Friday, January 15, 2010

The Qualities of Sonorous Objects

Writing reviews based on Pierre Schaeffer's article on "acousmatics" and the "sonorous objects" is not easy, and hardly what we're used to when reading music reviews. Few reviewers describe sounds, describe individual audio tracks or whole albums based on the sound alone, without falling into more poetic descriptions and analogies ("this sounds like a person standing lost in a crowded train station"). Many frequently describe music in terms of their emotional elements. Many reviews also tend to compare to other songs, albums, artists (e.g., "On his new album, Julian Casablancas sounds like Lou Reed fronting the Electric Light Orchestra") or entire genres.

So how do we go about writing in ways that describe sound objects on their own terms, without relying on analogies, emotional evaluators, or comparisons as a way to describe the sound? These terms might help, pulled out of Schaeffer's writings and our discussion, as general descriptors that can become specific based on the individual track you choose:

* Duration of sounds: long, short, alternated, sequenced into rhythms.
* Repetition of sounds: tempos, beats, regularity, irregularity.
* Frequency: high, low, and/ or mid-range tones/pitches, or specific mixtures of those into melodies (tones arranged one after the other) or harmonies (tones stacked or layered at one time).
* Amplitude: loud, soft, foreground, background.

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