The Insights of Time and Space in Spectral Music

  • Gabrielius Simas Sapiega
Keywords: spectral music, spectrum, time, space, Plato


Based on the use of the acoustic parameters of sound, spectralism (French, musique spectral) has been one of the outstanding trends in music composition in the second half of the twentieth through the early twenty-first century. The compositional solutions of this music are closely related to the representations of the sound sonogram and their analysis. Such a compositional method focuses on the manipulation of spectral properties and on their interconnection and transformation, and therefore the analysis of the sound itself and the representation of its encoded audio signals is considered an analogy to the representation of the sound timbre. Formed in 1970, this musical trend is based on the then activity of IRCAM and the Ensemble l’Itinéraire. The term “spectralism” was first used in 1979, in the article “Musique spectral” by the spectralist composer and philosopher Hugues Dufourt (b. 1943). The Spectral Music Conference in 2003 proposed to revise the term and to define it as “all music in which timbre is an important element of the structure or musical language”. The ongoing processes related to the definition of this music or the integration of compositional techniques to it during the creative process provide preconditions for its analysis and revision from a completely different perspective, that of philosophy in music. In spectral music, one of the most important elements predominating in the phase of precomposition and influencing compositional decisions is the spectrum. Since the author of the present artistic research project perceives the significance of the spectrum and its prediction in the score, which is the final sonic result of the creative process, and sees its significance, he assumes that it should be related to certain ideas of organicism in philosophy. Since the spectrum is treated as a substance, a unity of matter and form, and a “living organism”, an attempt is made to view it through the approach of organicism in music. When researching spectralism, we will undoubtedly raise one of the important questions: “How is spectrum organised in time and/or space?” Therefore, the article discusses the possible perceptions of time and space as a discerned design of thinking in the creative process and the existing connection between time and space from an ideological point of view. Looking at the composition of spectral music and the sources related to it, we can say that philosophical ideas and their implications occupy a very important place in its creation. Such a study allows a closer look at the microprocessivity of sound in the macro-form of a musical work, with a proper understanding of the implications of spectrum in relation to time and space. Undoubtedly, the organisation of spectral events in time is associated not only with formal processes, but also with the philosophical aesthetic perception of these processes. Summarising this study, it can be concluded that the concept of time and space in spectral music as in a compositional technique of the second half of the twentieth century is related to the ideas of organicity prevailing in Plato’s philosophy, and at the same time it expands and complements them in greater detail. In the same way, the philosophical context allows us to know more, to discover such insights that in spectral creation time and space are perceived as extreme poles between which sound timbres “migrate” in various trajectories and directions. Another no less important opening is that in organising the diffusion of the spectrum in a piece of music resorting to the ideas of organicity, we are confronted with the analogue of the line in Phi (the golden ratio) seen in Plato’s philosophy. Therefore, each spectral event acquires aesthetic significance: as matter expressed in relation to form, each constituent element in the spectrum is conveyed by the structural organic nature of the spectra, organising the individual parts into a single whole where the individual elements lose their significance as their default function in the overall plan, in a harmonious whole.