Nathalie Hérold

Considering Form/Structure and Continuity/Discretization Dialectic from Timbral Analysis

Timbral analysis – at least the integration of timbre within musical analysis – is currently being developed within the frame of diverse repertoires, and has given rise to a wide range of analytical methods. Because timbral analysis is at the interface of acoustics, psychology and cognitive sciences, this type of analysis inevitably goes through a detailed examination of the principles that are usually at the basis of musical analysis. This is especially the case for the notions of form and structure, to which timbre is intrinsically related, as explained by authors such as Jean-Baptiste Barrière or Stephen McAdams, who consider timbre as “porteur de forme” [carrier of form].
This paper proposes therefore, in the particular context of timbral analysis, to consider the form/structure dialectic, often ambiguous and scarcely discussed, from the continuity/discretization point of view. Timbral analysis aims indeed to free itself from the ‘classical’ meaning of form – related to the idea of formal model, often inoperative for 20th-century music and restrictive for earlier repertoires – and to consider the unity, dynamics and internal working of each musical form.
The discussion of the form/structure and continuity/discretization connection will be based on several examples of analyses of music from the 19th and 20th century repertoires. These analyses show that continuity and discretization act complementarily, timbre organizing itself – in a hierarchical and recursive manner – in the form of timbral unities that are concatenated, articulated, interrelated and integrated within timbral processes. They also show that distinction between formal continuity and structural discretization essentially depends on the level under consideration, which – depending on its place within the hierarchy – focuses attention on timbral relationships on small, middle or larger scales.