in order to ultimately create new and unique timbres within the entire
ensemble. The acoustic instrument itself serves as an elementary model of the
additive synthesis, while the end result is much more complex in nature.5
A great example of a piece which utilizes instrumental synthesis can be found at
the very beginning of Grisey’s Partiels,
in which a low trombone E pedal is transformed into a unique orchestral timbre
with the addition of the fundamental note’s higher partials through the use of
string harmonics, low clarinet, and a mid-range piccolo.
            The most important
distinctions between harmonic, non-harmonic, and instrumental spectra concerns
specifically the resulting sounds produced in each instance. Harmonic spectra
is the combination of several sine waves comprised of a sound’s fundamental
pitch and all of its associated higher partials, thereby creating a series of
overtones based on the fundamental. While all of the partials can be heard in
the harmonic spectra, it is often the fundamental that is most distinguishable.
Instrumental spectra are almost akin to harmonic spectra in this regard because
pitch and sound clarity are important to the construction of pitched
instruments. However, the specific production of a fundamental made by the
instrument will never be entirely harmonic in nature because some partials in
the produced fundamental are generally more present than other partials (such
as a pitch in the flute’s high, piercing upper register in comparison to a
pitch in its weaker low register). Along with this, there is always a presence
of other noise elements associated with the produced pitch (such as the
high-pitched plunk of a hard mallet striking the lowest note on a marimba, or
the plucking sound of a harpist’s fingernails making contact upon the string).6
Non-harmonic spectra, on the other hand, is any sound produced from instruments
with little to no pitch associated with it. Its classifications are trickier to
fully distinguish as it can be produced from colored noise (such as in striking
metal plates or using shakers), instrumental multiphonics, the multitude of
overtones from various bells, and the stretching or compressing of a singular
sound so as to distort it so much that pitch can no longer be recognized at
all. Unlike harmonic and instrumental spectra, there are an almost infinite
amount of partials which can be created from unpitched instruments.7
            Further examples of harmonic
and instrumental spectra can be applied to the clarinet. In its basic form, the
clarinet is able to produce a fundamental pitch that also contains various
partials or overtones above it at various frequency ranges. However, due to the
physical nature of the instrument along with its method of sound production
(breathing beforehand), the clarinet cannot create a true reproduction of a
fundamental’s harmonic series. However, the clarinet is also unique because it
has various registers (the low chalumeau and the mid-to-high clarino) within
its range that sound different from one another. Its ability to project
fundamentals on certain frequency regions over others (or, the use of formants)
helps to distinguish that this is indeed one instrument capable of possessing
this range. In this case, the clarinet’s extreme low and high ranges have more
presence than its weak mid-range where the chalumeau and clarino are divided by
a break in the instrument’s build.8
            The flute’s instrumental spectra
is 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 the
second and seventh partials of the note are far more present than its neighbors
because this note occurs in the instrument’s weakest range (the low end). This
specific D note has the ability to activate more partials than its
higher-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 ensemble
texture. The second partial helps to reinforce the pitch at this fundamental,
and the seventh partial determines that the fundamental can barely be heard on
its own from a particular distance. Furthermore, the fact that both of these
partials are at extremely higher frequencies and amplitudes than its neighbors
overwhelms any sense of presence that can be given from the neighbor partials,
giving way to various other noises which highlight the difficulties of
producing a note within this range. Ultimately, all of these elements do create
a unique timbral sound that can characteristically be described as belonging
only to the flute.9
Grisay’s Partiels offers an example
of this difficulty at the highest range. In the first few bars of the second
page of the score, the flutes play a high A and C respectively as a natural
harmonic at mezzo-piano. Apart from the fact that a note this high cannot
activate very many partials, the use of the natural harmonic technique
diminishes the fundamental pitches and the presence of the already few partials
even further, all within the highest frequency ranges of the instrument which
are barely discernible to the ear. Thus, the flutes can easily blend with the
surrounding ensemble texture, serving their function as the partials of the
trombone’s low E pedal note in the piece.­  

