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Gestural-Sonorous Objects: Embodied extensions of Schaeffer's conceptual apparatus



One of the most remarkable achievements of Pierre Schaeffer's musical thought is his proposal of the sonorous object as the focus of research. The sonorous object is a fragment of sound, typically in the range of a few seconds (often even less), perceived as a unit. Sonorous objects are constituted, studied, and evaluated according to various criteria, and sonorous objects that are found suitable are regarded as musical objects that may be used in musical composition. In the selection and qualification of these sonorous objects, we are encouraged to practise what Schaeffer called ‘reduced listening’, meaning disregarding the original context of the sound, including its source and signification, and instead focus our listening on the sonorous features. However, it can be argued that this principle of ‘reduced listening’ is not in conflict with more fundamental principles of embodied cognition, and that the criteria for the constitution, and the various feature qualifications, of sonorous objects can be linked to gestural images. Also, there are several similarities between studying sound and gestures from a phenomenological perspective, and it is suggested that Schaeffer's theoretical concepts may be extended to what is called gestural-sonorous objects.
Gestural-Sonorous Objects: embodied
extensions of Schaeffer’s conceptual apparatus
Department of Musicology, University of Oslo, P.B. 1017 Blindern, N-0315 Oslo, Norway
One of the most remarkable achievements of Pierre
Schaeffer’s musical thought is his proposal of the sonorous
object as the focus of research. The sonorous object is a
fragment of sound, typically in the range of a few seconds
(often even less), perceived as a unit. Sonorous objects are
constituted, studied, and evaluated according to various
criteria, and sonorous objects that are found suitable are
regarded as musical objects that may be used in musical
composition. In the selection and qualification of these
sonorous objects, we are encouraged to practise what
Schaeffer called ‘reduced listening’, meaning disregarding the
original context of the sound, including its source and
signification, and instead focus our listening on the sonorous
However, it can be argued that this principle of ‘reduced
listening’ is not in conflict with more fundamental principles
of embodied cognition, and that the criteria for the
constitution, and the various feature qualifications, of
sonorous objects can be linked to gestural images. Also, there
are several similarities between studying sound and gestures
from a phenomenological perspective, and it is suggested that
Schaeffer’s theoretical concepts may be extended to what is
called gestural-sonorous objects.
Although Pierre Schaeffer is commonly associated with
the emergence of musique concre`te and its twin concept
of acousmatic listening, I believe one of Schaeffer’s most
remarkable achievements is his idea of the sonorous
object as the focus of musical research. Briefly stated, the
sonorous object is a fragment of sound, typically in the
range of a few seconds (often even less). Most
importantly, the sonorous object enables us to have an
overview of the entire fragment of sound as a shape,
hence as anobject, and notably so an object with several
concurrent features evolving between the start and end
points of the fragment (e.g. timbral, dynamic, textural,
etc., evolution in the course of the fragment). Sonorous
objects are ‘raw’ fragments of sound, some of which by
various subsequent feature evaluations may be found
‘suitable’ for use in compositions, and may thus be
elevated to the status of musical objects.
The idea of the sonorous object was, and is in my
opinion still, four decades after the publication of
Schaeffer’s monumental Traite´ des objets musicaux
(Schaeffer 1966), in several ways a radical one: it
allowed denominating features of musical sound pre-
viously not possible within the Western conceptual
apparatus, features we today would variously regard as
timbral-textural elements of musical sound. It was
universal in the sense of being potentially applicable to
any fragment of musical sound, regardless of source
(vocal, instrumental, electronic, environmental), style,
and/or musical culture. But most of all, the concept of
the sonorous object, and the extensive apparatus for
feature qualification that goes with it, provided the
means for capturing and reflecting on the otherwise
ephemeral or transitory nature of musical sound, i.e.
allowed what we could call a mental recoding (to borrow
an expression from G. A. Miller’s famous paper on
chunking [Miller 1956]) of sound to more stable images
in our minds.
In fact, after extensive discussions of what the
sonorous object is and is not, Schaeffer ends up with
stating that the sonorous object is an ‘intentional unit’,
constituted in our consciousness by our own mental
activity (Schaeffer 1966: 263). The sonorous object can
be inspected, explored, and progressively differentiated
with regards to features, features which often evolve or
have various envelopes which can be traced, hence in my
opinion actually becoming more like what I would call a
gestural object. In our present work on musical gestures
( we suspect that there are
gestural components in the recoding of musical sound in
our minds. As indicated by the figure, we hypothesise
that there is a continuous process of mentally tracing
sound in music perception (and in musical imagery as
well), i.e. mentally tracing the onsets, contours, textures,
envelopes, etc., by hands, fingers, arms, or other
effectors, when we listen to, or merely imagine, music.
This means that from continuous listening and con-
tinuous sound-tracing, we actually recode musical
sound into multimodal gestural-sonorous images based
on biomechanical constraints (what we imagine our
bodies can do), hence into images that also have visual
(kinematic) and motor (effort, proprioceptive, etc.)
components. Furthermore, this recoding is conceived
of as a bidirectional process, i.e. that gestural images
Organised Sound 11(2): 149–157 !2006 Cambridge University Press. Printed in the United Kingdom. doi: 10.1017/S1355771806001439
may engender sonorous images as well (see discussion
and references on this in section 6 below).
This does raise some questions about the nature of
sound perception in Schaeffer’s case, because of his
principle of acousmatic listening, i.e. that the listener is
not able to see the sound-producing gestures, and even
more so because of his principle of ‘reduced listening’,
meaning that the listener should intentionally disregard
causal and/or anecdotal significations of the sound, and
rather focus on the sound-features alone (more on this
in section 2 below). However, it is also quite clear that
Schaeffer did make use of a number of gestural concepts
and metaphors in qualifying sonorous objects. Going a
bit deeper into this, I shall argue that Schaeffer’s use of
gestural concepts and metaphors can be related to the
idea of so-called embodied cognition, meaning that
virtually all domains of human perception and thinking,
even seemingly abstract domains, are related to images
of movement (Gallese and Lakoff 2005). For these
reasons, I shall introduce the concept of gestural-
sonorous objects in this paper, meaning an extension of
Schaeffer’s thoughts on exploring sonorous objects to
also include the exploration of gestures associated with
the various sonorous objects.
