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Musical languistics - Mass Reply

From:Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>
Date:Friday, June 6, 2003, 10:38
--- James Worlton skrzypszy:

> Saying that music CAN show emotion, etc. is the > correct way to approach the issue.
I agree. Speaking for my own music, I would say that it expresses my own personality, taste, and aesthetics rather than my emotions. In general I am not too fond of music that claims to express emotions. And the kind of amateur musicology that says: "Here you can clearly hear how much Chopin longed for Poland" really makes me puke.
> […] Western music [see disclaimer > above :))] and its equal tempered scale sounds > unpleasant to people who are used to hearing their > alternately-tuned cultural music.
Not only that! Just listen to the same Baroque piece played in midtone tuning or in Pythagoraean tuning, and then to the same piece in equally tempered tuning. You will notice how ugly the latter sounds… --- Sally Caves skrzypszy:
> [...] Stravinsky is just too "atonal" for my friend's > mother, and to my own mother-in-law. I went to someone's house > last week where we listened to his compositions on Sonar. He > was very fond of using musical patches and microtones like free- > form brush strokes and combining them. He also had the volume > cranked up way too high. It was almost unbearable. I felt like > those Asians listening to Bach.
Are you speaking about Stravinsky here? It would surprise me, because AFAIK he never wrote a single micronote during his entire life. And the only stuff he wrote that was sort of atonal was written in the fifties and sixties, and these are definitely not his best known works.
> Animals respond to music, I'm told.
They definitely do. In how far this has to do with the emotional load of the music, I don't know. --- Adam Walker skrzypszy:
> I love music and have stuff from many different > traditions in my collection. There are very few > traditions I can't dig. I love Chinese folk, (and > some of the formal styles), Japanese, Indonesian pop > (a little gamelan goes a long way), Taiwanese. Indian > styles are great. Arab music is fun. [etc.]
Have you ever listened to polyphonic vocal music from Georgia? In my opinion, this belongs to the most to the most beautiful things that ever meet the ear. --- James Worlton skrzypszy:
> > I'd rather listen to 20th century "serious" classical. > > Yes even to THAT! > > Glad to hear it! (Since that is what I write ;))) .)
Really? And I was under the assumption that you write 21st century "serious" classical music! ;)) ^^ But seriously, James: what is the music you write like? --- Adam Walker skrzypszy:
> Well, there has been *some* decent classical written > in the last 100 years. Copeland was good. Dvorak > wrote this c., didn't he? And there are others.
Well, Dvorak died in 1904, IIRC, so his music can hardly be considered 20th century. In general, a composer born in 1850 who died in 1930 would rather be considered 19th century than 20th century.
> But since the 60's about the only decent stuff was written > for movie scores. [...] To my ears the "experimental" music is > vile noise.
The kind of music you are referring to is nothing but a current in music that dominated the 1950s and 1960s. Nowadays, only a few people still take it seriously. Since then, many different currents have emerged (or reemerged): minimalism, postmodernism, neoclassicism, neotonality (the so-called "New Spirituality"), postserialism, aleotorism... I really can't imagine that a person who loves classical music would like at least one of those, unless he just wants Beethoven, Beethoven, and more Beethoven. In general, people who claim that that they don't like contemporary music simply haven't listened well enough. --- James Worlton skrzypszy:
> Obviously, this is not the place for an extended > discussion on musical aesthetics. But I can't avoid > the need to comment. There seem to be two schools of > thought about what 'decent' music is. The first (held > by a lot of people in the world of 'contemporary > classical music') proposes that music can be good or > bad based on how internally consistent it is, how > skillfully the composer treats/develops the musical > materials, regardless of the musical language (read: > set of notes/tonality/atonality/etc.). The other camp > (which includes most non-musicians, i.e., those > without 'extensive musical training') think that if > music doesn't sound like what they think it should, > then it is bad. > > I happen to belong to the former group. And yes, I > write 'dissonant noise' because to me it is more > interesting than listening to/writing what I term > 'warmed-over sentimentality'.
Well, of course I belong to the former group too. But I also believe that music, that can be appreciated only after an extensive musical training, is a failure. The only thing that may be required from the listener is IMO his preparedness to listen with an open ear. --- Michael Poxon skrzypszy:
> But is the purpose of music to be "interesting"? I thought it > was meant to do something to the spirit/soul, make you want to > get up and boogie, weep, or what have you. Do only musicologists > find music interesting?
In my opinion, it should be both ways. Music that might be interesting but does not communicate with the listener is nothing but an intellectual exercise. Music that sounds nice without there being anything interesting in it, is cheap crap. --- James Worlton skrzypszy:
> First, I am not a musicologist, I am a composer. (faux > pas forgiven :)) ) And no, not only musicologists (or > composers, performers, theorists, etc.) find music > interesting. But much of the *enjoyment* that I get > from music comes from it doing unexpected things -- or > being interesting in other words.
Exactly. Purely consonant music is as boring to me as purely dissonant music, and music that is one continuous orgasm as boring as music that has no development at all. --- Sally Caves skrzypszy:
> I don't know what Zairean means. How would you, Adam, react to > Chick Corea, for instance, especially his "Children's Songs"? > Or Stravinsky, or even Philip Glass? I find these composers > structured, intense, and dark.
Stravinsky is absolutely favourite composer! Structured yes, intense yes, but dark? If you ask me, Stravinsky wrote about the brightest music ever written in the 20th century!
> I like a lot of the minimalists.
