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How do you create the illusion of emotion in your compositions?

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I tend to agree with Jon in this debate. Take a simple case study - the effect of the predominantly Major 7th. harmonies in "Satie's most famous Gymnopedie: I think that the emotional affectation produced by this music, amongst any selection of random individuals who proved sensitive to the music, would prove remarkably similar. There seems little doubt that, say, the romantic works of Chopin and of Rachmaninov will engender remarkably similar emotional responses in any statistical audience. And I would put it down to the simplest tangible connection between mathematical/acoustic logic and emotional affectation:

Ask any person with a 'musical ear', 'Which interval sounds peaceful, and which interval sounds painful to you - a unison, or a minor second.' The answers will be remarkably concordant, and entirely unscripted, untutored. Everything else proceeds from there. And the reason that Chopin and Rachmaninov produce such strong and predictable emotional affectations in their listeners can be directly attributed to the wash of piquant harmonies that underpin their very architectural melodies. 

I also agree with Jon that one can listen to music from a different culture for a first time, and be immediately affected in a deep emotional or moral way. Once again, there is an imperious contract of natural psycho-acoustic logic in play. Tonal relations, and the establishment and release, or not, of dissonance is invariably in play - but the idiosyncratic makeup and expression may be something altogether new. 

I have a CD I love by a native American flute player, Red Earth Danz by William Two Feather. It was a genre of music I had never heard before, and, upon the first hearing, I was very emotionally affected. But there is no magical disassociation between the mechanics of music and its emotive effect, the two are intertwined. The clear basis of tonality is present in Mr. Two Feather's music, and, as well, the primary principle of dissonance preparation and release. Its all just executed in a different idiosyncratic form, precisely in order to express a different emotional/moral landscape. And what a powerful landscape, technically simple though the music may be.

Nonetheless, that all said, I do prefer the crossover music performed by little Willy Two Feather's blood-brother - Johnny One Fart.


Jon Corelis said:


I disagree with all of this for almost more reasons than I can count, a few being:

  • music has emotional content because I recognize that content when I hear the music, and emotion in art as in dreams is always real (cf. Freud:  the imagery of dreams is illusory but their emotional content is real, e.g. the tiger you dream is frightening you is an illusion, but the fear you feel in that dream is a real fear of something real)
  • to say that a word other other signifier is entirely subjective and depends on yourself and the society you belong to seems to me self-contradictory
  • this seems to be saying that the artistic value of music is created by following conventional rules in a prescribed manner, but if that were true then it would be possible to teach any normally intelligent person to be a great composer
  • my own experience in listening to music from cultures I have little knowledge of is that often it is immediately appealing, and that if I keep listening to examples I start to understand both emotional and technical things in it, and if fact if at that point I go to scholarly discussions of the music, I find that most of what I've seen in it on my own is real

John Aulich said:

Music doesn't carry emotional content, it carries the signifiers that we associate with certain emotions. Just like words, the signifiers are entirely subjective and depend on yourself and the society you belong to. As a very (oversimplified) example, the western classical paradigm contains certain keys, scales and modes that can invoke particular moods. If you played Beethoven's 9th to an uncontacted Amazon tribe, they would not get the same feelings or even really understand it, because their musical signs will be different to ours. The OP is right, composer's are not emotionally incontinent - often, the most successful pieces are carefully controlled constructions containing the appropriate signifiers for whatever it is they are expressing.

Michael,

as I said this is not the place to be vending my extra-musical wares, but, yes, I will provide an outline for you and, if you are then interested, I can provide you with some of the script to Volumes I, II, and III. Let's move this discussion to the Politics thread, A New Incendiary - (or, as some would have it - An Outright Fizzer.)

Michael Tauben said:

I for one would be interested in reading about your proposed changes and how you envisage them being implemented and by whom. You could start a new thread or continue in your previous one. I am very sceptical that there would ever be the political will, especially on the global level, for radical change. 

