Higher-level relationships in Dhomont's Novars

Ambrose Seddon, Bournemouth University, UK.

1. Introduction

A sense of structure can often be traced to the perception of recurrent events in a work. Returning sound materials, or those that remind of earlier instances, can become significant features that provide a temporal perspective, creating musical landmarks against which other material might be considered, compared and appraised. The significance of these landmarks may change as the work unfolds and as other families of recurrent sounds become established, potentially resulting in webs of correspondence that influence overall impressions of form. Investigating recurrence within a work involves assessing aspects of similarity or difference among the various constituent sound identities, considering how they function when they recur, and reflecting on why they are significant. With these ideas in mind, a listening strategy for Francis Dhomont’s Novars will be presented focusing on the recurrence of sound material at higher, or more global, levels of structure. The analytical strategy adopted here is primarily based on listening, and so all observations are those of a focused listener rather than reflecting the intentions of the composer.

Many kinds of music feature recurrent identities founded on melodic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns and formations, which may be subject to different sorts of repetition and variation. However, the kinds of sound material and the possibilities of sound transformation available to acousmatic composers are sufficiently different and varied that concepts of recurrence within this context require specific attention in order to understand more fully what ‘a recurrence’ can be, how recurrent phenomena operate over different timescales, and how they contribute to impressions of structure and form.

For McAdams, form “is accumulated in the mind of a listener” [1], and “large-scale form is the shape of experience through time and its resonating reminiscences, rather than a structure out of time that one holds before the mind’s ear in its entirety” [2]. The former view draws attention to the importance of time in the perception of form, of what is held in consciousness during and after listening, emphasising the experiential nature of form. In contrast, an “architectonic approach” [3] describes the events of a work in terms of sections (sonata form, rondo form) or nested hierarchies. Furthermore, for Berry, “musical structure may be said to be the punctuated shaping of time and “space” into lines of growth, decline, and stasis hierarchically ordered [his italics]” [4]. Thus, for clarity, the term ‘structure’ might be better reserved for the architectonic view because it deals with the layout of a work, suggesting a rationalization that isolates, to some extent, the constituent elements and how the music appears to be constructed. In many senses, the concepts of structure and form reflect different listening behaviours: the analytical diagnosis of the events of a work (architectonic view) on one hand, and a listening strategy receptive to resonating reminiscences and shaped experience on the other.

Recurrence will be briefly defined. Some significant aspects of sound identity will be discussed, along with select concepts regarding structural function and behaviour. The main higher-level relationship categories will then be introduced, followed by the examination of Novars in terms of higher-level relationships, structural function and behaviour.

[1] MCADAMS, Stephen, "Psychological Constraints on Form-Bearing Dimensions in Music", Contemporary Music Review, vol. 4, n° 1, 1989, p. 181.

[2] MCADAMS, Stephen, VINES, Bradley W., VIEILLARD, Sandrine, SMITH, Bennet K. and REYNOLDS, Roger, "Influences of Large-Scale Form on Continuous Ratings in Response to a Contemporary Piece in a Live Concert Setting", Music Perception, vol. 22, n° 2, 2004, p. 299.

[3] Ibid., p. 298.

[4] BERRY, Wallace, Structural Functions in Music, New York, Dover Publications, 1987, p. 5.

Next page