Sound object

In electronic music theory and electronic composition theory a sound object (coined by Pierre Schaeffer)1 corresponds with a primary unit of music such that could be played on an instrument or sung by a vocalist. A sound object specifically refers to recorded sound rather than music written using manuscript or a score. More precisely, in his book Traité des objets musicaux Schaeffer considers the sound object in these terms:

This unit of sound [sound object] is the equivalent to a unit of breath or articulation, a unit of instrumental gesture. The sound object is therefore an acoustic action and intention of listening.[1]

Schaeffer went through an evolution of thought regarding his work with recorded material/ sound objects as music. But he came to believe that the sound object should be free from its sonic origin (its sound source or source bonding) so that its source could not be identified. This type of sound object forms part of what Schaeffer called acousmatic music, which involves a reduced, or concentrated listening.

One of Schaeffer's primary aims in his treatise1 is to re-define the music object in the light of the new technology of recording. As a key part of this re-definition he feels it necessary to describe, what he claims, is the empirical function/s of listening. Schaeffer's terminology is confused and confusing in this aspect of his theory as he uses the terms: listening, hearing, perceiving aurally and understanding under the sub-heading 'listening'. So one needs to have a firm grasp of his descriptions and differentiations of meaning so as to avoid being confused by his prodigal writing style. Schaeffer's four functions of the "What Can be Heard." (Schaeffer, P., 1995, pp. 74–79) are as follows:

  1. A sonic entity is detected by its signal being picked up by the autonomous mechanism of hearing (ouïr)
  2. The signalled sonic entity (having been detected) 'sound character' is deciphered by the active perception of listening (éncouter)
  3. The signalled sonic entity is then subjected to a twofold focussed attention that judges then describes it (entendre)
  4. The signalled sonic entities' significance is then understood by abstraction, comparison, deduction and by linking it to different sources and types (either the initial meaning is confirmed or if denied an additional meaning is worked out (comprendre).[1]

These are then extrapolated into "Four Listening Modes" which Schaeffer considers scientific, saying (Schaeffer, P., 1995, pp. 80): 'To give a quite empirical description of "what happens" when we listen, we will make a sort of summary of the various forms of activity of the ear.'.[1] These modes of listening then lead to the acousmatic situation, as Schaeffer describes it. Schaeffer's acousmatic situation is focussed on the subjective "listening itself which becomes the phenomena under study"[1] rather than the sound object's source.

Schaeffer's Legacy

Schaeffer's ideas, it is speculated, are derived or modelled on the philosophy on Phenomenology, as such, his theory is seemingly given some kind of weight, or legitimacy. Nevertheless, it's difficult to ascertain the impact of his influence, but Brian Kane, in his book Sound Unseen says:

In explicating and clarifying his theory of the sound object, Schaeffer introduced the concept of the acousmatic. “The sound object,” Schaffer tersely states, “is never revealed clearly except in the acousmatic experience.” In what follows, I try to show why this is indeed the case. To do so, I will explicate Schaeffer's mature theory of acousmatic experience, the sound object, and reduced listening (écoute réduite) as presented in the Traité des objets musicaux. His theory is cast in explicitly phenomenological terms, and I argue that Schaeffer's phenomenology is much closer to Husserl than it is to Schaeffer’s French contemporary, Maurice Merleau-Ponty. For without a good understanding of the Husserlian preoccupations of Schaeffer's work, one cannot adequately characterize the relationship between acousmatic experience, the sound object, and reduced listening. Once those various parts of Schaeffer's mature theory have been distinctly separated, the theory and practice of acousmatic listening—the real focus of interest in this book—can begin to be addressed.[2]

Other Sound Object notions

A less elucidated or perhaps looser definition of the term sound object considers all possible types of sound within stipulated temporalities, as developed by Curtis Roads in his book Microsound 5 (2001) in which he says:

1. Infinite The ideal time span of mathematical durations such as the infinite sine waves of classical Fourier analysis.

2. Supra A time scale beyond that of an individual composition and extending into months, years, decades, and centuries.

3. Macro The time scale of overall musical architecture or form, measured in minutes or hours, or in extreme cases, days.

4. Meso Divisions of form.  Groupings of sound objects into hierarchies of phrase structures of various sizes, measured in minutes or seconds.

5. Sound object A basic unit of musical structure, generalizing the traditional concept of note to include complex and mutating sound events on a time scale ranging from a fraction of a second to several seconds.

6. Micro Sound particles on a time scale that extends down to the threshold of auditory perception (measured in thousandths of a second or milli-seconds).

