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I don't know if anyone is interested in this. Not sure I am.

The question is: What are quantifiable bullet points that define contemporary music? Do they only apply to concert music, as opposed to something one might hear in a bar? I don't hang out in bars, but I saw one on TV once. Is it only bleeding edge (or bleeding ear)(oops, sorry) atonal-ism? Is it a rock band performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (a real thing)? Is it 4'33? Or ten minutes of seven clarinets playing random overtones? And is it the same thing in different countries and cultures? 

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Mike, you may know this, but notwithstanding the content of the article, Babbitt insisted that the title "Who Cares If You Listen?" was added by the editor and that he strongly disagreed with it--"Of course I care if you listen!"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Cares_if_You_Listen#Controversy_o...

Mike Hewer said:

I immediately thought of E.E.Cummings after reading your post Socrates.

What do I think about justification in modern concert music? Well I think Boulez and his music is genius, but his dictatorship and pronouncements were an arrogant mistake, likewise Cage and his philosophy of trying to remove the composer from any compositional process was a step too far imo. The oft quoted Babbitt "who cares if you listen" is a trickier sentiment to assess imo because although on the face of it, it sounds just plain wrong, it also cuts right through to issues regarding artistic freedom and expression. Perhaps he could've been a bit more polite about it.

Have you noticed how much contemporary music relies on an external literary or programmatic source these days? Whatever happened to absolute music?

Julie, would it be appropriate to ask in this thread how you intellectually approached the harmony in your example?

Mike mentioned this in another thread. It's glorious!

John Driscoll said:

Here you go, Steven...




steven gustin said:

i want minor 2nds to sound like consonances.  thank god music is subjective, now i don't have to worry about pesky resolutions anymore.

Hi MM-

Why don't I start a new thread with the flute piece.  That way we won't interrupt the flow of this excellent thread.

MM Coston said:

Julie, would it be appropriate to ask in this thread how you intellectually approached the harmony in your example?

Hi Mike,

In a few lines you raised a lot of issues that we could talk about for days (if there were enough booze around)

 

E E Cummings, a McCarthyist (?!)

or even Ezra Pound, a Racist (?!)

Are these the bohems and progressives of US? Or were they ordinary people of their times involved in their political confusion with their prejudices and mistakes like we are with ours?

I prefer Humphrey Bogart on that score. Still, I believe that they were great poets/authors, despite their views on certain things.

On a different ground (without McCarthyism or racism), I fell the same about Cage and Boulez theorizing.

I feel exactly as you do about Boulez. I mean, I admire the composer and the practical musician (having enjoyed him a few times as a conductor), but I can no more take seriously his dictatorship, as you so aptly put it. It is like Plato's Republic, and he (Boulez) also would have us exiled from town.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same about Cage or any of the other "bad boys" of Darmstadt, save the Italian contingent of Nono, Berio, and Maderna whose music I like very much. Egocentric megalomaniac figures like Stockhausen left me always cold and disinterested, and their music that followed is my only clue (not their theorizing). On the other hand, I still admire some Germanic composers like Hans Werner Henze for his music and for his stance in Darmstadt. In this context, although I admire Theodore Adorno as a philosopher and lecturer on music, I could never understand his ardent propagation of Schoenberg and his complete dismissal of Stravinsky (?) can you? I have not memorized his arguments and it's been too many years since I read them, but is it perhaps a sub-conscious realization on his part that Stravinsky was the real danger to their creeds? And is this connected to his, (Stravinsky's)  more rational approach to rhythm? (imo).

Questions, Mike, that perhaps we will never answer anymore.

 

I am very much interested on the issue you raise about absolute vs programmatic music in our era.

I'll come back on that another time.



Mike Hewer said:

I immediately thought of E.E.Cummings after reading your post Socrates.

What do I think about justification in modern concert music? Well I think Boulez and his music is genius, but his dictatorship and pronouncements were an arrogant mistake, likewise Cage and his philosophy of trying to remove the composer from any compositional process was a step too far imo. The oft quoted Babbitt "who cares if you listen" is a trickier sentiment to assess imo because although on the face of it, it sounds just plain wrong, it also cuts right through to issues regarding artistic freedom and expression. Perhaps he could've been a bit more polite about it.

