Back to index
Palombini, Carlos

Pierre Schaeffer's Typo-Morphology of Sonic Objects

Ph.D. University of Durham, 1993

Pierre Schaeffer's Typo-Morphology of Sonic Objects proposes to present to the English-speaking reader the two successfully achieved stages of Schaeffer's 1966 solfège, namely typology and morphology, as expounded in Traité des objets musicaux, situating them in the larger context of Schaeffer's musicological work and in the specific context of the solfège. This is done through translation of and commentary on Schaeffer's writing.

Chapter I surveys the years 1948-57, exposing the shifts of priorities that define three phases: research into noises, concrete music and experimental music. Particular attention is paid to Schaeffer's conception of experimental music, and through the analysis of Vers une musique expérimentale, what has generally been seen as an antagonism between the Paris and the Cologne studios emerges as the conflict between two opposing approaches to technology and tradition. Chapter II delineates three notions that underpin the fourth phase of Schaeffer's musicological work, musical research, of which the 1966 solfège is the programme: acousmatic listening, four functions of listening and sonic object. Chapter III elaborates on the premisses of typology and morphology. Chapter IV expounds typology proper, while chapter V presents morphology and the sketch of the subsequent operations of solfège: characterology and analysis.

From this study, it emerges that Traité des objets musicaux is first and foremost an inexhaustible repository of insights into sound perception. Typology, the first stage of the solfège, is doubtless a successfully accomplished project. However, as a method for discovering a universal musicality, the solfège enterprise needs to be viewed with caution. It suffers from the almost open-ended nature of its metaphorical vocabulary, the emphasis the text lays on reactive rhetoric, its reliance on "methods of approximation", and a gradual distancing from perceptual reality itself. This notwithstanding, Traité des objets musicaux appears as a fundamental text of twentieth century musicology. It brings to the fore two crucial issues: technology and the ways it alters our manner of perceiving and expressing reality, and reality itself thereby; the friction between sounds and musical structures, transparent in the text as the friction between isolated words and the discourse, transparent in Schaeffer's life as the friction between the man and the social structures he has needed to fit in.

    Introduction: By Writing, p. iv

    Chapter I: From Research into Noises to Musical Research, p.2

  1. Research into Noises (1948-49), p. 3
  2. Concrete Music (1948-58), p. 6
  3. Towards an Experimental Music (1953), p. 9

    Chapter II: Three Fundamental Notions, p. 30

  4. Acousmatic Listening, p. 30
  5. Four Functions of Listening, p. 31
  6. Hearing, Listening to, Listening out for, Comprehending, p. 34
  7. The Phenomenological Status of the Sonic Object, p. 46

    Chapter III: The Premisses of Typology and Morphology, p. 60

  8. The Method for Research after Concrete Music, p. 60
  9. The Four Operations of Solfège, p. 62
  10. Typo-Morphology and the Prose/Translation metaphor, p. 66
  11. The Timbre of the Instrument that Does Not Exist, p. 73
  12. First Morphology, Identificatory Typology, Second Morphology, p. 84

    Chapter IV: Classificatory Typology: "When the Piping Starts to Sing", p. 93

  13. The Three Pairs of Criteria of Classificatory Typology, p. 93
  14. Well Balanced Objects, Redundant Objects, Eccentric Sounds, p. 111

    Chapter V: Third Typology, Morphology Proper, Characterology, Analysis, p. 121

  15. Morphology Proper, p. 121
  16. Solfège of Homogeneous Sounds: Criteria of Mass and Harmonic Timbre, p. 123
  17. Solfège of Fixed Masses: Dynamic Criterion, p. 141
  18. Solfège of Maintenance: Grain and Allure, p. 151
  19. Solfège of Variations: Melodic Profile and Mass Profile, p. 163

    Conclusion: By Reading, p.178

    Addendum: "Musicology and Linguistics" (a translation of Jakobson's 1932 "Musikwissenschaft und Linguistik"), p. 184

    Notes, p. 188

    Bibliography, p. 194

    Figures (Tables and Figures of Traité translated into English), p. 211