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Spectralism By Drott, Eric

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM1010-1
Published: 01/10/2016
Retrieved: 23 July 2024, from


Spectralism is a tendency in contemporary art music that takes the material attributes of sound as the point of departure for composition. Originating in France and Romania in the 1970s, partly in reaction to the perceived hegemony of serialism and other high modernist styles, since the 1980s the influence of spectral ideas and techniques has spread across Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Its most prominent representatives are Gérard Grisey (1946–98), Tristan Murail (1947--), and Horatiu Radulescu (1942–2008).

In France, spectralism grew out of the work conducted by the circle of composers associated with the new music ensemble l’Itinéraire, founded in 1973 by Murail and Roger Tessier. Although the “spectral” moniker was not applied to the music of Grisey, Murail, or other members of this group until 1979, when composer Hugues Dufourt coined the term for a radio program outlining their compositional philosophy, many of the basic precepts of the spectral aesthetic had already taken shape by the mid-1970s. Foremost among these was the call to return to sound. Exploring the psychoacoustic properties of sound, it was argued, would provide a more secure foundation for musical communication, pointing a way beyond the abstractions of serial technique. This renewed attention to the materiality of sound led to a heightened appreciation for the interdependence of its constituent parameters (frequency, duration, intensity, timbre), which stood in contrast to their dissociation in serial theory and practice.

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Drott, Eric. Spectralism. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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