Have you noticed how much contemporary music relies on an external literary or programmatic source these days? Whatever happened to absolute music?

Just to chime in w/ just a tid bit.

Socrates, I think there is something about what you say about the dismissal of Stravinsky from the dodecaphonists - a lot of the division between them and the so called neoclassicists was surely seeded at least in part by their banter, of Arnold and Igor..  Haven't looked/listened for a while to Scheonberg,,, but recall his rhythm element not near as interesting as Stravinsky - (seemed more provincial… I'm recalling a string quartet.)

Though both ventured to the 'other side' at different times.. Im reminded of 'The owl and the pussycat' of Stravinsky… And how i found it utterly charming and Easily melodically Memorable!  - And it was a 12 tone piece.. The first one i heard that i really related to..

Also, I remember some piece Schoenberg wrote as a commission to the opening of the 'Hollywood Bowl' in Los Angeles.

The tonal roots were showing quite loudly.. 

Only the excited compositional students (it seems) wanted to cheer on one side or the other...

"Ezra Pound".. was certainly beyond the pale… Henry the 8th made music too :)  

Ah, so many things to respond to.

I realize that my Bachelor of Music Education degree means that I'm qualified to do...not much, but here goes.

Socrates,

For some reason that is a complete mystery to me, feel the need to deal with your comments on "classical". I think I would use the term "Classic" for most of the things you posted, instead of "classical". I'm not going by the dictionary, just my gut. The statues all seem classic. I've been close enough to the "Venus" to almost touch it. Because of my sheltered upbringing, just about the only thing can mostly call "classical" in music. I know that ancient Greece is referred to as "classical".

Julie,

There is a reason that I asked for no musical examples. It's fine, by the way, to post some. The problem for me is that quite often I don't get what the poster is trying to say. What happens so often is that the poster will say something like "This piece is all about the color purple." and I listen to it and get nothing. I feel that if folks can express something in words, no matter how poorly, I think I get a better understanding of what they are trying to say, because they have a better understanding. It's like you find out how well you know something when you try to explain it to someone else. 

For example, I got none of the things you were trying to convey from your wonderful piece of music. But the fact that you told me in a very personal way, what you wanted to say, and how you wanted to go about it, meant a lot to me. We all write different things for different reasons. Ain't it great?

That's why I didn't ask what is contemporary music.

Something that has come up a few times is freedom from rules. I find it interesting that we feel we have to have a formal movement to not use what we never really had to use in the first place. We've fallen into the trap that it's only good if we follow the rules. Yet we also say that just because we follow the rules is no guarantee that it will be good.

I'm so confused. 

Hi Socrates,

Your literary and poetic knowledge exceeds mine by many factors and is thoroughly entertaining and educational. I can't answer you question about Pound and Cummings artistic motivations but can easily imagine agendas because politics has often been a driving force in the arts has it not.

I am almost ashamed to say that I know very little of the Italians, apart from some Sequenzas by Berio, but I have invested time in Stockhausen and more so Henze. 

I have mixed feelings about Stockhausens' music, on the one hand I like things like Gruppen and Stimmung - both pieces are very effective live - and then there is the helicopter 4tet!  With Henze, I have got to know most of his symphonies which are more to my liking because of a  more tangible link to the tradition.

As to Stravinsky, my feeling is that he needed to 'own' style in music which explains his career from post-romantic through to serialism via neo-classicism (more labels!). In this he pretty much echoes Picassos' desire to rip-off Velasquez, african art etc.

You might be right about the attacks on Stravinsky from the serialists and Adorno, I would've been on Igors' side in that spat.

John,

I did not know that about Babbitts' article. The title does its job though in a more cynical way don't you think? I believe there is a truth to his  premise that the only protection against the neglect an uninhibited composer has to face is behind academic walls. It is a dilemma the best (or at the very least, the most adventurous) composers have to wrestle with and they must surely have to steel their convictions and take on the very attitude the title suggests, if only privately and for the sake of an unencumbered journey.