Actually, studies of human gestures reveal a strikingly
similar challenge of recoding, or of extracting and
qualifying stable percepts from a continuous sensory
stream, as in the study of sound. Strategically, gesture
research could also have the focus on short fragments as
in Schaeffer’s sonorous objects, and could even use a
conceptual apparatus similar to that which Schaeffer
used for sonorous objects. Furthermore, recent research
and development in gestural control of new musical
instruments (Wanderley and Battier 2000), with
enhanced possibilities for both direct and indirect
control of very many sound features (through various
schemes for mapping), has highlighted the close
relationship between sound features and gestures in
general, i.e. not only as a causal and/or anecdotic
relationship, but as fundamental, ubiquitous cognitive
schemata, and has opened up a large territory of
gestural-sonorous interactions in need of exploration.
Schaeffer’s universe of musical thought is very
extensive and complex, and the scope and ambition of
this paper must necessarily be limited to demonstrating
what I believe are gestural-sonorous elements in
Schaeffer’s theory, as well as some elements of his
theory leading up to this. In order to illustrate some of
the main ideas here, I will make a number of references
to the Solfe`ge de l’objet sonore (Schaeffer 1998), which
on the three CDs have sound examples that better than
words may demonstrate these gestural-sonorous ideas.
The reader is encouraged to listen to the examples in this
Solfe`ge (and of course also follow the text, available in
French, English, and Spanish in the accompanying
booklet) and judge for herself or himself about the
gestural elements in these sounds and texts.
The basis for Schaeffer’s conceptual apparatus was the
listening experience and not any kind of symbolic
representation of musical sound, be that in the form of
conventional notation or acoustic measurements.
Furthermore, Schaeffer stated that there should be no
restrictions on what kind of sonorous material could be
investigated, i.e. that sounds from all sources and all
cultures could be legitimate material for study. It is
interesting that of the three challenges to music theory
discussed by Schaeffer, i.e. non-Western music, new
technology, and new aesthetics, the challenge of non-
Western music was seen as most important because it
questioned the nature of our Western musical system
(Schaeffer 1966: 18). This clearly indicates a wish for
theoretical concepts based on more universal, cross-
cultural principles of human perception.
An essential element in such a new and universal
theory of musical sound would be the relationship
between perceptual images and the acoustic substrate of
sound. On the background of some seemingly puzzling
perceptual effects of manipulating the acoustic material,
such as removing the attack segments and fundamentals
of sounds, as well as manipulating spectral content and
envelopes, Schaeffer concluded that the relationship
between perception and acoustics was complex and
nonlinear. This relationship was characterised as a
relationship of anamorphosis, i.e. of ‘warping’, and the
challenge of musical research was defined as that of
establishing correlations between what we perceive and
the acoustic substrates, rather than studying the
acoustic substrates alone (Schaeffer 1998: CD1, tracks
12–92 and CD2, tracks 1–66). As Michel Chion points
Figure. Schematic overview of gestural-sonorous interaction and recoding.
150 Rolf Inge Godøy
out, the climate of musical research in the 1950s and
1960s was dominated by a kind of ‘scientific’ idea of the
musical object ‘in itself’, not taking into consideration
the complexities of perception (Chion 1983: 30).
However, much has changed in the four decades since
the publication of the Traite´, and several of Schaeffer’s
ideas concerning anamorphosis have now become
accepted within mainstream psychoacoustics and music
The consequences of acousmatic listening, meaning
that the original sources of the sounds (e.g. musicians,
various sound-producing objects, etc.) were not visible
because loudspeakers transmitted the sound, were
extensive, implying a general exclusion from sonorous
object research of whatever means for production had
been used. Related to this is Schaeffer’s general
distinction between generation (‘faire’, including so-
called ‘composition techniques’) and perception
(‘entendre’), a distinction that unfortunately was all
too often ignored in twentieth-century music theory
(Godøy 1997). Furthermore, Schaeffer took great care
to distinguish different levels and goals in listening,
ranging from the basic faculty of hearing to the
intentional focus on various significations of the sound
(distinguishing four modes of listening; see Godøy 1997:
129–30 for a discussion of this). Schaeffer suggested that
the listener, when doing musical research, should focus
on the sound features and disregard any contextual
significance, hence practise ‘reduced listening’ (‘e´coute
In explaining this principle of reduced listening,
Schaeffer points to the practical experience in the early
days of the musique concre`te of repeatedly listening to
looped fragments of sound, to what was called ‘sillon
ferme´’, meaning ‘closed groove’ on a phonograph
record. Initially, this was actually a pragmatic matter,
as the use of these phonograph loops was the available
technology for the manipulation and mixing of sounds
before the arrival of the tape recorder. However, such
repeated listening was turned into a research strategy,
because these repeated listenings would inexorably lead
the attention away from the original contextual
significations of the sound and towards various features
of the sound itself, hence towards what would later be
called the typology and morphology of the sonorous
But Schaeffer also draws on Husserl’s concept of
e´poche´, meaning the ‘bracketing’ or ‘suspension’ of the
real world outside our minds, and rather trying to
perceive things ‘as they are’, untainted by our usual,
everyday, contextual associations. This means that we
may intentionally shift our focus towards features we
previously were not aware of. Because of the earlier
experience with ‘sillon ferme´’, Schaeffer noted that he
and his associates had actually been practising phenom-
enology for several years without knowing it, dryly
commenting that this was better than claiming to
practise phenomenology without really doing so
(Schaeffer 1966: 262).
For some people, Schaeffer’s idea of reduced listening
may be difficult to accept, claiming that it is just not
possible to eradicate various associations of contextual
significance from our minds when we listen to musical
sound. However, from my reading of Schaeffer, I
believe the principle of reduced listening is first of all a
point of method: It is a matter of intentionally shifting
focus towards the various features of the sound for the
purpose of knowing more about the sound, i.e. to
actively trace the evolution of the various features of the
sonorous object and hence progressively build up an
increasingly detailed image of the sonorous object.
