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Stop messing up the music.
May 26, 2008 5:33 PM   Subscribe

The most important essay about music I've ever read. (And part 2.) Make sure to listen to the examples.

For example, this one.
posted by Tlogmer (47 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish it would have been important enough to give us at least a brief summary.
posted by cashman at 5:57 PM on May 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I downloaded (and am enjoying) all the music, but I'll admit I'm really not able to make heads or tails of the essay.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:04 PM on May 26, 2008


This is the most important essay about music I've read this week.
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:15 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I like music.
posted by jokeefe at 6:17 PM on May 26, 2008


it sounds kind of loose and exaggerated to me - and the real problem here is that they didn't provide any examples of the kind of interpretations they are trying to improve - and the harpsichord version of the sarabande of the bach partita is hard to compare to the violin version

but i'm a rock and roller, so what do i know?
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 PM on May 26, 2008


no, that's a different piece altogether- really, they needed to be a lot more precise about what compositions they're playing so people can make comparisons
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 PM on May 26, 2008


Really? (after 10 minutes of reading, this was the sound example I wanted to hear)


(Stiff competition: Leonard Meyer, Nelson Goodman, Steven Feld, Diana Raffman, Victor Zuckerkandl),
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:34 PM on May 26, 2008



I'm not gonnna read it, but I bet it's pretentious.
posted by jeblis at 6:40 PM on May 26, 2008


Scientific Attempt To Create Most Annoying Song Ever
posted by jeblis at 6:40 PM on May 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


What then is the role of the beat? We feel that the beat should be felt and not heard.

I wonder if John Bonham would concur? Anyway, that's where I stopped. Drums ARE music, to me. Everything else is built around them. The beat should be felt rumbling up your spine because it's so goddam loud it rattles the floor. I think it was Black Elk who said (paraphrase) that the drum was the most sacred of instruments. They are round, like the circle that represents the continuum of life. He noted that in nature "everything tries to be round." Bang the drum loudly, heathens.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:52 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, the essay's specifically about classical music. I thought it was important because it identified all the ways classical music sucks in modern performance and fixed them.
posted by Tlogmer at 6:56 PM on May 26, 2008


I hate to be an arse, but I have to do it:

1) Synaesthesia is the union of two different senses, i.e., when you hear a certain pitch or key (A 440 Hz or a piece in A major), you see a particular color in your mind. Synaesthesis appears to me to be a misnomer. (Please, correct me if I'm wrong.) So...when the authors talk about the "synaesthesis" that occurs when you combine different types of flavors (salty and savory, for example) in order to prove that the independence of voices is superior to homophony (where stacks of notes move at the same time), they are not only saying nothing new, they are participating in extremely sloppy writing.

Though it has nothing to do with synaesthesia (which I think is what the authors meant), the art of counterpoint IS about the independence of voices. Almost every canonical composer and theorist in the history of Western Art Music (which I personally like to call WAM) has touted the virtues of counterpoint. Beethoven, fer instance, started his day by writing some first species counterpoint (writing two lines intended to be played together that follow the rules of dissonance and consonance with the notes in a 1:1 ratio).

When the authors bemoan musicians who do not participate in creating independent voices, they are preaching to the choir. To the amateur choir, that is. Most musicians I know are fully aware that the goal in playing much musical repertoire is to have independent and interlocking parts; however, having the skill to play that way is another thing entirely. The authors mention the rock band as an example of a form that occurred and is generally pleasant to most people because it creates independent voices by naturally due to the different timbres of the separate instruments. I halfway agree with this; however, it's unnecessary to throw the word 'cognitive' into every other sentence in order to say that.

Seeing as how my section (1) is way longer than I meant it to be (sorry 'bout that!), I will not continue through the remaining ten sections. I will pick at this bone, though, before I continue my nightly information-scan: when anyone opens their essay with the disclaimer that someone learned in the topic will probably not accept the logic of the paper, I smell a rat.

