Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations.

A brief introduction

Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations is a book published in Studies in Music from the University of Western Ontario. It summarizes the Aural Sonology Project of the Norwegian Academy of Music. The present web-page contains analytical movies that show analyses of music-as-heard presented and commented in this book. It also contains definitions of the more frequently used analytical terms, as well as translation of the terms into English, French, and Norwegian.

The objective of the Aural Sonology Project has been to describe, transcribe and analyse music-as-heard, without the use of scores or notes. It probably represents a unique effort in thinking through the idea that music is founded in the perception of sound and sounding patterns.

The project offers a great number of novel concepts and analytical signs. Some of them, grouped under the heading of spectromorphology, enable the transcription of sound-qualities based on Pierre Schaeffer’s pioneering work. Others offer a number of inroads to the study of form-building structures: time-fields, layers, dynamic forms, Form-building transformations. An important objective for the project has been to create a general method and terminology that makes it possible to analyse music in many styles and idioms with the same terms.

The method offers a systematic way for a student or researcher to expand and articulate one’s aural consciousness. The focus of the analytical methods is on gestalt-related patterns that are evident from listening to the music. Musical forms that have evaded the classical schemata emerge and become comprehensible through the process of analysis. For the student of composition, the conductor, and the interpreter, this offers valuable in-depth insight into the possibilities of shaping the music in a concise way.

To the researcher or student of musicology, the method offers a set of predefined analytical terms. The definition of the analytical terms comes about through the combination of explicitly described listening intentions, and sonorous musical examples.

In order to notate the analyses, a special font (Sonova) has been developed, as well as a computer program (Plug-in for the Acousmographe of GRM/INA) that facilitates the synchronous presentation of analysis and sounding music.

The author of the book is Lasse Thoresen, composer and professor of composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. The methods have been worked out in collaboration with many students and colleagues, notably Professor Olav Anton Thommessen and Assistant Professor Peter Tornquist. Andreas Hedman has contributed with technical and programming competence in developing fonts and computer programs, as well as the graphic design of the analyses. The project has received economic support from The Norwegian Academy of Music, Lindemans Legat, The Research Council of Norway, INA/GRM, and The Norwegian Non-fiction Writers and Translators’ Association (NFF). The book, edited by Professor James Grier (The University of Western Ontario) is prefaced by Dr. Marc Battier, Professor of Musicology, Université Paris-Sorbonne, and professor Lawrence Ferrara (Lawrence Ferrara, Ph.D., Professor of Music, The Steinhardt School, Music and Performing Arts, New York University).

Analysis of Music as Heard

In the Aural Sonology Project music is analysed on three articulation levels:

Articulation Level 1: Sound-objects

The first and foundational level of music-as-heard is that of the sound-object, which is discovered by listening to sound with a particular listening intention called reductive listening. This listening intention aims at hearing sound as sound, i.e., to disregard the listening for its cause, and its function or meaning in a greater musical system. Based on this reduction, the method classifies perceived sounds on the grounds of their perceptual similarity regardless of source. The result is a set of concepts and categories providing a comprehensive map of sound-qualities. The concepts and their structure are to a great extent based on those proposed by P. Schaeffer in his Traité des objets musicaux, a major work that was later codified by M. Chion in his Guide des objets sonores. The Aural Sonology Project has added a set of graphical signs to represent the analysis. The transcription of a piece of sound-based music and its presentation is facilitated by the use of the Acousmographe.

Articulation Level 2: Sound-patterns

Sound-patterns are compound units consisting of several sound-events, often exhibiting gestalt-qualities. Sound-patterns are uncovered by a listening intention we have called taxonomic listening to level 2, which focuses on the ordering of sonic events into compound patterns. In traditional (i.e., interval-based) music one finds everything from scales to musical motives and melodies on this level of music, as well as metre and rhythmic units. Elements such as these have been the main subject of music theory and analysis, and so the Aural Sonology Project has not gone into great detail in the study of this field. It proposes a study of the effect of musical velocities, a typology of pulse, contour-based approaches, and the concept of contextual meanings (such as flux, concord/discord, etc.) In sound-based music (i.e., music without intervals, such as e.g., electro-acoustic music) the concept of character versus value is worked out, based on ideas from Pierre Schaeffer.