Discussing our intention in listening, Schaeffer wrote:
‘Nothing can prevent a listener from making it waver,
passing unconsciously from one system to another, or
from a reduced listening to a listening which is not. One
can even be pleased with that. It is by such a swirl of
intentions that the connections are established, that
information is exchanged’ (Schaeffer 1966: 343).
In principle, just arbitrarily cutting out a fragment from
a continuous stream of sound, and making a ‘closed
groove’ (or a tape loop or a digital sound file), could be
the point of departure for exploring that fragment.
However, an arbitrary cut could also result in various
artefacts, and radically transform our perception of the
content of the object. Schaeffer states that any new
object after a cutting will have a head, a body, and a tail,
comparing the cutting of a sonorous object to the
cutting of a magnet into smaller parts: Each of the new
magnet parts will have their respective polarisations
(Schaeffer 1998: CD2, tracks 87–8). In order to avoid
the artefacts of cutting, Schaeffer suggested that
sonorous objects should be cut at what could be
considered ‘natural’ discontinuities in the continuous
stream of sound, by the principle of stress-articulation
(Schaeffer 1998: CD3, tracks 17–23). ‘Articulation’ is
here defined as ‘breaking up the sonorous continuum by
successive distinct energetic events’ (Schaeffer 1966:
396), and ‘stress’ as the prolongation of the sound,
similar to vowels in speech (Schaeffer 1966: 366).
Applying this principle of stress-articulation, we actually
end up with quite short and clearly shaped sonorous
objects, actually so small that they could be called
‘gestural primitives’ (Choi 2000). To get an idea of how
this works, the reader is encouraged to compare the
CD3, track 13 with CD3, tracks 18–22 of Schaeffer
This ‘rule’ of stress-articulation is important, because
it provides Schaeffer’s theory with a universal principle
for constituting sonorous objects. But also, this stress-
articulation rule is significant because it refers to the
more general, ecological principle of chunking sensory
Gestural-Sonorous Objects 151
streams according to experienced discontinuities. This
may clarify our understanding of reduced listening,
because whereas causal and everyday significations are
to be ignored, basic schemata of perception, such as
energy and qualitative discontinuities, are clearly not to
be ignored in reduced listening. In our context of
gestural-sonorous objects, this fits quite well with
principles of embodied cognition, meaning that
Schaeffer in fact applied fundamental schemata of
bodily experience to sound perception (see section 6
The experiences of anamorphosis between sonorous
objects and acoustic substrates made Schaeffer realise
that sonorous objects had to be perceived holistically in
the sense that sequentially presented acoustic informa-
tion (e.g. attacks before the sustain portion of a sound)
would influence the perception of the sonorous object as
a whole. In this way, the sonorous object is a cumulative
image of a certain stretch of sound, constituted in our
minds. For this reason, Schaeffer also took great care to
delimit what kind of ontological status the sonorous
object should have, i.e. emphasising what a sonorous
object is and is not (Schaeffer 1998: CD2, tracks 66–88).
As a mental image, the sonorous object may vary from
one listening to the next, yet remain identifiable
(Schaeffer 1998: CD2, tracks 88–9). This is in line with
the abovementioned idea that the sonorous object is an
‘intentional unit’, meaning that the perception of the
sonorous object proceeds by sketches, making us
progressively more and more awareof its many features.
Furthermore, the holistic perception and cognition of
sonorous objects is necessary in order to make various
qualifications of the sound, to demarcate what
Schaeffer called morphological features (see section 4
below).This is true for all time-varying features, both on
the micro-level and on the more superordinate level of
the entire object. In general terms, this means thinking
of the various features of sonorous objects as shapes
(Godøy 1997). In Schaeffer’s thinking, this principle of
holistic perception applies equally well to more tradi-
tional music: A single tone may be a sonorous object,
but also a complex chord with many notes, a glissando
of many notes, a rapidly played group of notes, an
ornamental figure, a textural fragment, etc., may all be
considered sonorous objects, as long as they are
perceived holistically.
The strategic advantage of studying fragments is that
it enables focus at a significant level of resolution,
something Schaeffer was quite clear about, criticising
the study of large-scale forms (Schaeffer 1966: 35). In
studying gestures, we can make a similar choice of
fragment-centred focus: Having knowledge of what
happens in continuous or long stretches (be that of
sound and/or gestures) is quite difficult and will usually
result in global qualitative judgements, whereas setting
limits or giving a time frame, makes it possible to
demarcate and qualify a number of concurrent trajec-
tories which are perceptually significant.
The detail criteria for what is the ‘right’ duration of a
sonorous objectis dealt with in Schaeffer’s typology (see
section 4 below), but the general principle of perception
by a series of chunks is quite fundamental in phenom-
enological though. As in Schaeffer’s theory, the exact
size of these chunks is relative in phenomenology;
however, the principle is that of proceeding by a seriesof
discontinuous points in time where these chunks are
perceived holistically and ‘in a now’: ‘. . . the assumption
that the intuition of a temporal interval takes place in a
now, in a temporal point, appears to be self-evident and
altogether inescapable . . . .’ (Husserl 1964: 40–1). In
other words, Husserl claimed that if we would be
continuously immersed in the stream of sensory
impressions, we would simply not have any perceptual
images at all (see Schneider and Godøy 2001 for more
on this). Or as nicely stated by Ricoeur:‘. . . we interrupt
lived experience in order to signify it’ (Ricoeur 1981:
116). Interestingly, there seems to be support for this
chunk-by-chunk type of perception and cognition as a
general phenomenon in recent neurocognitive research
with suggestions of rather short attention segments,
typically in the less than 3-seconds range (Po¨ppel 1997).
