Consider the binary opposition in music between such factors as the modern and the traditional, the natural and the synthetic, beauty and ugliness, satire and celebration. Consider the opposition between contemporary and "primitive," between Western and Eastern, and between the orchestral and the electronic means of producing sound. The overall purpose of this work is to take various phrases, expressions and methods which would not otherwise easily co-exist, and to blend them together in unified polysonority. "Wyschnegradsky compares musical polysonority with the concept of the Absolute, and equates it with … the point where all of music's dualisms are united and annulled." (See Edward Campbell's Boulez, Music and Philosophy, p. 65). In Kantian or Hegelian terms (or musicologically, in the terms of Adorno), the goal is to find a "transcendental" entry point into a certain region, or domain of thought and sound. This is a location or state of affairs which is both the result of a dialectic process and also the very assumed condition or reality which precedes it, which is outside of time and outside of space, and properly within the domain of the Absolute. This is the evocation of what Andre Breton called the "point suprême" (or a reference to a state "de la future fusion de l'homme et de l'univers par la conquête du point suprême."). On the other hand, this fusion and rendering can be considered as a satirical exploration, or parody, in part, of the very notion of any full expression of "the Absolute" in purely aural or sonic terms; or at the very least, it may be looked upon as an exploration of the binary opposition between parody and celebration, between seriousness and satire, or between the unqualified affirmation of trans-universality and any attempt to ridicule such an idea.
In music generally, we may consider and examine the following "Binary Oppositions," which are operated upon in this particular work:
high pitch / low pitch
quick tempo/slow tempo
traditional tonality / nontraditional tonality
sudden attack/gradual approach
thick timbre/thin timbre (individual instruments)
thick orchestral texture/sparse orchestral texture
steady sustained line/fluctuating line
polyphony / monophony
unified sonority (one sound universe)/ polysonority (more than one)
clarity / confusion
electronic instrumentation/natural instrumentation
natural pitch/unnatural pitch (due to pitch correction automation)
Western musical idiom/Non-Western idiom (African, East Indian, Chinese)
Modern idiom (20th, 21st century)/Traditional idiom (earlier centuries)
common allusion (Beethoven, a folk song, anthem)/uncommon allusion
sharp (stereo) separation / unity, or monaural (no) separation
The specific content of the work consists of quotations and some additions for the sake of the unity. This is an example of poly-sonority or sound texture synthesis, a bit like Musique Concrete, but with more emphasis on the "musique" and less on the "concrete." Listeners may notice quotations from known works and composers: a symphony by Beethoven, Tyler Hughes' "Interpretations on Folk Melodies," and some quotes from more or less obscure works: electronic pieces, East Indian singing, atonal orchestral pieces, Cantonese opera, anthems, folk songs, an informal South African church hymn and so forth.
The quotations and allusions are altered by filters, changes in the pitch of parts of the audio files, changes in volume or dynamic emphases, slight tempo modifications, interaction with overlapping or accompanying audio files, changes in panning, and other "automation" parameters, sometimes as separate features, or sometimes all at once.
www.tinyurl.com/binaryoppositions on Soundcloud
these are just a few hasty thoughts on a first listening of your piece:
Although you talk about "dualities" (and I can appreciate them in the way that they are presented), this piece drives me to think of "trinities" also.
I have enjoyed it very much in the way you pass from one sound plane to another which must take considerable technique, thought and planning and I found all textures used reach, new and satisfying to my ear.
It also made me think about my listening habits and lack of "musical innocence", like that of a child's perhaps, to appreciate it more fully.
I referred to "trinities" above because either they were in the music at particular moments, or my mind could not forget about them.
1.Three old (preferably Telefunken) radios from the 50s decade with short, medium and long waves knobs and frequency selection dials.
2.Six (innocent about music) and open minded small children standing in pairs at each one of the three radios and operating the knobs and dials ad libidum.
I have had such a listening experience when I was a child. It was of course music by chance but that did not stop it being great fun and great music.
I will certainly listen to it and reflect a lot more, cause what I'm saying is only a first reaction, but thanks for remind me of that long ago lost innocence!
It's a very good idea, Bob.
