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date: 02 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Timbre, the distinctive quality of a particular sound, has become an increasingly critical analytical focus in recent music theory. Yet the sublinguistic nature of timbral cognition and the parameter’s inherent multidimensionality pose significant challenges to description and representation. This chapter examines four main approaches by which theorists have sought to understand timbre and employ it analytically: its ontology as a sonic object; its perception from cognitive, ecological, and social perspectives; its contribution as a salient parameter in musical works; and its spectrographic and discursive representation. Using examples including the Passacaglia from Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices and the song “100,000 Fireflies” by the Magnetic Fields, the discussion suggests two precepts for timbral analysis: greater holistic and interdisciplinary attention to timbre’s dual nature as a sonic object and a site of identity politics, and an embrace of the contextual nature of timbral perception and description in proposing analytic schemata.

Keywords: timbre, music analysis, cognition, ecology, spectography, performativity

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