Aesthesic-Cognitive Analysis

Giomi Francesco
Marco Ligabue
Date of publication: 

The Aesthesic-Cognitive Analysis is an analytical methodology that considers a piece from its formal to structural level by segmenting the piece into individual sound events and larger structures. Once a piece has been analysed it is then synthesised to determine the compositional methodology and significance of the piece. Because of this the methodology requires multiple listening.

Starting from the level of the smallest elements —the phonemes —we can proceed to the individuation of syntagmatic chains and signification strategies through the recognition of monemes (musical signification units) and to the segmentation of the structural and formal framework of the piece (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 121).

The methodology was devised by Francesco and Ligabue in 1998. They state that it is not a "universal methodology", it is just an analytical methodology "which can take into consideration manifold aspects of the sound text" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 122). Instead the methodology aims to show:

  • The individuation of the formal structure of the piece;
  • The individuation of the conscious and unconscious compositional strategies which may be perceived during listening;
  • Signification strategies peculiar to the piece.

The methodology is split into two main areas and their respective subsections. Simply put the methodology is split into the analysis and synthesis of a chosen work.

Analysis Framework

The analysis framework is split into three areas: the formal level, the structural level and the level of syntagms.

Formal Level

The formal level is split into four areas: sound material, behaviour, coherence and particular events. Sound material can help with the "segmentation of the piece" and can be "homogeneous or not homogeneous" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 122). Their homogeneity or heterogeneity can be evaluated by their timbre or specific features (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 122). Behaviour is used to describe the manner in which the sounds work within a piece. Coherence deals with the "general organisation of the sound material" and can help distinguish between sections (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 122). Finally, the particular events help mark the beginning and the end of a particular section. 

These four areas are then put into a table to compare each of the sections relating to that piece. All the areas are then described using relevant terminology for that particular area.

Structural Level

Within the structural level an individual event is examined in order to "extract some main traits useful for structural segmentation" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 127). This investigation is undertaken with the use of a specific table devised by Francesco and Ligabue.

[The] table is based on the formalization of a paradigm of distinctive features, and it uses the phono- logical system of present features/absent features together with other symbols (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 127).

The table is divided into three zones:

  • One to describe the spectral qualities of the sound;
  • One to describe the dynamic features of the sound;
  • One to describe the morphological aspects of the sound.

The table is meant to be used for comparison. There are two types of comparisons listed by Francesco and Ligabue. The first is comparison in a "purely diachronic sense" and the second is a "synchronie sense of homogeneous objects/events from a morphological point of view" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 127). Once the comparison has been completed a new table can be formed to show these results. The segmentation of the table, in relation to time, is defined by the following criteria: timbral-morphological (which is subsequently split into three sub-criteria: mass/make-up, dynamic/envelope and space/importance), density criterion, motion criterion and tension criterion (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 132).


Syntagms is defined by as a "generally sequential combination of [sound events] which have unity, autonomy and a sense is made possible through the individuation of 'musical phrasing' which can be articulated through several elements" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 135). The parameters used to define these relationships are: timbrai typology, pitch placing, dynamic and space placing. The outcome is a segmented timeline showing sections of related material, which may or may not be juxtaposed with other syntagms. A key (using the format of S1, S2...etc.) is used within the timeline to differentiate between the different syntams.

Synthesis Framework

It is now the task of the analyst to synthesis this information that the work has been analysed into the three section listed above. The sysnthesis framework is split into two parts: thecompositional strategies and the signification strategies.

Compositional Strategies

Compositional strategies might be employed by the composer consciously or unconsciously. There are seven compositional strategies listed by Francesco and Ligabue: Structure by Juxtapositions, Structural Alternation of a Specific Parameter, Timbrai Typologies, Important Events, Analepsis and Prolepsis, Reverberation Planes and References to Traditional Music.

Signification Strategies

Signification strategies are described by Francesco and Ligabue as a "set of procedures present in the composition, utilised to express an abstract musical thought linked to concepts, cultural or not, of space and time" (Francesco and Ligabue 1998: 141). They list four main signification strategies: Narrative Organisation and Characterisation of Sections (which is split into three moments: preparation/indetermination, culmination/tension and conclusion/relaxation), Semantic Associations (which is split into Psychological association with elements of extra-musical life and Metaphorical association), Anticipation and Repeat and Narration of Timbres.


FRANCESCO, G and LIGABUE, M. (1998) Evangelisti's Composition Incontri di FasceSonore at W.D.R.: Aesthesic-Cognitive Analysis in Theoryand. Journal of New Music Research, 27(1-2), pp. 120-145.