'I'm not talking about slapping some slides together. I'm thinking mostly video with a story that the music can support. Not a "travelogue", but something thoughtful. Since this piece is about dualities, maybe something dealing with the "haves" and "have-nots" '
I will have to think about it some more. You are giving me very good food for thought. Thanks for your response.
From me, wish your wife good success in her efforts on behalf of those in Africa and Asia.
'I know very well what "life of its own" means. Most things I write start out one way, then take off some other direction. I seem to have little control ...'
Yes. Isn't that the truth!
Thanks for posting your thoughts.
"I just had a chance to listen to the Julio Estrada piece. I appreciate the concept but didn't enjoy listening to it, probably because I am not in the right frame of mind at the moment. In general, with more avant-garde modern pieces, I feel like I have to be ready for a cerebral workout not a pleasant listening experience. Sometimes I'm in the mood for a workout, other times not. "
I agree with you. I will admit quite frankly, with all my talk of being open to the ultra avant-garde, and so on I have my own limitations ( . . . even I don't like Julio Estrada's music, and haven't learned to appreciate it ... yet. Shshshsh. Don't tell anyone. And that's in spite of carefully reading and re-reading what McHard has to say about him, and listening to several pieces, including the one I posted the link to. McHard appears to know Estrada fairly well, not just from a scholarly point of view, but also personally, and he has made a real effort to understand his attempt to blend many strands of avant-garde musicological thinking with Aztec and indigenous Mexican approaches to music ... )
I think Estrada is a difficult case. I would not go so far as to say he is barking up the wrong tree. There are certain aesthetic experiences that are so alien to the Western Ear, that increased familiarity may take a very long time, as you say. I have always found certain types of Japanese singing and some kinds of Amerindian music are just difficult for my ear, and many Westerners just don't like it, until they obtain repeated exposure.
There is something positive and worthwhile in Estrada (I am guessing), but I won't be able to hear it well, and and fully appreciate it until I immerse myself for longer periods of time in his sound universe.
Musicologically, I consider myself a "romantic" in many ways, since Mahler is probably my single favorite composer, and I don't think McHard is really castigating Romanticism, per se. Remember he does give Mahler an entire chapter.
I don't recall McHard being "anti-voice," or anti-Romantic, in any specific way. I think he is more "anti-minimalist" (in the sense of Adams, Reich, Glass), "anti-neo-classical," rather than anti-Romantic or anti-neo-Romantic. He doesn't like music that shuns new soundscapes; but he specifically says he likes modern neo-romantics like Allan Pettersson and Wolfgang Rihm, and Spectralists (like Tristan Murail), who might be called neo-Romantics, in some sense. I simply see Romantics as those who wish to "cause the goblet to overflow," if I can use that phrase.
Maybe you could give me some examples where you feel McHard is "scolding you."
Composers that he praises in the modern era, like Bartok, Scelsi, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage seem to transcend the opposition between "Romantic" and "Classical" as it has been traditionally understood. Strict "serialism" and Schoenberg-ism seem very classical, in a way, and McHard appears to oppose any dogmatism based on those approaches, and therefore argues in favor of FREEDOM, which seems more Romantic to me than neo-classicism, as practiced by Stravinsky.
That's just my impression, though I am probably missing something that you have encountered in McHard's writings. It would be good if you could elaborate your point.
Thank you, Susan.
I greatly appreciate your willingness to read James McHard's book, and to discuss it here. I've only talked about it with a small number of people, and I can't really say how much this book has meant to me, in awakening within my soul a desire to compose, while also providing me with an intense feeling of inspiration in connection with the act of composing.
Of course, there are a great many pieces of music in the book I had never heard, though I never felt as if I was being "scolded" for not knowing them. I simply realized there was a huge wealth of modern and contemporary music about which I needed to learn, and which I could also enjoy, both for their own beauty, and as exemplifying a wide variety of directions in which the contemporary composer could go.
But there is more to the book than that, for me. The fact that the book is called "The Future of Modern Music: A Philosophical Exploration of Modernist Music in the 20th Century and Beyond" is of paramount importance in my mind. The book really does have not just a musicological or historical bent to it, but it tries to forge a comprehensive philosophy, or to lay out a wide set of philosophies, or philosophical perspectives, which can be accessed for the sake of aesthetic and intellectual satisfaction. I have not read or encountered another writer on music who has done this so well, while keeping an open mind, and refusing to stumble on the difficulties involved in trying to cope with and appreciate the most problematic works of the last 60 or so years.
