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Being a traditionalist who believes in the mathematical truth that there are sufficient possibilities in traditional musical scales and modes to write into eternity without repetition, why should I venture into the world of Avant-garde?
Simple answer is that I do not really know, but it may be because one or two critics in the past have lightly suggested that it might be the way for me to go. I did attempt a few years ago an experiment, which I entitled Thema Obscurante and received some encouragement suggesting I should ‘stay with it’.
Well, here is a second attempt that I have based on a five-bar piano riff and a separate three-bar melodic line borrowed from the 'Ideas Library' within Sibelius software.
I commented on someone else’s recent post that I find it interesting to see which direction other composers take at the end of a section of their music – best exemplified with ‘programme’ music that’s telling a story rather than following a formal pattern of development. Therefore, starting from the aforementioned piano riff combined with the beginnings of a melodic line, I looked forward with interest to see where it would take me – and The Road to Perdition is what I have come up with.
Now, whether it can be considered innovative or predictable, interesting or boring, worth commenting on or best ignored, good, bad or indifferent, clever or banal, I simply cannot judge: which is why I have posted it here. Your comments, whatever they may be, I will receive with much interest, plus of course any suggestions that might improve the piece; anything, for example, ranging from ‘throw it on the fire’ to ‘add a Bb to the chord of the dominant minor 27th in bar 432’ (if there is one, I don’t know).
Thank you for listening and I hope your ears do not hurt overmuch. For what it’s worth, my own opinion is that it needs a bit more development but I am aware that, like a good painting, we have to know when to say ‘enough is enough’.

https://youtu.be/6hwQAeACcRs

If anyone wants an MP3 file please let me have your email address and I'll forward it to you.

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Hi Stephen,
Seems to me like your whole post, including the music attached, is just one big question: why bother. Even the title suggests the answer you have already formulated in your mind to that question. I would suggest that if I am correct about this then there is little point in bothering, because it’s something you don’t at heart attach any value to.
Best,
Gav

While I agree with you that mathematically there are perhaps enough musical possibilities in traditional scales and modes for all time, yet I think that composing is not just about exploring these possibilities, but about something more: discovering a musical language that is able to express the character of our times in such a way that the enduring witness of tradition somehow remains connected to it and is successfully assimilated by it. 

Hi Gav,

I must say I’m a bit surprised by your response, particularly as you know you are the fellow who encouraged me down this route....you sound a bit disappointed not so much with the music but more with my apparent attitude to the process of producing it. All I can say is that whilst I very much enjoyed composing the piece I honestly don’t know if it has any merit. Did I compose it with some heart and some mind, or is it just a mathematical exercise....I genuinely don’t know because I don’t have the self-knowledge to establish what’s what.

Thank you for listening and responding however; yours is a reaction I couldn’t have anticipated so for that reason alone it’s very interesting to me. Thank you.

Stephen

Hi Gav,

I must say I’m a bit surprised by your response, particularly as you know you are the fellow who encouraged me down this route....you sound a bit disappointed not so much with the music but more with my apparent attitude to the process of producing it. All I can say is that whilst I very much enjoyed composing the piece I honestly don’t know if it has any merit. Did I compose it with some heart and some mind, or is it just a mathematical exercise....I genuinely don’t know because I don’t have the self-knowledge to establish what’s what.

Thank you for listening and responding however; yours is a reaction I couldn’t have anticipated so for that reason alone it’s very interesting to me. Thank you.

Stephen

Thank you for your comments Geert, I do agree with your view that trying to find ‘a language of our time’ is a fine objective but I don’t think I personally have the ability, with the tools at my disposal, to achieve that. I try to spend my days learning from experience and from people like you who have different abilities and experience in life...believe it or not this composition is a fusion of my traditional style combined with a rather sparse understanding of contemporary methods. Maybe, after all, I am attempting to express the character of our times. Whatever the outcome, I think I have learned from the exercise which can only be good.

Stephen

Hi Stephen - not disappointed at all, since I didn't have any expectations, just observing and reacting to what you said. I only gave the music a cursory attention, but will give it more of a listen and share any thoughts I have on it afterwards -

Best,

Gav

Hi Stephen - not disappointed at all, since I didn't have any expectations, just observing and reacting to what you said. I only gave the music a cursory attention, but will give it more of a listen and share any thoughts I have on it afterwards -

Best,

Gav

From what I have read about and listened to avant garde or post-romantic music I would say that what exactly are the contemporary methods of composing is rather difficult to say, because in our fractured cultural world every composer has to re-invent the wheel for himself. Yet this process of re-inventing has to be led by some vision or perspective on the tradition, otherwise it will result in something completely banal or arbitrary. Nobody can say that he has already acquired this perspective. It is a work in progress and, as you say, learning from experiences and other people certainly is a necessary part of it. So I agree with you on this. 

