The definition of spectral music includes both technical and aesthetic parameters. The pitches employed by spectral composers are derived from an analysis of the harmonic spectra of a sound. Those pitches fall along the natural harmonic series rather than the tempered scale used to tune modern western instruments, and in combination with each other, the pitches can produce sonorities ranging from pure consonance to pure white noise. Spectral music often sounds like electronically generated music, which is not surprising since the technical processes used in creating the sonorities of electronic music also form the acoustical basis for creating similar sounds using traditional acoustic instruments. Instead of traditional western harmony, timbre is a central compositional element. The sound of spectral music is frequently characterized by evolving atmospheric textures that can include consonances as well as dense clouds of clusters and can be shimmering, sparkling, or gritty. It is often mysterious, otherworldly, and "spectral" in a very literal sense.
French composer Tristan Murail (born 1947) is prominent among those credited with developing spectral music in the 1970s. This disc includes five of Murail's compositions dating from 1978 to 2001, some of which include electronics and acoustic instruments, and some of which are for acoustic instruments only. It's intriguing to note that without referring to the tracklist, it's virtually impossible to tell which is which. The sonorities Murail coaxes from the instrumental ensemble in Le Lac and Éthers sound for all the world like they were electronically generated. In Winter Fragments, scored for chamber ensemble, synthesized sounds, and electronic tape, the acoustic and synthetic elements mingle seamlessly to create a soundscape of a distant, frozen world. It's a measure of Murail's gift for orchestral color that he can create such ghostly and unconventional sounds from conventional instruments, and a testimony to his compositional gifts that he can use them to create works of such powerfully expressive content. This CD should be of interest to any fans of new music curious about the directions European music has taken as a result of questioning the authority of serialism.