Conference paper Open Access

Variability and the spatial setting: emergent properties and sound relationships in acousmatic music

Seddon Ambrose

The notion of variation is a familiar device of much music, often working in conjunction with familiar pitch-based, temporal and timbral frameworks. Considering acousmatic music, for which the source material can be drawn from a vast world of acoustic phenomena, the notion of sound material variation remains relevant, but in which ways does it operate that are particular to this medium? We might further ask: to what extent has acousmatic music compositional practice revealed any novel approaches to variation and variability, and how can we account for and discuss these approaches? In what ways are they musically meaningful to us as listeners? This paper will begin by discussing aspects of variation in acousmatic music composition, considering its musical significance when listening. Variability will then be viewed from a broader perspective, building upon Smalley’s notion of the spatial setting (1997). If space is aesthetically central to acousmatic music (Smalley 2007), adopting a holistic spatial viewpoint becomes a valuable avenue for investigation. As such, the role of variability within the unfolding of settings will be discussed with reference to specific works, exploring how awareness of emergent properties across the various sounds paves the way for a more holistic conception of variability.

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