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Chapter 8 : The sound beings

We shall call " sound being " the abstraction of a sound object, that is a sound object such as it exists in the imagination of the listener and\or the composer. For example, let us imagine the sound of a steam locomotive, what is nowadays completly abstract because since a long time steam is not used any more to move trains; but everybody, even the children, knows that the sound of the locomotive is " choo-choo, choo-choo".

An appearance is the event by which the imaginary object is embodied through an acoustic sound object, and thus crosses a border, from the inaudible towards the audible, from the imagination towards the reality, like, at the theater: from backstage  towards the stage, or, in the cinema: from the off-camera towards the shot.

Conversely, the disappearance is the event created by the extinction of the sound object and its return to the state of abstraction, concept. The audible / inaudible border is crossed in the other direction.

Note : according to the software object oriented analysis method, the sound being should be a "class" and the sound object an "instance".

Identification of sound beings

A sound being can be identified by three manners: at the level of the composer, of the listener, and of the sound space, medium between the composer and the listener.

At the level of the composer :

The sound being has no existence (is nonexistent) until the moment when its appearance is decided in a work for the first time.

For example, the famous first suite of four notes of the fifth symphony of Beethoven existed from the concert of creation of this symphony; it exists eternally since.

The birth is the passage of the nonexistent state in the existent state. It is the first appearance.

At the level of the listener :

The being is unknown until the moment when the listener is interested in it and remembers it (that is, he makes pass what he perceived  from the immediate memory to the permanent memory).

The relation of interest is necessary, otherwise the passage (knowledge) is not made, the forgetting is immediate, and a later recognition cannot be made.

This relation of interest occurs if the listener feels an emotion: pleasure or displeasure, curiosity, anxiety, laught, association of ideas, etc. before the extinction of phosphorescence of the immediate memory.

At the level of the sound space :

The appearance is the realization of the idea of the being sound thanks to the sound of a sound object which is present in the sound window.

After the disappearance of the sound, the situation of the being, for a moment absent, depends on what occured between the sound object and the listener, if the knowledge or the recognition were able to occur.

So the music takes place not only in the sound landscape, by the play of the sound objects and independently of the persons. Really it is lived, by the subjective play of the sound beings, in the imagination of the composers and the auditors. But any event, any action, can arise only through an objective realization within the sound landscape or next to its borders.



Figure 1 : the succesive states of a sound being according to its relationship to the listener



The knowledge or the recognition of the sound beings is morphological, that is by their particular forms, and which are realized in the ear by the sound objects. We shall name 'formant' of a sound object any recognizable form which organizes the sound matter in a recognizable way.

Trivial examples: a chord, a tone of instrument, a consonant, a vowel. We can create by associating these formants: a chord on an instrument (chord + tone), a phoneme (consonant + vowel), a sung chord (chord + vowel).

A formant is thus a form which applies to one or several dimensions of the sound space, and a sound being can be qualified by formants.

Analysis by the formants

Our analytical method progresses then both at the structural plan and at the dramatic plan

At the structural plan (or, in a synchronous manner) :

A sound being is defined by its formants;;

A formant is defined by a form imprinted in some dimensions of the sound matter;

The sound matter is perceptible (audible) in the sound landscape, as realization of a texture of the sound space;

The sound space contains three dimensions: duration, presence, color.

We could call upon analogies with the other plastic arts, as the sculpture: the sculptured subject is defined by forms applied to a physical material (the wood, the stone, the metal), which is a molecular texture of the geometrical space in three dimensions.

At the dramatic plan (or, un a cursory manner) :

A sound being materializes by sound objects;

A sound object appears, is recognized or not, then disappears;

A recognized sound object moves in the sound landscape, and is in relation with the other objects..

Synthesis by the formants

Symmetrically the synthesis approach will contain:

a structural creation, from combinations of formants;

a dramatic creation, which stages the sound objects, and organizes the relations of objects between them and with the landscape.

Typology of formants

The notion of formant is abstract, it takes place at the level of semantics of the musical expression. Thus let us investigate the possibilities of our vocabulary: we analyzed various types of forms in the chapter 5, and we shall apply them to three dimensions of the sound space to build a first nomenclature of useful characteristics for the analysis.