My own intuition is that, despite the difficulties, there are some elementary insights which can help us to remain within a certain framework and are basic for any viable musical style. I'll mention some of these and would like to hear whether you agree with me or not.

(1) Atonality doesn't really exist and is only a limit-case of stretching tonality or modality. Atonality in my mind seems to be, in a way, the polar opposite of XVIIIth century classicism with its obsession on candences and the tensions between subdominant, dominant and tonica. Modality seems to be somewhere in the midst of these polar oppositions. From this it follows that it would be very narrow-minded to think that atonality is the future of music, because atonality cannot exist by itself, i.e. it cannot exist without referring and being dependent on tonal or modal relations. Every interval is a tonal relation, even the tritonus. The specific nature of the tritonus interval is not that it is a-tonal but that it is tonally ambiguous.

(2) Music should always keep a viable relation to the elementary phenomenon of human singing. Twelve-tone, serialist, and some other contemporary methods of composing tend to disregard or even cut that relation, to the effect that these methods are practically only suited for specialized instrumental musicians — or occasionally some hyper-specialized singers — who can master the extreme difficulties involved. In any case, it is hardly possible to write a piece of twelve-tone or serialist music which is fit for a sing-along. A serialist composer who would receive a commission to write a liturgical piece for a church or synagogue — for instance a piece which includes responses sung by the congregation — would be forced to suddenly adopt an entirely different style in order to comply with this commission. This is a strong indication that atonal styles are unable to assimilate traditional functions of music. Their only place is the rather abstract and narrow domain of a concert hall, in some l'art pour l'art context, not in a concrete context where music is used to glorify G-d, to sing for a king, to dance, &c. 

(3) Current tendencies to systematically use musical instruments in different ways than normally or traditionally is the custom are a telling sign of cultural suicide. Musical instruments are specialized extensions of our bodies, and to not use them correctly, according to their design, betrays a destructive tendency of turning against them and misusing them. To me this seems a disguised attempt of turning against one's own body. Sometimes this tendency of using other ways of playing the instrument in some awkward manner betrays a totalitarian attitude of the composer, as if it were his task to determine the all-and-everything of a composition. I consider this totalitarian attitude to be nothing else but another destructive attempt to get rid of tradition and history. Simply repeating history is not possible, nor desirable, but attempting to get rid of it is a delusion of the first order and another way of committing cultural suicide. 

In my opinion these three guidelines can function as a kind of fence beyond which it is dangerous to go. At least, this is how they function for me. 

I realize that this a lenghty reply, but hope it is still helpful.

Stephen,

Sorry your post seems to have been pretty much misunderstood. This an interesting and listenable piece. Not you usual but that's fine. Seems to me that unless you are writing for a particular reason, then you need to write what what you enjoy the the most. Otherwise, why bother. The guidelines put forth by Geert seem a bit restrictive and dated. And I'm as traditional as they come.

Wow, a lot of ideas there! I hear some Stravinsky, am I rite? It is interesting certainly, showing wide command of the orchestra and various techniques. Great control of dynamics (my bane). For a foray into a style apparently foreign to you, it is quite impressive.

It's interesting. If I hear something like this on the radio, I am likely to turn it down or off. But in concert, or here, I can appreciate it more. Perhaps because I force myself to step out of my comfort zone? Anyway, a pleasant listen was had by me.

Geert,

yes, yours is a highly intellectual and rather long reply but no less fascinating for that, thank you for going to the effort of responding in such detail. Actually there is nothing you have said that I strongly disagree with - but the questions posed by me could only perhaps be answered with a full thesis - but even then they cannot be solved definitively in my view.

When I’m stuck for answers I generally draw parallels across the world of art - for instance, in the visual arts there are examples such as an ‘artist’ laying a canvas on the floor next to piles of different coloured paint then riding through and over it on a bicycle - it’s definitely not artistic in my perhaps blinkered view - but there are people who have paid wads of cash for such things. Was the artist so bereft of skill that his/her methods were all he/she could come up with? Are the purchasers of such stuff far-sighted visionaries or are they, as I think of them being, simply pseudo-intellectuals?

Michael has summed up my attitude to this question - if I had heard the opening to this composition on the radio I am pre-programmed to turn it off...but by going through the compositional process I have learned much and now appreciate Avant-Garde and understand it a little better. The more I think about things the surer I am that the process was a balance between what I have learned and practised in the traditional vein combined with an attempt at atonalism. Some small progress has been achieved thereby.

Thanks everyone for your interesting and helpful thoughts on this vexing subject.

Stephen

Michael, that’s a great pun....’I hear some Stravinsky, am I rite?’

There may be some unintentional Stravinsky in there somewhere - possibly I’ve picked up some of his ideas by osmosis. Thank you for your pleasing comments - it’s always good to achieve giving pleasure, even in small doses.

Stephen

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