The primacy of the ear

Imagine having to talk about paintings without using the name of any colours. Still, we discuss music without naming the sounds we hear. Professor Lasse Thoresen wants to give us words for discussing sound.

"Traditionally, the ear has been a less important informant in Musicology. Aural experiences are regarded as more subjective than visual experiences, they are too private and not very verifiable."

These words belong to Lase Thoresen – professor, composer and teacher. Still, this is where he begins. He has based his life's work on the assumption that music is something that is evaluated by the ear. His method is named Aural sonology and is described in a 600-page book with the title Emergent musical forms, published in 2015 by University of Western Ontario in Canada.

The project contributes to developing aural sonology as a method of listening and analysis of the communication problem Thoresen has experienced in new music, a problem he assumes is connected to its constructed nature. This is because the ear has not had a very prominent place. Not even in music education.


The point of departure and inspiration for Lasse Thoresens methodical listening comes from French composer Pierre Schaeffer and what he called the primacy of the ear; the ear evaluates music. Thoresen elaborates on Schaeffers concepts and has created a terminology for discussing sound. We have never had a terminology, he says. He compares music to visual art forms to demonstrate the lack of language in aural art forms:

"It is like not having any names for colours, but having to say that that colour is like blood, and that colour is like ashes. We could not say red or grey, because we did not have any names for these visual qualities, only common associations. What I have done is to develop a systematic terminology for discussing sound as sound."

An aural vocabulary

His goal is to create a system of concepts that can be draped over reality, so one is able to talk about it, and to arrange the concepts after certain coordinates, so they are not only a list, he explains. Thoresen has developed a spectromorphological vocabulary of approximately 70 concepts, that all added together are able to describe the quality or movement (gait) of sound.

Lasse Thoresen ser i kameraet

Last updated: 18. March 2016