Me too, especially Steve Reich and Louis Andriessen. Philip Glass I can't swallow. But I give him this: he is probably the only composer who ever became a millionaire with composing. (Does this make Marc Okrand the Philip Glass of conlanging?)
> What I guess I don't care for--and this is the 'non-musician' > in me speaking--are pieces that violate expected rhythmic > patterns;
Well, wouldn't that depend largely on what you expect? I mean, the average listener to pop music is accustomed to 4/4 to such a degree, that even 3/4 would be way off…
> I can't name any composers, James could, but those pieces > where someone pings here, then silence, then a couple of > drum rolls, then silence, then a crash of symbols, silence, > then rowing on the strings, and another isolated ping... I > find myself writhing in my seat. Give me the dissonant, vile > noise, so long as their is a building energy in it!
I, on the other hand, believe that such music *can* be extremely energetic. All depends on who writes it, really. And I cannot deny that music of the music you describe is as horrible as it sounds! In my choral works, I try to treat the text as naturally as possible, without creating extremely difficult rhythmic patterns. After all, no spoken text follows a strict 4/4 or even 3/4, and only a tiny part of all poetry would. The result as a high level of metric irregularity (say, 2/4|5/8|7/8|3/4|6/8|etc.), but nevertheless I do my best to keep it natural.
> I think I like least of all the "generic" classical music, the > 'warmed over sentimentality' as you call it, which is especially > evident in our commonplace film soundtracks. The music that's > supposed to tell us how we're supposed to feel.
This is exactly what I don't like about John Williams: he tells you how you are supposed to feel, often in such sugar-sweet colours. Especially the combination Spielberg/Williams is poisonous to my nerves. Of course, film music is about effect, but IMO a much more astounding effect can be achieved when the music is in complete opposition to the scene you see (like, for example, in the final scene of Dr. Strangelove). My feeling about Williams is that very little of his music remains when you don't see the movie.
> I would also count among my very favorite classical composers > Albert Roussell, writing for Lily Laskine (I can't remember if > he is late nineteenth-century or early twentieth), but > "Impromptu," pour l'harpe, which I transposed to the piano > when I was twenty and played pretty competently once, has a > fury and an intensity that I like in much unusual classical > music--full as it is of unexpected chord combinations and > melodic progressions, and constant accidence.
Yes, I know it. Beautiful piece. --- Roger Mills skrzypszy:
> My term for this: it has to have "bite"
Right! I fullheartedly agree! For me, music that doesn't have "bit" is not worth listening to.
> The bloop-bleep school of electronic music, now I think passé due > to advances in computers. Thank god. Yet George Crumb did much the > same thing, though with conventional instruments, and it was > fascinating.
Well, the basic idea of electronic music is two-fold: you can make sounds that no acoustic instrument can produce, and the composer has full control over the performance. Now, with the latter idea is disagree, because it represents utter disrespect for the performer. But I can't deny that the computer allows us to create sounds that were never heard before - which can be interesting, really. Nowadays, most tape music consists rarely of electronic sounds only: spoken text, Bulgarian womens' choirs (modified or not), bird song, ambient sounds, you mention it: it can all occur on a tape. Not many composers write pure tape music anymore, though. In general, it gives the audience a bad feeling when they pay their money only to sit down and listen to a bunch of loudspeakers. Instead, many compositions are written for instrument + tape, choir + tape, or ensemble + tape. And I can assure you that some of these works are beautiful!
> Kitsch can have bite (Keane's sad-eyed waifs, dogs playing poker) > but only because it's camp and you laugh at it.
Exactly. Kitsch is a kind of thing that People With Good Taste are not supposed to like, but that they secretly like anyway. And let's not forget that history has brought us some really great kitsch too. --- Adam Walker skrzypszy:
> Williams is probably my second favorite 20th c. > composer. Another example of good movie music was > that composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su for The > Last Emperor. It did a good job of translating > Chinese musical traditions into a Western symphonic > form that would be suitable for the movie and its > audience by bridging the gap between two disperate > traditions.
Well, as I wrote above, I don't like Williams. Some film composers that I *do* like are: Bernard Herrmann, Howard Shore, and Danny Elfman. I just *love* Danny Elfman!
> I love the baroque period and the Slavic Romantics. > And taste changes over time. I used to dispise Chopin > as some of the most repulsive stuff ever composed. > Now I sorta like him.
I still cannot stand Chopin, probably because I spend too much time at the Chopin Academy in Warsaw; pianists who study there are spoonfed with Chopin till they throw up. Musical history, they are taught, can be subdivided in two categories: 1. Chopin; 2. all the other stuff. What I particularly don't like in Chopin's music, apart from the terrible mannerism, is the fact the 80 % of the notes are nothing but linking material. --- James Worlton skrzypszy:
> Certainly artists draw on the past. It is a waste of > time to continually re-invent the wheel. :))
I have heard this complaint very often, James, and I must say that I disagree. To use the same parallel: why would it be forbidden, after the wheel has been invented, to create more wheels? If a composer (or any artist, for that matter) simply copies the musical language of another composer, contemporary or not, it means that he sucks creatively. But if a composer has a musical language that *could* also have existed in the past, does that automatically disqualify him? In my opinion, as long as he develops his own recognisable style of writing, he can be as a great as composer as anyone else. Does a great composer necessarily need to be a revolutionary? Jan ===== "Originality is the art of concealing your source." - Franklin P. Jones __________________________________________________ Yahoo! Plus - For a better Internet experience


John Cowan <cowan@...>
James Worlton <jamesworlton@...>
Sally Caves <scaves@...>