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The Discussion of Major and Minor Modes—Are we in danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music?—How many ways are there to compose?

 

 

 

I have been told that these thoughts might better be discussed on a brand new thread (rather than under the topic of “Major and Minor Modes interchangeability”). On that thread it was suggested that there are, in essence, two methods of composition. One method was to write a melody and add accompanying chords; the second was to conceive of specific chord progressions first, and then overlay the melodic content.

 

I would suggest that there are basically an almost infinite number of ways to write music, rather than two essential methods.  Most of the ways I am thinking of may or may not be facilitated by the traditional straightjacket thinking about chord progressions, or even the traditional notion of a melody accompanied by chords. 

 

Since we live in the 21st century now, we need not rely primarily on the techniques of the 19th or even 20th century.   The use of computers to compose and create music is mainstream now, and we can avail ourselves of the basic kinds of software that exist.  There is a nice book called “Music Theory for Computer Musicians,” which can help, and which also teaches the basic concepts of melody, harmony and rhythms, as well as the various modes, in relation to the techniques that are applicable to most standard composer software.  Even so, such books may be too closely tied to a traditional outlook, which is terribly out of date.   It might be very crucial for younger composers (or for all composers), who are involved in study, to be very careful in avoiding the taint that might come from too much immersion in stultifying exercises.  I cannot praise highly enough James L. McHard’s “The Future of Modern Music:  A Philosophical Exploration” which awoke me from what I would call my musico-metaphysical “dogmatic slumber.”

 

There are unlimited numbers of ways to begin composing which can free one from stultification.   If the goal is actually to create something new, and to rise above the tired and outmoded musical idioms of our age and Western civilization, then our desire to innovate and be original can know no bounds.   One can do, if one likes, the very opposite of what is commonly recommended.   A composer can (rather than simply composing a melody) take a huge block of sound that appears interesting (a large number of notes) and dump them into a series of tracks, the way a sculptor puts a quantity of clay on a table.   Then the musician can take certain notes out, discover latent rhythms and harmonies that already exist in within the mathematical constructs that make up all music.  This is by no means a random procedure, any more than the movements of the hands of the sculptor are random, though chance discoveries may occur which would be less likely with a traditional approach.   There is an interaction between the composer and the material, the mass of sound, which has a kind of life of its own.  And this is simply one idea, pioneered by composers like Xenakis, Penderecki, Stockhausen and Ligeti. 

 

One can do the exact opposite of what I outline above, and just explore the infinitesimal harmonics and overtone universe surrounding one single note, as Scelsi has done, following Tibetan and South Asian models.  Melodic content and harmony can evolve and develop from that exploration.  If you play the piano, or have a computer interface with a keyboard, you can improvise, not simply with the harmonies and the melodies and the chord structures, but with a pitch bend setting, that gives you unprecedented freedom from traditional tonal constraints.  All your improvisations can be recorded on your sound file, and even if out of 20 minutes of improvisation, you get one “beautiful” melodic – harmonic  event that last a few seconds, you may achieve more than you could in the performance of dozens of “exercises.”  You edit out and destroy what you don’t like, and keep the remainder.

 

Knowledge of the basics of chord progressions and traditional harmony are not without their use.  It helps to be able to create a variety of scales—not just Western, but also Indian, Japanese, Javanese, Chinese, African—in order to be able to juxtapose a variety of sound textures that can have original harmonic characteristics.  But above all, I would say the act of composition has priority in and of itself, above the study.   And the study is done, as a means to an end, not as an end in itself, as the acquisition of series of set procedures and lists of rules that keep one in a very, very small domain of sound possibilities.  As a general rule, one could posit a system whereby for every ten hours of actual compositional activity, there is one hour of study, and even that study is done with an eye to altering the rule, deliberately breaking the rule, to see if one can produce something that is original, in accordance with a contemporary theory of “sound-based composition.”

 

Even if one uses the traditional rules of chord progression as the basis of a composition, the software allows us a tremendous amount of freedom, with regard to systems of automation (which far from making a work sound mechanical, actually free the work up from boundedness and potential monotony).  In other words, the pitches can be bent on any instrument (call it portamento, if you like); tone glides can proceed as quickly and as slowly as one likes, within any individual melodic line, or as the broad harmony of a work—so that you have something much more dramatic and interesting than a standard modulation from major to minor, or from one key to another.   What I am discussing here is not, in any sense, “atonality” (a la Schoenberg, Webern or the young Boulez) but would better be termed an evolution of “polytonality.”  We can call it something more:  “multi-tonality” or “mega-tonality,” where the tonal quality of the work shifts into new and uncharted (and often delightful regions) which will always sound as new, or as familiar, as one likes—due to the extreme number of possibilities.

