Talk:Spectral music

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No longer stub[edit]

I believe that I have improved this article enough for it no longer to be considered a stub; therefore, I have removed the 'stub' tag. MdArtLover 17:03, 25 November 2006 (UTC)

A POV Echo[edit]

The whole section Spectral music and the United States musical scene: a distant echo is POV. It's essence is "ignorant Americans ignored the most important innovation in music in the last 30 years." Of course, ignorance may not be the reason for indifference. Someone should fix it. Failing that, I'll probably just delete it next time I think about it. Tom Duff 03:30, 3 April 2007 (UTC) (but I wasn't logged in when I added the above.)

Music doesn't take place in a vacuum. It has historical, cultural, intellectual, academic, economic, and even political contexts. That's why we have the field of musicology, for example. The account of the American response (or lack of it) to spectral music is absolutely true, relevant, important, and well-sourced. And the account offers no conclusion as to why this happened. There is no declaration that "ignorant Americans ignored the most important innovation in music in the last 30 years." If that is the conclusion you draw, well then, perhaps you just couldn't think of another explanation? Feel free to try to come up with another one. But that would be POV, of course. MdArtLover 18:10, 16 April 2007 (UTC)
I agree that the tone of this paragraph is far from encyclopedic. The emphasis put in the first lines on how many people are studying music in the USA, at how many institutions, how well funded these are, how much access these people have to electronics and computers... is surely a rhetorical device rather than a simple listing of facts. I'm a Murail afficionado, and I don't care much for recent developments in music and art in general in the USA, but even I find the bias in this paragraph annoying. 04:15, 19 April 2007 (UTC)
I don't want to get into a war over this. If it's just a matter of tone, then perhaps you could reword the section to your satisfaction. I don't think the section should simply be deleted, because its subject is a germaine and non-trivial matter of recent musical-historical fact, well supported by sources (to which many more could be added). But as for my role at this point: do whatever you want; I will not interfere. MdArtLover 13:41, 20 April 2007 (UTC)
Most of your points are speculative unless backed up by citation. For example, I doubt the claim that there are so many/myriad of well funded musical institutions. I imagine that there are for more in countries such as France, where spectral music originated. The first paragraph doesn't mention any spectral music or the genre as a whole until the end when it cites the piece only as a defining moment in spectral music. However, this does not confirm the main point of the section, only a proposed date for the beginning of spectral music.
Regardless of this specific issue, a section on spectral music in the States would be great, though it should discuss composers influenced by or identifying as spectral composers. [The mention of Murail moving to the States is relevant. Hyacinth 04:05, 21 April 2007 (UTC)] The POV that spectral music has been mysteriously ignored would fit into this section if it was cited. Hyacinth 04:03, 21 April 2007 (UTC)


  • Spectral music (or spectralism) is a musical genre or movement originating in France in the 1970s featuring featuring the use of computer analysis of soundwave components and their evolution over time, especially using FFT analysis, as the basis for composition. While other forms of computer-assisted composition predated this music, for example in Germany, it is this approach to timbre, primarily developed at IRCAM in Paris, that specifically characterizes spectral music.\

I removed the above and replaced it with

  • Spectral music (or spectralism) is a musical genre or movement originating in France in the 1970s featuring featuring the use of sound, including timbre, pitch, and rhythm of individual sounds, as a model as the basis for composition.

As is explained in the next sentence, spectral music is defined by attitude and not techniques. Thus while the list of common techniques in the original sentence is true, it is misleading and not relevant. The relevant place for such information would be in Spectral music#Compositional technique section. Hyacinth 19:03, 20 April 2007 (UTC)

I've combined the two in a way which I think clarifies both. Hyacinth 19:07, 20 April 2007 (UTC)

Clarifies is exactly what it doesn't do. The opening sentence as you have left it is now incoherent. Reread it, slowly: "... as a model as the basis for composition, most often using computer analysis of soundwave components and their evolution over time, especially using FFT analysis, as the basis for composition...." MdArtLover 04:18, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
"as the basis for composition" (the second time round) now removed.
"as a model as the basis for composition" changed to "as a model for composition". Hyacinth 05:39, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Proposed discussion: the tardy response to spectral music in the US[edit]

Considering the enormous amount and diversity of musical and compositional activity in the United States, with so many well-funded university music schools and departments, myriad computer and electronic music studios, libraries with extensive research capabilities and plenty of scholars and graduate students always hungry for something to write about, there was a remarkable delay between the time of the major musical achievements of the French spectral composers (for example, Grisey's seminal 1975 work, Partiels) and the general awareness of spectral music in U.S. musical academia. It is fair to say that it was virtually ignored for at least a generation.Two examples suffice to make the point.

In 1997, 22 years after the creation of Partiels, Joel Chadabe's "Electric Sound: the Past and Promise of Electronic Music," a book that was supposed to cover the history of computer music as well as electronic music per se, contained no mention of spectral music or any of the composers associated with it. In the late 1990s, this book was on many reading lists as a standard reference on its purported subject. To know its contents was to be considered thoroughly knowledgable.

The second example is also from 1997. That year's edition of David Cope's Techniques of the Contemporary Composer, though it supposedly covered electronic and computer music, also contained no mention of spectral music or any of the composers associated with it. This book, written by a well-published composer and academic, was similarly ubiquitous in American music school bookstores and on composers' reading lists.

But it was in precisely that year, 1997, that Tristan Murail crossed the Atlantic to take up a teaching position at Columbia University, puncturing the strange American innocence of all music spectral.