However, care must be taken in dealing with trained musicians, as they tend to be too prejudiced due to indoctrination in the current style of playing classical music, a way of playing in which these techniques are almost nowhere to be found.

First of all, a lot of the techniques they say they invented are actually consistently-practiced techniques like counterpoint (gasp), gesture, and inflection that have been and continue to be discussed, honed, and shifted according to the trends of various eras. Just because you give something a new name does not make it new.

The reason that some of the techniques they suggest are not used (playing out of time, for instance, which they suggest doing and somehow relate to note inégale, which is a type of rhythm associated with much French Baroque music) is that they are not part of the tradition of WAM. It's fine if you want to play that way. Get your kicks where you can, I say. But when you start to tell others how they should be doing something, you invite criticism. And I seriously doubt this paper can stand up to any real criticism.

All that horseshit aside, I'm really glad if this makes people think about music more, or enjoy it more, or perform it better.
posted by nosila at 6:57 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought it was some kind of ultra-meta-inside-hipster-joke website.
Purposely obscure; probably selling peanut butter or energy drinks.
posted by Dizzy at 7:05 PM on May 26, 2008


Well, the essay's specifically about classical music.

Well then , hand-wringing about why it's fading into obscurity as an art form is probably a fine idea. I'm certainly no musical historian, but it seems like Classical music as an art form was pretty well perfected by the late 18th century. Not that people shouldn't like it -- I love me some Mozart, but its future is one of either looking back, or sort of fading out.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:10 PM on May 26, 2008


I'm not gonnna read it, but I bet it's pretentious.
posted by jeblis at 9:40 PM


I just read the first two paragraphs and I believe you are correct.
posted by marxchivist at 7:26 PM on May 26, 2008


I don't know about the essay, but the sample provided at the top of the page sort of says it all in performance terms. Which is: Bach's score was not good enough as it was. You must further separate the voices by playing them slightly delayed from each other, so that people won't miss the wonderful idea of the music, because people have to be hit over the head with the reality that they're listening to counterpoint. It is not enough to play the music well. It must communicate. It must overstate its case in italics so that the biggest Philistines in the world (hostile listeners, oh how we will propitiate thee!) will enjoy it.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:31 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Then Sounds like Van Morrison did his homework.
intersting post a lot went into it .
posted by celerystick at 7:53 PM on May 26, 2008


It is interesting to realize that Bach, in manuscripts of his keyboard pieces, uses vacillare just as Tosi recommends. A careful inspection of his manuscripts reveals that the vertical alignment of the notes of the right hand either precede or follow the notes of the left hand. About 60% of time the right hand notes precede the left hand notes and about 40% follow the left hand. To suggest that Bach was doing this either unintentionally or that he had problems with vertical alignment is preposterous because Bach was probably the most intentional of all composers especially when it involved [sheet] music and he had no problems aligning notes in orchestral scores.
posted by Tlogmer at 7:56 PM on May 26, 2008


Has anyone told classical music wonks that no one cares except other classical music wonks?

Classical music isn't dying because of some deterioration of our collective ability to appreciate art; it's dying because it's the effete court music of 18th-century aristocrats. Musicologists and cultural historians can have it if they want it; I'll be over here listening to DJ Krush and, y'know, being aware of the multitude of artistic forms that have emerged since the days of rhinegraves and powdered wigs. I don't mean to put down people who are into classical music—if that's what moves you, then more power to you—but I expect them to return the courtesy. The author's basic premise seems to be "I like classical music; most people don't; therefore, I must be more sophisticated and artistically enlightened than other people". A more accurate chain of reasoning would be: "I like classical music; most people don't; therefore, I am a nerd".

jeblis: Ha! I have the album from which that song comes. It also includes "The Most Wanted Song", which is "scientifically" designed to appeal to the largest possible number of listeners. It's a horrifically saccharine, five-minute light-jazz number, and it's (perhaps not surprisingly) far more annoying, and far less interesting, than the twenty-two minute cacophony that comprises "The Most Unwanted Song". Both of them are pretty fucking unlistenable, though.

