These two essays together expose, examine, and critique the workings of “causalism,” the implicit positive valuation that attaches to sonic sources with respect to musical production and audition. According to some, timbre, along with pitch, intensity, and duration, would name the fourth fundamental aspect of sounds deemed musical. But while attempts have been made to find in timbre an objectively quantifiable and measurable aspect of sound—and one that characterizes specific instruments as such—the concept actually lumps together a number of different and irreducibly particular sonic phenomena. The continued use of the term timbre reveals less an investment in objectivity than an ongoing attachment to sonic origins and traditional instrumentation—an attachment that extended techniques and electronic manipulation, for example, have revealed as conceptually outmoded and thus ideologically motivated. Similarly, the notion of noise that circulates in musical theory as sounds without precise pitch presents itself as scientific. Yet the notion surreptitiously puts into play the ambiguity enclosed in the term noise: both a sound from whatever source and a sound that is a nuisance or that is otherwise negatively valued. As with timbre, the insistence on something like objective noise and the upholding of the noise/sound distinction function as artificial limitations on music as composed and heard.
Michel Chion; Dissolution of the Notion of Timbre. differences 1 December 2011; 22 (2-3): 235–239. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-1428906
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