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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 August 2006

Department of Musicology, University of Oslo, P.B. 1017 Blindern, N-0315 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:


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.

Cambridge University Press 2006

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