Composing with Gesture and Texture

Gestures and Textures are elements in a sound composition each performing a different musical function.

A gesture is an abstract motion. In the music domain, a sound that is going somewhere — say moving from point A to point B — can be defined as a gestural sound. It implies a movement expressed via a change both in the frequency and time domain — through spectral and morphological change of energy. Denis Smalley illustrates how gestures enhance the impression of time passing.¹

Gestural music is concerned with narrative and mostly deals with the spectromorphological consequences of a physical activity.

Spectromorphology is the perceived sonic footprint of a sound spectrum as it manifests in time. A descriptive spectromorphological analysis of sound is sometimes used in the analysis of electroacoustic music, especially acousmatic music. The term was coined by Denis Smalley in 1986 and is considered the most adequate English term to designate the field of sound research associated with the French writer, composer, and academic, Pierre Schaeffer. (Wikipedia)²

We use gestures to communicate. If we listen to a language that we don’t understand, we can sometimes still work out how the speaker is feeling (and perhaps even some of their message) by listening out for the gestures in their voice.³

A texture can provide a basic framework within which gestures act. If we think of a sound composition as an organised mass of elements, its texture would represent the patterning of such mass upon which gestures are “drawn”³. The word texture relates to parameters of sound such as density, layering, and timbre. Textures can be described in terms of their relative homogeneity, frequency range, and amount of notable randomness. They can be produced by layering recordings from similar or different sources, or from synthesising textural sounds. Both techniques can be also used in the same composition to achieve interesting results.

The experimental use of both texture and gesture in composition is the primary focus in electroacoustic music. Often, electroacoustic musicians make use of gestures to achieve the feeling of real-life motion through a dynamic change in the properties of sound. They do this by exploring the acoustic properties of materials, spaces, as well as various sound sources and loudspeaker systems.

As a musician my interest often lies in Textural music. I am fascinated by how textures can concentrate on internal activity at the expenses of changes over time. Rather than focusing on the narrative happening in the foreground, I make use of textures to enhance the spatial properties of sound permeating the surroundings— layering slight variations of the same element to achieve choir-like properties and adding depth by playing with effects modulated over time.


  1. Smalley, Denis. “Spectromorphology: Explaining Sound-Shapes”. Organised Sound 2, no. 2 (1997): 107–126. doi:10.1017/s1355771897009059.
  2. “Spectromorphology”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018.
  3. “Composing Textures And Gestures”. Blog. Ears2. Accessed Feb 2018.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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