7. Sample The atomic level of digital audio systems: individual binary samples or numerical amplitude values, one following another at a fixed time interval.  The period between samples is measured in millionths of a second (microseconds).

8. Subsample Fluctuations on a time scale too brief to be properly recorded or perceived, measured in billionths of a second (nanoseconds) or less.

9. InfinitesimalThe ideal time span of mathematical durations such as the infinitely brief delta functions.[3]

Roads therefore places the sound object in a seemingly all encompassing temporal frame, whereby it may be considered one of nine scales of time. English composer Trevor Wishart derives his own version of the sound object from Schaeffer's but unlike Schaeffer, Wishart favours a materialist or physicalist notion, saying:

Given that we have established a coherent aural image of a real acoustic space, we may then begin to position sound-objects within the space. Imagine for a moment that we have established the acoustic space of a forest (width represented by the spread across a pair of stereo speakers, depth represented by decreasing amplitude and high-frequency components and increasing reverberation) then position the sounds of various birds and animals within this space.[4]

Post-Schaefferian notions of the sound object

Another post-Schaefferian theory about sound objects is by Denis Smalley who has devised, what he describes as, 'spectromorphology’, (Smalley, 1997) a tool for analysing, and shaping sound objects, he states:

I have developed the concepts and terminology of spectromorphologyas tools for describing and analysing listening experience…  A spectromorphological approach sets out spectral and morphological models and processes, and provides a framework for understanding structural relations and behaviours as experienced in the temporal flux of the music.[5]

An important aspect of spectromorphology is, what Smalley calls ‘source bonding’, which he describes as the duality of any given listening situation. According to Smalley, therefore, sound objects have an extrinsic nature if its source bonding remains intact, but if not, it has a sonic characteristic that is intrinsic in nature. The condition in which a sound object has an intrinsic or extrinsic source bonding depends on the experiences of the listener.


  1. ^ a b c d 1910-1995,, Schaeffer, Pierre,. Treatise on musical objects : an essay across disciplines. North, Christine,, Dack, John,. Oakland, California. ISBN 9780520294295. OCLC 961309966.
  2. ^ 1973-, Kane, Brian,. Sound unseen : acousmatic sound in theory and practice. New York, NY. ISBN 9780199347841. OCLC 858975563.
  3. ^ Curtis., Roads, (2001). Microsound. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262282444. OCLC 51959365.
  4. ^ Wishart, Trevor (1996). On Sonic Art. Amsterdam: Harwood. p. 146. ISBN 3-7186-5847-X.
  5. ^ Smalley, Denis (August 1997). "Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes". Organised Sound. 2 (2): 107–126. doi:10.1017/S1355771897009059. ISSN 1469-8153.
1. Note: Schaeffer's text translated here from French by S. Constantinou. Original text: ‘Cette unité serait, dans le parle, une unité de respiration ou d'articulation: en musique, l'unité de geste instrumental. L'objet sonore est a la rencoutre d'une action acoustique et d'une intention d'ecoute.’ See reference [1] above. See Constantinou, S (2015) Processes of creative patterning : a compositional approach. PhD Thesis.

Constantinou, S (2015) Processes of creative patterning : a compositional approach. PhD Thesis.;jsessionid=D38126F6CC9443F07B78636D63E7F84E?


Schaeffer, Pierre (2012). In Search of a Concrete Music. Translated by North, Christine; Dack, John. London: University of California. ISBN 978-0-520-26573-8. OCLC 788263789.
Acousmatic sound

Acousmatic sound is sound that is heard without an originating cause being seen. The word acousmatic, from the French acousmatique, is derived from the Greek word akousmatikoi (ἀκουσματικοί), which referred to probationary pupils of the philosopher Pythagoras who were required to sit in absolute silence while they listened to him deliver his lecture from behind a veil or screen to make them better concentrate on his teachings. The term acousmatique was first used by the French composer and pioneer of musique concrète Pierre Schaeffer. In acousmatic art one hears sound from behind a "veil" of loudspeakers, the source cause remaining unseen. More generally, any sound, whether it is natural or manipulated, may be described as acousmatic if the cause of the sound remains unseen. The term has also been used by the French writer and composer Michel Chion in reference to the use of off-screen sound in film. More recently, in the article Space-form and the acousmatic image (2007), composer and academic Prof. Denis Smalley has expanded on some of Schaeffers' acousmatic concepts.

Since the 2000s, the term acousmatic has been used, notably in North America to refer to fixed media composition and pieces.


