auralsonology.com is a companion website to the book Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations. The Aural Sonology Project represents a novel approach to the analysis of sonic and structural aspects of music-as-heard, developed at the Norwegian Academy of Music. Its method of analysis and theory is not uniquely reserved for a particular compositional style or expression. A central concern for the project is the development of aural consciousness through a systematic application of different ways of listening. Audio-visual technology facilitates the creation and the presentation of the aural sonology analyses. The approach is particularly useful for dealing with music for which no score is available (e.g. electroacoustic music) or (instrumental) music in which there is no simple one-to-one correspondence between a score and the aural phenomenon. A complete presentation of the project is published in Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations by Lasse Thoresen with the assistance of Andreas Hedman (Studies in Music of the University of Western Ontario).
Mattias Sköld, composer and Senior Lecturer in Composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm (KMH) has defended his PhD thesis Sound Notation. The visual representation of sound for composition and analysis. Sköld’s main research questions have been “How can one create a notation system that enables the creation and analysis of music with all types of sound?” and “How could such a system enable the introduction of sound-based music in practices that have hitherto been limited to pitch-based music, such as algorithmic composition, and the re-interpretation of musical works?”.
Click here to read Sköld’s abstract.
This compilation thesis details steps taken to develop and evaluate a new Sound Notation system for composition, analysis, and transcription with the capacity to describe all types of sound. Ideas from electroacoustic music analysis are combined with traditional notation to form a hybrid system. In this notation, all symbols are related to physical qualities in the sound, so that a person or a computer can identify the symbols from their sonification or musical interpretation.
Pierre Schaeffer early identified musique concrète’s lack of music theory and music vocabulary as a major problem for its integration with music theory a musicology. Schaeffer, Denis Smalley, and later Lasse Thoresen would go a long way to provide the genre of electroacoustic music with classification, terminology, and graphical symbols for the benefit of its study. But if we are to think of music as a language, it becomes apparent that the lack of a shared inter-subjective notation system is a problem. Such a notation system would provide sound-based music with possibilities that were previously only afforded music based on pitch structures. This includes transcriptions and re-interpretations of musical works, notation-based ear-training and (computer-aided) composition.
An essay by Lasse Thoresen discussing factors creating unity in music and religion was published in an open access anthology, edited by professors Henrik Holm and Øivind Varkøy.
Click here to read Thoresen’s abstract and see the reference.
The concept of unity, central to philosophy, religion and music, requires ontological differentiation for it to become meaningful. Influenced by the dialogue ‘Parmenides’ by Plato and the philosophies of Cusanus, Kant and Fichte, the Norwegian philosopher E.A. Wyller developed a branch of philosophy called ‘henology’, a dialectic philosophy of the universe logically leading to a religious stance; in the case of Wyller, Christianity. However, the henological perspective is also central to a considerably more recent religion, the Bahá’í religion, in which unity is the core concept. This paper demonstrates how the henological differentiation of the concept of unity has parallels in music. In a pansemiotic context, these parallels may point to a world with a hologrammatic structure, in which the macrocosmos mirrors itself infinitely in the microcosmos of the material world.
Unity in Music and Religion. A Pansemiotic Inquiry. (2022) Musikk og religion: Tekster om musikk i religion og religion i musikk. Henrik Holm, Øivind Varkøy. https://press.nordicopenaccess.no/index.php/noasp/catalog/book/177
Ville Langfeldt defended his PhD thesis at the Norwegian Academy of Music. Title: Holistic identification of musical harmony. A theoretical and empirical study. Langfeldt’s study explores the idea of emergent qualities in harmony perception and spends the third part of his thesis discussing the concept of harmonic luminosity, suggested in Emergent Musical forms.
Click here to read Langfeldt’s abstract of his thesis.
This dissertation explores holistic harmony identification. Aural training theorist Gary S. Karpinski depicts this as the most effective and precise form of harmonic listening, but a clear definition and understanding of its nature have been lacking. There has also been a lack of pedagogical strategies for advancing the development of such listening skills in aural training students—indeed, Karpinski questions whether such strategies are possible at all.
The dissertation consists of three parts. The first part is a theoretical study, in which the concept of holistic harmony identification is explored broadly through a combination of Gestalt theory and an ecological approach to perception. The study closes with a discussion of possible pedagogical approaches, including a “metaphorical” approach to harmonic listening. This approach is based on the claim that hearing a chord or progression as something is a way of acknowledging and verbalizing its holistic quality.