Articulation Level 3: Form-building Patterns

A major part of the analytical methods are <is> consecrated to the level of Form-building Patterns. These are uncovered by the listening intention we have called taxonomic listening to level 3, whose focus is the organisation of sound-patterns into greater units. Segmentation is the first operation, either segmentation into consecutive units or into simultaneous units. Segmentation follows the spontaneous preferences of the listener, which is then explicated by the analysis and made the subject of further reflection.

-The analysis of Time-fields presents a set of signs for notating hierarchies of consecutive segments, and offers concepts to describe the way they are joined.

-The analysis of Layers offers signs for describing simultaneous layers and goes on to characterise their mutual functions (foreground, middleground, background) and their character (width, continuity, etc.).

-The analysis of Dynamic Forms offers tools for describing the architecture of directionality and energy.

-The analysis of Form-building Transformations expands A. Schoenberg’s idea of liquidation (i.e., the process of making a characteristic motive or theme into a more neutral or inconspicuous element) by concepts such as crystallisation, fusion/fission, proliferation/collection, fragmentation/synthesis.

– The Analysis of Form-building processes develops to some extent the traditional analysis of musical form (recurrence, variation, and contrast), by opening the possibility of a more detailed scale of similarity.

The Meaning of Emergent Musical Form

In our approach, we have avoided the traditional forms – the musicological categories of schematic form, such as Rondo, Fugue, Sonata – and instead focused on what we have termed emergent forms. A perception of wholeness is not a material entity one can touch or point to; nevertheless it is an emergent phenomenon that is common to all humans. Emergent Musical Forms present themselves in perceptual evidence. As sonorous gestalts, they exhibit certain gestalt qualities. The gestalt qualities found in the making of schematic forms are not identical to their style-bound embodiments; they can be abstracted from their stylistic context and be given a more general presentation. The Aural Sonology Project aims at revealing the inner logic involved in joining concrete, audible entities into greater musical wholes, and is therefore engaged in the translation of gestalt qualities into structural relationships through a process of abstraction and conceptualisation. Thus the very process of aural thinking involved in the perception of aurally perceived forms, both the traditional ones and new ones, will be essential to analysis and reflection.

The Semiotics of Music-as-heard

Whereas one main orientation in music semiotics lately has been moving towards the analysis of musical meaning through reference to different musical topics, the Aural Sonology Project has developed an approach based on hermeneutics and phenomenology. Consistent with the phenomenological treatment of the intentionalities of the human consciousness (some of which we previously referred to as ‘listening intentions’), the project has emphasised the process by which the meaning of the sign is constituted (semeiosis). Most cases of musical meaning are constituted in ways more complicated than those that can adequately be described by referring to the four recognised types of signs (iconic signs, indexical signs, metonymic signs, and arbitrary signs). Through the concatenation of the different semeioses characteristic of these types of sign, the nature of more complex signs can be adequately described.

A distinction is drawn between endosemantics (descriptions of the music through non-technical terms, characterisation of contextual meanings, etc.) and exosemantics (the association of extrinsic images or ideas to the music).

Moreover, a semiotic of musical communication is developed, based on ideas by R. Jakobson and F. Delalande.

The Foundations of Music in the experience of Sound

It is only since the advent of sound-recording technology that a systematic study of music as a sound-in-time phenomenon has been possible. The opening chapter of “Emergent Musical Forms” traces the constitution of music-as-heard from sound-object to fully developed musical forms. Again, the concept of form-building in music-as-heard has received little systematic reflection as it mostly has been described in terms of spatial and architectonic analogies. The basic thesis of our form-conception is that musical form is the aurally perceived organisation of lower-level sound-patterns into composite entities with emergent qualities. Organic musical form extends features related to the extended moment (thus with retention (the echoic memory of the immediate past, primal impression (the now) and protention (the perception of what is to come the next moment)) into a much larger timescale. This expansion of the mind’s natural constraints necessitates specific ways of organising the musical discourse, especially those that involve different kinds of prolongation, which permits larger time segments to be condensed and kept in memory so that at any moment during the unfolding of music, present musical events are appreciated in light of a simplified idea of preceding segments.

