Editor’s Message

[1] Greetings all, and welcome to Volume 29, Issue 3 of Music Theory Online! Fall, being far and away the best season, is the time of year in which nature—in the northern hemisphere, at least—begins the process of slowing things down in anticipation of winter. And yet, in the sphere of scholarship and academia, the opposite kind of energy manifests. For us, fall is a time of many renewals, the time of new projects, of first days of school and of early society meetings.

[2] And of course, it means one other thing. Another fall seasonal tradition you, Dear Readers, may count on as regularly as the arrival of university president “welcome message” emails and PSL signage at Starbucks, is the September issue of this journal. We have a broad selection of offerings—eight articles and one review—that, as fate would have it, concentrate on music written after 1900 and on non-Western musics. Anyone who spends time absorbing all of the contents of this issue will gain new appreciation for the structure and expressivity of folk music, early twentieth century through present-day Western classical music, and video game music. And that is not all: they will also have the chance to view musics from China and Africa in new ways, specifically from the standpoint of time.

[3] We open with a fresh take on one of the golden ages of video game design. Karen Cook’s “8-Bit Affordances: Jun Chikuma’s Soundtrack to Faxanadu” casts new light onto a composer and game soundtrack overshadowed—in scholarship as in the marketplace—by Nintendo tentpole franchises such as Super Mario and Zelda. Cook reveals how Chikuma used the memory limitations of the early Nintendo console to creative advantage, pioneering solutions involving sounds layers and audio loops to create a soundtrack of almost unprecedented variety and complexity. Next is Christopher Goddard’s,“‘Your Soul is the Whole World’: The Spaces of Claude Vivier’s Siddhartha,” which investigates the music of an important early innovator of spectral music. A dedicated student of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vivier adopted many of his mentor’s techniques, most prominently in Siddartha, those concerning transformations of melody and motions through space. Goddard’s analysis of this major work clarifies via prose and animated schematics how it progresses and how its sounds move through acoustic as well as registrally metaphorical, and poetically interpretive spaces.

[4] The titles of both the third and eighth articles of this issue, remarkably enough, invoke the notion of formal function as it applies to the music of Arnold Schoenberg. The first of these is David Hier’s “Chromatic Function in Schoenberg’s Little Piano Piece, op. 19, no. 1.” Following from the recognition that phrases in Schoenberg’s very early works often feature structural voices that move in contrary motion and achieve closure via semitonal voice leading, Hier theorizes a large set of chromatic cadences that apply well to this composer’s later, more fully atonal works. This theory is presented in tandem with an analytic methodology for segmenting phrases and identifying cadences, and then demonstrated in a full analysis of Schoenberg’s op. 19, no. 1. The other article in this subset, “Klangfarbenmelodie, Chromophony, and Timbral Function in Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Farben,’” comes from Matthew Zeller. It opens with the provocative claim that the piece, despite being well understood in terms of its basic canonic and timbral premises, has largely remained opaque and unstudied in terms of its motivic, timbral, and textural relationships. In response, Zeller advances a set of tools for such study centering around the notion of timbral progressions, which are said to occur as timbres functionally imitate and contrast each other, modulate, exhibit rhythms, work in counterpoint, and, critically, cadence. When “Farben” is refracted through this viewpoint, the logic of both its local progressions and overall form are newly illuminated.

[5] In another fortuitous resonance, the articles that appear fourth and seventh both investigate rhythmic, metric, and experiential time phenomena in non-Western traditions. The first of these, from James Morford and Aaron David, is titled “Metric Modes and Fluid Meter in Mande Drumming Music.” Where past scholarship has productively examined the interaction of isochronous and non-isochronous pulse streams in this tradition, Morford and David extend that work in a number of ways. Reflective of the highly dynamic nature of the drumming performances themselves, they first frame non-isochrony in terms of ranges of pulsation positions in a cycle (rather than as absolutes), and then continue by theorizing categories of metric transformations. The advantages of their method are demonstrated as it is applied in extended analyses of Mande drumming recordings, and also pondered as a tool for analyzing other musics that exhibit range-based metric phenomena. The other entry in this grouping is Anna Yu Wang’s “Philosophizing Time in Sinitic Opera.” As the author describes it, this rich, broad repertory is marked by highly free phrase lengths and frequently shifting accent profiles. This condition, in turn, presents an opportunity for recalibrating cultural, intellectual assumptions. Rather than attempting to stretch Western theories to accommodate these phrase designs, Yu Wang proposes a method that takes unpredictability and change as a starting premise, building up theories of temporal coherence from there.

[6] Nancy Murphy’s “Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Self-Expressive Voice” takes an in-depth look at a prominent Indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter, much of whose art has been dedicated to protesting oppressive colonization practices and promoting the interests and communities of Indigenous Peoples. Murphy closely examines three recordings of the same song, “My Country ’Tis of Thy People You’re Dying” from 1966 and 2017, focusing in particular on Sainte-Marie’s unconventional vocal techniques. In doing so, Murphy explores how the singer’s inimitable use of highly variable vibrato styles and flexible hypermeter—which work in combination as elements to be mixed in at will—explain much of the expressive power stemming from various performances of the song.

[7] The collection of articles in this issue is rounded out by research that offers a new view into the interpersonal dynamics—or to put it more technically: the collaborative bonding—of accompanied song performance. “In Sonic Bridges and Pitch-Based Bonding in Two Songs by Saariaho,” Cecilia Oinas proposes a two-type model for how composers employ pitch unisons to link and transfer material between singer and pianist. These sonic bridges may span many domains, which may be literally musical (e.g., timbre), but also, as revealed via insightful interviews with performers and autobiographical reporting, may manifest strongly in physical and psychological ways.

[8] The eight articles are followed up by Jeffrey Scott Yunek’s review of Demystifiying Scriabin, edited by Kenneth Smith and Vasilis Kallis (Boydell Press, 2022). This important work, released on the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, aims to both challenge persistent myths about Scriabin and his music and to open up new avenues of study. It is definitely worth a look to see Yunek’s detailed account of how it fares in realizing these goals.

[9] On behalf of the the associate editors, the reviews editors, and the managing editors and staff of MTO, I wish you good reading and a fine start to the fall season. Although this can be an invigorating time of year, all of the planning and new time/work commitments can, of course, make it seem overwhelming as well. We hope you have carved out some space for personal and academic growth, and that you end up taking inspiration from the fine work your colleagues and theory have worked so hard to share with you.


Brent Auerbach, Editor-in-Chief
University of Massachusetts Amherst