Voice of the Cathedral: Sound and Space in Twelfth-Century Notre-Dame of Paris
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Voice of the Cathedral: Sound and Space in Twelfth-Century Notre-Dame of Paris


My dissertation project examines the relation between sound and space of twelfth-century polyphony in Notre-Dame cathedral during its construction. Beginning in the second half of the twelfth century, a dramatic shift in rhythmic organization in the polyphonic repertoire at Notre-Dame cathedral occured, moving from Gregorian chant to a highly rhythmic note-to-note texture of discant polyphony. In order to analyze the connection between rhythm and acoustics, my project incorporates methods from sound studies, art history, and the digital humanities with historical musicology. My research enables the reconfiguration of sound as an interactive process between the performing body, the vibration of sound waves, and the physical space that contains the performance. I use digital tools and recent research in art history to reconstruct Notre-Dame cathedral as it might have stood at the end of the twelfth century to examine the material condition in the changing performance space and to test the acoustics of the space. My re-analysis demonstrates how the material conditions of the cathedral throughout construction directly impacted the sound production and performance within the cathedral, requiring new musical setting and performance practices. To examine the connection between architecture, acoustics, rhythmic developments, and performance conditions, each chapter examines a new facet of sound and space. In chapter one, I ground a sound-based analysis in the score, and consider the vibrational actualization of notated music to reanalyze polyphonic settings from Wolfenb�ttel 1 and the Florence Manuscript. I analyze how rhythmic and textural elements could have functioned as techniques of sound production, the emission of vibrations, and/or sonic emphasis, musical elements designed to highlight, or resound a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic gesture, in response to the new cathedral acoustics. In chapter two, I investigate the construction history of the cathedral and how the physical and material conditions, including noise and the addition and subtraction of materials, affected performance practice. In chapter three, I analyze the acoustics of the cathedral choir through digital modeling and acoustic simulation, to test elements such as reverberation time, clarity, echo, and sound levels to better understand how the number of singers and the location of singers and listeners affected aural feedback. Finally, in chapter four I analyze the aural feedback of singers and listeners as well as the sonic effects of each polyphonic texture within the acoustics of the choir. All four chapters culminate in this final analysis of how each polyphonic texture sounded to listeners throughout the choir, to provide a new understanding of how the acoustics impacted polyphonic performance.

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