Pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo … the building blocks of classical music … are all quantifiable, measurable and scorable.
Timbre … the building block of electroacoustic music … is not quantifiable, it is not measurable and it is not scorable.
In his text ‘On Sonic Art’ (1996) Trevor Wishart makes the point that classical music’s vocabulary is defined by its notational system. Quite a few 20th century composers attempted to stretch the traditional notation system, in order to ‘get outside the box’. I know one of Ligeti’s tricks was to score works without bar lines … with the aim of ‘smearing’ sounds in time.
Classical music’s notation system has no provision for notating timbre. So would it be right to say that orchestral works don’t have a designed timbre?
The answer is clearly no. Orchestral works can even be composed with timbre as their primary concern. This is exactly what Ligeti did with Atmosphères. Ligeti’s exploration of timbre was actually inspired by electronic music (Ligeti In Conversation, 1983).
So how the hell did Ligeti design timbre by using notes on paper? I need to find out.
My experiments with just intonation (see previous post) are a clue. Just intonation highlights the phenomena of beats. Beats are a pattern created when 2 tones of very similar frequencies are played together. Beats are not pitches, they are something else… they are, perhaps, the beginnings of texture.
Just as the sine tone is the purest pitch, I wonder if a ‘beat’ is the purest texture? (maybe white noise is the purest texture).
The key idea is that consonance and dissonance are not inherent qualities of intervals, but are dependent on the spectrum, timbre, or tonal quality of the sound.
Hmmm, what does that mean?