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Shaeffer's Traité des objets musicaux -- was noise classification

re: Shaeffer's Traité des objets musicaux

Frédéric Maintenantwrote:
I still don't understand why what seems to be the bible of
electro-acoustics (can it be compared to Helmholtz's On sensation of
tone?..) hasn't been translated, at least in English (German?).

While perhaps more suited to another list (eg <cecdiscuss> /
<cec-conference>), three comments.

To me, Helmholtz appears to have written much of "On the Sensation of
Tone as a Physiological Basis for a Theory of Music" as a 19th
century justification for the 'naturalness' (= superiority) of
(western european) tonal music. He appears to explore the
'perceptual' to explain the 'cognative'.

Regarding Shaeffer, the Traite (in my experience) is less a bible
than an early chapter. There have been attempts to translate the text
into english, but there is little general agreement on "what he

I have always found his thinking 'fuzzy', (which is fine for for an
artist), in that his 'support' lacks a clear framework. His aim seems
to be the justification of musique concrete (cognative experience)
through a (weak) discussion of perception and 'interpretation' of
this perception.

A number of years later, Dennis Smalley attempted a slightly
different path in his development of the term "spectromorphology".
(Google produces 623 hits.)

A possibly useful link ... http://www.mti.dmu.ac.uk/EARS/Data/node122.html
notes at the beginning:


Spectromorphology is an approach to sound materials and musical
structures which concentrates on the spectrum of available pitches
(sic) and their shaping in time.

The concepts and terminology of spectromorphology are tools for
describing and analysing listening experience. The two parts of the
term refer to the interaction between sound spectra (spectro-) and
the ways they change and are shaped through time (-morphology).
I have found this to be (like Helmholtz and Schaeffer) a melange of
cognition and perception that fails when there is an attempt to apply
it 'rigorously' in a "meaningful" (non-trivial) way. (The ability to
apply the results of the analysis as a creative tool.) But that may
be a discussion for other places.

Part of the recent history of this attempt to classify may be the
search for 'the' "unified field theory" of (sonic) perception and
cognition, including the drive to develop some kind(s) of analytical
tools that will allow the 'final classification' of all sounds /
noises, (possibly in a way parallel to Forte's attempt to provide
such a framework for 12 tone equal temperament in "The Structure of
Atonal Music").

Even without touching the voice, I find that the classification of
noise has a contextual evaluative component that needs to be included.

For example, ... at three o'clock in the morning a very loud siren is
a noise if I am asleep, but is not a noise if it is near my bleeding
unconscious body.

(This is (?) a psychometric definition of noise rather than an
acoustical one (?).) Therefore the classification system needs to
acknowledge the two parts (perceptual and cognitive -- the sensation
/ what the sensation is interpreted to mean).

There are many other layers to this thread, to be followed up in other places.

For more links on electroacoustics, follow (among many others):
and, of course, Ircam ... http://www.ircam.fr/