Parameter

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A basic quality of the musical material that might be changed without modifying the value of other parameters of the same material.

Aspect/parameter/dimension

This article introduces some clarity in terminology for the usage on the wiki. Historically the basic term in the literature is parameter, but it's used quite inconsistently from author to author.

Usage

As we defined parameters in relation to one another, it makes the most sense to consider them in sets, contextually. Many composers have devised different sets of parameters and historically, the requirement for cross-independence is not always observed. This page will provide a comparison of a few options. For an earlier historical overview, check Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen's Sound is Multi-Dimensional

The parameters may apply either to a single source of sound, and also to a more complex musical moment. On the wiki we use Aspect as the most general possible term for material quality. As an example of non-parametrical Aspect consider genre, which is changed directly from one to another by modifying a lot of basic parameters at once, although it's of course possible to imagine a set of Aspects that will leave a genre as a proper parameter.

We use Dimension for a specific type of a linear parameter. And it's worth noticing that four main dimensions are commonly used in different sets of parameters — we'll call that "Big 4" for short:

  • Pitch,
  • Volume (a.k.a. Dynamics),
  • Duration (convertible to Density), and
  • Timbre.

The comparison

Author Source Changes to Big 4 Extensions of Big 4
Milton Babbitt Who Cares If You Listen? Pitch split to pitch class and register as separate parameters "Big 5" (Pitch splits)
Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen Sound is multi-dimensional Duration as density 4 added: Pulse-No Pulse, Tempo, Tonal-Atonal, Degrees of contrast
Pierre Boulez Interview Dynamics as intensity and attack -
W.A. Mathieu Listening Book - 2 added: Texture, Feeling and Intention
Iannis Xenakis Formalized Music Dynamics as attack open-ended, preliminary

References

📜 Bergstrøm-Nielsen, Carl. 2006. Sound is Multi-Dimensional: Parameter analysis as a tool for creative music making. https://vbn.aau.dk/da/publications/sound-is-multi-dimensional-parameter-analysis-as-a-tool-for-creat

📜 Gable, David. 1985. “Ramifying Connections: An Interview with Pierre Boulez.” The Journal of Musicology 4(1): 105–13. https://doi.org/10.2307/763725

📜 Mathieu, William Allaudin. 1991. The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications.


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