Saturday midday, November 14, 1–1:50 CST

Add this to your calendar

Analyzing Recordings

Bruno Alcalde (University of South Carolina), Chair

Microtiming the Marginal: The Expressive Rhythm of “Insignificant Noises” in Recordings by Claire Chase, Evgeny Kissin, and Maggie Teyte

Richard Beaudoin (Dartmouth College)


Is the sound of breathing inappropriate? The recording industry seems to think so. Sound engineers often classify audible breathes as “extraneous noises;” apologetic record producers deem them “insignificant;” and a leading audio editing company markets a “breath control” plug-in that removes all traces of inhaling and exhaling via their proprietary “intelligent suppression” software. The same philosophy of negation applies to sounds of effort (grunts, moans) as well as those created by recording media (wax cylinder clicks, vinyl hissing).

All sounds deserve recognition. This paper asserts that non-notated sounds in recordings of notated music are neither extraneous nor insignificant; rather, they are integral to a recording’s expressive content and analogous both to facial micro-expressions and the Barthian photographic punctum. Non-notated sounds are here divided into three categories: (1) sounds of breath, (2) sounds of exertion, and (3) sounds created by the recording apparatus itself. Each category is illustrated by a recording of early 20th century music: Claire Chase recording Varèse, Evgeny Kissin recording Prokofiev, and Maggie Teyte recording Debussy. Fusing spectrographic microtiming measurements with score-based rhythmic analyses, I probe the question: how does the rhythm of sounds created by the bodies and equipment of performers relate to, interact with, and expand upon the rhythm of the work being performed? In conducting a census of the sounds captured by the microphone, this research opens a space to analyze—and to celebrate—the expressive content of sounding bodies, instruments, and recording machines.

Gendering the Virtual Space: Sonic Femininities and Masculinities in the Billboard charts, 2008–18

Michèle Duguay (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

Michèle Duguay is a Ph.D. candidate in music theory at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she also completed a Certificate Program in Women’s Studies. She currently teaches music theory at the City College of New York. Her research interests include the intersection of popular music analysis and gender studies, the construction of virtual space in recorded popular music, and gesture in contemporary piano music. Prior to her studies at the Graduate Center, she received an M.A. in music theory from McGill University and a B.Mus. from the University of Ottawa.


This paper establishes a methodology for analyzing virtual space—the sense of physical space evoked in a recording via reverberation, stereo placement, and other sonic parameters. More specifically, I analyze vocal placement—the apparent location of a voice within this virtual space. While these sonic features are a central concern for both mixing engineers and listeners, they are seldom analyzed. Existing music-theoretical approaches to the analysis of virtual space rely primarily on the analyst’s subjective perception (Moore & Dockwray 2010; Camilleri 2010; Vad 2017; Zinser 2019). To complement these studies, I provide an empirical method using digital sound-processing tools to precisely locate recorded sound sources in virtual space. Through an analysis of the 2008–18 Billboard Year-end charts, I show how commercially successful songs frequently juxtapose wide and reverberant women’s voices with narrow and centered men’s voices. I argue that these contrasting vocal representations sonically construct a gender binary that is rarely challenged in the popular music industry, exemplifying one of the ways in which gender stereotypes are reinforced through the technological mediation of the voice. 

Tempo as Form: Unnotated Orchestral Rubato in Early Recordings, Treatises, and Composition

Nathan Pell (The Graduate Center, CUNY)


The belief is widespread amongst modern scholars and practicing musicians that the pervasive flexibility of tempo heard on early recordings constitutes a “liberty” of Romantic performance practice, originating with Wagner and Liszt (Rosenblum 1994) and unforeseen by earlier composers (Bowen 1993). This view, however, sits at odds with an abundance of sources from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Brown 2004), which demonstrate not only that such rubato predated Wagner by several decades, but that composers even expected the tempo to fluctuate in certain well-defined situations, which I enumerate. Working from these expectations, I argue, composers wrote tempo fluctuations into their music through the notes they chose, in striking alignment with their formal layouts.

Building on work by Philip (1992), I show that the rubato described in early nineteenth-century treatises is exemplified in pre-WWII orchestral recordings (where tempo practices are clearer than in solo or chamber music), using tapping data I collected from ~350 recordings of around 40 Classical and Romantic sonata movements. And I note ways in which the familiar features of sonata form might encode changes in tempo, identifying the norms of typical sonata-form tempo design and passages that flout these customs.

These conclusions require us to expand our notions about what constitutes form. If the tempo practices on early recordings indeed have their roots in the early nineteenth century, then they are as much a part of the music’s form as its harmonies and phrase structures. In other words, I consider tempo a form-defining parameter.