Schaeffer introduced the twin concepts of context and
contexture, where context signifies the large-scale
context that the sonorous object may be included in at
any time, and contexture signifies the internal substance
of the sonorous object (Schaeffer 1966: 503). The
sonorous object thus becomes a focal point where we
can think of a large-scale context for the object on one
side (e.g. a whole work of music), and an internal
divisibility of the sonorous object (e.g. down to a single
point in time) on the other side, hence Schaeffer’s term
‘two infinities’ (Schaeffer 1966: 279). It could be
convenient to introduce the terms micro,meso and
macro here, where micro denotes the continuous
acoustic substrate, in principle divisible down to the
size of a single sample, the meso, or ‘mid level’, denotes
the sonorous (or gestural) object level, and the macro
denotes the continuity-level of sensory impressions, so
that we have a conceptual apparatus when zooming in
and out of sounds as well as gestures. Focus on the
meso-level of sonorous objects does not imply any
denial of continuity in experience, i.e. that there is a
macro-level simultaneously at work with this meso-level
(and micro-level as well). As suggested by Po¨ ppel (1997),
a succession of such meso-level chunks does indeed
result in an experience of continuity, even though the
attentional focus may be discontinuous. Interestingly,
these meso-level chunks of attention seem to apply also
when perceiving stationary phenomena as in the shifts
betweenfigure and ground in bi-stable images (e.g. well-
know gestalt-related figures such as the Necker cube)
following this approximate 3-second duration, but
152 Rolf Inge Godøy
whether such attention shifts also would apply for long
sounds seems to be an open question.
Although apparently much remains to be known
about auditory perception of sonorous objects
(Griffiths and Warren 2004), this three-level model
consisting of holistically perceived chunks at the meso-
level of the sonorous object (and the gestural object as
well), with a concurrent micro-level of continuous
sound, as well as a macro-level of cumulative memory
images, seems at least not implausible in perceptual
theory. But most of all, it is clearly a suitable model for
studying sound and movement by allowing focus on the
many significant features found on the meso-level.
Although there have been some interesting projects
following up Schaeffer’s meso-level focus on sonorous
objects, such as with the UST project (Delalande,
Formosa, Fre´miot, Gobin, Malbosc, Mandelbrojt and
Pedler 1996), Smalley’s Spectromorphology (Smalley
1997), and some similar (but apparently not directly
influenced by Schaeffer’s thought) projects such as the
Sounding Object project (Rocchesso and Fontana 2003),
and even parts of the Auditory Scene Analysis work by
Bregman (Bregman 1990), this kind of object-focused
research has much not yet exploited potential for
In order to explore and qualify sonorous objects,
Schaeffer established the twin concepts of typology
and morphology. Briefly stated, the typology is the first
and approximate sorting and characterisation of
sonorous objects, based on their most salient features,
such as what we could call their envelopes and overall
pitch and spectral content, and the morphology is a more
detailed demarcation of the various internal features of
the sonorous objects, in principle down to the most
minute fluctuations in the sound, i.e. various textural
and/or timbral features. The typology and the morphol-
ogy should be seen as complementary, and in actual use,
there is often a shift between these two, evaluating
sonorous objects from different perspectives.
Although Schaeffer’s typological and morphological
concepts, as summarised in the typo-morphological
matrix, may seem quite complex (Schaeffer 1966: 584
7), the main principle is essentially a top-down
exploration and qualification of the sonorous object,
going from its overall shape and features downwards
into progressively more detailed features and feature-
values, e.g. rates and range of changes in features. Also,
Schaeffer emphasised that the typo-morphological
matrix of feature dimensions and their respective sub-
dimensions were not to be understood as a ‘balance
sheet’ but as a ‘questionnaire’, in other words, as a
stimulus to explore features and not as any kind of strict
classificatory system of musical sound (Chion 1983: 93).
In this paper, I will just briefly mention some main
concepts from the typology and a few concepts from the
morphology as these are presented in Schaeffer (1998).
A bit simplified, we could saythat in the typology, the
first step is that of cutting the continuous stream of
sound into sonorous objects according to the mentioned
principle of stress-articulation (Schaeffer 1998: CD3,
tracks 17–22). Given these sonorous objects, the next
step is to qualify objects according to what we could call
their overall envelopes of duration (Schaeffer 1998:
CD3, tracks 23–43):
Nimpulsive types
Nsustained types
Niterative types
Schaeffer linked these duration envelopes to sound-
producing gestures (Schaeffer’s expression ‘facture
gestuelle’ is rendered as ‘executive gesture’ in the
English version of the Solfe`ge booklet [Schaeffer 1998:
Npunctual gesture
Ncontinuous gesture
Niterative gesture
But in this first sorting of sonorous objects in the
typology, harmonic and/or pitch content, called mass,is
also taken into consideration, with types variously
having definite pitch, complex pitch, and various
degrees of stability, evolution or instability in pitch. In
this way, Schaeffer establishes a matrix of sonorous
objects where overall envelopes, i.e. impulsive,sustained
and iterative, are paired with pitch/spectral, i.e. mass
features, meaning tonal,i.e.pitched,complex, i.e. fixed
but indeterminate pitch, and varied, i.e. fluctuating in
pitch, as may be heard in the same set of examples, i.e.
Schaeffer (1998: CD3, tracks 23–43).
This matrix of 3 by 3 typological categories is at the
centre of the typological classification scheme, and
sonorous objects within this matrix are considered
‘balanced’ in the sense that they are of medium
duration, i.e. neither too short, nor too long, and also
of medium complexity. However, there is of course also
the possibility that sonorous objects may be situated
outside this centre, as can be seen from the overview in
the Traite´ (Schaeffer 1966: 459), and from the ensuing
examples in the Solfe`ge (Schaeffer 1998: CD3, tracks
43–64). Furthermore, Schaeffer introduced some cri-
teria for what he called ‘suitable objects’, criteria
implying that the object should not be anecdotic and
should be suitable for integration in a musical context
(Chion 1983: 97–8). Schaeffer does emphasise though
that these typological considerations are just tools for
guiding our thinking, and that sonorous objects may be
moved from one typological category to another,
depending upon the context and the attention we give
to them (Schaeffer 1998: 74).