Anticon (often styled as anticon.) is an independent record label based in Los Angeles, California. It was founded in 1998 by seven musicians and manager Baillie Parker. It is now collectively owned among six musicians, co-founder Parker, and manager Shaun Koplow. The original musicians signed to Anticon were once referred to as the Anticon collective.

Cinq études de bruits

Cinq études de bruits (Five Studies of Noises) is a collection of musical compositions by Pierre Schaeffer. The five études were composed in 1948 and are the earliest pieces of musique concrète, a form of electroacoustic music that utilises recorded sounds as a compositional resource.

The five études were composed at the studio Schaeffer established at RTF (now ORTF), Studio d'Essai. They are:

Étude aux chemins de fer - trains

Étude aux tourniquets - toy tops and percussion instruments

Étude violette - piano sounds recorded for Schaeffer by Boulez

Étude noire - piano sounds recorded for Schaeffer by Boulez

Étude pathétique - sauce pans, canal boats, singing, speech, harmonica, pianoThe works were premiered via a broadcast on 5 October 1948, titled Concert de bruits.

Ivo Malec

Ivo Malec (born 30 March 1925 in Zagreb) is a Croatian-born French composer, music educator and conductor. One of the earliest Yugoslav composers to obtain high international regard, his works have been performed by symphony orchestras throughout Europe and North America.

Kyma (sound design language)

Kyma is a visual programming language for sound design used by musicians, researchers, and sound designers. In Kyma, a user programs a multiprocessor DSP by graphically connecting modules on the screen of a Macintosh or Windows computer.

List of LittleBigPlanet downloadable content packs

LittleBigPlanet is a puzzle platform video game (with user-generated content) for the PlayStation 3. It is developed by Media Molecule, a British company founded in part by Rag Doll Kung Fu creator Mark Healey, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCE).

The game received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from critics and has been praised for its presentation, including its graphics, physics and audio, along with its gameplay and large array of customisable and online features.

For the game, Media Molecule has released numerous downloadable content (DLC) packs on the PlayStation Store. All DLC packs released for LittleBigPlanet are also compatible with LittleBigPlanet 2 but those designed for the sequel are not available in the first game. Costumes from both LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2 are compatible with the PlayStation Vita version of the game, as well as LittleBigPlanet Karting for the PS3. The content of the game's DLC packs vary but include costumes, stickers, decorations, objects, music, creation tools and new levels. Some of these packs are available free of charge while others are available to purchase. Much of the development of LittleBigPlanet's DLC is outsourced by Media Molecule to their development partners, Tarsier Studios, Fireproof Games and Supermassive Games. The packs announced to date are listed below.

The Incredibles Costumes and Level Kit are to be removed from sale in the first week of June 2012 (Later returned in September 2014) It is the first time that non-free content has been removed from sale. No explanation of the reason why has been given.As of 31 December 2015 all Marvel DLC packs have been removed from the PlayStation Store due to licensing expiration. Customers who have previously purchased this content will find they are temporarily unable to download these packs after this date. The Marvel DLC will once again become available for download for those who have previously purchased it at an, as of yet, undetermined date.


Microsound includes all sounds on the time scale shorter than musical notes, the sound object time scale, and longer than the sample time scale. Specifically, this is shorter than one tenth of a second and longer than 10 milliseconds, which includes part of the audio frequency range (20 Hz to 20 kHz) as well as part of the infrasonic frequency range (below 20 Hz, rhythm).These sounds include transient audio phenomena and are known in acoustics and signal processing by various names including sound particles, quantum acoustics, sonal atom, grain, glisson, grainlet, trainlet, microarc, wavelet, chirplet, FOF, time-frequency atom, pulsar, impulse, toneburst, tone pip, acoustic pixel, and others. In the frequency domain they may be named kernel, logon, and frame, among others.Physicist Dennis Gabor was an important pioneer in microsound. Micromontage is musical montage with microsound.

Microtime is the level of "sonic" or aural "syntax" or the "time-varying distribution of...spectral energy.".

Na'vi language

The Naʼvi language (Naʼvi: Lìʼfya leNaʼvi) is the constructed language of the Naʼvi, the sapient humanoid indigenous inhabitants of the fictional moon Pandora in the 2009 film Avatar. It was created by Paul Frommer, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business with a doctorate in linguistics. Naʼvi was designed to fit James Cameron's conception of what the language should sound like in the film, to be realistically learnable by the fictional human characters of the film, and to be pronounceable by the actors, but to not closely resemble any single human language.

