Analyzing Characteristic Timbres of 1980s Popular Music

Alissa Stolt, Texas Tech University

Current research lacks consensus on a detailed definition of timbre, complicating analytical techniques and discourse (Krumhansl 1989; Malloch 1997; Siedenburg and McAdams 2017). This paper develops a methodology that relates timbral qualities to textural function in 1980s popular music. It adapts previous methods of analysis by applying a system of timbral binaries to Allan Moore's textural functions (Lavengood 2017, 2019, 2020; Cogan 1984; Moore 2012). Lavengood uses binaries to describe spectrograms of individual synthesizer presets. This research builds on her methodology by applying the analysis of spectrograms to timbres in full textures after the mixing and mastering process. Furthermore, this paper analyzes both electroacoustic instruments and synthesized sounds. It examines timbral trends in 1980s synthesizers, drum machines, and the wailing electric guitar, compared with their acoustic analogs. The paper also explores a resurgence of these timbres in popular music released since 2010.