Formants of the duration

We identified three types of formants recognizable in the duration dimension:

Types of formants of the duration


Determinist, quantized :

Rythm of a measure.

Time measured in sembreves, mimim, crotchet, quaver...

Determinist, continuous :

Acceleration or slowing down of the rhythm.

Random :

The density of the sound events (that is the average of the number of events in a given duration) is defined by a law of probability; this law of probability determines the evolution in the time of the density

Gradually, as the rain which decreases.

With contrast, as the clamours of the crowd during a match.

The limits which we can impose on these forms are:

the longest silence;

the longest moment (of music without event);

the shortest moment.

The figures which we can make in the duration dimension can be rhythmical structures (march, tango, waltz), or also the drawing of a curve of density.

Formants of the color

We saw that the color dimension contains both:

the harmoniic aspect, of frequencies ("vowels");

the dynamic aspect, noisy ("consonants").

We identified two types of formants for the harmonic aspect of the sound color:

Types of formants of the color


Quantized :

Chord, harmony or dissonance, "clustering ", with regard to the chromatic, temperate, diatonic, pentatonic or other scale.

Major, minor mode.


The changes by vibrato, portamento, quarter of tone, allow to exploit intermediate pitches, but always in reference to graduations of the harmonic scale.

Continuous :

Free use of sound and of noise pitches, without reference to a harmonic scale; really this type of formant is rather cultural, because it signfies a claimed choice not to refer to the pitches of the scale.

For the dynamic aspect of the sound color, we shall find all the possibilities of formants offered by the instrumental, vocal or synthetic tones. The difficulty resides in the fact that the complexity of the forms (envelopes, spectres) lead to an acoustic analysis the listener of which perceives consciously only the final cognitive result (association of the sound color to the voices or the instruments which emit it, or to the spoken language that it carries).

The process made by the hearing circuits is normally unconscious. We can represent the exact forms of formants only in laboratory.

Formants of the presence

In the presence dimension, formants concerns aspects of both the sound intensity and the spatializing of the sound:

Types of formants of the presence


Quantized :

The sound sources are in very precise and unchanging points (for example: position of the instrumental groups of the orchestra).

The sound level is constant (for example: at most bearable in some " hard " concerts).

The diminution of the successive echos is calibrated.


Notations from the pianissimo to forte, and intermediaries in the appreciation of the performer.

Fluid, not fixed sound locations.

Reverberation effect with progressive weakening.


Noises of the nature.

We can draw lines of movement of objects in the space, left / right, front / back...

Formants combining color and presence

Formants modelling color and presence intervenes for the production of sounds. Their effect is to sculpture the acoustic wave, by distributing the harmonic and anharmonic frequencies of the sounds and noises. These formants are produced by musical instruments and organs of the articulated language (larynx, tongue, lips), or synthesis tools.

On the other hand, formants associating color and presence can draw lines of stage setting of  the sound window, for example by placing spatially the various instruments of the orchestra.

Formants combining presence and duration

They are all the forms which are recognizable without having to involve the color constituent:

particularly the rhythm, with accents in the signature;

the forms of envelopes of the synthetic sounds;

the spatial trajectories;

crescendo and diminuendo.

Formants combining color and duration

They concern the music which is made or listened to without taking into account the presence dimension, without the nuances of sound level and without the spatial aspect.

The forms are "classical": the melody, the effects of tone (envelopes), pitch (tremolo), dynamic filtering (phasing, echo, etc.)

Formants combining presence, color and duration

Three-dimensional formants are rare; they affect the global nature of the sound window. Their manipulation may consist in applying the same drawing, rather simple, simultaneously to three dimensions, what strengthens the attribution by the listener of all the effects to the same cause, for example:

the noise of the rain is a function of the same random law which acts, according to the strength of the rain, at the same moment on the frequency of drops, their noise and their strength of impact;

And to end in beauty, the trajectory in the sky of a firework rocket is accompanied with a similar trajectory in three dimensions of the sound space: swich, explosion, backfirings and crackling.




Imaginary music ISBN 978-2-9530118-0-7 copyright Charles-Edouard Platel

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