Nevertheless, even then, a general change in attitude did not happen overnight. The U.S. musical scene is only in the last few years finally beginning to deal with the enormous implications of the spectralists' innovations. Meanwhile, in Europe, even "post-spectralism" is over. What explains this immense time lag may be an interesting topic for discussion here. Any theories? MdArtLover 00:33, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

This discussion is appropriate if the goal was to find and discuss sources and their presentation so as to improve the article. Original research would not. The article has improved so far from our discussions, so it sounds good. Hyacinth 04:07, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
"The article has improved so far from our discussions" - so you say. MdArtLover 12:21, 26 April 2007 (UTC)
What do you mean? Hyacinth 05:39, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Some definition please[edit]

From a different perspective - This article needs some better words describing what "spectral music" is. I was not familiar with the term, but I am very familiar with the computer music scene and frequency domain analysis and resynthesis of sound and microtonality and this article is all mixed up. I don't see, for example, how [microtonality] suddenly got slipped into the discussion, since it is clearly its own music niche, unrelated to IRCAM or French research. "Skilled performers" of conventional instruments are not going to be doing any FFTs on their violins.

Regarding this interesting US ignorance thread, it seems a very minor point, besides being probably wrong. Trying to list all the people who are NOT writing a particular kind of music seems just crazy. (Why has Nepal ignored country and western music, anyway?) David Wessel, for one, worked at IRCAM, went to Berkeley California, started CNMAT, and has been doing research in frequency domain composition ever since. Without a clearer definition of what you mean by spectral music, I don't think you can say who is or isn't writing it. Anybody know how to describe a musical style beyond saying it involves timbre? --Zebbie 16:37, 28 April 2007 (UTC)

The use of microtonality is a direct result of spectral techniques; if you use the harmonic series as a basis for the pitches in a composition, the players may be required to play pitches that are not related to each other by traditional intervals, but by the pitches being harmonics of a common note. Two instruments may play two pitches that are e.g. 6 times and 7 times a specific frequency; the resulting 'interval' (7/6=1.166) is not equal to a traditional interval (1, 1.059, 1.122, 1.189...).
The Murail piece 'Cloches d'adieu..." is for piano and tape, the tape being a recording of a piano tuned a quarter-tone higher/lower (I think); I saw this performed live, and certain parts of this piece do indeed manage to sound very electronic, with effects like the ones mentioned in the article (frequency modulation, ring modulation...)
I agree, though, that 'requiring skilled performers' is not very specific to spectralism; playing Chopin requires a bit of practice, too :-) 12:53, 2 May 2007 (UTC)

(Theoretical) pre-spectralists[edit]

I remember Stockhausen in an interview putting much emphasis on one of his early electronic works, where a sound was gradually slowed down, until it appeared as a series of discrete clicks, thus revealing the sound's inner workings to the ear. I believe he called the sound "the schnorer" or something similar. I wonder if this is worth mentioning in the paragraph about pre-spectralists? Maybe someone who knows more about Stockhausen knows the piece (it's one of his well-known early ones) and can explain this better? 12:30, 2 May 2007 (UTC)

For what it's worth, and replying now after a lapse of two years, the piece in question is Kontakte (1958–60), and the celebrated sound event comes right at the middle of it. I don't know that Stockhausen ever used the word "Schnarchen" (snore) to describe this sound, though it would be apt. However, his importance as a precedent to the spectralists does not reside particularly in this sound. It is more his article "… wie die Zeit vergeht …" and a number of compositions associated with it, especially Gruppen (1955–57), that are the most important influences. I have just corrected the "History" section to include the Cologne "Feedback group" (following Julian Anderson's New Grove article). The composers in that group were all students or associates of Stockhausen in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so the connection is particularly clear with them. Gérard Grisey also studied with Stockhausen and was perhaps the only one of the French spectralist composers to acknowledge this debt openly.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:58, 29 April 2009 (UTC)


Ravel wasn't around in the 1970's... —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:03, 11 April 2008 (UTC)

That is true. So what is your point? Ravel's music is named as an influence on the spectralists; he is not said to have been among their number.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:05, 29 April 2009 (UTC)


So, after reading this article, I still don't know what it is. Maybe an example would help. Since we're using electronic analysis of sound as part of the compositional process it might be of help to see a few pictures. Now someone said here in discussion that "spectral music is defined by attitude and not techniques." If this is so, why such a big article for something apparently ridiculous? That would mean "spectral music" is just a pretentious throw-away term. (talk) 00:44, 6 March 2010 (UTC)

One really good illustration would make things much clearer, I agree. There are such examples in some of the cited articles, where a spectrogram is shown in conjunction with a page from a score derived from it. On Wikipedia, unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to quote from a copyrighted score without immediately running into licensing problems. I have seen a number of attempts in other music articles which, in most cases, have the music page deleted almost immediately for copyvio. If anyone has a solution in this case, I would be very pleased to hear of it.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 02:10, 6 March 2010 (UTC)
Maybe some composition student who knows his way around spectral music could "generate" a page as a "donation"... -- megA (talk) 17:21, 18 April 2011 (UTC)

Additional citations[edit]

Why and where does this article need additional citations for verification? What references does it need and how should they be added? Hyacinth (talk) 21:07, 22 February 2012 (UTC)

A lot of refs have been added since 2008, and there is only one paragraph (concerning FFTs) that still appears to be OR. I have removed the top banners and flagged that one paragraph, at the same time cleaning up some inconsistencies in the inline refs.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:28, 22 February 2012 (UTC)