I am fascinated by your absolute rejection of "atonal". I agree that it is kind of a "catch-all" term. Yet so is "classical", for that matter. 

As an American English speaker (not to be confused with British English), and in possession of a Music Ed degree, I have never heard of "thesis" and "arsis" as musical terms.

We all know that English is not a pure language, by any means. It is made up of so many different languages that we can't treat it like your Greek. Nor should we. So many words have, as you say, the opposite meaning now than they did a few short hundred years ago. To which I say "so what". That doesn't mean that I don't take language seriously. But I don't get to decide what words mean. 

Then there are words that even the dictionary can't define.  While performing in a Shakespeare production, I looked up the word "anon".  

1. now, straight away.

2. soon, presently.

3. later, sometime.

Or it was an inside joke. The character was saying " Yes, I will be there.....anon"  What he meant was "Yeah, right. see ya".

Just some thoughts.


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  • I pretty much reject the viewpoint that I have to go outside the rules to be truly creative. If my music sounds too much like someone else's, perhaps I lack enough imagination to be original.  Shock value has no value for me. 

    But I suspect that most of us here are musicians first and composers second. 

    Socrates, I would not claim to be any great shakes on the dance floor. I mean that I would probably get to beat 8 and fall down on beat nine. Probably best for my health that I live in America.

    As for atonal, I find myself less interested in what it means, and more interested in ignoring what it might stand for. In other words, is it a real word? I just don't care.


    Hi Bob, thanks for your thoughts. I agree up to a point with the musician/composer differentiation, as in every summer I'm trying to be an all-round gigging musician (including my music), but in winters I devote my time solely to composition, to the point that I don’t have time to touch an instrument and I have to practice again my scales when the gigging season begins again in May. But that's only me, other musicians are doing better in both disciplines. I cannot dance either now a days, I've forgotten all steps, so I only improvise in 9/4 (but only when there are girls about to admire me :-) ).

    Seriously now, (well, so to speak), I'd like to try an analysis of a so called "atonal" piece at some time, after this gigging season ends next November. Perhaps something of the first two decades of the 20th century, even by Schoenberg before he clarified his technique as dodecaphonic. Are you interested in participating/helping ? The thing is that all scores seem to be under copyright and we cannot publish PDFs of them in this forum, and write our thoughts on them, so I don’t know what to do…

  • Oh man. In college I could analyze Chopin (sort of). Now, I don't think I could analyze a donut. It sounds like you've already done a little ground work. I might be in. Let's think about it.

  • Hi Socrates, I've played in many Greek weddings and functions in London, and seen a great many zembekiko dances and I find it fascinating that you describe it as a 'war dance'.

  • Hi Michael, I was too drunk to respond the previous two nights (not that I'm any different tonight, but anyway), I am also a London, Cypriot wedding gigging musician (in winter time only), but also a scholar of Zeibekiko rhythm, which I find the most fascinating of all Greek rhythms. I have observed through all my life various mistakes both in the transcription of folk tunes and in the general cultural implications of this dance. I think the rhythm and its speed was grossly misunderstood by the first people who attempted to write down the music (either professional ethnomusicologists doing field work, or just irresponsible pianists without a clue of how a piece of music should be notated and knowing nothing about string instruments). Thus it ended up being notated in 9/8 rather than 9/4, but now a days this situation is improving a lot and it is notated properly in 9/4 which makes it a hell of a lot easier to read a prima vista. (quavers becoming crochets, semiquavers becoming quavers and so on).

    Cultural connotations change all the time and I am the first to admit that. It is still considered by purists a male dance only, and within their definition I am not going to disagree. It is considered by them a war dance mainly due to its similarity with Karsilamas/Antikristos dance which is in 9/8 and quite faster. There it is a proper war or confrontation dance but it needs at least two dancers, whereas in proper zeibekiko 9/4 one person (male) can dance and improvise alone. I go along with what Zorba is saying in the novel to the author (Kazantzakis):

    "Before the battle with the Bulgarians, we used to prepare ourselves by dancing the zeibekiko". I cannot be sure though that he understands the term/rhythm in the same way as I do, or he means the much faster Karsilamas, which by nature is confrontational.