 

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Roll over, Prokofiev!

(Sorry, Chuck, for misquoting you, but it fits, wouldn't you say?)

Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

You want Spiros' definition of "best," or someone else's?

 

One definition of "best" (not necessarily mine) might be:

 

Given the set of all pieces of music {A}, and given the subset of that set {B} (which only includes all film scores), the element of that last subset {a}, which is the film score for Alexander Nevsky (a), by Prokofiev, will be defined as the single element in that subset which is "the best."

 

Thus if B = {all film scores}, and if a∈B  [a is an element of set B ],

“a” may exist as part of     [aleph-sub zero, the lowest cardinality of infinity, which will include Ø (the empty set), but not “U” (the set of all possible values), or the ordered pair (a,b) {Alexander Nevsky, and one other work which Prokofiev might have written, but did not write}] along with the Symphony #5 being a part of B  … That is, the complement of set B, or the set of all works other than the film scores, written by Prokofiev, which could fit into the set   [aleph-1, the next order of infinity, equal to the set of all rational and irrational positive integers] (which can signify, for our purposes, the total number of works of music that Prokofiev might have written, might have conceived, might have imagined, or might have thought about imagining, provided things were different from what they were.) 

 

Okay, Roger.

I confess. The definition given above is actually mine, inspired by Cantor's set theory analysis.

No dodge. No famous quotes.

But I really didn't know if Fredrick was asking me, or asking Spiros, or anyone who wanted to answer.

I think I gave a pretty thorough answer or set of answers, above, and on the QUALITY thread, and when I discussed A.N.

didn you see

If we need more definition, we can determine what most people might mean by “better” or “best,” when they say Prokofiev’s film score for Alexander Nevsky is the best film score, or one of the best film scores ever written, as you and I do.

It could be because it has many lovely melodies, it has an original harmonic texture (which is both biting and satirical at times, while also being lyrical and diverse in mood), it has dramatic tension and release (well suited to the action it accompanies), there are various modes used to depict and evoke different cultures (the Mongol culture, near the beginning, the culture of medieval Rus, and that of the Teutonic Knights), and the orchestration is extremely rich, in the use of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, making maximum use of each, extended to the fullest possible range (from tuba and trombone to flute and piccolo) with an outstanding sense of proportion and effect, which the full orchestra, and small ensembles within the orchestra, can have.

How much more thorough do I have to be?

O,   I would not be able to say that this is the best, simply because

of the comparitive nature of the qualification and the fact that

I don't have the time or the inclination to listen to all the works

ever written . I could attest to the notion tho' that a work is the

best I've ever heard. And that would be an opinion.

All in all, best will always be a subjective determination,

even if more than one individual agrees with you...   or not.  RS

Well said Janet - judging how good a piece of music is can simply come down to what psychological effects there are as a result of listening to it...and of course those psychological effects will affect one's physiology in terms of the mix and quantities of disparate chemicals that are produced within the listeners brain...and these will produce levels of happiness and/or satisfaction at one end of the scale and sadness and frustration at the other, any of which will affect one's judgement of the issue. (I recall you saying in an earlier post that if a composition makes you tap your foot then it satisfies you, or words to that effect...and I agree there's something in that as foot tapping can be an outward manifestation of pleasure or frustration depending on how you feel). What chemical mix is produced will depend on the starting point i.e. what was it immediately prior to listening (or, in other words, what was one's mood at the outset). Of course, one's determination of what's good or bad will alter over time - if on balance a particular piece gives pleasure as opposed to displeasure then one's view overall will be positive and vice versa. Expand this to cover the listening population overall and some form of consensus may be reached as to the grading of individual compositions or of a composer's complete output.

Whatever comes to be considered 'the best' (composition/composer) will only ever be a generality subject to change over time.
 
Janet Spangenberg said:

"Good" music to me can even change depending on my mood. What I enjoyed an hour ago might be boring tomorrow.  

(1)  Frederica (or Fifi, or Frieda, or Lulu), or whichever you prefer,

I think you might not have been "thorough" in reading the messages.  Here is one you might have missed. Could you  answer the question please.

[P.S.  I notice you have taken to calling me by a female name {which is not mine} for some reason.  This is the second time in two days, I think.  I would prefer you didn’t do that.  If you do wish to continue, then do you mind if I call you by a female name?  I was thinking of Frieda or Fifi, whichever you would like most.  Or perhaps you could tell me what you would like me to call you on this forum?  Conceivably, we could both simply call each other by the names we have established for our accounts on the Composers’ Forum.  I think that’s the best solution, but I would really like to know your opinion on that matter.]

