Sound design and aesthetics

Those involved in the transmission of music must make decisions that affect the reproduction of music in general and the reproduction of its sound, in particular. When reproducing an original music performance, one can distinguish three objectives in relation to sound aesthetics: the physically correct, the psychologically correct and the reference-free reproduction of music.

Pencil on a sheet with tables and graphs
Polarity profile. Photograph by Hans-Joachim Maempel

The considerations involved in achieving these objectives concern principles of perception (e.g., gestalt principles), acoustic features (e.g., tone color, localization and spatial impression) and specific sound-design tools used for sound direction, selecting and positioning microphones, and audio editing. Research in these areas is based on source work, theoretical work, observation and the leveraging of tacit practical knowledge.

With regard to audiences and the public, the influence of sound design work on the listener’s appreciation of the tonal and aesthetic qualities of music is of particular interest. This is a subject of experimental research in which listening tests are typically used.

The artistic and technical interventions made in sound design also touch on issues such as the relationship between an original and a reproduction and the degree of perfection with which a piece of music is played. To take just one example, the tempo of a musical performance as heard on a commercial recording, that is, on a commercial sound storage medium, is generally never the same as that of the original performance.

This relatively recent field of research has connections not just to the practice of musical performance, to the artistic and technical practice of music transmission, and to studio technology, but also to interpretation research, in so far as the activity of those involved can be understood as an act of secondary interpretation of music.


Dr. Hans-Joachim Maempel

Head of Department III

+49 30 254 81 141


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