Gestural-Sonorous Objects 153
Once a sonorous object is found suitable for musical
contexts, it may be further evaluated with regards to
morphological features. These morphological features
are mainly concerned with the internal features of the
object, such as its pitch and/or spectral content, the
evolution of the pitch and/or spectral content, in short
with what we often refer to as timbral features when
these evolutions or fluctuations are fast and on a small
scale, e.g. sub-note-level, and as textural features when
they are slower and on a larger scale, e.g. note-level.
Some of the morphologicalfeatures are illustrated in the
Solfe`ge (Schaeffer 1998: CD2, tracks 90–5): The shape,
meaning the overall envelope, the mass, meaning pitch
and spectral features (e.g. having clear pitch, ambiguous
pitch, being inharmonic, various kinds of noise, etc.),
the grain, meaning fast/small fluctuations, the harmonic
timbre, meaning spectral distribution (e.g. spectral
envelope), and the motion, meaning slower/larger
fluctuations (the French ‘allure’ is translated as ‘motion’
in the English text of the booklet in Schaeffer (1998: 59),
but could perhaps also be translated as ‘gait’). These
morphological features are first presented and varied
one by one (tracks 90–4), and finally combined in an
‘exaggerated object’ (track 95).
In the brief look at some of Schaeffer’s typological and
morphological concepts in the previous section, I believe
we can observe several gestural components, and we
should now try to see these gestural components in the
broader context of sound-related gestures in general.
Although there have been suggestions made for more
systematic classifications of sound-related gestures (e.g.
Cadoz and Wanderley 2000), there still seem to be
divergent opinions about how this should be done. For
practical purposes, I shall here give a rather simple
overview of sound-related gestures in music as pre-
viously presented elsewhere (Godøy, Haga and
Jensenius 2006):
NSound-producing gestures, including both excita-
tory gestures such as hitting, stroking, bowing,
blowing, singing, kicking, etc., and modifying
gestures such as modulations of pitch and timbre.
NSound-accompanying gestures,suchasdancingor
marching, or more vague sound-tracing gestures
such as following the melodic contours, rhythmi-
cal/textural patterns, timbral or dynamical evolu-
tions, etc., with our hands, arms, torso, etc.
NAmodal, affective or emotive gestures, including
movements associated with more global sensations
of the music, such as effort, velocity, impatience,
unrest, calm, balance, elation, anger, etc.
In our context here, the most relevant gestures are
those that follow the sound closely, i.e. the sound-
producing and sound-tracing gestures. The distinction
between these two types of gestures may often be not so
clear; however, the main difference is that sound-
producing gestures have an energy transfer from the
performer to the instrument, whereas the sound-tracing
gestures may mimic excitatory gestures as well as trace
the evolution of the resonance of sounds, i.e. the
‘passive’ or energy-dissipating phase of the sound, hence
not transferring energy to a resonating body.
The sound-producing gestures can be subdivided into
discontinuous, continuous, and iterative excitatory
gestures, exactly matching Schaeffer’s typological dura-
tion envelope categories, i.e. impulsive,sustained and
iterative. Excitatory sound-producing gestures are in
addition obvious in what Schaeffer called compound (i.e.
several sounds starting together) and composite (sounds
fusing together into one object) objects (Schaeffer 1998:
CD3, tracks 2–3). As for the composite object, it actually
demonstrates the phenomenon of coarticulation,
known from both linguistics and movement sciences,
meaning that smaller movements fuse into more super-
ordinate gestures, a phenomenon at work in very many
sonorous objects (e.g. rapid group of tones fusing to one
gesture, as mentioned earlier).
Furthermore, excitatory sound-producing gestures
also match several of Schaeffer’s morphological cate-
gories inducing changes in the sonorous object, e.g.
changes in mass and harmonic timbre,butalsoin
dynamics (or shape), melodic profile (overall changes of
pitch/spectral content), and profile of mass (internal
changes in spectral content), brought about by changes
in e.g. the speed, pressure, direction, etc., of the
excitatory gesture. Also sound-modifying gestures, i.e.
modulatory gestures, can be matched well with
Schaeffer’s morphological categories, first of all with
those of motion and grain as when applying vibratos or
tremolos at different speeds and amplitudes, but also to
changes within the other morphological categories, i.e.
those of mass,dynamics,harmonic timbre,melodic
profile and profile of mass, for instance as mute changes
(e.g. going from open to closed mute) or bow-position
changes (e.g. going from sul tasto to sul ponticello), wind
pressure changes, bow pressure and bow speedchanges,
etc., in short by a number of sound-modifying gestures
musicians know very well.
Actually, pretty much everything in Schaeffer’s
typology and morphology may be matched to various
sound-producing, i.e. excitatory and modulatory, ges-
tures. My purpose with pointing this out is to
demonstrate that there is a gesture component
embedded in Schaeffer’s conceptual apparatus which
is on a more general and basic level than that of
everyday causal listening, i.e. not on a level that the
principle of reduced listening is supposed to lead us
away from. The implicit gestural components I see in
the typology and morphology are general in the sense
that they may be applied to many rather different
sounds, as well as be carried out with rather different
154 Rolf Inge Godøy
effectors, and hence actually demonstrate what is called
motor equivalence in the motor control literature
(Rosenbaum 1991). This means that the gestural
categories have a certain degree of abstraction in the
sense that they are transferable from one setting to
another, both with regard to effectors (i.e. hand, fist,
finger) and instrument (drum, string, metal sheet,
computer), hence in fact be what we could call ‘reduced
gestures’ (as suggested by Leigh Landy, personal
communication), or in more general terms, become
image schemata (Johnson 1987) which we use in our
perception of known as well as unknown, previously
heard as well as unheard, hence practising what could be
called ‘anthropomorphic projection’ (Joel Chadabe,
personal communication).
The idea of mental re-coding of sound into multi-modal
gestural images mentioned at the beginning of this paper
rests on the idea of embodied cognition. Embodied
cognition means that there is an incessant mental
simulation going on in our minds of whatever we
perceive, so that perception is not a matter of abstract
processing of sensory data, but rather a process of re-
enactment of whatever we perceive (Wilson and
Knoblich 2005). Remembering Schaeffer’s affiliation
with phenomenology, it is also quite interesting to note
recent convergences between embodiment theory within
neurocognitive research and classical phenomenology
(Gallese 2005).