BTW I have downloaded the Lindberg Clarinet Concerto and I'll try to listen to it several times over the coming week.

Mark Nicol said:

 My thesis is also designed to mitigate violence in the procurement of some very radical, but I would argue very logical and extremely necessary, fundamental political, economic, and educational changes.

@ Mark:I appreciate that you'll be moving your tangent to another thread, for although I love reading what people think and feel, I like threads to be on-point as much as possible.

Well this is a great subject you've opened up here Gordon. Hey, you and I couldn't be more different, but then I think we may both be a bit out there. I read several Mahler biographies when I was first at uni, and was a Mahlerphile. Yes, I forgot all of those dismal facts about his life. But so many others suffered the same sorts of things in those days. How many of Bach's children died? The German Romantic age gave vent to a lot of grandiose self-eulogising in a way, (and not entirely absent from one of my own little scores). Mahler was very self-possessed, consumed with his music, his destiny. Compare his attitude to his work, again, with that of Bach. Read some of the grovelling inscriptions that Bach put on his title pages, so as to ingratiate his oft unworthy patrons. What a change, with the shift from the ancient Autocratic/Theocratic State to the modern Egalitarian State. And, ultimately, it was very interesting how German/Austrian super-Romanticism collapsed upon its own excesses, leaving us with Webern's rather desultory 'minimalism', what I would call Hindemith's 'anti-aesthetics', and then the sardonic outpourings of Weill and Brecht.

Talking jazz, give me some leads on some great music Gordon. Discovered quite a lot at uni. And, in referencing back to the theme of this thread, it is 'expressive jazz' that I love - particularly Miles, Miles, Miles. I love just about everything he did up to and including In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew - god, there are some bad false relations in there but - what the hell. I like Lester Young, Bird and Dizzy, Stephan Grapelli, George Benson, Wes Montgomery, the Train - Billie for sure, and Sarah sort of. (I don't bloody well like Thelonius Monk, not at all, and I think Django was actually rather tasteless, would rather hear Stephan alone). Who's really good, writes/plays really expressive jazz now? I'm ignorant, and I have a taste for more.

We've had students from the excellent Adelaide Uni jazz course go straight to Berklee, and Cirque du Soleil. And we have a repeat visiting lecturer here - James Morrison. What an instrumental genius - check him out on youtube - Snappy Too.

Mark,

Try some Chris Potter, Dave Holland and some Wayne Krantz for something a bit more contemporary. Also of course Bill Evans solo piano stuff and one of my old faves Erroll Garner.

Thanks for that Mike, I really mean it. Every time I get a new CD of music I love I'm like a kid with a new toy. On the other hand rappers are perfectly happy to play with one toy for the whole of their lives.

Hey Ray,

is that the guy they affectionately call Red?

Guess I've got some listening to do.

Guys,

I've probably taken this thread off on a tangent again, as is my wont. So I'll try to perhaps reboot this one, and then open up another where we might discuss jazz - 'cos I've just been listening to Chris Potter and Adam Rogers for a start.

Gordon, 

I would prefer to say that one creates the allusion to an emotional world, so as to entreat. In fact, the most beautiful invocation to a moral world I have encountered is contained in the first two lines of my favourite poem by Mallarme:

Ô rêveuse, pour que je plonge         
Au pur délice sans chemin,

Dear dreamer, that I may plunge 

Into pure trackless delight

Beyond this matter of entreaty, invocation, (as distinct form any clinical manufacturing of illusion), I find that I have to wholly enter, create, remember, exalt, and even mythologise a visionary world before I can impart any convincing life to an art work. When I was much younger I didn't give up on musical composition because I thought I had little technique. I renounced the 'job' because I knew I had nothing, at that stage, to say. And I wish that many others would be honest with themselves, now, and do the same thing.