    I have had some discussions with other ethnomusicologists and linguists. Here are some opinions that I received:


    Zei-Bek : War-like ethnic minority of Asia Minor very hostile to Ottomans.


    Zei-Bek : Paraphrase of classical Greek "Zeus-Bitter". Here I can see the origin of the "zei" element, but the "bek" is completely Slavonic to me. But the "zei", meaning "double" conforms enough for me with the original nature of Zeus/Jupiter/Janus as a double faced god, which brings me back to the dance of Karsilama rather than zeibekiko. Therefore I prefer to think that Karsilamas in 9/8 was the original dance form and zeibekiko in 9/4 a later musical invention. Greek poetry imo cannot help us much here to understand better, but a speculative Swedish ethnomusicologist/analyser of Greek terms told me once that zeibekiko predates Karsilama, as more emphatic, slower and conforming perfectly to the Greek iambic 15sylable verse. There I have my objections as I know that 15syllable did not exist in antiquity and it is only a medieval Greek poetic formula.

    Of course now a days zeibekiko can be melodised in any poetic metre (and can be danced by women in all decadence night clubs of Greece :-) )

  • Fascinating, many thanks for that Socrates. Personally I adore the faster 9/8 songs, they have such a punchy drive, such as a song called Levendobetho, dont know if u know it, but there's less of them than the slower speed zeimbekiko. I always wondered why this is.

  • Thanks for your thoughts< Michael!

    I only know a song called "Leventopetho" (brave guy) by Yiannis Papaioannou, I don’t know if we mean the same. It belongs to the rebetiko tradition (putting its death at about 1955). I played it very often amongst friends, but rarely in a professional gig as I think its lyrics and spirit cannot be appreciated now a days.

    But I would classify this as an ordinary 9/4 zeibekiko rhythm (on the faster side) rather than a 9/8 karsilamas rhythm. You see, the essential difference between these two dances (apart from speed) is the metrical division:

    All zeibekikos except kamilieriko (which is like a slow karsilamas) can be:

    ( (with denominator always 4)




    Whereas karsilamas is

    (with denominator always 8 and much faster)






    Anyway, did you mean this one? (if yes, it is a strait zeibekiko dance to all of us here in 9/4 and that is how we dance it over here. (dancers always taking account of strong and weak beats).

  • No sorry its the one by Giannis Kalatzis, sorry.


    I abs love this song.

  • I copy-paste strait from Wikipedia's article on atonality:

    Mostly I agreed with all criticisms expressed. My own idea/suspicion is that it has served to camouflage a lot of bad music and lack of real compositional skill. Any music that has an aesthetic appeal is in my opinion based in a well-organized traditional or modern system. Now, if some of us prefer to define their systems as "atonal", should not be a problem if the music steel sounds good though the term may seem nonsensical (as it does to me).

    Milton Babbitt puts it in no uncertain terms imo, the use/meaning of the term "atonal" in no sense makes any sense to him, but anyhow, it needs some discussion.

    The term "atonality" itself has been controversial. Arnold Schoenberg, whose music is generally used to define the term, was vehemently opposed to it, arguing that "The word 'atonal' could only signify something entirely inconsistent with the nature of tone... to call any relation of tones atonal is just as farfetched as it would be to designate a relation of colors aspectral or acomplementary. There is no such antithesis" (Schoenberg 1978, 432).