Theoretical foundation of the analytical methods

The aural analysis of music raises a number of fundamental epistemological and terminological questions (what does the analysis analyse, the work or the performance? Can structure be heard? Etc.). Questions such as these form the subject of a major chapter in Emergent Musical Forms. The position taken is that music is in principle only accessible through its appearance in sound and time; that the concept of the musical work is not uniquely connected to its written manifestation (musical works as invariable entities subject to different interpretations exist also in oral traditions), and that ordered sound sequences evince gestalt-like qualities that do not deserve to be called the structure of the music, but that nevertheless can be described in terms of structure.

Moreover, a distinction is drawn between musical understanding (that which a listener practises when enjoying a piece of music) and musical comprehension (what can be formulated in words; thus the result of the act of predication). This means that musical analysis will always be a subset of what music can communicate to a listener. Between the perception of music and its verbal description lies another essential mental capacity: that of thinking music in its perceptual fullness, a capacity variously described as ‘musical imagery’, ‘exact sensorial imagination’, or ‘audiation’ in the literature.

Since methods of musical analysis always are a subset of musical understanding, the analysis is encouraged not to apply the described methods indiscriminately, but be sure to let the music present its own address to the listener before carefully selecting which (if any) method to employ in analysis.

The concept of isotopy is central to the Aural Sonology Project. It implies e.g. the use of a slow background providing unification to elements moving in quicker speed.


Emergent Musical Form.is not a text-book. However, its analytical methods have been developed in a context of artistic involvement with music, being taught to composers, performers, and conductors. At the same time, the Project offers a systematic terminology to deal with a number of phenomena that are central to musical listening, creation and performance, thus filling a gap between academic research and artistic research. The use of the methods in different fields of application may have a number of benefits:

  • Practising the methods of analysis increases the capacity to think music in its perceptual fullness
  • The stylistic narrowness of the majority of analytical methods needs a dialectic counterpart in the creation of an approach to analysis that is relevant for use in several musical styles and contexts. New analytical tools that can cope with music-as-heard are urgently needed.
  • For sound-based (Electro-acoustic music, Musique Concrète Instrumentale etc.) the Aural Sonology Projects offers analytical tools that are relevant and well tried, being unique in its kind.
  • Music in genres such as jazz, pop, rock, ethno and fusion is practically never fully notated in a score, and the analyst aural analyses.
  • Lately, musicology is becoming increasingly engaged in the study of musical performance, interpretation, thus music embodied. Analytical tools that address central questions of interpretation (phrasing, foreground/background, tempo choices) are an important complement to the historically and stylistically specific composition techniques studied.
  • Curricula of contemporary compositional techniques provide the composer with knowledge of construction-oriented strategies, but do not train the student to ‘audiate’ – in other words, to imagine in his or her inner ear – the temporal and sonorous appearance of the score. The practice of the aural analyses strengthen the ability of composers to organise their music into a formal logic that benefits musical communication, while avoiding the creation of set norms of musical form.
  • Pedagogical methods that simplify the present analytical terms may be developed, and fill the need for strengthening the capacity for conscious observation and reflection. This may counteract a tendency to enjoy music in an unreflective way – that is, simply on the basis of elementary stimulus-response mechanisms.
  • Methods for describing the semeioses of semantic interpretations of music-as-heard may contribute to a better discussion of the reasons for different interpretations.
  • The Aural Sonology Project offers analytical tools that allow a precise notation and graphic description of aural entities in written papers. It offers digital tools for the presentation of the analysis.


Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations

Contents of the book:

Foreword I (Marc Battier)

Foreword II (Lawrence Ferrara)

Author’s Preface



1. Music theory by Ear: The foundations of music in Sound and Time

1.1. The emergence of music from sound

1.1.1. A formula of repetition and variation

1.1.2. Participation, feeling

1.2. The constitution of the musical phenomenon in listening intentions and sound

1.2.1. Four modes of listening to sounds

1.2.2. The constitution of the sound-object through reductive listening

1.2.3. Reductive listening in a phenomenological perspective

1.2.4. Levels of musical organisation and of listening

1.3. The foundations of music in sound and time: from sound-object to compound sound-patterns

1.3.1. Articulation Level one: the sound-object and the selection of values

1.3.2. Articulation Level two: compound sound-patterns

1.3.3. Genres, species

1.3.4. Differences and intervals

1.3.5. Compound sound-patterns with relative values

1.3.6. The challenge of inhomogeneous sound-objects

1.3.7. Macro objects as integrating models of compound sound-patterns

1.4. Compound sound-patterns based on intervals

1.4.1. Intervals and the pitch domain

1.4.2. Compound sound-patterns based on rhythmic intervals

1.5. Temporal awareness in music

1.5.1. Protention and retention

1.5.2. Constraints on pertinent values

1.6. Articulation Level Three: Form-building patterns

1.6.1. The aural experience of musical form

1.6.2. The constitution of major form-building patterns

1.6.3. Three approaches to form in classical music

1.6.4. Emergent musical forms versus schematic form

1.6.5. The differentiation of form-building patterns

1.7. A critical assessment of the relevance of Schaeffer’s ideas on the sound-object and characters/value for sound-based music

1.7.1. Possibilities and impossibilities with regard to reductive listening

1.7.2. Characters, values and beyond

1.7.3. Sound-based or interval-based music? Dilemmas and opportunities

The Meaning of Music-As-Heard

The Semiotics Of Music-As-Heard: An Outline

2.1. Outline of a semiotic approach to music

2.1.2. Definition of semiosis

2.1.3. Semiosis differentiated

2.1.4. Secondary semiosis

2.2. The semiosis of sign production vs. sign reception

2.2.1. Iconic signs

2.2.2. Indexical signs

2.2.3. Metonymic signs

2.2.4. Arbitrary signs

2.2.5. The quaternity of signs

2.3. Compound semioses / semiotic chains

2.3.1. A kinetic anaphone

2.3.2. Emotional expression

2.3.3. Topics and semiotic chains

2.3.4. Selection of musical elements of signification

2.4. Semiotic functions in musical communication

2.4.1. The six semiotic functions of communication

2.4.2. An adaptation of the six functions of communication for musical purposes

2.5. The semioses of musical communication

2.5.1. The semiosis of the active listening modes Taxonomic listening behaviour Search for a law of organisation Active reorientation of one’s own listening behaviour

2.5.2. The semioses of the emotive function Performer-centred listening behaviour Idolisation as listening behaviour Quality judgement as listening behaviour

2.5.3. The semioses of passive listening behaviours Empathetic listening behaviour Immersed listening Physically active reception behaviour

2.5.4. The semioses of medial listening behaviours The convivial listening behaviour The contemplative listening behaviour

