In the past decade, a growing music-analytic practice has emerged around timbre, a parameter long considered either irrelevant to musical structure or too unwieldy to tackle. This new practice centers on an understanding of timbre as a perceptual rather than physical (acoustical) attribute and privileges timbre as a bearer of musical meaning. Through a focused survey of scholarship on timbre from the 1980s to present, this article considers theoretical commitments and challenges that have attended the shift toward this subjective, “perceptualized” conception of timbre, particularly in light of music theory's objectivist and structuralist disciplinary leanings.

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