Department or Program



Since the turn of the 20th century in America, Buddhist and oftentimes “Zen” thought in particular has had an impact on the arts, including music. The influence of Zen thought on Western Art Music composers in America traces back to the work of John Cage, whose contact with Zen under the gnosis of buddhist scholar D.T. Suzuki during the 1950s transformed Cage’s music. In part through his influence—but also in part, I posit, through through certain qualities of Zen especially resonant with artistic practice—the art world in general. This thesis is an inquiry into the usage of Zen-related aesthetic, spiritual, and philosophical concepts by one composer. Specifically, I focus on a composition by American composer Joshua Fineberg (b. 1969), «Recueil de pierre et de sable» (1998), which I note as a relatively recent example of a piece that is, per its composer, title, and concert program, predicated on Zen content. Drawing on ethnomusicological theories and Paulo Chagas’ music-analysis theory of “spectral semiotics” (2010, 2014), a phenomenological approach to sound, I suggest that Fineberg employs compositional elements on the aural/musical, deep-structural, and experiential levels which signify Zen concepts. Based on his tempered usage of aesthetic concepts associated with Zen such as wabi (“unpretentious, rustic beauty”) and yohaku no bi (“beauty of empty space”) in composition by focusing on the musical parameters of temporality and timbral evocation of spatiality, as well as considering the piece, its audience, and my own analysis in cultural context.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Fatone, Gina

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.