    Composer and theorist Milton Babbitt also disparaged the term, saying "The works that followed, many of them now familiar, include the Five Pieces for Orchestra, Erwartung, Pierrot Lunaire, and they and a few yet to follow soon were termed 'atonal,' by I know not whom, and I prefer not to know, for in no sense does the term make sense. Not only does the music employ 'tones,' but it employs precisely the same 'tones,' the same physical materials, that music had employed for some two centuries. In all generosity, 'atonal' may have been intended as a mildly analytically derived term to suggest 'atonic' or to signify 'a-triadic tonality,' but, even so there were infinitely many things the music was not" (Babbitt 1991, 4–5).

    "Atonal" developed a certain vagueness in meaning as a result of its use to describe a wide variety of compositional approaches that deviated from traditional chords and chord progressions. Attempts to solve these problems by using terms such as "pan-tonal", "non-tonal", "multi-tonal", "free-tonal" and "without tonal center" instead of "atonal" have not gained broad acceptance.

    Criticism of the concept of atonality

    Composer Anton Webern held that "new laws asserted themselves that made it impossible to designate a piece as being in one key or another" (Webern 1963, 51). Composer Walter Piston, on the other hand, said that, out of long habit, whenever performers "play any little phrase they will hear it in some key—it may not be the right one, but the point is they will play it with a tonal sense. ... [T]he more I feel I know Schoenberg's music the more I believe he thought that way himself. ... And it isn't only the players; it's also the listeners. They will hear tonality in everything" (Westergaard 1968, 15).

    Donald Jay Grout similarly doubted whether atonality is really possible, because "any combination of sounds can be referred to a fundamental root". He defined it as a fundamentally subjective category: "atonal music is music in which the person who is using the word cannot hear tonal centers" (Grout 1960, 647).

    One difficulty is that even an otherwise "atonal" work, tonality "by assertion" is normally heard on the thematic or linear level. That is, centricity may be established through the repetition of a central pitch or from emphasis by means of instrumentation, register, rhythmic elongation, or metric accent (Simms 1986, 65).

    Criticism of atonal music

    Swiss conductor, composer, and musical philosopher Ernest Ansermet, a critic of atonal music, wrote extensively on this in the book Les fondements de la musique dans la conscience humaine (The Foundations of Music in Human Consciousness) (Ansermet 1961), where he argued that the classical musical language was a precondition for musical expression with its clear, harmonious structures. Ansermet argued that a tone system can only lead to a uniform perception of music if it is deduced from just a single interval. For Ansermet this interval is the fifth (Mosch 2004, 96).

    Arnold Schoenberg
    Arnold Schoenberg or Schönberg (, US also ; German: [ˈʃøːnbɛɐ̯k] (listen); 13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian-born composer, music the…
  • Ah, now we are getting somewhere.

    I don't care for whatever it is that we might consider "atonal" music. Not by a long shot. But it seems to me that all these fellow's remarks are based on personal opinion rather that any real evidence. That's fine, but is rather meaningless. 

    I went to a very Conservative college. The year I got there was the first year they decided not to be a Baptist school anymore. Probably because they couldn't get state funding. But very Conservative none the less. They had decided to not use Grout's text book on music history. I leave figuring out the reason up to the readers of this thread. Although if the rest of his history is anything like your quote from him, I can only sigh. And as for Piston, well, he is too rooted in traditional theory, having authored textbooks on it. 

    And while there doesn't seem to be an "aspectral" category, there are "non-spectral" colors. Specifically "achromatic".

    I suppose that if atonal is vague, than so is the word chord. We can all think of a piece of music that might fit the atonal mold. But there are a vast number of types of chords. I suppose there could be "achords". 

    My point is that while the word "atonal" might go out of vogue. it won't be because any of the above folks don't like it. Words come and go. Their meanings change. It happens.

    The idea that we can apply the term as long as the music sounds good seems odd to me. Every one of us has a different idea of "what sounds good". For example, I don't care for most piano music. Same goes for most jazz, easy listening, polka, Cage's 4'33, a piece I know of for 7 clarinets all playing overtones. and so forth. 

    To me, all the folks above give the term legitimacy just because they used it.


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