Socrates Arvanitakis said:

Hi Mike,

In a few lines you raised a lot of issues that we could talk about for days (if there were enough booze around)

 

E E Cummings, a McCarthyist (?!)

or even Ezra Pound, a Racist (?!)

Are these the bohems and progressives of US? Or were they ordinary people of their times involved in their political confusion with their prejudices and mistakes like we are with ours?

I prefer Humphrey Bogart on that score. Still, I believe that they were great poets/authors, despite their views on certain things.

On a different ground (without McCarthyism or racism), I fell the same about Cage and Boulez theorizing.

I feel exactly as you do about Boulez. I mean, I admire the composer and the practical musician (having enjoyed him a few times as a conductor), but I can no more take seriously his dictatorship, as you so aptly put it. It is like Plato's Republic, and he (Boulez) also would have us exiled from town.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same about Cage or any of the other "bad boys" of Darmstadt, save the Italian contingent of Nono, Berio, and Maderna whose music I like very much. Egocentric megalomaniac figures like Stockhausen left me always cold and disinterested, and their music that followed is my only clue (not their theorizing). On the other hand, I still admire some Germanic composers like Hans Werner Henze for his music and for his stance in Darmstadt. In this context, although I admire Theodore Adorno as a philosopher and lecturer on music, I could never understand his ardent propagation of Schoenberg and his complete dismissal of Stravinsky (?) can you? I have not memorized his arguments and it's been too many years since I read them, but is it perhaps a sub-conscious realization on his part that Stravinsky was the real danger to their creeds? And is this connected to his, (Stravinsky's)  more rational approach to rhythm? (imo).

Questions, Mike, that perhaps we will never answer anymore.

 

I am very much interested on the issue you raise about absolute vs programmatic music in our era.

I'll come back on that another time.



Mike Hewer said:

I immediately thought of E.E.Cummings after reading your post Socrates.

What do I think about justification in modern concert music? Well I think Boulez and his music is genius, but his dictatorship and pronouncements were an arrogant mistake, likewise Cage and his philosophy of trying to remove the composer from any compositional process was a step too far imo. The oft quoted Babbitt "who cares if you listen" is a trickier sentiment to assess imo because although on the face of it, it sounds just plain wrong, it also cuts right through to issues regarding artistic freedom and expression. Perhaps he could've been a bit more polite about it.

Have you noticed how much contemporary music relies on an external literary or programmatic source these days? Whatever happened to absolute music?

     I think that I shall never see

     A poem lovely as Bob's scree.

Although I think he should have iambiced when he pentametered
 
Bob Porter said:

steven your friend didnt drop the ball

it sounded bad only to you

why make him take the fall

could music be subjective

if sound rules all

i think we get to like what we like

without you making the call

Julie,

     I think your definition of contemporary is not contemporary enough.  It is the definition we got back in the seventies when we contemplated which rules could be broken, then we have to go back to the 19th century for examples.  The question for today is, should we have rules at all.  Isn't the definition of atonal, not tonal, no harmony?  Similarly, a-metric, not metered, no tempo? 

     To Socrates point:  The closest analogy we have to music is poetry.  Suppose we produce minimalistic poetry.  We do away with rhyme (harmony), meter, (tempo), and repetition.  What's left?  Prose.  Going one step farther.  What does minimalistic speech look like.  We do away with vowels, consonants, and pitch.  We would communicate in monotone hums which could be long or short, in essence, Morse Code.  We could convey all the information of language with Morse Code but what would be missing?  Emotion.  Whales communicate with certain blips of sonar but I would rather talk like dolphins.  They twitter, they chirp, they sing.

      In some of the examples you list composers use an atonal melody or at least non-diatonic melody within the structure of a major or minor chord to produce the eerie, mystical feel.  Remove either element and you lose the effect.  Similarly you used the tonal melody of Shortnin Bread within a non-diatonic accompaniment.  Both parts are necessary to produce the whimsical, fun feeling.  As composers we should be considering what new ideas we can add to our musical repertoire not what we can omit.

