Unsound Phenomenologies: Harrison, Schaeffer, and the Sound Object

Oberlin Conservatory
135 W. Lorain St.
OCMR 1335
Oberlin, OH 44074
As Jonty Harrison himself acknowledges, a significant body of acousmatic music exists which has, directly or indirectly, challenged aspects of the Schaefferian theory from which acousmatic music first developed. Few pieces, however, have so clearly and deliberately confronted Schaeffer's notion of the `sound object' as Harrison's Unsound Objects. Harrison does more than merely reject Schaeffer's definition of the sound object through the use of expanded compositional strategies. Rather, he both employs Schaeffer's methodology and subverts it, systematically demonstrating the potential and the limitations of Schaeffer's epoche and its product, the sound object. The result is what might be aptly termed the `unsound object': a sonic entity which both demonstrates and defies Schaeffer's ideals, and exemplifies the rich ambiguities which can arise from the compositional exploitation of referentiality and association, in addition to the intrinsic, morphological characteristics emphasized within Schaeffer's reduced listening. Key to understanding Schaeffer's ideology, and in particular its faults, is an investigation into the field of phenomenology, from which Schaeffer borrowed liberally. This paper will first outline the key features of the sound object and epoche as defined by Schaeffer, as well as their relation to Husserlian phenomenology. Harrison's methods for subverting these features are then explored, in particular the recontextualisation of sound objects. Finally, the essay examines Harrison's use of metaphor and narrative, devices not possible within a strictly Schaefferian musical language.
adrian 2015-06-03