-----

[P.P.S.  As to the point of whether anyone has been, or is "through," I don't think I am "through," nor do I think you are, though I could be wrong.]

----

(2)  On the issue of defining what "good music" is, you can read the definitions I have already given above, or on the thread,

http://composersforum.ning.com/forum/topics/the-issue-of-quality-wh...

I think I gave just under nine billion pages of definitions of good music there.

Another way to approach it.  It's exactly the same definition as yours, when you used the word "best," in describing Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.  It's "good music," and it is the "best film score," for any movie, as you said.  What you mean by good and by "best" is exactly what I mean, when you are making evaluations.

----

(3)  The statement "I may change my mind and dislike or like a piece of music from one moment to another," says nothing about the music.  It merely says something about the mood swings of the listener.  If I listen to Beethoven's Fifth, and say I didn't enjoy it at all, because I had a toothe ache (or because I broke my leg, or my best friend died, or because I was in a foul mood) that says nothing about Beethoven's Fifth, which virtually music critics, musicians, conductors, composers and musicologists agree is a supreme masterpiece.  If I say, I just totally love the Fuggs song Saran Wrap the next day, because I was under the influence of cocaine, heroin, or LSD (or because I had fallen in love with the girl I was listening with, or because I was just in a very good mood) that says nothing about the value of the musical work.

To speak of "chemicals in the brain," and such, appears to me a gross form of reductionism.  In that case, we may as well do away with civilization and music altogether, and with composing:  We can just drug ourselves into states of eternal bliss, as in Huxley's Brave New World, or Stanislaw Lem's Futurological Congress.

In the latter work, members of the Congress accidentally discover that the Utopian Society they live in-- where all architecture is beautiful, all art works are inspired, and all music is without parallel-- is simply a very sophisticated chemically induced illusion.  There is no architecture. Everything is in ruins.  There is no art or music of any value.  It was all destroyed or lost, and no one is creating any more, because the drugs have satisfied everyone's "needs."

If everyone were on a slew of anti-depressants, ADH drugs, amphetamines, hallucinagens, ecstasy and other drugs, then that may explain why some people (even some who study music, and work hard to understand it) don't have any strong convictions about whether Beethoven is really any better than the "top ten" songwriters of 2013.

(4) Of course, the real issue  under discussion on this thread is about whether we prefer to live in a world where we have access and frequent opportunities listen to a wide variety of tonalities and sound textures (and to select from this wide variety in order to make our own compositional choices).

I prefer the world which has everyone from Janacek to Julio Estrada, and all the classics across all cultures and all times that we have on record.

Some don't seem to like that world.

I wonder (and this question really may separate out different schools of thought):

How many here really wish that none of the "avant-garde" music since 1945 had ever been written, and would say, it would have been best if we had limited ourselves to the pre-war tonalities?  (Throwing out Schoeberg and "his ilk" as well)?

[Raise your hands, please, or respond with an affirmation].

And how many genuinely treasure the innovations and broader approaches to tonality that came, especially during the post-war years, the 60's and the 70's, in particular?

[Simply remain silent, and feel free not to respond].

We can tell by the overal reactions to these last questions, something about the general sense of the forum (though not very much, I admit).

Roger,

 

You said,

 

"I don't have the time or the inclination to listen to all the works

ever written ..."

 

How do you know that you don't have the time, or that you won't have the time in eternity to:

 

1) Listen to all the works of every period, in all the Earth's history, and on every planet that has ever existed, and in all locations, divinely created or mortally inhabited, and,

 

(2) How do you know that you may not be able, at some point, to appreciate almost instantaneously all the works of time ever created, from the stand point or perspective of some location outside of space and time?

 

Or as John Cage might say, or perhaps as he has said,

 

How do you know it is not the case that if we listen to one note properly, in full and complete consciousness, all the aesthetic secrets of music will be opened up to us, as the heavens and all of cosmic reality are revealed to the greatest of sages? 

   On and Ondib,   because I AM  RS......


  R ationally Sensible

  R easonably S ane

  R ealistically Sure

  I am also well grounded in practical consciousness

 and know which side of the bread to put my butter on.

 and tho' I love a creative imagination, I know the difference

 between a kook , a space cadet , a BSer and a visionary.

 Plain and simple.... it's that easy.  RS    (reprehensively  sardonic )
Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

Roger,

 

You said,

 

"I don't have the time or the inclination to listen to all the works

ever written ..."

