Can Sound Function in Music?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


This paper will discuss issues in the integration of an expanded vocabulary of sonic materials in music (for the sake of brevity termed ‘sound’ in the title). It will examine this issue from three perspectives: (1) contextual and referential aspects of the use of such materials in composition, (2) timbral organisation in music, and (3) organisational influences in music derived from structures to be found in environmental sounds. It will largely focus on music rather than sound art (which I take to be the version of the sonic art-form which owes much to conceptual art), though it will touch on issues relating to how differences between the two art forms may be articulated. Indeed, it may be that the central question of this paper could be reframed as ‘can sound function in music without it becoming indistinguishable from sound art?’, or, more bluntly, ‘is music which uses a wider range of sound materials actually music?’
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
PublisherSociety for Musicology in Ireland
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 10 May 2010
EventSociety for Musicology in Ireland 2010 Annual Conference - University of Ulster, Magee campus
Duration: 10 May 2010 → …


ConferenceSociety for Musicology in Ireland 2010 Annual Conference
Period10/05/10 → …
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Reference text: Bregman, A. S. (1990). Auditory scene analysis: The perceptual organization of sound. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
Bregman, A. S. (1993). Auditory scene analysis: Hearing in complex environments. In: Bigand, E. and McAdams, S. (eds) Thinking in sound: The cognitive psychology of human audition. Oxford University Press, pp.10–36.
Cage, J. (1967). A Year from Monday. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
Emmerson, S. (2007). Living electronic music. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Gibson, J.J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Gibson, J.J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
LaBelle, B. (2006). Background Noise: perspectives on sound art. London: Continuum.
Landy, L. (2007). Understanding the art of sound organization. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Windsor, W. (1997). Frequency structure in electroacoustic music: ideology, function and perception. Organised Sound, 2(2), 77-82.
Windsor, L. (2000). Through and around the acousmatic: the interpretation of electroacoustic sounds. In: Emmerson, S. (ed.) Music, Electronic Media and Culture. Aldershot: Ashgate.


  • Electroacoustic
  • ecological
  • perception
  • music
  • theory
  • noise
  • sound
  • art
  • timbre


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