The dissertation’s second part is a qualitative document analysis that further explores “metaphorical listening.” Through an analysis of 20 textbooks on harmony, examples of cross-domain mapping in esthesic descriptions of chords and progressions are recorded and discussed. The main aim is to examine whether certain metaphor structures are more recurrent than others, which might suggest a relevance for harmonic aural training. The study’s theoretical framework is conceptual metaphor theory.
The third part is a statistical study that examines one of the metaphors found in the document analysis: harmonic luminosity, or the idea that harmony can express “brightness” and “darkness.” The phenomenon is examined empirically through a web-based experiment with 236 participants. While musicians demonstrate a significantly higher sensitivity to harmonic luminosity than non-musicians, the study shows that harmonic luminosity is likely more perceptually complex than it is portrayed in textbooks using this metaphor. The results also indicate that harmonic luminosity might require some degree of perceptual learning.
The dissertation’s main contribution is a conceptual framework for holistic harmony identification, which both elucidates the concept and enables more targeted pedagogical approaches. In a further exploration of such approaches, novel perspectives on the role of metaphor in musical harmony are offered.
Some new developments in Aural Sonology were published in a paper by Lasse Thoresen in Music Theory and Analysis. The title of the paper is Energy in Music: An Inventory of Observations and Ideas.
Click here to read Thoresen’s abstract and see the reference.
The contemporary field of musical analysis and theory shows an overwhelming preponderance of studies related to the pitch domain. Very few studies at all explore the question of energy, that force without which there would be no sound in the first place, no creative drive in the second place, no directed motion, no articulation, no climax – and so on. Having made a summary of some important works that have already been done in the field of energy in music, I shall go on to present various ideas and observations I have made, both in my work as a composer, as well as through my work with aural analysis (aural sonology) of music-as-heard, since here the multiple roles of energy are far more evident than in the musical score. I shall present an inventory of ideas that, by implication challenge the consensus of what the limits of music theory and analyses should be. I shall argue that to understand the craft of musical composition more in depth it is absolutely necessary to study the synergies between a greater number of musical “parameters”. I shall therefore propose approaches to a multidimensional music analysis.
Energy in Music: An Inventory of Observations and Ideas. (2022) Music Theory and Analysis (MTA), Volume 9, Number 1, pp. 71-101(31). Leuven University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.11116/MTA.9.1.4
Juhani Vesikala defended his PhD thesis at the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU) in Praha. Title: The Noise–Pitch Continuum in Timbral Music. Vesikala applies aspects of Spectromorphology for the analysis of music based on combinations of complex and tonic sounds.
Click here to read extracts from the abstract.
My dissertation text addresses with a novel music-analytical method the compositions that focus on noisy acoustic sounds as their main dramaturgical material. This timbre-based noisy repertoire had abandoned pitch-based dramaturgy by the 1950’s yet has lacked a robust analytical explanatory method until now. The closest methods are by Peeters et al. (2011) who use numeric timbral descriptor values (within the extensive field of computer-based sound analysis) and Thoresen (2015) who visualises timbres using a reductive notation. Recent advances in timbral studies can seem unnecessarily complex to a non-technically oriented musician, are limited to software and in some cases downplay the role of listening.
I answer current questions in the study fields of timbre, pitch–noise continuum, music analysis, timbral composition, noise music, and spectromorphology, with a greater social aim: to further music theory and composition, as well as their education, by incorporating instrumental timbre and noise more into the music theory discourse…
Noisiness in timbres has been considered elusive and subjective. This has also restricted composers from taking up noise composition on acoustic instruments, or any pedagogy to cultivate such analytical and compositional skills. After refuting the previous obstacles, my study proposed the solution to integrate pitch-based music and the various noise practices, now by investigating a perceptually intermediate sound between pitch and noise, which I call Froise…
The timbral analysis method for noisiness is optimised for Froise as a central feature of the repertoire and is made of three modules. I have left the modules open to individualised modifications and combinations with earlier methods…
The first module uses 15 spectrotemporal and morphological descriptors to position any timbre in a greater taxonomy of acoustic timbres…
The second module situates the timbres into timbral space in any of four possible two-dimensional timbral canvases. They correspond to noisiness and spectromorphology in the three dimensions of sound, as well as a measure of perceived noisiness and intensity…
The third module addresses the dramaturgical effects that sounds achieve in a piece. These include particular constellations of timbres on any of the previous timbral canvases, and the timbral movements afforded by these constellations…
Vivier InterUniversitaire (Montreal) arranged a web-presentation of Aural Sonology. Phillippe McNab-Seguin, Dominique Lafortune and Gabriel Dufour-Laperrière presented the main analytical concepts. Lasse Thoresen was present to answer questions. A great number of participants digitally attended the presentation, which can be viewed on YouTube.