When the film was released in 2009, Naʼvi had a growing vocabulary of about a thousand words, but understanding of its grammar was limited to the language's creator. However, this has changed subsequently as Frommer has expanded the lexicon to more than 2200 words and has published the grammar, thus making Naʼvi a relatively complete, learnable and serviceable language.

Neu! 2

Neu! 2 is the second studio album by the krautrock band Neu!. It was recorded in January 1973 and mixed in February 1973, both at Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios in Hamburg, Germany, and released in 1973 by Brain Records. It was officially reissued by Astralwerks in the US and by Grönland in the UK and Europe on 29 May 2001. Illegal bootleg CDs (with the audio taken from vinyl) from the Germanofon label were widely available in the late 1990s.

Paul Morley included it in his list of the 5 x 100 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.


Organology (from Greek: ὄργανον – organon, "instrument" and λόγος – logos, "study") is the science of musical instruments and their classification. It embraces study of instruments' history, instruments used in different cultures, technical aspects of how instruments produce sound, and musical instrument classification. There is a degree of overlap between organology, ethnomusicology (being subsets of musicology) and the branch of the science of acoustics devoted to musical instruments.

Paul Frommer

Paul R. Frommer (; born September 17, 1944) is an American communications professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and a linguistics consultant. He is the former Vice President, Special Projects Coordinator, Strategic Planner, and Writer-Researcher at Bentley Industries in Los Angeles, California. From 2005 to 2008, he served as Director of the Center for Management Communication at the USC Marshall School of Business.

Pierre Schaeffer bibliography

The bibliography of Pierre Schaeffer

is a list of the fictional and nonfictional writings of the electroacoustic musician-theoretician and pioneer of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer.


Rhythm (from Greek ῥυθμός, rhythmos, "any regular recurring motion, symmetry" (Liddell and Scott 1996)) generally means a "movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions" (Anon. 1971, 2537). This general meaning of regular recurrence or pattern in time can apply to a wide variety of cyclical natural phenomena having a periodicity or frequency of anything from microseconds to several seconds (as with the riff in a rock music song); to several minutes or hours, or, at the most extreme, even over many years.

In the performance arts, rhythm is the timing of events on a human scale; of musical sounds and silences that occur over time, of the steps of a dance, or the meter of spoken language and poetry. In some performing arts, such as hip hop music, the rhythmic delivery of the lyrics is one of the most important elements of the style. Rhythm may also refer to visual presentation, as "timed movement through space" (Jirousek 1995) and a common language of pattern unites rhythm with geometry. In recent years, rhythm and meter have become an important area of research among music scholars. Recent work in these areas includes books by Maury Yeston (1976), Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983), Jonathan Kramer, Christopher Hasty (1997), Godfried Toussaint (2005), William Rothstein (1989), Joel Lester (Lester 1986), and Guerino Mazzola.

Sound Object (SndObj) Library

The Sound Object (SndObj) Library is a C++ object-oriented programming library for music and audio development. It is composed of 100+ classes for signal processing, audio, MIDI and file I/O and is available, cross-platform, for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, IRIX and other Unix-like systems.

The library development is now a cooperative project hosted by sourceforge. New versions are released twice-yearly and development versions are available via Concurrent Versions System (CVS).

The Library also provides bindings for Python (aka PySndObj), Java and Common Lisp (through CFFI).


A soundwalk is a walk with a focus on listening to the environment. The term was first used by members of the World Soundscape Project under the leadership of composer R. Murray Schafer in Vancouver in the 1970s. Hildegard Westerkamp, from the same group of artists, defines soundwalking as "... any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are." Other terms closely related to soundwalking and used by Schafer include:

Keynote: typically ambient sounds which are not perceived, not because they are inaudible but because they are filtered out cognitively, such as a highway or air-condition hum)

Soundmark: a sonic landmark; a sound which is characteristic of a place)

Sound signal: a foreground sound; e.g. a dog, an alarm clock; messages/meaning is usually carried through sound signals.

Sound object: the smallest possible recognizable sonic entity (recognizable by its amplitude envelope)

Acousmatic: a description for sounds whose sources are out of sight or unknown. This also relates to acousmatic music.Schafer was particularly interested in the implications of the changes in soundscapes in industrial societies in children, and children's relationship to the world through sound. He was a proponent of ear-cleaning (cleaning one's ears cognitively), and he saw soundwalking as an important part of this process of re-engaging our aural senses in finding our place in the world. Soundwalking has been used as artistic medium by visual artists and documentary makers, such as Janet Cardiff.

