In contrast to more traditional musical textures, sound mass composition "minimizes the importance of individual pitches in preference for texture, timbre, and dynamics as primary shapers of gesture and impact." Developed from the modernist tone clusters and spread to orchestral writing by the late 1950s and 1960s, sound-mass "obscures the boundary between sound and noise" (Edwards 2001, pp. 326–27).
Techniques which may create or be used with sound mass include extended techniques such as muted brass or strings, flutter tonguing, wide vibrato, extreme ranges, and glissandos. Composers and works include Barbara Kolb, Pauline Oliveros' Sound Patterns for chorus (1961), Norma Beecroft's From Dreams of Brass for chorus (1963–1964), and Nancy Van de Vate. Beecroft "blurs individual pitches in favor of a collective timbre through the use of vocal and instrumental clusters, choral speech, narrator, and a wash of sounds from an electronic tape." (ibid)
A very early example is the opening of Jean-Féry Rebel's ballet Les Elémens (1737–38), where chaos is represented by a gradually cumulating orchestral cluster of all seven notes of the D minor scale (Henck 2004, pp. 52–54). A later example is the third movement of Ruth Crawford Seeger's String Quartet 1931 (Nonesuch H-71280) while more recently Phill Niblock's multiple drone based music serves as an example. The use of "chords approaching timbres" begins with Debussy and Edgard Varèse often carefully scored individual instrumental parts so that they would fuse into one ensemble timbre or sound mass (Erickson 1975, pp. 18 and 21).
Other examples include European "textural" compositions of the fifties and sixties such as Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1959) and György Ligeti's works featuring micropolyphony in works like Atmosphères (1961) and his Requiem (1963-65). Other composers with works using this technique include Henryk Górecki, Karel Husa, Witold Lutosławski, Kazimierz Serocki, and Steven Stucky. Sound mass techniques also appear in the music of George Crumb (Anon. n.d.).
See also 
- Anon. n.d. "Synopsis of Twentieth Century Styles and Composers". University of Northern Colorado website (Archive from 2 September 2005, accessed 20 October 2011).
- Composers Quartet (1973). Nonesuch H-71280.
- Edwards, J. Michele (2001). "North America since 1920" in Pendle, Karin, ed. (1991/2001). Women & Music: A History second edition. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21422-X.
- Erickson, Robert (1975). Sound Structure in Music. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02376-5.
- Henck, Herbert (2004). Klaviercluster: Geschichte, Theorie und Praxis einer Klanggestalt. Signale aus Köln 9. Münster: LIT Verlag. ISBN 3-8258-7560-1.