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This was originally posted here as part of a discussion which I thought suggested the question,"How can non-traditionally-tonal music be structured so that it will have meaning to the listener, and especially to the listener who is not a musical theorist?" It's been suggested that I make a separate discussion of it.

One of my own works may serve as an example to hopefully extend the discussion. This is a section of a longer work I composed which is partially atonal.  This part was composed more or less (but perhaps not strictly) following the rules for twelve-tone row composition, but attempts to create within that context a musical work having melodic and harmonic elements which structured it in a way that the average non-academic listener could recognize it as music.  It's called "Spring Equinox" for flute quartet (two flutes, alto flute, bass flute.)  The sound file was generated with software.

Spring%20Equinox.mp3

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This piece is dissonant but more conventional in terms of rhythm and phrasing.  Makes an interesting contrast with Geert's piece which is not so dissonant but has phrasing and rhythms that were more abstract.

I like this piece overall but I didn't care for the trills that showed up frequently.  The software gives them a mechanical repetitive quality that may not have been your intention but I think they need more variation.

Thanks for the response.  The trills are supposed to suggest spring birds; hopefully they can be softened in an actual performance. But I'll think about revising them.

It works in your terms, certainly. I just listened without looking at the score; putting me closer to Mr Average listener. (It’s almost impossible to get scores of contemporary works anyway.)

I got no sense of what the more musical person would call key, or the posh: tonal centre. The motif tied to the rhythm seemed insistently repetitive but I believe that to be a problem with the rendering. Live performers would be more responsive to accent. The work is short enough. It didn’t bore me but by the end I was looking for something different. This is partly a structure issue. The work is atonal but the structure is fairly simple. The long phrasing ending in breaks didn’t come across as part of a larger structure so far as the sound goes. If anything, the rhythm itself was the anchor.   

I still believe that Schoenberg’s 12-tone system – and worse, total serialism is too much composing with Lego. The result is more strictly predetermined than with, say, Sonata form. Just slot the bits together. No amount of listening makes sense except after prolonged listening leading to familiarity. And there are, of course, those to whom it does make sense presumably because they have a different way of perceiving musical sound.

I’ll have a look at the score later.

I still hate cereal music – far happier to eat my cornflakes in silence or with just the news going on.

 

Thanks for the comments.  They are very useful.

This piece itself has something of a "Lego" nature.   I deliberately you might say "worked to rule," constructing a twelve tone row (no pitch repeated) almost at random, using it to create a melodic line with the row itself, then the row in variations (like backwards, or the first six backwards, or the second six backwards, etc.,) then creating the other instruments' melodic line by just adjusting the original melodic line diatonically.  I considered it an experiment to see what such a mechanical method would produce, and I think it created the combination of weirdness and accessibility I was aiming for.  Probably not a technique to use very often though.

I recognise this!

The first six notes of the main melody are similar to my piece, but overall I don't think it's very like.  At any rate, I'm sure I never heard this theme song before.

This discussion suggests a question I've wondered about, and it may be one which musicologists have studied and answered; I just don't know enough about music theory to know if they have.

Consider the following trivially simple example, which I won't add a sound file to since anyone can hum it:

Anyone (at least anyone whose musical assumptions have been formed by Western music in the broadest sense) is going to feel a moderately strong sense of closure at the low 'C' ("Come" ) -- try singing just "Joy to the world, the Lord is."  You get a feeling like "Shave and a hair cut" without the "two bits." Then we will feel an even stronger sense of closure on the last C ("King,") stronger partly because the patterning of the notes leading up to it gives a climbing-up effect more strained than the climbing-down effect of the first eight notes, partly because the last C is the same C we started out with. There is simply no way for us to avoid experiencing this melody other than this.

This way of hearing a melody will seem so natural and instinctive to us that some may assume it must be innate.  But is it? Is this way of experiencing music hard wired into our nervous system, or is it a cultural phenomenon special to the Western musical tradition?