Dominique Lafortune completed his PhD at Schulich School of Music McGill University Montréal, Québec, Canada. The title of the thesis: Jeux de chromes : couleurs et prégnance. Pour vingt musiciens. The work was supervised by prof. Denys Bouliane.
Emanuele Savagnone wrote a master thesis with the title From Curtis Roads to Demetrio Stratos (or viceversa): Aesthetic Answers through the Contemplation of the Machine and the Humanistic Way. The master’s degree was completed January 2021 at Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim, Germany, under the supervision of prof. Sidney Corbett.
As part of the artistic development project The Reflective Musician, Lasse Thoresen made analyses of the interpretive strategies employed by Sergey Rachmaninoff in his Chopin interpretation. The analysis is demonstrated by analytical movies, found at the present web-page under Further Analyses. The paper is entitled Extreme Interpretation? Some observations on Rachmaninoff’s interpretation of Chopin’s Third Ballade in A-flat Major, op. 47 no. 3. Sensorial Aesthetics in Musical Practices. Kathleen Coessens, ed. Leuven University Press 2019. ISBN 9789461662910. It can be purchased here.
June 14 2019
When spectral music came to Norway in the 1980s it quickly merged with other composition techniques and concepts. The first piece of spectral music made in Norway was Lasse Thoresen’s Illuminations/Les enluminures. On June 14 he presented a paper on the story, including analyses of the piece, at the seminar Spectralisms 2019 at IRCAM, Paris. The presentation can be seen here. The complete paper is published here: Spectral Mergers. How Spectral Music came to Norway.
Prof. Michele Brugnaro finished Analisi delle Forme Compositive II at Conservatorio di Musica Cesare Pollini, Padova, Italy. He applies aural sonology analysis to Sequenza VII by Luciano Berio.
Monika Lech finished her PhD in Polish, with the title Lasse Thoresen’s theory and its application to the analysis of Polish composers’ electroacoustic music. A summary may be found here.
September 21 2018
Eilif Balkır defended her PhD dissertation September 7, 2018 in Paris. The title of her dissertation is: Étude comparative des approches créatrices et technologiques au Groupe de Recherches Musicales à Paris et à Elektronmusikstudion à Stockholm 1965–1980. Deux directions artistiques différentes à partir d’une idée commune. The PhD is the result of a “cotutelle” between Stockholm University, Department of Culture and Aesthetics, and Sorbonne University. Balkır examines interactions between Pierre Schaeffer (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) and Knut Wiggen (Elektronmusikstudion)—pioneers of electroacoustic music in France and Sweden—and the evolution of artistic directions within their respective institutions. Aural Sonology is central to Balkır’s analyses of pioneer works which forms a part of the basis for her research, and the end goal is to determine a methodology for an in-depth understanding of acousmatic music analysis and to establish an historical documentation on French and Swedish electroacoustic music within the development of technology. The dissertation may be read in full-text at the portal for publications at Stockholm University. Language: French.
Jahan Nolley finished his master’s degree in applied music theory at the Norwegian Academy of Music under the supervision of prof. Lasse Thoresen with the thesis: Chord Color & Harmonicity through the Prism of Spectrality: Perceptual and Systemic Analyses of Harmony. The thesis explores approaches to chord colour and spectrality in works by Alexander Scriabin and Tristan Murail.
Ola Nordal completed his PhD thesis Between Poetry and Catastrophe. A Study on the Electroacoustic Music of Arne Nordheim at NTNU, Trondheim, Norway. Aural Sonology methods are used to present analyses of several of Arne Nordheim’s compositions.
Gabriel Dufour-Laperrière finished his PhD at Schulich School of Music, McGill University, Montreal with a thesis that demonstrated his use of Aural Sonology in musical composition. Title: Dérives pour sextuor: vecteurs sonores et directionnalité.
March 15 2018
Nicolas Marty defended his PhD-thesis Les conduites d’écoute. Temps, espace et forme dans les musiques acousmatiques at Université Paris-Sorbonne, École Doctorale V, Laboratoire de recherche IReMus. Marty’s main subject is that of listening behaviours, originally an idea proposed by François Delalande. He discusses and criticizes the extensions of the idea presented in Emergent Musical Forms. He presents analytical movies of electroacoustic music, in which he applies selected analytical tools from Aural Sonology.