Studio d'Essai

The Studio d'Essai, later Club d'Essai, was founded in 1942 by Pierre Schaeffer, played a role in the activities of the French resistance during World War II, and later became a center of musical activity.

In 1942 the French composer and theoretician Pierre Schaeffer, began his exploration of radiophony when he joined Jacques Copeau and his pupils in the foundation of the Studio d'Essai de la Radiodiffusion Nationale. The studio originally functioned as a center for the Resistance movement in French radio, which in August 1944 was responsible for the first broadcasts in liberated Paris. It was here that Schaeffer began to experiment with creative radiophonic techniques using the sound technologies of the time (Palombini 1993, 14).

It was from d'Essai that Schaeffer successfully recorded his first work, which itself appeared on Dix ans d'essais radiophoniques du studio au Club d'Essai: 1942–1952, a compilation of his personal concrète, along with many other artists' experimental pieces, released later in his life (Schaeffer 1962). The compilation has since become valued as a notable publication of the experimental music genre.Following Schaeffer's work with Studio d'Essai at Radiodiffusion Nationale during the early 1940s he was credited with originating the theory and practice of musique concrète. The Studio d'Essai was renamed Club d 'Essai de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (Anon. n.d.) in 1946 and in the same year Schaeffer discussed, in writing, the question surrounding the transformation of time perceived through recording. The essay evidenced knowledge of sound manipulation techniques he would further exploit compositionally. In 1948 Schaeffer formally initiated “research in to noises” at the Club d'Essai (Palombini 1993, 14) and on 5 October 1948 the results of his initial experimentation were premiered at a concert given in Paris (Chion 1983). Five works for phonograph (known collectively as Cinq études de bruits—Five Studies of Noises) including Etude violette (Study in Purple) and Etude aux chemins de fer (Study of the Railroads), were presented.

Symphonie pour un homme seul

Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony for One Man Alone) is a musical composition by Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, composed in 1949–1950. It is an important early example of musique concrète.

The Symphonie was premiered at a concert on 18 March 1950. Comprising twenty-two movements of music produced using turntables and mixers, it was difficult to perform due to technical problems. The number of movements was reduced to 11 for a broadcast in 1951, and then to 12 for the revised 1966 version by Henry. The revised version was used for the Pierre Schaeffer – L'oeuvre musicale recordings. Its movements are as follows:

Prosopopée I






Prosopopée II





StretteSchaeffer started developing the idea of a "symphony of noises" (Symphonie de bruits) soon after he established his studio (Studio d'Essai) at RTF (now ORTF). He sketched ideas for sound materials in his journal. He later described the completed work as "an opera for blind people, a performance without argument, a poem made of noises, bursts of text, spoken or musical." In the 1952 work A la recherche d'une musique concrète he commented thus on the nature of the Symphonie:

The lone man should find his symphony within himself, not only in conceiving the music in abstract, but in being his own instrument. A lone man possesses considerably more than the twelve notes of the pitched voice. He cries, he whistles, he walks, he thumps his fist, he laughs, he groans. His heart beats, his breathing accelerates, he utters words, launches calls and other calls reply to him. Nothing echoes more a solitary cry than the clamour of crowds.

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)

Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) is an electroacoustic composition by Luciano Berio, for voice and tape. Composed between 1958 and 1959, it is based on the interpretative reading of the poem "Sirens" from chapter 11 of the novel Ulysses by James Joyce by Cathy Berberian and on the elaboration of her recorded voice by technological means.

Victor Lazzarini

Victor Lazzarini (born 1969) is a Brazilian-Irish composer and computer music researcher. Born in Londrina, Brazil, he studied music in the local conservatory and completed his B.Mus. (Composition) at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). He received a doctorate from the University of Nottingham in 1996. Since 1998, he has been working at Maynooth University, where he is currently a Professor of Music and Dean of Arts, Celtic Studies and Philosophy.Lazzarini is one of the leading developers of Csound along with John ffitch and Steven Yi, and the author of the Sound Object (SndObj) Library. Lazzarini has contributed a number of new sound synthesis techniques such as Modified FM Synthesis, Vector Phase Shaping, Feedback AM, and Adaptive Frequency Modulation. He is the co-editor, with Richard Boulanger, of the Audio Programming Book.Lazzarini has composed music for films, as well as electronic and instrumental works. He was the winner of the AIC/IMRO Mostly Modern International Composer's Competition in Ireland and the Hallward Composition Prize in the UK.

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