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date: 27 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

One long-standing criticism of our understanding of timbre has been its subordination to the parameter of pitch. While this criticism is articulated most clearly in the twentieth century and is largely associated with synthesized sounds, this chapter explores the time before synthesizers. In three vignettes from Berlioz, Wagner, and Saint-Saëns, orchestral works are explored from the perspective of how timbral aspects may take on a constitutive function in the music that cannot be reduced simply to pitch. The discussion of these musical passages engages psychoacoustical phenomena, such as auditory scene analysis, emergent timbre, and auditory illusions. Curiously, all three examples employ the piano sound—typically assumed to be somehow neutral—as a kind of control in their experimental setup. The chapter is framed by broader epistemic questions that seem particularly relevant to the study of timbre, lodged as it is between art and science, including episteme versus techne, consilience, and aisthesis.

Keywords: consilience, aisthesis, emergent timbre, auditory illusion, auditory scene analysis, synthesizer, synthesis (additive/subtractive)

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