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JMM 4, Winter 2007, section 5

Panayiotis A. Kokoras

5.1. Introduction

5.1.1. Definition of musical texture

The term musical texture is frequently used - analogously with visual and tactile texture - in a rather vague way with reference to the overall sound of a piece of music. Texture is, however, one of the basic elements of music. A search in a dictionary for the term ‘texture’ in music produces the simplest and most traditional definition, describing musical texture as determined by how many layers of sound there are in the composition and what the relationships of those sounds to each other are. According to D. Mitchell and J. Logan (Mitchell & Logan, 2005), texture in music describes two areas of musical phenomena:

  1. melodic and harmonic relationships, and
  2. the density of the simultaneous layering of different musical components.

5.1.2. Types of musical textures

Along with the general definitions of musical texture described in the previous paragraph, there are more precise terms that describe the number of melodic lines and the relationships between them. Western musical development has produced three principal types of musical texture:

  • Monophonic texture, music with just one voice;
  • Polyphonic texture, music whose texture is formed by the interweaving of several melodic lines which lines are independent but sound together harmonically; and
  • Homophonic texture, music which comprises a melodic line with chordal accompaniment (CEE, 2002).

5.1.3. Etymology

All these terms for musical texture have very straightforward literal meanings. The etymology for each type is derived from the combination of the root, phonic which means sound and the prefixes, mono, poly or homo, which have a precise quantitative meaning, denoting single, multiple or matching.

In electroacoustic music, texture is a highly useful term, particularly in describing the character of a sound or a group of sounds and their various structural levels, as well as their overall behaviour and their internal details and patternings.

A brief presentation of theoretical models and formulations of electroacoustic music and research over the last 50 years shows evidences that the language of electroacoustic music contains unified and generalised formal elements of sound morphology and structure regardless of style, genre, time and place.

5.2. Overview

During recent years, the language of electroacoustic music, developed by means of music technology along with research in the fields of music perception and cognition, has made a significant contribution to the further refinement of the musical elements. With the emphasis on the musical element of texture, several theoretical and analytical approaches to electroacoustic music and psychoacoustics are presented in what follows. These approaches reflect the need to define a new lexicon for describing simultaneous sonic phenomena.

5.2.1. The composer

Pierre Schaeffer, in his book Traitè des Objects Musicaux from 1966, built up a theoretical framework within which he discussed fundamental methodological and terminological issues of electroacoustic music composition. In Schaefferian theory, the definition of sound object refers to any sound phenomenon and event perceived as a whole, as a coherent entity (Schaeffer, 1966). Twenty years later, Denis Smalley’s examination of the same issue proposed a systematic reformulation and enlargement of Schaeffer’s observations, preserving some of their original characteristics and conferring generality on many aspects. Smalley introduced the term integration which, from a theoretical point of view, possesses a spectral and a morphological dimension. He defined the term integration as a sonic physiognomy within which the distribution of spectral components or subgroups of components in spectral space, and their behaviour over time, should not be perceived as independent entities (Smalley, 1994). Jean-Claude Risset uses the term spectral fusion to describe the quality of sound consisting of a number of integrated components into a single sonic entity that is attributed to a single real or imagined source (Risset, 1991). In the programme notes for Pithoprakta (1955-56), Iannis Xenakis wrote that the individual sounds lose their individual importance to the benefit of the whole and are perceived as a block, in its totality (Xenakis, 1965).

5.2.2. The scientist

In the field of psychoacoustics, music perception and cognition, Stephen McAdams formulated the concepts of fusion and fission, and provided theoretical models of perceptual and aesthetical processes. According to McAdams, a sonic event can be at one moment the focal point for a listener, while at another moment it can become part of a compound sound in which the initial sonic qualities lose their individual identity and contribute to the creation of a more embracing sound image (McAdams, 1983). Albert Bergman, in his auditory stream formation theory concerning simultaneous sonic events, has suggested that different sounds are extracted by the listener according to various perceptual and cognitive organisational mechanisms from the superimposed acoustic vibrations (Bergman, 1978).>

5.3. Definition

In order to put the above notions under an umbrella term that determines a general aesthetical and musical approach, I propose the new term of holophony.[1] This is considered as the next stage in the evolution of musical texture following the paradigms of Monophony, Polyphony and Homophony.

The word Holophony is derived from the Greek word holos, which means ‘whole/entire’, and the word phone, which means ‘sound/voice’. In other words, each independent phone (sound) contributes to the synthesis of the holos (whole).

Thus, Holophonic musical texture is best perceived as the synthesis of simultaneous sound streams into a coherent whole with internal components and focal points. This musical texture aims to create a musical context with various morphoplastic qualities through the process of morphopoiesis.[2]

Figure 1 The evolution of musical texture from Middle Ages to the present

5.4. Further remarks

5.4.1. Graphic representation

The graphic representations shown as Figure 1 resemble part of an electroacoustic score, and this is not accidental. Electroacoustic scores usually show information about the texture and its changes over time. Alternatively, the middle column in Figure 1 illustrates how the different textures are traditionally constructed, but also shows the continuous accumulation of layers over the succession of periods. This is a continuous reformation which, with each development, requires different ways of listening to and understanding music. In each period the focus of attention, not only for the composer but also for the performer and for the listener, differs. In monophony, with only one voice, the listener’s attention is focused solely on a single melodic line. In polyphony, the listener follows the melodic activity from one voice to another and, later, in homophony, which has a melody with chordal accompaniment, the listener focuses on the melody in the predominant voice. According to my proposal, in the next stage, termed holophony, the listener focuses on the synthesis of the simultaneously-layered sound streams and their morphopoiesis over time.

The focus of the listener shifts in and out from one layer to another or from one group of layers to another. Overloading the structure with too many layers could produce chaos, however, whereas too few or excessively contrasting layers could move the perceptual interest away from the intrinsic elements of the sound, or could limit the potential for further development.

5.4.2. Timeframe

The year 1950 (Figure 1) is proposed as the symbolic start of the holophonic texture in music. After the Second World War and around 1950, the Darmstadt school started to play a prominent role on the international avant-garde music scene, and a period of great experimentalism in the USA began to break the previously unchallenged traditions and to determine new musical values. It was the time of premières of pieces of ‘musique concrète’ and ‘Elektronische Musik’ in Paris and in Cologne respectively, as well as of the appearance of theoretical writings such as A la Recherche d’une Musique Concrète by P. Schaeffer (Schaeffer, 1952) and The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness by E. Husserl (Husserl, 1950). At the end of the decade came the invention of the transistor, which opened new possibilities for electroacoustic music and for the manipulation of sound itself.

5.5. Conclusion

The nascent potential of holophonic texture has yet to be fully realized by composers and theorists. With about 50 years behind it, perhaps holophonic texture is still in its infancy, yet old enough to be recognized and understood. The contribution of music technology, with its developing compositional applications, will continue to play a catalytic role in the further development of holophonic strategies in musical composition. In addition, the research field of psychoacoustics will study further areas in the perception and cognition of music and sound.

I believe that holophony, as a new type of musical texture, embraces a broad spectrum of musical directions within today’s electroacoustic music as well as instrumental music. It provides a new concept for use in describing, analysing, understanding, experiencing and making music.





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JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning

ISSN: 1603-7170
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