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3.                 According
to Murail, IRCAM was established in Paris during the mid-1970s by French
composer Pierre Boulez, who had the major support of the French government at
the 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 true
musical development in modern art and culture. Spectralism, then, was a blatant
reaction to move against established serialism in order to experiment with
sound in greater detail than ever before. Ensembles such as L’Itineraire,
though not without its struggles, often programmed a multitude of new music by
composers such as George Crumb based on if they believed these artists were
stylistically accomplishing a feat which aligned with their own experimentations
at the time (such as Crumb’s timbral explorations or Sciarrino’s use of extended
techniques in acoustic instruments). Synthesis of acoustic and electronic
instruments, whether additive or otherwise, was a forefront component of
furthering spectralism during this time.10
            Spectralism eventually made
its way into IRCAM when Murail assumed the role of professor and researcher in
the 1980’s. Initially, spectralism at the institution was hindered by
slow-processing computers, making it impossible to complete tasks such as
Fourier analyses and additive synthesis in a timely fashion. Over time, as
Murail wrote new compositions blending electronic and acoustic sounds together,
new computers were installed at IRCAM and programs were specially created to
suit the needs of the composers involved. Older software and programs were also
emulated where needed if the computer in question was powerful enough to handle
such tasks. All of these advancements and research fulfilled at IRCAM allowed
Murail and other composers at the institution to experiment with different
approaches to their compositions, such as an imperfect mixture of electronic
and acoustic sounds in L’esprit des dunes
or having the electronic sounds of Allegories
follow the conductor rather than the other way around. Ultimately, the
introduction of newer advanced computers and the creation of various software
programs at IRCAM allowed for spectralism to flourish in Paris to a greater
degree than had ever been possible before.11

4.                 Grisey’s
Partiels begins with a low E note on
the trombone that gradually diminishes in volume. The trombone is colored with
a plunger mute that is closed the lower its volume becomes. From there, a
multitude of sounds and pitches in the rest of the ensemble gradually begin to
take shape. The contrabasses give three punctuating E notes an octave lower
than the trombone’s pedal, each of them gradually diminishing in volume before
settling on a harmonic E note an octave higher. The first clarinet enters on a
B note in its chalumeau range, followed by a high cello note on G-sharp. First
violas soon appear on a sixth-tone-lower D and an in-tune F-sharp, followed by
a piccolo on a quarter-tone-lower A-sharp in its mid-range. Finally, the
violins 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 to
rearticulate the specific pitches in this first chord of the piece because of
how they are contextually represented. Not a single instrument is employed with
vibrato, making each pitch sound cold and completely still as a result. As the
trombone diminishes in volume, the rest of the harmonic content grows from the
instrument’s individual sound, making its note much more resonant and with
lasting impact. The harmonic content in general is the basis for the harmonic
series built from the trombone’s E; thus, it functions as some activated
overtones and higher partials for the note, thereby making the trombone’s note
the fundamental. The quarter-tone and sixth-tone tuning in some of the pitches
indicates that some partials within this harmonic series will always be out of
tune from a tempered system of standard tuning. The timbre with the specific
ranges used for the flute and clarinet masks their sound within the strings,
therefore making the impression that some partials in a fundamental are far
more present than others. The same can also be said for the fact that some of
the instruments (such as the piccolo and violas) arrive to a louder dynamic
than its neighbors Finally, the emergence and repression in volume of this
harmonic content from the low trombone note gives greater presence to the
partials of the harmonic series for this specific E note.

            Some
of the notations in Grisey’s Partiels
allows for a greater degree in sonic experimentation. His usage of a wave-like
line in between a specific range of dynamics actually gives more freedom and
flexibility as to how a pitch’s presence can be perceived within the greater
soundscape. The employment of a crescendo or decrescendo marking added to it
calls for this specific notation to either grow or diminish as a whole over
time, allowing for even more independence within the pitch’s presence in the
greater texture. Aesthetically, this notation is organically introduced into
the piece as a new sound which appears from the fundamental trombone pitch and
reacts in a different manner from its counterparts. Thus, when the notation is
first introduced, a temporal and formal transformation occurs within the entire
framework of the spectral composition of sound.

1 Grisey and Fineberg, pgs. 1-3

2 Grisey and Fineberg, pg. 2

3 Grisey and Fineberg, pg. 2-3

4 Abid, pg. 3

5 Fineberg, pg. 85

6 Fineberg, pg. 86-87

7 Fineberg, pg. 91

8 Fineberg, pg. 87-88

9 Fineberg, pg. 88-89

10 Smith and Murail, pg. 11-12

11 Smith and Murail, pg. 12-15