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Schaeffer and his ideas (theories?) have been an on-again / off-again
topic in electroacoustic composition and analysis circles for a long
time. No general resolution.
I first encountered the ideas and materials in 1969, mostly through
my composition teacher Istvan Anhalt who had visited Schaeffer to get
some clarification on the ideas. Anhalt was shown a room with reels
of tape and a filing card cabinet (for those who don't know what this
). His questions went unanswered. He remained sceptical (as am I).
I've spent about 35 years trying to figure out what he was talking
about and while I have used some of the ideas in teaching ea
composition and ea analysis, I have found it useful in only a
rudimentary kind of way.
How? As expressed in his writings, Schaeffer seems to have had little
knowledge or understanding of psychoacoustics. It was largely through
the "difference in our hearing" that I started reading in
psychoacoustics and linguistics in the early 1970s. My readings
continued to point away from the Schaefferian model. I continued to
find too many 'ambiguities' and unresolvable issues.
Of late (while trying to translate him), it became clear to me that
he conflates the metric with the psychometric.
An 'objet sonore' is, IMV, neither an object, nor sounding; it is a
perceptual / conceptual structure, and as such does not 'exist'.
Like (IMV) spectro-morphology, this an interesting idea, but the
context and limitations need a fuller understanding. "Sounds that
transform in time" seems to propose that temporal processing is
continuous and linear. Maybe for most people, but sadly, not for me.
Schaeffer does not seem to plumb the depths of the 'yin/yang'
(complementarity aspects) of gesture<->texture. Neither gesture nor
texture 'exist' (IMV); they are models for handling sonic events.
Being perceptual, their nature is able to change from one listening
A 'sound event' can be "heard" at many levels simultaneously, given
perceptual acuity (and training if necessary). In my own analytic
work I move towards a deep perception / understanding of 'small'
elements, and construct models outwards from very simple / basic
elements. As one student said, it's simple, it just isn't easy. (An
example of this is the class I give where we spend over an hour on
the first seven seconds of one channel of one moment of Stockhausen's
At first, the perception lends itself to a 'mass structure' analysis.
Using a spectrogram and bandpass filter it is possible to start to
isolate some of the larger constituent parts. This 'isolated
listening' (segregation) is then re-presented within the context of
the larger sound (re-integration). This 'element' becomes 'streamed',
and aspects of its 'identity' are noted.
These are ideas and concepts formalized in ASA and other areas of
perceptual psychometrics. Schaeffer invites the concept of 'naive
listening' (echoes of Rousseau and The Noble Savage ... a search for
the past glories of French culture?). His work fits into (IMV) the
philosophical realm of theories on art rather than the more technical
aspects of auditory perception and the development (training?) of
acute and robust listening skills.
Your distance will likely vary on this issue as we have all walked
different roads in our search for a greater light.
2006 - II - 23
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006 09:35:41 -0500
From: James Wright <jawright@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Schaeffer translation
I began to work on a translation of Schaeffer's landmark treatise at
McGill in the late 80s, but, with other fish to fry at the time, I
set it aside and have never been able to return to it. Certainly no
English translation existed at the time. I would be thrilled (but
surprised) to learn that an English translation is now available.
Of related interest: Michel Chion also published a valuable little
book titled Guide des objets sonores, dedicated to Schaeffer, his
Best - J. Wright
James K. Wright, Ph.D.
School for Studies in Art & Culture (Music)
1125 Colonel By Drive (A939, Loeb Building)
Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada K1S 5B6
Ph.: (613) 520-2600 (ext. 3734)