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Empty Spaces: Temporal Structures and Timbral Transformations in Gerard Grisey's Modulations and Release for 12 Musicians, an original composition

Leibovich, Nizan (2017) Empty Spaces: Temporal Structures and Timbral Transformations in Gerard Grisey's Modulations and Release for 12 Musicians, an original composition. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Gérard Grisey’s Modulations (1976-77) is the fourth installment of Les espaces acoustiques, a six-piece cycle inspired by the composer’s analysis of brass instruments’ E-based harmonic spectrum. This dissertation concentrates on Grisey’s approach to the temporal evolution of Modulations, and how his temporal structuring affects perception of the piece’s continuum.

The analysis discerns and examines eight temporal structures spread over three larger parts. A temporal structure creates and transforms synthetic timbres, from fashioning their individual transients to designing their overall dynamic evolution. In Modulations, Grisey uses processes of timbral transformations to essentially ‘compose sound.’ These transformations define each of the piece’s temporal structures as well as the overarching structure of the piece.

Whereas the three major sections of the work are clearly defined (though elided) by elisions which serve as pointers between them, the eight temporal structures generally overlap, in a manner that Grisey describes as structural polyphony.

The analysis shows how this structural polyphony emulates the behavior of partials within a harmonic spectrum, each possessing its own discrete amplitude envelope. The notion of the individual amplitude envelope is then traced on every structural level, from small scale temporal structures where single partials are represented by single instruments—Modulations’ sound objects—to the larger scale temporal structure.

Grisey’s timbral transformations prompt expectations, then satisfy or defy them. Temporal structures define what Grisey calls the “skeleton of time,” (objective time) aiming to affect the piece’s “flesh of time”—its becoming.

The title of my original piece Release for 12 musicians refers to the gesture of setting free from a state of utmost constriction, be it physical or mental. At the start, this idea is conveyed at the micro level—one instrument playing one note over a very short time unit. It then expands at various levels, the largest being the entire structure of the piece, where two defined sections are noticeable. The first is a gradual buildup of tension, the second a release of that tension in multiple stages.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Leibovich, Nizannizanleibovich@gmail.comnil28
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMoe,
Committee MemberPettersen,
Committee MemberRosenblum,
Committee MemberWilliams,
Date: 26 June 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 January 2017
Approval Date: 26 June 2017
Submission Date: 2 May 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 128
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: musical analysis; Gerard Grisey; Les espaces acoustiques; Modulations; Ensemble
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2017 00:12
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2017 00:12


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