More specifically with regard to sound perception,
the so-called motor theory in linguistics (Liberman and
Mattingly 1985) claimed that speech perception is not
just a matter of processingthe auditory signal for certain
acoustic cues, but just as much a matter of the listening
subjects mentally re-enacting the articulatory gestures
necessary for producing the sounds. In other words, the
articulatory gestures were seen as integral to the mental
image of speech sounds. This theory has often been
criticised; however, more recent research seems to
support the idea that there are indeed close links
between perception and motor elements in our neuro-
cognitive apparatus (Fadiga et al. 2002).
In music, we often see people making sound-
accompanying gestures such as moving their bodies,
shaking their heads, gesticulating with their arms, etc.,
to the music, and we may also see people making
sound-producing gestures such as playing air drums,
air guitar, or air piano when listening to music. Our
observation studies of people with different levels
of expertise, ranging from novices with no musical
training to professional musicians, playing air piano,
seem to suggest that associations of sound with
sound-producing gestures is common and also quite
robust even for novices (Godøy, Haga and Jensenius
2006). Also in cases when people are not making overt
sound-producing gestures, some studies have shown
that there are quite strong links between listening and
activations of motor-related areas in the brain
(Haueisen and Kno¨ sche 2001), and conversely, just
observing silent finger movements on a piano keyboard
may activate auditory areas of the brain in pianists
(Haslinger, Erhard, Altenmu¨ ller, Schroeder, Boecker
and Ceballos-Baumann 2005), cf. the idea in the figure
that images may be triggered both ways, i.e. from sound
to gestures and from gestures to sound. Also, in the case
of musical imagery, i.e. when people are merely
imagining music with their ‘inner ear’, there seems to
be activations of certain motor-related areas in the brain
(Zatorre and Halpern 2005).
On the background of evidence from different
sources, it would not seem unreasonable to suggest that
there is what I have called a motormimetic component
in music perception and cognition (Godøy 2003). The
idea of motormimetic cognition implies that there is a
mental simulation of sound-producing gestures going
on when we perceive and/or imagine music; hence, that
motor imagery (Jeannerod 2001) may actually be
considered a component of musical imagery (Godøy
2004). Furthermore, this motor imagery draws on
knowledge of various biomechanical and motor control
constraints, meaning that we also have included
kinematic and dynamic images, hence also images of
effort, of chunking, of coarticulation, etc., in short,
images of real-world movement elements, in our images
of musical sound. Lastly, there may also be even more
fundamental links betweensound and gesture, a kind of
auditory-motor loop in the sense of ‘low-level’ or ‘hard-
wired’ interaction and cooperation of the senses
(Hickok, Buchsbaum, Humphries and Muftuler 2003).
Hopefully, neurocognitive research will give us impor-
tant insights on the bodily basis of gestural-sonorous
interaction in the coming years.
There are different elements that converge in our studies
of gestural-sonorous objects, and I shall here give a brief
overview of viable methods as well as challenges:
NAnalysing the conceptual apparatus, including the
use of gesture-related metaphors, in various music
theory research (and other music-related texts for
that matter), as I have tried to show here in the case
of Schaeffer’s work.
NObservation studies and analysis of what kinds of
gestures people actually make when listening to
music, e.g. in air-instrument playing (Godøy,
Haga and Jensenius 2006). This includes also
studying what features of the sonorous objects are
reflected in the gestures, including onsets, pitch-
space, envelopes, textures, articulation, etc., and
Gestural-Sonorous Objects 155
biomechanical and motor control constraints such
as chunking, coarticulation, etc.
NSound-tracing studies (in progress) where listeners
are asked to draw various typological and
morphological features of sonorous objects, such
as those in Schaeffer (1998, CD3, tracks 18–22), on
a Wacom digitising tablet and bimanually in three-
dimensional space using the Polhemus electro-
magnetic tracking system.
NCompiling information from neurocognitive
research on auditory-motor interaction.
The last mentioned point concerns the fact that
although we may observe people’s sound-related
gestures (both those done spontaneously and those
done according to more specific instructions), the covert
sound-related gestures in people’s minds are of course
not directly accessible. We do hope that neurocognitive
research in the coming years will give us more insight on
the workings of gestural-sonorous imagery, but there
are also other major challenges here:
NBetter means for analysing and representing both
gestures and sound. There are many and sub-
stantial challenges here of a technical nature, such
as in tracking, preprocessing, and representation
of data, and of a more conceptual nature, such as
in categorising and interpreting gestures.
NBetter understanding of the kinematics and
dynamics of gestures, as well as of biomechanical
and motor control constraints, assuming that these
constraints condition gestures and hence are also
reflected in gestural-sonorous objects.
NBetter synthesis tools for the generation of
incrementally different variants of sounds, allow-
ing systematic exploration of morphological fea-
tures, e.g. minute control of various aspects of
grain and mass (cf. Schaeffer’s ‘exaggerated
object’, CD2, tracks 90–5), and tracking listeners
gestural responses to these variants.
Schaeffer’s idea of focusing on the sonorous object in
musical research still has great potential, and could be
extended to include gestural components. The main
elements of such a Schaeffer-inspired research on
gestural-sonorous objects are the following:
NFocusing on fragments of musical sound at the
meso-level of the sonorous object allows explora-
tions of highly significant features such as dynamic
shapes, various concurrent feature-trajectories of
pitch, spectral, and textural content, and micro-
features such as grain and motion.
NSonorous objects emerge by ecologically grounded
image schemata of stress-articulation,i.e.ecologically
founded qualitative and energetic discontinuities,
but also our perceptive-cognitive apparatus seems to
proceed by discontinuous chunks.
NThe reduced listening strategy is not an eradication
of fundamental embodied schemata in music but
rather a matter of focusing on typological and
morphological features, proceeding top-down
from the object as a whole towards successively
more detailed qualifications of significant features.
