Pascal Decroupet

Fundamentals for a theory of sonal music

It is common practice to study 20th century music by means of ‘post-tonal’ analytical tools. But since these concern mainly the domain of pitch organisation, thus prolonging the inherited parametric hierarchy, they are inadequate to study an important number of major compositions since Webern and Varèse. Since years I call this ‘really new’ music ‘sonal’, a music that integrates into musical thought an emergent interest for sound as well as a variable multiparametric hierarchy reflecting the basic conditions of ‘timbre’ on higher structural levels.
The term ‘sonal’ addresses shared conceptions constituting the real foundations of a ‘language’ of new music. ‘Sonal’ is more comprehensive than ‘sonic’ (Cogan, Escot and Wishard) and Wicke's ‘sonisch’ is restricted to the sound morphology in studio produced pop music. In new music, the adequacy between ‘material’ and ‘form’ has remained dominant throughout the 20th century in numerous tendencies even if they diverge aesthetically. The generalisation of spectro-morphological description tools elaborated for electroacoustic music to instrumental music has been delayed since electroacoustic music is largely ignored in current musicology and music theory curricula, and since the pioneering work by Schaeffer has been formulated in French (constituting a strong language barrier that has only recently broken down due to the translations by North/Dack and the publications of Thoresen).
Examples illustrating the presentation: Varèse's Hyperprism, Cage's Amores (prepared piano), Penderecki's Anaklasis, Lachenmann's Pression, Ferneyhough's Cassandra's Dream Song and Levinas' Appels. In these works, musical time is shaped through specific sonic morphologies as well as their connections to generate larger musical units (equivalent to phraseological and formal levels).
The present theory of sonal music is a major contribution to music theory as well as to history and aesthetics of new music since the 20th century, and thus concerns also the performance of this repertoire from an ‘informed’ perspective.