Self-similarity in sound

Finally, I have found a sort of self-similarity in sound! Attempting to understand the differences between orchestral composition and electroacoustic composition has revealed a pattern specific to orchestral works.

Perlin Noise is randomness at different scales. What I have found is human effort at different time scales.

It is clear that an orchestral work is actually a collaboration between different people. But the interesting thing is that the composer, the conductor, the performer and the instrument maker each contributes to the same work by interpreting sound at different time scales.



many minutes

many years


The instrument maker takes care of the design of the sound at a very small time scale, that of milliseconds.

The performer takes care of the interpretation of the phrase, a larger time scale: that of seconds.

The conductor takes care of the dynamics of the entire piece, a scale of many minutes.

The composer takes care of interpreting his life experience into a structured piece of music. This is the scale of a lifetime, of years.

I think this is no small discovery. The electroacoustic composer needs to take care of all of these scales in a singular effort. Ofcourse this is possible, although perhaps more difficult. And maybe there is a greater potential for coherence when one person is responsible for the design of sounds at all scales. But it is a distinctly different pattern than that of an orchestral work.

What is interesting is that orchestral works highlight a pattern, or a way of working, which may be interesting in other endeavours (maybe non-musical). This is that human creative effort can be subdivided and applied at different scales. I wonder if there is a natural order or meaning that might come out, as Mandelbrot might argue, when human effort or energy is applied at different scales, then collated into a single work.

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6 Responses to Self-similarity in sound

  1. Jason says:

    I think this is a really good point. But I think there’s a little bit more parallel between the acoustic world and the electronic world than you’ve mentioned. There are some people who make a living creating and selling electronic timbres. I don’t know whether they’re any good, and their timbres are certainly not ubiquitous in electronic music the way orchestral sounds are ubiquitous in classical music, but they do exist.

    • Hi Jason,

      That was fast! Yes, and I guess the term “instrument builder” as used to describe musicians who develop their own software/hardware for making sounds is also a parallel. It is a direct reference to the separation of instrument from performer/composer.

      I just wonder if there is a difference between one person working at these different scales, or multiple people working at these different scales (whether music or other).

    • Hi Jason,

      I’ve been thinking about this a little more. Perhaps it is wrong to identify this self-similarity … of human effort … as being different between orchestral composition and electroacoustic composition. Was thinking more about a more accurate distinction.

      I did find one. The electronic music composer will often apply ‘effects’ to any timbre sounds he/she may have sourced externally. When they do so, they are thrust back into the role of instrument-maker … and thinking of sounds at the minutiae. So the electroacoustic composer always has access to each scale, whereas the orchestral composer does not.

      Was also thinking that in Jazz improvisation, they also have access to each stage, except the instrumental one…. the smallest one.

      So I think a better distinction is that the electroacoustic composer always has access to all levels …. whereas the classical composer

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