11 mar. 2008

All sounds have timbre. Yet the word is applied most often to music, and to the human voice even when speaking and not singing. So when we think of timbre we think of sounds that have a primary pitch, a fundamental in the jargon. Unpitched percussion instruments are an interesting limit case. They have their own harmonics, their own tuning, and nobody is more obsessed with timbre than drummers. That's why there are $1000 snare drums. Every sound has a frequency or set of frequencies, but "musical" sounds tend to have a clearly defined fundamental pitch.

It's a little like limiting the definition of the aesthetic to works of art. All experience has an aesthetic dimension, but we segregate some experiences off from others and call them aesthetic. The aesthetic, as I define it, is the perceptual in its specific and qualitative relationship to human "structures of feeling." That's all I'm really interested in, ultimately, but it's quite a bit. If anyone really understood all this and could explain it...

We can talk about other things having rhythm, but we still think of poetry and music as the paradigmatic cases of rhythm. So too with tone quality or color. Language (speech) and music are where we look for these things. (I'm kinding of making this up as I go along. Help!). Music and language seem to be akin. There are words like "phrase" and "rhythm" that have applicability to these two areas and no where else, except metaphorically. What about Barthes' "Grain of the Voice"? I feel that if I understood that essay completely I would be a very smart man.

What's the role of the "aesthetic" in terms of better or worse sounds, pleasing and harsh timbres? Tune in tomorrow...