November 25 2017
Andreas Angell has published his Master’s thesis “Timbre, texture and spiritual symbolism in Gubaidulina’s two works, De profundis and Et expecto. Aural sonology as a tool to explore sonic and structural aspects of interpretation in contemporary accordion music” in Applied Music Theory at the Norwegian Academy of Music. Excerpt from abstract: “This thesis concerns multiple aural analyses of the pieces for accordion by Sofia Gubaidulina; De Profundis and Et Exspecto. Through aural sonology, this research focuses on the exploration of emerging gestalts through performance and interpretation. Unlike a traditional analysis of the music manifested in the score, this approach concerns sonic and structural elements that are heard through the recorded performance. (…) The goal of this thesis is to ascertain which timbral musical objects are heard, illuminate the structural forms of the music and make an interpretation of the symbolic meaning in the chosen works”. Videos of the aural analyses may be found here.
June 27 2016
Marcelo Nicolino, a Brazilian musician and researcher, has published his Master’s dissertation “The sound design spectromorphology: the listening score as a tool to analyze the cinematic sound design composition” in Music/Sonology at the University of São Paulo. The main subject is the use of Thoresen’s spectromorphology theory as a practical tool for film sound design analysis. As a case study, Nicolino analyzed five sequences from F.F. Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), sound design by Walter Murch. Several videos of the analyses may be found here. Language: Portuguese.
May 30 2016
Lasse Thoresen has published a new article in the book Musiques Électroacoustiques Analyses ↔ Écoutes, which is available for purchase through Éditions Delatour’s website.
Lasse Thoresen (2016): Analyse perceptive des formes emergentes. Une approche gestaltiste de l’analyse musicale. With the assistance of Vahram Sargsyan and David Stephen Grant: Musiques Électroacoustiques Analyses ↔ Écoutes. Éditions Delatour, France. Take a look at the analytical movie of Lachenmann’s Scherzo from Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern: www.musimediane.com/delatour_marty
March 18 2016
Interview with Lasse Thoresen about the aural sonology project at the Norwegian Academy of Music’s website (archived at archive.org). Language: Norwegian.
March 18 2016
Recent PhD thesis by Njål Ølnes on free jazz improvisation makes extensive use of aural sonology analysis tools. Language: Norwegian (nynorsk). Available in PDF and EPUB formats. Download from BIBSYS Brage.
The new book Emergent Musical Forms: Aural Explorations by Lasse Thoresen assisted by Andreas Hedman (Studies in Music of the University of Western Ontario) will be published in November 2015, and will soon be available for purchase. Sales in America are handled by The University of Western Ontario, c/o Professor J. Grier, sales in Europe and Asia are handled by
Norsk Musikforlag. Update: Since 2023 sales in Europe and Asia are handled by Edition Polaris.
PhD theses published prior to the publication of Emergent Musical Forms…
Marcelo Sarra Nicolino presented his master thesis: A espectromorfologia na análise da composição do desenho de som cinematográfico: um estudo de caso at Escola de Comunicações e Artes da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Regis Rossi Alves Faria. A version of the thesis is available at Biblioteca da ECA/USP quanto na Biblioteca Digital de Teses e Dissertações da USP (BDTD).
- Spectromorphological analysis – The Conversation (1974) – Sequence 22 on YouTube
- Spectromorphological analysis – The Conversation (1974) – Sequence 28 on YouTube
Mahir Cetiz submitted Listening Experience and Musical Construction. Spectromorphological Analysis of Enfilade: Lamento-Cambiata in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University.
Alessio Elia earns the PhD degree in Story, Science and Techniques of Music at the University of Rome Tor Vergata with the dissertation: The “Hamburgisches Konzert” by György Ligeti. From sketches and drafts to the final (?) version. Musical structures, techniques of composition and their perception as aural phenomena. Aural Sonology is used for analysing form-building in Ligeti’s Hamburgisches Konzert.
Miriam Hlavaty: The development of form-awareness by means of aural sonology. Master thesis, Master’s Degree program in applied music theory at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo. Supervisor: Prof. Lasse Thoresen.
Pierre Couprie was the first to discuss Aural Sonology in a PhD-dissertation: La Musique Électroacoustique: Analyse Morphologique et Représentation Analytique. Université de Paris IV – Sorbonne École Doctorale Concepts et Langages.