I had heard, and was familiar with much of the work he mentioned early in the book, works by Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Janacek, Hindemith, and Bartok. I had never heard of Malipiero, and I am still trying to learn about him. I knew about and had heard many of the works by Schoenberg, Berg and Webern—and didn't really like them that much—but McHard helped me appreciate what they did, while confirming some of my reservations with regard to the problem of what some people call "brown music." I did not know Varese, and I think there is much to learn from him.
Of course, the more profound revelations for me, came in parts 2 and 3 of the volume. I knew Ives (and had underestimated him) and knew a bit about Ruggles (I still have much to learn about him). Darius Milhaud was something of a revelation to me, and still is, in his grasp of compositional concision (I am still amazed by many of early six or seven minute symphonies), and in his very effective and pioneering use of polytonality (though I personally appreciate Prokofiev's efforts in that area far more).
Vermuelen is still alien to me, and I have to listen to him much more than I have so far.
Olivier Messiaen is, in my mind, the greatest of all the "teacher-composers" of the century, and the more I listen to, and read about his work the more impressed I am with the profundity of his theories, and the more inspired I am to try new things. His music does not always appeal to me, but when I see why he does what he does, and understand how he counseled so many others, and when I read his remarks about composing, I always feel there is something to learn there.
Of all the composers who I encountered in the book, the one I knew the least about, and who shocked and inspired me the most, was Scelsi. It was partly his interest in Eastern Thought (especially Indian philosophy and Music, and Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Music) that drew me to him, and I relied upon him as an exemplar.
Stockhausen has always interested me, even before I attended one of his live concerts, and had a chance to meet and talk with him, in 1976, in Washington D.C., when he premiered his work "Sirius," before a small audience in a planetarium. McHard's approach to the work and intentions of all these composers—from the musicological, philosophical and spiritual points of view –appeals to me very much, since it is profoundly religio-metaphysical without being narrow and dogmatic (unlike some other authors on modernism and contemporary composing—I won't mention them here).
Even on the point about "sound-based composition," McHard is not really dogmatic, since he does express admiration for the more traditional and tonal writing of Sibelius, Shostakovich, Delius, Vaughn-Williams, Britten, late Prokofiev, neo-classical Stravinsky, and others. He does not insist on hard-edged ("ear splitting") modernism, though he wants to help people to understand what the real innovators were doing and attempting to do.
Xenakis, John Cage, Luigi Nono and Pierre Boulez each provide difficulties for the average listener, or perhaps I should say "challenges" which McHard helps one overcome. I had listened to some works by Xenakis, Cage, and Penderecki repeatedly, long ago, trying to fathom their efforts, with only partial success; but what McHard did was help to crystalize their achievements and their significance in my mind, almost in a flash of insight, as I saw the common (or similar) thread that ran through what they were doing.
Add to all this the fact that almost all the works mentioned in McHard's book are available on youtube, so now we can deepen our appreciation without having to purchase all the works, or to go to a university library to listen (which was I had been doing prior to the rise of the world wide web, and youtube, as a venue where all of this is now easily accessible).
www.lastfm.com is another site, where you can input the names of these composers, and simply create ad hoc radio stations that now play many of their works in succession.
"...I appreciate knowing you had a great deal to learn about modern music as well."
HAVE a great deal to learn. There's no end to it, I think.
"now I'm consumed with revising a piece for premiere ..."
As the Bard said,
'Tis a consumption Devoutly to be wished.
Good luck on your revisions, and on the premiere.
I was listening to this album today https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WTxC8wnXQo
I was thinking it fits your idea of a "Polysonorous Multiverse", you should give it a go.
Hi there, Ondib!
I enjoyed this experimental piece.
Parts of it reminded me of several things:
1 - the crescendos in Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother Suite, where it sounds like all the instruments are (like people bumping into each other) assembling for that climax.
2 - The Residents. Especially their second official release, The Third Reich Rock 'n Roll. And here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_tElQ_JPgc&list=PL03192F7B15CB...
I dig it.
Thank you, Birov. And thank you, Markis.
I will "give it a go," as you suggest.
But there is no reason to address me with my last name, I like Spiros better :P
Ondib Olmnilnlolm said: