Musical Avant Gardin’ 2: Spectral Boogaloo

February 10, 2012

Nathan Taylor

As a followup to my algorithmic and computer-composed music UDLS from last term, I’m going to talk about a simultaneous development in modern music: spectralism is a style of abstract music built not from ordinary notes and rhythms but changing patterns in harmonics, timbre, and other components of the sound spectrum. It’s the purest form of “music is ultimately sound evolving in time”. I’ll talk about just what the hell I mean by five-dollar words like “harmonics” and “timbre”, run for you some more musical Python scripts, and play bits of some seminal works in the genre. As a bonus, there will be at least one spectrograph and/or waveform drawn in MS Paint. What’s not to love?? ~~ The Scope proved to be a haunt for electronics assembly people from Yoyodyne. The green neon sign outside ingeniously depicted the face of an oscilloscope tube, over which flowed an ever-changing dance of Lissajous figures. […] A sudden chorus of whoops and yibbles burst from a kind of juke box at the far end of the room. Everybody quit talking. The bartender tiptoed back with the drinks. “What’s happening?” Oedipa whispered. “That’s by Stockhausen,” the hip graybeard informed her, “the early crowd tends to dig your Radio Cologne sound. Later on we really swing. We’re the only bar in the area, you know, has a strictly electronic music policy. Come on around Saturdays, starting midnight we have your Sinewave Session, that’s a live get-together, fellas come in just to jam from all over the state, San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Diego” “Live?” Metzger said, “electronic music, live?” “They put it on the tape, here, live, fella. We got a whole back room full of your audio oscillators, gunshot machines, contact mikes, everything man. That’s for if you didn’t bring your ax, see, but you got the feeling and you want to swing with the rest of the cats, there’s always something available.” —excerpt from The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon) ~~