Textural and Timbral Ambiguities: Creating and Composing with Sound Groups in a Portfolio of Compositions

Ehud Freedman

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This practice-based research in music composition consists of a portfolio of original compositions and written commentary on the submitted works: two pieces for acoustic instruments and pre-recorded audio, two pieces for string duo, two pieces for sextet, a studio piece for toy accordion and a score for a contemporary dance performance.

Through the practice of original composition, the research examines the creation of ambiguous textures using timbral ambiguity. Timbral ambiguity is achieved in the research through the integration of timbres. For example: the combining of solo clarinet and vibraphone sounds into an integrated sound. In the resulting integrated timbre, it is difficult to distinguish the clarinet and vibraphone. In ambiguous textures in the research, timbres of textural layers as foreground and background are difficult to distinguish from one another. These ambiguities emphasise sound groups over individual sounds.

The research investigates the roles of timbral contrast, an antagonist of timbral ambiguity, in timbral and textural ambiguities. It suggests a timbral contrast spectrum, which can be consulted when composing with timbral and textural ambiguities. Further, it finds added value in these ambiguities, as increased interest and the enhancement of musical parameters as melody, harmony and rhythm. The music in the portfolio is influenced by minimalism in aesthetics and style and so, it is examined in this context.
The research examines the mimicking of a music sequencing electronic/digital tool, the arpeggiator, in acoustic composition. It demonstrates the practice’s contributions to consistency, efficiency, novelty, and timbral and textural ambiguities.

Context for the research stems from academic thought on ambiguity in language, literature, music and from musical works featuring timbral and textural ambiguities. Works by György Ligeti, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Adès, John Adams and Michael Gordon are among those which informed the research, as did musicological work by composer Jonathan Harvey, Leonard Meyer and others.

The subject of ambiguity has been widely discussed in academic literature, especially in the fields of language and the arts. Musical timbre has also received considerable attention as has texture, in practice and in academia. Timbral ambiguity as a term, tool and concept, has, however, been the subject of little focused academic research. Textural ambiguity has rarely been directly explored in academia. This thesis and accompanying portfolio aim to add to knowledge in these seldom discussed subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Bowden, Mark, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jan 2024
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Timbre
  • texture
  • ambiguity
  • ambiguous
  • minimalism

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