Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation approaches spectral music from a perceptual perspective via cognitive theories of everyday experience. I treat spectral music as a special type of communication, wherein the perspectives and goals of composers, performers, and listeners continually feed back into one another as they meet in the musical work. Analysis from this multi-valent perspective reveals the interdependence of musical meaning on these three roles and refocuses the discourse on relationships and intelligible and shareable experiences, beyond abstract compositional plans.

By way of introduction, in the first chapter I critique existing attempts to analyze temporal-formal experience in spectral music, arguing that atomistic analytical techniques inherently clash with the holistic aesthetics of spectral composers. The second chapter explores the notion of musical communication in a study of metric entrainment. I show how Grisey sets up and denies expectations with his meters, thus communicating formal processes by affecting his listeners’ psychological responses to those meters. In the third chapter, I propose a new method, based on theories of event cognition, for describing and modeling our in-time experiences of form in process-based music. Through graphic event model diagrams, I propose that we can explain our evolving impressions of Murail’s forms in terms of theoretical event models, or provisional mental interpretations of reality. In the fourth chapter, I turn to the performer and spectral music’s essential embodiment as a primarily acoustic style of music. I investigate how performers’ gestures communicate musical structure and meaning, and how listeners understand that structure and meaning via perceptual simulations of movement. In the fifth chapter, I analyze composers’ commentary of their music, showing how they describe new temporalities and prescribe environmental listening in their revealing program notes. In the second half of the chapter, I place Grisey’s Les Espaces Acoustiques and Murail’s L’Esprit des Dunes in their cultural-historic context in a narrative reading of irony and borrowing, respectively. Finally, the sixth chapter draws some broad conclusions regarding music cognition and modern art music and proposes future research directions.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Paul Steinbeck

Committee Members

Robert Snarrenberg, Benjamin Duane, Jeffrey M. Zacks, Robert Hasegawa,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/fkg1-9s94

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2119

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