I suppose it could be both, that maybe the Western musical tradition exploits ways of hearing music which are innate to the human perceptive apparatus but which aren't much exploited in other traditions.

I would posit  that Charles Holt's reference to 'spider' theme, is somewhat tongue in cheek..

Fusing  kitch and serious can sometimes solicit a chuckle ..

witness, if you will - disco Ferneyhough:

https://youtu.be/ScxXYjgf3PU

Folk music borrowing themes from art music.

Jon your 'Joy to the World' question is an old one, a re-casting of the 'nature vs nurture' debate. Or which came first, the chicken or the egg.  No easy answer.

I'm not really a musical theorist, but I definitely have no idea about atonal music, other than I once read about it and then wrote a 12-note melody line that I really like. I enjoyed your piece, mostly. My mind was trying to figure out a context for it, and I decided it felt a little tilt-a-whirly (as though I were riding one), and I felt like it would be very at home accompanied by a visual element--the drunken elephants scene from "Dumbo" being the example my mind went to. The piece felt a little surreal, but I think there was enough there to anchor it to traditional harmony, which is what made it overall enjoyable for me, the average (?) listener. There were enough lines moving in conjunction with the bass line to imply there was some sort of harmonic structure going on--even if i couldn't quite figure out what it was. My mind at least knew there was somewhere the piece was trying to go, and if I kept digging I could maybe figure it out. I think that might be what makes it enjoyable to non-theorists--some sort of planned (or the implication of planned) motion so it at least feels like it's trying to get somewhere, even if that somewhere is in circles. It keeps it from being noise.

Anyway, that's my relatively uninformed opinion. Hope it helps!

-Matt

This verges more on psychoacoustics I'd guess. I'm no theorist (what is a musical theorist?) but it seems to me that the melody implies the harmony. I understand what "cadence" is. We need these terms so we can talk about it! In your example the first phrase implies a perfect cadence ("full close" in American?)

C'.....B..A.G...F.E...D...C 

But then you could immediately follow with:

C'.... B..A.G....F.E.......D (half close/imperfect cadence) Which you felt unfinished - and that's what an imperfect cadence is about, it needs resolution. It could be resolved with the second phrase. However, rhythm comes into it, The E would occupy the whole bar/measure. 

Just a thought. Incidentally it works as a tone row, something that Geert was experimenting with. 

Thanks for the response, and for liking it. Your comments indicate that the piece has pretty much the effect I was aiming for.  It's supposed to be programmatic in the sense that it portrays Spring, as the title indicates.

Since there seems to be some interest in this piece, I'll add some background here.  I originally composed it as a vocal piece, a setting for Blake's poem Spring, as part of a composition for female trio called Three Twelve Tone Songs. I later converted it to a piece for flute quartet as part of a suite called Calendar Round.     I often re-use material in this way.  If anyone is interested enough to look at the other versions (the links are to MuseScore scores and software-generated demo sound files,) I'd be glad for any comments comparing them.

I'm not really a musical theorist, but I definitely have no idea about atonal music, other than I once read about it and then wrote a 12-note melody line that I really like. I enjoyed your piece, mostly. My mind was trying to figure out a context for it, and I decided it felt a little tilt-a-whirly (as though I were riding one), and I felt like it would be very at home accompanied by a visual element--the drunken elephants scene from "Dumbo" being the example my mind went to. The piece felt a little surreal, but I think there was enough there to anchor it to traditional harmony, which is what made it overall enjoyable for me, the average (?) listener. There were enough lines moving in conjunction with the bass line to imply there was some sort of harmonic structure going on--even if i couldn't quite figure out what it was. My mind at least knew there was somewhere the piece was trying to go, and if I kept digging I could maybe figure it out. I think that might be what makes it enjoyable to non-theorists--some sort of planned (or the implication of planned) motion so it at least feels like it's trying to get somewhere, even if that somewhere is in circles. It keeps it from being noise.

Anyway, that's my relatively uninformed opinion. Hope it helps!

-Matt

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