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Spectromorphology is a term that was first coined by Denis Smalley in his chapter Spectro-morphology and Structuring Processes, which can be found in the. Spectromorphology. Language for explaining sound-‐‑shapes. Adapted from: Dennis Smalley, Department of Music, City University, London. Organised Sound . Abstract. Denis Smalley’s concept of Spectromorphology () provides the listener of electroacoustic music with thorough and accessible sets of vocabulary to.

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The noise-note continuum is interesting, not only because it implies a deeper ability to reflect on auditory information by allowing for the almost infinite reduction of focussed analysis, smakley that all sound is music, and all music is sound — something which was solidified much earlier in the 20 th century by German spectromorphoogy French electroacoustic composers but which Schaeffer failed in my opinion to attack properly.

To formalise further, Smalley insists rightly that the spectra the harmonic information cannot exist without morphology, since something which occupies space must also extend in time — hence spectro-morphology.

Benjamin Talbott

Motion explains a similar concept to morphology, but extends to the overall movement of complex sound through time. Smalley says that motion is a subconsciously understood concept in traditional composition, as it is the overall harmonic movement against melody which drives musical structures.


The sub-groups of motion which he identifies as archetypes are: Returning to morphologyit is interesting to note that the formalisation of the term ADSR envelope attack, decay, sustain, release was suggested around twenty years earlier by Vladimir Ussachevsky in reference to work he was doing with Bob Moog. Smalley, working in electronic environments, must have been aware of this term, but his brilliance was in translating this structure into musical analytical language.

He stipulates that there are three morphological archetypes, from which all other forms of morphology can be derived. Reversing, transforming, granulating and stretching among other techniques results in all other morphological objects, and can always be simplified down to the three archetypes.

Spectromorphology – Wikipedia

The premise is beautiful, finding oneself musically exploring the innards of the cello for the first time. The work is in five sections, each toeing the line spectrkmorphology acoustic and electroacoustic.

We hear this repeated, so far in a linear fashion, the simplest motion. On the fifth distinct note heard, the piece begins to change.

We hear the first bi-directional phrase, as the node, which has been comprised of fairly comprehensible harmonic spectra although changing within itself due to shifting resonant frequencynow begins to diverge as two distinct phenomena can be heard. If we were to go into further detail, we could also argue morphologically that the object begins as separated attack impulses, tracing a smooth line through the iterative form towards granulation, before dissipating.


The piece then abandons the low harmonic spectra in favour of high harmonics.

I have found Spectromorphology to be an incredibly useful technique in analysis. It is almost impossible to put forward a wrong statement, so long as the terms are understood properly. The degree to which the analysis is correct then becomes about how true the analysis is of the piece itself — less room is open for subjectivity. In his terms, this is broken down into NoiseNodeand Note Note is broken down again into note proper, harmonic spectrum, and inharmonic spectrumwhich is in reality a scale ranging from note to noise.

I find this very pleasing. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this website, you agree to their use.

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