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This article explores the expressive and formal role of melody in spectral and ‘post-spectral’ music. I propose that melody can function within a spectral aesthetic, expanding the project of relating unfamiliar musical parameters to ‘liquidate frozen categories’ (Grisey 1982). Accordingly, I show how melody can shift in and out of focus relative to other musical elements, adopting Grisey’s use of the terms differential and liminal to describe relationships between two musical elements: differential refers to the process between distinct elements whereas liminal describes moments of ambiguity between two elements. I apply these principles to Grisey’s Prologue (1976), Vivier’s Zipangu (1977), Haas’ de terrae fine (2001), and Saariaho’s Sept Papillons (2000).
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