2.5.5. The semiosis of the signifying function Figurative listening as reception behaviour

2.6. Some general observations on listening behaviours

2.6.1. The meaning of music

2.6.2. The importance of depth

2.6.3. Music and musical analysis as an exploration of human reality

3. Analysing Music-As-Heard

3.1. The background of the Aural Sonology project

3.2. Considerations about aural analysis

3.2.1. The nature of analysis

3.2.2. Domains of musical analysis

3.2.3. Convolution of the poïetic, esthesic and neutral domains

3.3. Entering analysis through the phonogram

3.3.1. Acousmatic listening and the phonogram: constraints and possibilities

3.3.2. Work, score and performance

3.3.3. Works of phonography versus musical works

3.3.4. Conclusions regarding the use of phonograms for purposes of analysis

3.4. Musical comprehension versus understanding

3.4.1. Musical comprehension

3.4.2. Musical understanding

3.5. Gestalt versus Structure

3.5.1. Aural gestalt and theoretical structure in music analysis

3.5.2. Gestalt

3.5.3. Structure

3.5.4. From gestalt to structure: idealised objects

3.5.5. From gestalt to structure: from attribution to predication

3.5.6. Substantive cognition and abstract cognition

3.6. The concept of Isotopy

3.6.1. Isotopy and listening intentions

3.7. Considerations about the choice of analytical methodologies

3.7.1. A hermeneutical approach

3.7.2. Applied phenomenology versus objective, empirical research

3.7.3. Applied phenomenology versus structuralism

3.7.4. UST: an assessment of the analysis of semiotic-temporal units

3.7.5. Smalley’s proposals for new classifications of sound-events

3.7.6. An assessment of Stéphane Roy’s proposals for analysis of electroacoustic music

3.7.7. Eclectic approaches to musical analysis

3.8. Aural analysis of emergent musical forms: purpose and praxis

3.8.1. The need for a systematic approach to the analysis of music-as-heard

3.8.2. Questions concerning the definition and validity of the analytical tools proposed

3.8.3. Concerning the presentation of the analytical methods

3.8.4. Steps in making aural analyses


4. Analysis of sound-objects – articulation level one

4.1. Spectromorphological analysis of sound-objects

4.2. The adaptation of Schaeffer’s typomorphology to practical analysis

4.3. Presentation of the revised typology

4.3.1. The expanded typological diagram

4.4. Typologies of duration and of regularity

4.4.1. Types of velocity and duration

4.4.2. Pulse categories

4.5. Special cases

4.6. Morphology

4.6.1. Criterion: sound spectrum

4.6.2. Criterion: dynamic profile

4.6.3. Criterion: gait

4.6.4. Criterion: granularity

4.7. Analyses – level one

4.7.1. Spectromorphological analysis of Incidences/resonances (1974–75), by Bernard Parmegiani

4.7.2. Spectromorphological analysis of Directions (1979) by Rolf Enström

4.7.3. Spectromorphological analysis of Luscinia megarhynchos

5. Analysis of sound-patterns – articulation level two

5.1. rudimentary proposals for analysis of sound-based music

5.1.1. The integral sound-character: proposals for extending the concept

5.1.2. Unités sémiotiques temporelles

5.1.3. Time functions in sound-based music

5.1.4. The intrinsic and extrinsic time of sound-events

5.2. Rudimentary proposals for the analysis of interval-based music

5.2.1. Chords as sound-objects

5.2.2. Chordal functions

5.3. Spectrotonality: a proposal for a compositional strategy

5.3.1. Abstraction of features from tonality

5.3.2. Abstraction of features from spectra

5.3.3. The synthesis of spectral and tonal features

5.4. The rhythmic dimension

5.4.1. Velocity and coherence

5.4.2. Pulse-typology and hierarchical organisation

5.4.3. Non-pitched, interval-based music

5.4.4. Metrical functions

5.4.5. The play with metres, and metrical endosemantics

5.5. Proposals for analytical methods bridging the gap between interval-based and sound-based music

5.5.1. Contour analysis

5.5.2. Texture

5.6. Endosemantic categories of compound sound-patterns

5.6.1. Flux

5.6.2. Enfold versus unfold

5.6.3. Concord versus discord

5.6.4. Certainty versus uncertainty

6. Analysis of form-building patterns – articulation level three

6.1. Time-fields – Successive units

6.1.1. Gestalt factors at work

6.1.2. Retention and protention, syntax and time-fields

6.2. The hierarchic organisation of time-fields

6.3. Time-field conjunctions

6.3.1. Time-field positioning

6.3.2. Time-field demarcation

6.3.3. Combining positioning and demarcation

6.4. Time-fields and time-intervals

6.5. Time-field focus

6.6. Time-field typology

6.7. Time-field analyses

6.7.1. Mozart: Piano Sonata in A minor, KV 310, third movement

7. Layers and their functions – articulation level three

7.1. Gestalt Principles concerning the perception of foregrounds and backgrounds

7.2. Analysis of layers – simultaneous units

7.2.1. Functions and profiles

7.2.2. Width of Layers

7.2.3. Articulation

7.2.4. Modes of continuation

7.2.5. Interrelation

7.2.6. Placement in pitch register

7.2.7. Placement of reference in layers

7.2.8. Entry- and ending-mode

7.3. Focusing

7.4. Structural and dynamic intensity of profile

7.5. Layer analysis in relation to traditional textural categories

7.6. Integration and separation of layers

7.7. Uses of layer analysis

7.8. Layer analyses

8. Dynamic form – articulation level three

8.1. The functions and structure of dynamic form

8.1.1. The cardinal functions of dynamic form structure

8.1.2. The role of accents in articulating form-building functions

8.1.3. Some notational conventions

8.1.4. The structure of form-building functions and their transformations

8.2. Typology of dynamic forms

8.2.1. The grounding of dynamic form on lower-level elements

8.3. Examples of Analyses of dynamic forms

8.3.1. Dynamic form analysis of Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor, exposition of the first movement

8.3.2. Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques

Further examples of the use of the analysis of dynamic form can be found in figures 10.1, 11.4, 14.1, and 15.2.

