1. Harmonic and timbral adjustments are grouped together

1.     Grisey offers a number of different
categories that define spectral music as a whole. He distinguishes spectral
music in general as an answer to the prevalence of serialism in order to
identify sound itself as an inherent thing which exists for the sake of
existing. This is further accomplished by taking into consideration
harmonic/timbral adjustments, temporal factors, or formal organizations and how
each of these elements are shaped by sound.1
            Harmonic and timbral
adjustments are grouped together into a single category, defined as various
associated colors and how they can be combined and shaped to form new sounds
altogether. Spectralism radically redefines what is generally perceived as
consonant and dissonant sounds because it is no longer bound by a rigid
temperament or musical scales which had defined Western music over the past few
centuries. In spectral music, all other non-pitched sounds such as white noise
are even considered in this category. In short, harmony and timbre are determined
based on the meticulous choice of sounds for their particular and individual merits,
leading to new perceptions of what defines melodic content and how its
listeners react to such ideas.2
            Along with this, spectral
music defines sound as no longer being bound by temporal factors (or the
duration of sounds, full pieces, etc.) 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 based on the organic
transformation of sound. No longer bound by specific rhythmic patterns or other
rules as well, temporality even defines the formal boundaries of spectral music
(or how sounds are developed over time) in the sense that the approach to
creating sounds is far more organic and natural than had ever been done before.
In this case, sounds do not adhere to a specific shape of development, thereby
breaking itself from these boundaries and changing over time of its own free
            Grisey also mentions that
these descriptions of each of the basic organizational factors which define
spectralism are also consequences which can hinder how this music can be
perceived by its listeners. 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 are truly spectral. Too much of such noises could be
detrimental to the composition. Harmony and timbre are also technically 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 moving away from a general
acceptance of temperament. 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.4
            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, the use of a tempo 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.5
            The most important formal
consequences thus stem from these factors of temporality. 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 approach to sounds being created over
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, transform on their own merits throughout the composition, or even generate
conversations with each other which are free from the restrictions of time or
harmony and timbre.6

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 added to various other sounds in order to create new
and unique timbres within the entire ensemble. Thus, the acoustic instrument
itself serves as an elementary model of the additive synthesis, while the end
result of a unified sound in the ensemble is much more complex in nature.7
A great example of a piece which includes both­­­ instrumental and orchestral 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 in high string harmonics, low clarinet, and a mid-range piccolo.
            The most important
distinctions between harmonic, non-harmonic, and instrumental spectra adheres
to the resulting sounds produced in each instance. Harmonic spectra is
generated from the combination of several sine waves containing only a sound’s
fundamental pitch, thereby creating a series of overtones in the end result
that is 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 an
instrument will never be entirely harmonic in nature because some partials are
generally more present than other partials. For example, there is a stronger
presence of pitch in the flute’s high, piercing upper register in comparison to
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.8
Non-harmonic spectra, on the other hand, is any sound produced from instruments
with little to no pitch associated with it at all. Its classifications are
trickier to define as it can be produced from techniques such as colored noise
(such as striking metal plates or using shakers), instrumental multiphonics, a
multitude of overtones produced by metal objects such as bells, and the stretching
or compressing of a singular sound so as to distort it. Unlike harmonic and
instrumental spectra, there are an almost infinite number of partials which can
be created from unpitched instruments.9
            Further examples of these
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 different frequencies. However, due to the physical nature of the
instrument along with its method of sound production (breathing beforehand and
its generally breathier tone in the lower range), 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 full range that sound different from one
another. Its ability to project fundamentals at certain frequencies over others
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.10
            The flute’s instrumental spectra
is even more unique in comparison to the clarinet, mainly because of how it is
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 in the low range also has the ability to activate
more partials than its higher-octave counterparts. However, this fundamental does
not have a strong sense of pitch and is breathier in tone, making it difficult
to project from a distance (especially 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.
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.11
            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 already 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.­
            Overall, these spectra can
also be transformed through the process of modulation, of which three primary
ones exist. If a sound’s amplitude is modulated, its volume can be greatly
controlled to varying degrees, giving it an opportunity to converse with other
sounds on its own while also making activating even more partials than normal at
the same time. Amplitudes can be further modulated through the use of tremolo
in both acoustic and synthesized instruments, leading to a more organic approach
to generating sounds. If a sound’s frequency is modulated, then its pitch is
gradually modified based on a hierarchical approach to the included partials.
In acoustic instruments, this is generally accomplished through using vibrato,
but in synthesized instruments, frequency modulation can be extended even
further, leading to more experimentations with definable pitch as well as the
creation of new electronic timbres and combinations of various other colors.
Finally, if a sound undergoes ring modulation, then it produces a high number
of many different partials combined together to form an even more complex
sound. Unlike frequency modulation, ring modulation presents and produces two
or more independent sounds equally, where each of them react to each other
through the mere acts of modulation and presence alone.12

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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, 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 serialism in order to freely experiment with sound as
a living thing which can be naturally manipulated. Ensembles such as L’Itineraire,
though not without its struggles, often programmed 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 these spectral experiments.13
            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 and researchers 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 to experiment with
different approaches to their compositions, such as a purposefully 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 newly advanced
technology 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.14


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