Jonathan De Souza (Western University)
Dream Machines: Instrumental Timbre, Technology, and Perception
622 Dodge Hall, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027
Timbre is often defined in terms of musical instruments, and it often indexes material aspects of a sounding source. But how might timbral indices become ambiguous or illusory? And what does this imply about the correlation—or dissociation—of hearing, sight, and touch? This talk explores the phenomenology of timbre by juxtaposing three technologies: an electromagnetic tuning-fork apparatus, developed by Hermann von Helmholtz; the RCA Mark II, used by Milton Babbitt and other mid-twentieth-century composers; and the Yamaha GX-1, an analog synthesizer that Stevie Wonder called “the Dream Machine.” Each creates new sounds but is also used to imitate acoustic instruments. Ultimately, these technologies—and their associated discourses and practices—help reveal paradoxical relationships between timbre and instrument, sound and source.