NStudies of gestures could profit from a similar
focus on meso-level gestural objects perceived
holistically aschunks ‘in a now’, as well as a similar
top-down scheme for progressively finer feature-
qualifications as in Schaeffer’s typology and
NSonorous objects clearly have gestural compo-
nents, and the idea of gestural-sonorous objects
is particularly useful for studies of musical
texture and timbre (actually two overlapping
domains), as well as of other entities of musical
sound previously inaccessible in Western music
NStudies of gestural-sonorous objects enhance
images of sound in our minds and, besides
helping us in the explorations of sound features,
can also have several practical applications in
improvisation, composition, performance, music
education, and in gestural control of new musical
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Gestural-Sonorous Objects 157
... When it comes to describing the quality of the sound-producing action, Godøy (2006) proposes three action-sound types based on the "sound object" classi cation by Schaeffer (1967): • Sustained: The excitation is based on a "continuous" energy transfer, resulting in a continuously changing sound. This is typical for wind and (bowed) string instruments. ...
... In a further development on his thinking on musical imagery, Godøy (2006) suggests that our cognition of sound objects is based on mentally "tracing" features of the sound while listening to, or even when only imagining, music. This was the idea behind the sound-tracing studies described in chapter 5. ...
... ... the natural tendency to relate sounds to supposed sources and causes, and to relate sounds to each other because they appear to have shared or associated origins. Godøy (2006) argues that, despite the seemingly "disembodied" nature of Schaeffer's thinking, there is no con ict between the principles of reduced listening and those of embodied cognition. Instead, there are several similarities between studying sound objects and their soundproducing actions from a phenomenological perspective. ...
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A techno-cognitive look at how new technologies are shaping the future of musicking. “Musicking” encapsulates both the making of and perception of music, so it includes both active and passive forms of musical engagement. But at its core, it is a relationship between actions and sounds, between human bodies and musical instruments. Viewing musicking through this lens and drawing on music cognition and music technology, Sound Actions proposes a model for understanding differences between traditional acoustic “sound makers” and new electro-acoustic “music makers.” What is a musical instrument? How do new technologies change how we perform and perceive music? What happens when composers build instruments, performers write code, perceivers become producers, and instruments play themselves? The answers to these pivotal questions entail a meeting point between interactive music technology and embodied music cognition, what author Alexander Refsum Jensenius calls “embodied music technology.” Moving between objective description and subjective narrative of his own musical experiences, Jensenius explores why music makes people move, how the human body can be used in musical interaction, and how new technologies allow for active musical experiences. The development of new music technologies, he demonstrates, has fundamentally changed how music is performed and perceived.
... The main source of the object perspective here is in the theory of sound objects developed by Pierre Schaeffer and co-workers in the early days of the musique concrète (Godøy, 1997(Godøy, , 2006(Godøy, , 2021aSchaeffer, 1998Schaeffer, , 2012Schaeffer, , 2017Chion, 2009). Closely related to Husserl's theories, this is an extensive theory where the main focus is on detecting and qualifying subjectively experienced features of sound objects, based on sound fragments typically in the duration range of 0.5-5 s. ...
... Schaeffer's typology of sound objects is based on the energy envelopes of their generation, with the main categories impulsive, sustained, and iterative, and reflects similar body motion categories. Also, some of the feature categories of the morphology are linked with motion features such as gait and fluctuation; hence, it made sense to extend this sound object theory to include combined sound and motion energy shapes (Godøy, 2006). ...
... In summary, thinking rhythm objects means focusing on the overall shapes and perceptual features of sound and motion chunks in the 0.5-5 s range (Godøy, 2006;Schaeffer, 2017). Also, thinking rhythm objects means understanding the constraint-based unequal distribution of control and effort in music performance, i.e., understanding what may be summarized in the phenomenon of intermittency. ...
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The focus of this mini-review is on rhythm objects, defined as strongly coherent chunks of combined sound and body motion in music, typically in the duration range of a few seconds, as may for instance be found in a fragment of dance music, in an energetic drum fill, in a flute ornament, or in a cascade of sounds of a rapid harp glissando. Although there has been much research on rhythm in continuous musical sound and its links with behavior, including the neurocognitive aspects of periodicity, synchrony, and entrainment, there has been much less focus on the generation and perception of singular coherent rhythm objects. This mini-review aims to enhance our understanding of such rhythm objects by pointing to relevant literature on coherence-enhancing elements such as coarticulation , i.e., the fusion of motion events into more extended rhythm objects, and intermittent motor control, i.e., the discontinuous, instant-by-instant control and triggering of rhythm objects.
... It is worth noting that listeners' embodied listening experience does not merely incorporate the visual perception of musical performance, it could involve more covert imitation of soundproducing actions. Godøy (2006) related the notion of gesturalsonorous object to musical sounds, referring to the phenomenon that humans would mentally trace sound as a continuous process (i.e., the onsets, contours, textures and envelops involving hands, fingers, arms etc.) in the perception or imagination of musical sounds. Cox (2016) proposed the mimetic hypothesis and paid attention to the covert mimetic behavior (MMI, mimetic motor imagery) besides the overt imitation of performance actions (MMA, mimetic motor action). ...
... To see why this is the case, it could be useful to have an overview of the different timescales for sound and body motion features in music performance. These timescales extend from those in the sub-millisecond range to those in the range of several seconds, minutes, and beyond, here grouped into three main categories (Godøy, 2006): ...
... The too short ones can become acceptable with pauses between the objects, so that a pause actually becomes part of an object. Furthermore, an important feature of sound objects is what Schaeffer called facture, essentially denoting the energy envelope of the sound object and making a link with body motion, and hence, also making a link also with the timescales of body motion (Godøy, 2006). Furthermore, timescales concern not only duration issues, but also issues of continuity vs. discontinuity in perception and cognition. ...
... These can be subdivided into excitation actions, such as the right hand that excites the strings on a guitar, and modification actions, such as the left hand modifying the pitch [20]. As illustrated in Image 2, excitation actions can be divided into three main action-sound types [21] based on the sound categories proposed by Schaeffer [22]: ...
