Lecture: Musical Timbre: Between Ontology and Perception

Margaret Moore – Musical Timbre: Between Ontology and Perception

A central difficulty in the ontology of music is to simultaneously do justice to a work’s abstract structural properties and to the sensuous qualities of the material sounds heard in its performances. Timbral sonicism, the ontological position put forth by Julian Dodd, goes some way towards solving this difficulty by requiring that all and only the acoustic properties of a given work are normative in that work. In particular, a work’s timbral properties are normative, contra the ontological views of Roger Scruton and others. Dodd relies on a largely intuitive notion of musical timbre: a work’s timbral properties are the particular tone colours that any correct performance would have. I give some reasons to doubt that this intuitive notion of timbre is sufficient for the task Dodd has set for it. These reasons stem from both a priori considerations about the variations of instrumental timbre in performance and empirical considerations about how listeners perceive musical timbre. As a result, timbral sonicism is either fatally vague, or must incorporate instrumental properties of the sort the sonicist has  been at pains to avoid.

Wednesday, 08 February 2012

16:00-18:00 at Senate House, Room S265, University of London