Because of life these days I am bursting with things to say, to express. The current set of pieces I am working upon is on one level a 'family album', and, although it could well have been scripted as a litany of grief, it attempts to exalt the real glimpses of heaven that life has granted me. The individual pieces inflect mythological, transcendental transpositions of real identities and events, as well as pertaining to universal metaphors. I, my emotions - my moral joys, yearnings, remembrances, grief, am, are inside this music - just as this music, latently was/is inside of me. Similarly, I am actually in Ulysses - there is no division between the emotional and moral utterance of that music, and a very significant essence of me. If the musical expression is successful at all, it is because it successfully expresses this world, this interior and its view. And I put every conceivable effort into finding the germ that will encapsulate a certain emotional state, a certain moral world, which I need to express. But, especially in a work so large and so complex as Ulysses, oft times the mechanism itself begins to take over, the drama takes its own course - and one, even as composer, is placed upon a voyage of discovery. Error, Shakespeare. 

Sometimes one does not work from within, but from without. I am not in any of the Christmas cards, they are little abstracts - portrait studies if you will, and sardonic commentary. 

Interestingly, Ravel feigned to have been a 'from without' composer - a clinical artificer, like his father - a calculating producer of quaint mechanisms. Yet I have never felt a piece draw me so much into a distilled emotional world as the first two movements of Gaspard de La Nuit. I would have lived there - forever.

If not compose then arrange, if not arrange then orchestrate, if not orchestrate then copy sonic blots, and if not copy sonic blots then copy ink blots. A looser quits and a winner does: a winner will consider failure a success more than a success, because one has nothing to learn from success. A looser and a winner both have questions, comments, and concerns based upon their internal and external influences, and a dead person has not one word to utter.

A person can choose not to write, but to admit that there was nothing to speak into this musical universe is utter nonsense. You should have given yourself an ass kicking and wrote daily, even if you thought it to be utter garbage.

Mark Nicol said:

Gordon, 

I would prefer to say that one creates the allusion to an emotional world, so as to entreat. In fact, the most beautiful invocation to a moral world I have encountered is contained in the first two lines of my favourite poem by Mallarme:

Ô rêveuse, pour que je plonge         
Au pur délice sans chemin,

Dear dreamer, that I may plunge 

Into pure trackless delight

Beyond this matter of entreaty, invocation, (as distinct form any clinical manufacturing of illusion), I find that I have to wholly enter, create, remember, exalt, and even mythologise a visionary world before I can impart any convincing life to an art work. When I was much younger I didn't give up on musical composition because I thought I had little technique. I renounced the 'job' because I knew I had nothing, at that stage, to say. And I wish that many others would be honest with themselves, now, and do the same thing.

Because of life these days I am bursting with things to say, to express. The current set of pieces I am working upon is on one level a 'family album', and, although it could well have been scripted as a litany of grief, it attempts to exalt the real glimpses of heaven that life has granted me. The individual pieces inflect mythological, transcendental transpositions of real identities and events, as well as pertaining to universal metaphors. I, my emotions - my moral joys, yearnings, remembrances, grief, am, are inside this music - just as this music, latently was/is inside of me. Similarly, I am actually in Ulysses - there is no division between the emotional and moral utterance of that music, and a very significant essence of me. If the musical expression is successful at all, it is because it successfully expresses this world, this interior and its view. And I put every conceivable effort into finding the germ that will encapsulate a certain emotional state, a certain moral world, which I need to express. But, especially in a work so large and so complex as Ulysses, oft times the mechanism itself begins to take over, the drama takes its own course - and one, even as composer, is placed upon a voyage of discovery. Error, Shakespeare. 

Sometimes one does not work from within, but from without. I am not in any of the Christmas cards, they are little abstracts - portrait studies if you will, and sardonic commentary. 

Interestingly, Ravel feigned to have been a 'from without' composer - a clinical artificer, like his father - a calculating producer of quaint mechanisms. Yet I have never felt a piece draw me so much into a distilled emotional world as the first two movements of Gaspard de La Nuit. I would have lived there - forever.

