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A perceptual approach to the description and analysis of acousmatic music

Windsor, W.L. (1995). A perceptual approach to the description and analysis of acousmatic music. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


This thesis investigates the problems of describing and analysing music that is composed for, and presented from, a fixed medium, and diffused over loudspeakers with minimal intervention, especially where such music resembles everyday sounds as much as it does traditional musical material. It is argued that most existing theories of acousmatic music are closely tied to prescriptive rather than descriptive concerns, and concentrate upon intrinsic aspects of acousmatic music to the detriment of its extrinsic potential. In contrast to such approaches a method of description based upon an ecological theory of listening which accounts for the relationship between structured information and the perception of events is proposed. This descriptive approach is used as the basis for analysing acousmatic pieces, revealing a complex interpretative relationship between listener, piece and environment. Such an approach, it is argued, accounts for those aspects of acousmatic music excluded by most current approaches, but more importantly provides a theoretical framework. within which descriptions may be arrived at which avoid the prescriptive bias of exisiting theories. The perspective provided by this analytical approach is reinterpreted through a critical approach to aesthetics, showing how acousmatic music can be seen as both autonomous and mimetic and how the dialectic between these two aspects is potentially critical of our relationship with the world. The relationship between musical techniques, materials and technology is discussed in response to this perspective showing how acousmatic music might be regarded as part of a broader aesthetic context. In conclusion, it is argued that acousmatic music does not merely challenge the view that music is primarily self-referential, but also that it reaffirms the possibility that music may be both intrinsically and extrinsically significant.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
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