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This paper describes the development of CAVI, a coadaptive audiovisual instrument for collaborative human-machine improvisation. We created this agent-based live processing system to explore how a machine can interact musically based on a human performer’s bodily actions. CAVI utilized a generative deep learning model that monitored muscle and motion data streamed from a Myo armband worn on the performer’s forearm. The generated control signals automated layered time-based effects modules and animated a virtual body representing the artificial agent. In the final performance, two expert musicians (a guitarist and a drummer) performed with CAVI. We discuss the outcome of our artistic exploration, present the scientific methods it was based on, and reflect on developing an interactive system that is as much an audiovisual composition as an interactive musical instrument.
... Building on this idea, Godøy suggests the term "motor-mimesis" as an explanation of how mental models stem from gesture [29]. This thought is the building block leading to his theory of "gesturalsonorous objects" [30]. This theory proposes soundrelated gestures (more specifically sound-producing gestures in the case of timbre perception) as the basis for mental representations. ...
Conference Paper
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This paper reports on a survey of critical listening training offered at tertiary education providers in the USA, UK, Australia, and Canada. The purpose of the investigation is to explore the concept of mental representations in educational contexts, as instructional materials do not always consider this aspect despite a rich research terrain in the field. The analysis shows a wide diversity of instructional methods used, seemingly influenced by course subject matter and institution business model. It also reveals a need to accurately define the concept of critical listening, depending on the context of its use. This study provides the background to a proposed evaluation of the effectiveness of mental representation models applied to new instructional designs.
This article reinterprets the tension between sound and music in Pierre Schaeffer's 1966 Treatise on Musical Objects . Schaeffer famously insisted that the Treatise did not address music or composition; scholars have therefore engaged with it primarily as a theoretical text on sound and listening. In this article, however, I argue that the denial and deferral of music throughout the Treatise should be considered a discrete and key part of its theoretical contributions. By the early 1960s, Schaeffer's aesthetic frustration with the practice of musique concrète had blossomed into something of an ethical imperative and paradox. He saw it necessary to suspend all musical activity in the present, so as to salvage music's future. This dynamic is key to understanding Schaeffer's controversial and influential calls for the deferral of cultural responses to sound in the Treatise , as illustrated by the practices of ‘deconditioning’ and ‘reconditioning’.
This chapter outlines a dynamic framework for creating meaningful interactions between the embodied voice and the disembodied voice through gestural systems. Based on the practices of contemporary vocal art, I will discuss the sensor instrument as prop, object and body extension and show how the sensor’s functions or affordances influence mapping strategies. I will show how the composed mapping of functional and communicative gestures together with a software’s logic defines a creative virtual instrument design framework. For this study, the embodied practice is presented as a dynamic system with seven co-players, a visual metaphor with seven limbs that create meaning in their interactions. To clarify this, I introduce each of these co-players separately. I present a way of understanding the creation of meaning in embodied human–computer interaction as a stream of attention with shifting perspectives. This mapping framework will be useful not only for musicians, composers and creative practitioners wishing to develop an understanding of the specifics of embodied human–computer interaction in vocal music performance but also for human–robotic researchers, voice-model and artificial machine-intelligence researchers seeking to develop a more systematic and targeted focus for exploring embodied interaction approaches in gestural systems.
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Editor's note: This volume presents diverse views on the nature and status of the body in relation to a variety of artforms, including music, film, advertisements, painting, video works, installations, typography, photographs and performance. My sincere thanks to all the contributors for their input and patience throughout the editorial process. I am deeply indebted to my colleagues in Visual Studies who have enthusiastically encouraged, inspired and supported me on this research journey. I am especially grateful to Amanda du Preez, Rory du Plessis, Lize Kriel and Janine Engelbrecht for stimulating conversations and for their unconditional friendship. My deepest thanks go to Alexander Johnson, Chair of the School of the Arts at the University of Pretoria (UP), for unfailingly supporting all my research endeavours. Dirk van den Berg, my PhD supervisor at the University of the Free State (UFS), played an important role in setting the groundwork for the ideas that have led to this publication and I thank him for generously sharing his extensive knowledge in the fields of philosophy and embodiment with me. I wish to acknowledge a substantial grant from UP that allowed me to take the study leave needed to bring this volume to completion. I would also like to thank Lizette Hermann and Liesl Hager of the Pretoria University Law Press (PULP) for so efficiently managing the reviewing process and the publication of this book, and Isabeau de Meyer and Kate Painting for editing various drafts of the manuscript. Finally, my deepest gratitude goes to Rabie and Matthew for their steadfast belief in me and for always being my anchor.
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Drawing on perspectives from music psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, musicology, clinical psychology, and music education, Music and Mental Imagery provides a critical overview of cutting-edge research on the various types of mental imagery associated with music. The four main parts cover an introduction to the different types of mental imagery associated with music such as auditory/musical, visual, kinaesthetic, and multimodal mental imagery; a critical assessment of established and novel ways to measure mental imagery in various musical contexts; coverage of different states of consciousness, all of which are relevant for, and often associated with, mental imagery in music, and a critical overview of applications of mental imagery in health, educational, and performance settings. By both critically reviewing up-to-date scientific research and offering new empirical results, this book provides a unique overview of the different types and origins of mental imagery in musical contexts, various ways to measure them, and intriguing insights into related mental phenomena such as mind-wandering and synaesthesia. This will be of particular interest for scholars and researchers of music psychology and music education. It will also be useful for practitioners working with music in applied health and educational contexts.
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Music appeals to more than just our sense of hearing, and clearly we often associate other sensations with music. These non-sonorous sensations seem to be inseparable from the experience of music; in particular, images of movement appear to be deeply embedded in our perception and cognition of music. Explorations of mental images of music-related movement could enhance our understanding of music as a phenomenon, as well as be of practical value in various music-making tasks.
This is a presentation of various notions of imagery encountered in western philosophy and psychology from antiquity to our own times, with particular emphasis on the phenomenological and gestalt theoretical insights of some nineteenth and twentieth century thinkers. Several such introspective insights seem to still have relevance today, even with the advent of various neurophysiological and experimental cognitive methods.