 

How do you know that you don't have the time, or that you won't have the time in eternity to:

 

1) Listen to all the works of every period, in all the Earth's history, and on every planet that has ever existed, and in all locations, divinely created or mortally inhabited, and,

 

(2) How do you know that you may not be able, at some point, to appreciate almost instantaneously all the works of time ever created, from the stand point or perspective of some location outside of space and time?

 

Or as John Cage might say, or perhaps as he has said,

 

How do you know it is not the case that if we listen to one note properly, in full and complete consciousness, all the aesthetic secrets of music will be opened up to us, as the heavens and all of cosmic reality are revealed to the greatest of sages? 

I thought RS meant

 

Reassessing Schwitters,

 

as in the Artist, Kurt Schwitters, the Dadaist/Surrealist.

 

You said, RS

 

“I am also well grounded in practical consciousness

 and know which side of the bread to put my butter on …”

 

Well, don’t keep us in suspense.  Tell us which side.

 

I don’t want you to think I am pulling your chain, or your leg, or the wool out from over the eyes of your sheep, llamas or other exotic fauna you may have in your home.  I actually thought you might agree that you had time (if you were sufficiently patient) to listen to all the music in the world.

 

Just how well grounded are you practical consciousness? 

 

Are you so practical that you don’t believe any of these statements ?

 

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

“You are bound to see everything, hear everything, and know everything about art, well before eternity has run out.”

― Johamn Wolfgeng von Goethe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No sir, but some are 2nd cousins fathered by my uncle- Rally Sport

Fredrick zinos said:

I thought RS meant:

Reasonably Secure

or

Ridiculously Sentimental

or

Robustly Senile

or

Relaxingly Sedentary

or

Raucously Symphonic

or

Retrogradingly Serialized

or

Reprehensibly Spasmodic

or

 Relatively Salubrious

or

Repeated Section

or

Repeated Section

or

Revolting Secretion

 

from the Book of Notions   by Tso Tsume

The conversion of Vision into Reality

is a Matter of toil and perserverance

To dream is only to wish it were so

And magic the want of idle fools       RS


 
Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

I thought RS meant

 

Reassessing Schwitters,

 

as in the Artist, Kurt Schwitters, the Dadaist/Surrealist.

 

You said, RS

 

“I am also well grounded in practical consciousness

 and know which side of the bread to put my butter on …”

 

Well, don’t keep us in suspense.  Tell us which side.

 

I don’t want you to think I am pulling your chain, or your leg, or the wool out from over the eyes of your sheep, llamas or other exotic fauna you may have in your home.  I actually thought you might agree that you had time (if you were sufficiently patient) to listen to all the music in the world.

 

Just how well grounded are you practical consciousness? 

 

Are you so practical that you don’t believe any of these statements ?

 

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 

“You are bound to see everything, hear everything, and know everything about art, well before eternity has run out.”

― Johamn Wolfgeng von Goethe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Stephen. Besides how much one enjoys a bit of music, which is dependent on all the factors you mention (and, I'd bet, there's a few more), a completely different consideration would be its purpose (if it has one), and how well it's fulfilled that purpose.

I stepped out of this "discussion" a few pages back after I felt I would only be repeating myself in form or another, as well as not gaining any more insight from the OP of this topic.

I'll add in a link to a very "good" bit of music, IMO, played on one "instrument". It doesn't get more primitive than this. I think playing this music would be a true joy, as well as listening to it:

Water Drumming by Baka Pygmies

I'm going back to my tonal harmony studies now. Maybe I'll listen to some more of this real water music while I do. :o)

Stephen Lines said:

Well said Janet - judging how good a piece of music is can simply come down to what psychological effects there are as a result of listening to it...and of course those psychological effects will affect one's physiology in terms of the mix and quantities of disparate chemicals that are produced within the listeners brain...and these will produce levels of happiness and/or satisfaction at one end of the scale and sadness and frustration at the other, any of which will affect one's judgement of the issue. (I recall you saying in an earlier post that if a composition makes you tap your foot then it satisfies you, or words to that effect...and I agree there's something in that as foot tapping can be an outward manifestation of pleasure or frustration depending on how you feel). What chemical mix is produced will depend on the starting point i.e. what was it immediately prior to listening (or, in other words, what was one's mood at the outset). Of course, one's determination of what's good or bad will alter over time - if on balance a particular piece gives pleasure as opposed to displeasure then one's view overall will be positive and vice versa. Expand this to cover the listening population overall and some form of consensus may be reached as to the grading of individual compositions or of a composer's complete output.

Whatever comes to be considered 'the best' (composition/composer) will only ever be a generality subject to change over time.
 
Janet Spangenberg said:

"Good" music to me can even change depending on my mood. What I enjoyed an hour ago might be boring tomorrow.  

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