9. Form-building processes and form-building transformations – articulation level three

9.1. Form-building processes

9.1.1. Symmetric patterning of prominent material

9.1.2. Example of an analysis of form-building processes: Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques

9.2. Typology of form-building elements

9.2.1. Context organisation of form-elements

9.3. Form-building transformations

9.3.1. Simple vs. complex: elements

9.3.2 Part versus Whole

9.3.4 One versus Many

9.4. Prägnanz

9.5. Modalities of the listener’s awareness in relation to form-building processes and transformations

9.6. Analyses of formbuilding transformations

9.6.1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata in A minor, KV 310, first movement

9.6.2. Léos Janáček: String Quartet No. 1, ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, third movement.


10. Aural analysis of Schubert’s Piano Sonata Op. 42. wita a performer’s annotations.

10.1. Introduction

10.2. Time-field analysis of Schubert’s A minor Sonata

10.2.1. Time-field conjunctions in the exposition

10.2.2. The dynamic form of the exposition

10.2.3. Endosemantic elements in the exposition

10.3 Synthesis of the analyses: approaching an interpretation of the Sonata

10.3.1. Survey of the contextual meanings of the exposition

10.3.2. Survey of contextual meanings in the development section and recapitulation

10.3.3 Contextual meanings in the Coda

10.3.4. The structure underlying the contextual meanings

10.4. Contextual meanings and exosemantics

10.5 Performer’s final annotations

11. Analysis of Les objets obscurs, Part III, by Åke Parmerud

11.1. Discussion about choices made in the transcription

11.2. Sound-characters and play

11.2.1. A critical discussion about the analysis of characters and values

11.2.2. Relationships between the different integral sound-characters

11.3. Principles of form-building in ‘Les objets obscurs’

11.4. Analysis of form-building patterns in Åke Parmerud’s ‘Les objets obscurs’

11.4.1. Observations deriving from the analysis

11.4.2. An overview of the dynamic form of the piece

11.4.3. Form-building processes of Les Objets obscurs

11.4.4. Detailed studies of formal features related to introducing and ending elements

11.5. A semantic interpretation of ‘Les objets obscurs’

11.5.1. The composer’s perspective

11.5.2. Condensation of essential features: the metaphorical gesture

11.6. Conclusion

12. Form-building transformations and listener awareness in Beethoven’s Piano sonata in f minor, op. 2, no 1: A comparison of a sketch and the finished version

12.1 An overview of formal features of the finished sonata

12.2. Presentation of a sketch of the Sonata

12.3. A Comparison of the sketch and the finished version

12.3.1. Beethoven’s first correction

12.3.2. Beethoven’s second correction

12.3.3. Beethoven’s third correction

12.3.4. Beethoven’s fourth correction

12.3.5. Beethoven’s fifth correction

12.3.6. Beethoven’s sixth correction

12.3.7. Beethoven’s seventh correction

12.3.8. Beethoven’s eighth correction

12.4. Conclusions

13. Analysis of: Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps, first movement, ‘L’adoration de la terre’

13.1 Introduction

13.2 Form-building features and emergent isotopy

13.3 An exosemantic interpretation of ‘L’adoration de la terre’

14. Two interpretations of Messiaen’s La Colombe. a comparative analysis.

14.1. Analyses of two different interpretations

14.2. Comparison of the two interpretations

15. Analysis of Solitaire by Arne Nordheim

15.1. Introduction

15.2. Spectromforphology and Form

15.3. Sound-characters and form-fields

15.5 An exosemantic interpretation of nordheim’s solitaire

15.6 Conclusion as regards the semiotic interpetation

16. Epilogue


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