Sorry,

in this case you're just totally wrong. And there are way too many people out there who just 'decide to be composers'. They have no aptitude, nothing of significance to say - they just decide, for whatever reason, this is it. Academia is absolutely full of them, and there are even whole schools of composers who, essentially, have very little to say. Self-censure is not allowing oneself to write garbage, and then impose it upon others. In my case I found other things that I could do moderately well, and one thing of extreme importance that only I can do well. If I still thought I had no technique, and nothing to say, I wouldn't write music today.

At the bottom line I don't waste my time listening to poor composers, and I wouldn't expect anyone to listen to me, if that was the case, either. The universe ain't egalitarian, it's very, very selective. One tries to maintain an objectivity about one's own work, and then one can discern if there is a true vocation there or not - because being an artist isn't just 'a job'. 

I'll give you an illuminating instance. My Honors Composition lecturer at Adelaide was a guy who I had studied music with some 25 years earlier. Through all that period he had been assiduously studying counterpoint and writing music, eventually garnering some success. But the truth was that he never really had much musical talent, has never had a big artistic conception, and he will never really go that far. Upon listening to a sketch I presented he said, "I think of you more as an equal than as a student." Moreover, beyond what fits with populist aesthetics, I know that this guy could never write at the technical level I have in Ulysses, and could never encompass that depth of expression either. Yet I have only taken music composition very seriously in the past 7 years, and in that time I have written 3 extremely condensed books upon Environmentalist Philosophy, plus worked for a crust. 

I never gave up, or quit on music composition 30 years ago, I made a very judicious and hard decision - and did not let obstinacy or vanity rule. Sorry, but there are so many who do just push out rubbish - but that is nature, only very few genetic experiments actually work.  

As another instance, I kind of upset a collection of aspiring young composers, (one who has really got a glint) at Adelaide Uni last year, by stating that I thought Australia had only produced one 'near-great' composer, Richard Meale. The guy running the discussion runs a government agency that promotes Australian composers, but he admits that he gave up on composition so that he could (my interpretation) sidle into a cushy job and still pretend he was involved in composition. He remonstrated that, although he 'loved the man personally and deeply', Richard Meale was very lazy and indulgent, and that he only composed when he wanted to. Yet here was a guy who is basically a fraud, and had turned out nothing, whereas Richard Meale actually turned out a good deal of great art. So my comment was, to the effect -"Who gives a toss whether he worked assiduously or not, or how or why he did it. He turned out great art, the bottom line - that's all that counts." 

And of course this upset the little pretender. But I had to slap this young guy from Western Australia on the back, and tell him what a good movement for string quartet he had written - funny, he wasn't so much concerned with pretense  and he was also the only one who asked, two times, the name of the composer I was talking about. Sincerity, it counts for a lot.

But, as you say, so does hard work. Ulysses - 1200 to 1500 hours so far, but it would be just the same if a genius had written the same in 3 days, although not even Shos could have done that. For a guy that talks so loud about conscientiousness, and application, where are your fruits - and what price, estimation would they sell at? Can you compete?

1) I didn't indirectly or indirectly attack the music of you and yours.

2) I never disagreed on the issue of the gargantuan amount of erroneous music which should fill landfills rather than venues.

3) So long as a person can think and feel as well as communicate said thoughts and feelings via word and or deed, then via the vehicle of being willing and able they will be excellent at their craft. Being able doesn't mean having genetic predisposition: being able means working; working harder is good, working smarter is better, and working harder and smarter is the best.

4) I don't compete with colleagues. I have little time and space to be comparing myself to the greatest or least or those in between for writers that have lived or that are living, for making music that: 1) the public finds likable (memorable melodies with a groove) 2) I find likable (utilizes techniques that make me who I am for the moment --- tomorrow could be quite different).

5) I beg you not to compare yourself to others, not to ask others to prove themselves to you, and not to be destructive when it can be helped, because it just makes you seem like a jerk.

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