Source / Abstraction

Source / Abstraction

Some sounds we can recognise, others we can’t. What does this mean for music that is made with sounds?

Ways of Listening

As we discovered in Modes of Listening, we can listen to sounds in different ways.

When we hear a sound, we might think of the object that is causing it (the sound source); we might hear some meaning in the sound or we might listen to the characteristics of the sound itself.

Recall this example:

Source Bonding

The link between a sound and a source is called ‘Source Bonding’.

Source bonding can be very strong for some sounds and weak for others. Over time, source bonding might become stronger, it might get weaker, or even break down completely.

The context in which a sound appears, or how it is transformed, will influence the source bonding effect.

Sounds might be closely bonded to their source in one context, but completely un-bonded in another context.

Sounds taken far out of their original context can even be bonded to a completely different object from the one that created them.

Role of the Listener

It is important to remember that the sounds that you edit and compile, might be heard differently by everyone who listens to them.

The listener builds up an interpretation of the piece based upon what they hear. They don’t know where the sounds originally came from or what transformations you have made (unless you tell them).

Because of this we are able to be creative with the sounds that we use. We might take a sound from one context, and transform it to make it sound like something else. This is the reason why sounds can be bonded to imagined sources – rather than those that actually created them.

We can also use this same principle to link sounds from very different places into a ‘natural sounding’ soundscape.

Listen to this example.

The sounds come from very different sources, but have been combined together in such a way that they sound like they belong together. Their original sources have been abandoned. It is a clip from C’est Whizz! by Florian Sulpice.


An abstract sound is one that is free of any actual or perceived source. That means that when you hear it, you cannot imagine where it has come from or what possibly might have caused it.

Fully abstract sounds are often created.

One good way of creating an abstract sound is to take something recognisable, and transform it until it has been changed beyond recognition.

Transformed Out of Recognition

The beeps that you hear at the start of this clip are gradually transformed, stretched more and more, until they have changed completely. This is a clip from Abstracted Journeys by Andrew Hill.

Acousmatic Music often uses the process of abstraction to explore the qualities of sound materials.