     Does atonal/a-metrical music free us from the constraints of harmony and the old classicism?  Much like the WWI freed us from future wars, contraceptives freed us from safe sex, and the automobile freed us from pollution in the cities.  Does Schoenberg's music really free us from the constraints of harmony or from the emotion of harmony?  When I listen to his music I feel mostly boredom.  This then should be our primary criterion for judging whether a new idea is appropriate for a given piece:  Does the new idea enhance the emotional effect or does it diminish or stifle it?

When setting poetry to music there is a certain emotion intrinsic to the words.  The composer has to ask whether the emotion will be enhanced by a tonal or atonal treatment.  I can think of instances where either treatment or a combination of both would be appropriate.

    

    

    

Hi Bob-

Your entire response was very much worth reading, but I especially liked this sentence:

"I find it interesting that we feel we have to have a formal movement to not use what we never really had to use in the first place."

WOW.  That is so very true.  What a cool way of saying it.  When I was 17 and newly arrived at college as a music major, I didn't have the nerve to tell my teachers that or really even to think it to myself.  But now that I'm 60+ I can do whatever I want!!!   I always could, I just didn't know it.   I love being at this best of all possible ages!!

I don't think of rules any more, just observations.  What some folks have called "rules" (especially our recently departed friend who shall remain nameless) are really just statements like "this is what Bach did much of the time and it proliferated for a couple of hundred years or so"  or even "this makes lines easier to sing".   These aren't rules, just observations of how to follow a particular style.  There is absolutely nothing that says any of us have to follow any rules made by others.

Since I'm not a fan of chaos (no rules) I do make guidelines for myself, but they are on a piece by piece basis, not like a Universal Rule.  So for example once I wrote a piece where I decided the rules were:  1) the tritone was the equivalent of a major chord and became the resting place  2) cadences were single diverging lines, moving in contrary motion until they landed finally on the same note  3) the theme had to come in on all 12 notes at least once.  Believe it or not, the piece was mostly tonal and worked fairly well except for boring rhythms.  I forgot to make a guideline about rhythm!  ;-)

You don't sound too confused in your music.  I liked your Orchestral Piece very much.  As several others noted, it reminded me of the slow movement of Beethoven's 7th, but more modern than that. I'd say your instincts are sound.  Sorry for the pun, but it's totally appropriate!



Bob Porter said:

Ah, so many things to respond to.

I realize that my Bachelor of Music Education degree means that I'm qualified to do...not much, but here goes.

Socrates,

For some reason that is a complete mystery to me, feel the need to deal with your comments on "classical". I think I would use the term "Classic" for most of the things you posted, instead of "classical". I'm not going by the dictionary, just my gut. The statues all seem classic. I've been close enough to the "Venus" to almost touch it. Because of my sheltered upbringing, just about the only thing can mostly call "classical" in music. I know that ancient Greece is referred to as "classical".

Julie,

There is a reason that I asked for no musical examples. It's fine, by the way, to post some. The problem for me is that quite often I don't get what the poster is trying to say. What happens so often is that the poster will say something like "This piece is all about the color purple." and I listen to it and get nothing. I feel that if folks can express something in words, no matter how poorly, I think I get a better understanding of what they are trying to say, because they have a better understanding. It's like you find out how well you know something when you try to explain it to someone else. 

For example, I got none of the things you were trying to convey from your wonderful piece of music. But the fact that you told me in a very personal way, what you wanted to say, and how you wanted to go about it, meant a lot to me. We all write different things for different reasons. Ain't it great?

That's why I didn't ask what is contemporary music.

Something that has come up a few times is freedom from rules. I find it interesting that we feel we have to have a formal movement to not use what we never really had to use in the first place. We've fallen into the trap that it's only good if we follow the rules. Yet we also say that just because we follow the rules is no guarantee that it will be good.

I'm so confused. 

Lawrence,
Atonality has harmony, it might not be harmonious to some, but vertical thinking exists. Likewise, ametric rhythm has tempo, the regular pulse is just obfuscated as I mentioned earlier.

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