Dave Soldier is also one of the guys behind The Thai Elephant Orchestra—elephants playing specially built instruments, including giant sampler keyboards. "Trio for Theremin & Electric Keyboard" is truly astounding.
posted by greenie2600 at 8:01 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ah, Tlogmer, that would have been a great "more inside." Great term, vacillare. I still think they're overdoing it though.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:05 PM on May 26, 2008


This is really interesting. I'm not a classical music expert myself, but the techniques defined in the essay could be used in other medium as well. It's not pretentious, it's basically just saying make it more human, and trying to detail what makes music more human.
If you forget the classical music focus of the essay it's still a captivating piece of writing on art in general.
posted by SageLeVoid at 8:09 PM on May 26, 2008


Also Survey-Produced 'Most Wanted Song' Sounds Horrible
posted by jeblis at 8:26 PM on May 26, 2008


Classical music isn't dying because of some deterioration of our collective ability to appreciate art; it's dying because it's the effete court music of 18th-century aristocrats.

bach effete? - like i said, i'm a rocker, but i know a genius who was pushing the envelope when i hear one
posted by pyramid termite at 8:45 PM on May 26, 2008


I like music.

You like music? Me too. We should hang out.
posted by Clave at 9:22 PM on May 26, 2008


If this was in a magazine I'd probably read it and perhaps enjoy it, but when I go to a Web site and see a wall of words I just click the back button. It's just not what I use the Web for.
posted by loiseau at 9:34 PM on May 26, 2008


I'm not gonna read it, but I bet it's willfully ignorant.
posted by subgear at 9:39 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I scanned it. It seemed like ridiculous timecubeesque pseudoscience.
posted by delmoi at 11:16 PM on May 26, 2008


You know what I think,

I think Lil' Wayne's "Lollypop" isn't going to be the big jam this summer. I think it hit too early for the barbecues, and even though it's clever, at 5 minutes, it's too long. The video is pretty tight because the stretch truck limo is pretty doggone frosty yo. While I'm sure it will be rocked often, I don't think it's on the level of Rihanna's "Umbrella" from last summer...

Wait... Aristotle what??? sans souci? OK I will!
posted by fuq at 11:16 PM on May 26, 2008


Interesting article -- thanks for posting.
posted by cbrody at 11:26 PM on May 26, 2008


Re: Architecture (was: Dancing)
posted by basicchannel at 11:55 PM on May 26, 2008


I thought there were some pretty decent historical arguments in there in favour of ye molto expessivo technique, which is nothing any decent soloist doesn't know and exploit already, but the golden ratio stuff, ah, er, well.
posted by Wolof at 12:51 AM on May 27, 2008


Article lost me early on, specifically here:

Playing a musical instrument is a technical craft. Expressing music, by contrast, has been viewed as an art. This view has been held so long that we rarely question it. The purpose of this essay is to question the truth behind this view and to propose another view. That alternate view is that expressing music is also a craft. It is the craft of musical communication, the art of delivery.

It tries to draw a distinction between "art" and "craft" and then uses the word "art" to describe a "craft." An essay that doesn't define its terms and then subsequently confuses them is probably not worth slogging through.
posted by speicus at 12:53 AM on May 27, 2008


That was horribly written; it takes forever to reach any kind of point. You have no context for the information you're being given so you drudge through it until, after a dozen paragraphs, you're told what it has to do with anything. I struggled through the first two sections out of the eleven before giving up and just scanning to the end of each section for the rest. I rarely had to scroll up and read the heaps of extraneous information before it to get it.

The biggest problem was they would devote paragraphs to multiple repetitive examples of scientific ideas when it didn't make the point any clearer, just more tedious. Each point could have been summarized in a paragraph or two. I like long essays when each paragraph actually says something new and interesting, but not when they're poorly organized.

It boiled down to, "Don't obsess over being technically precise because it can get in the way of conveying emotion, and here are a bunch of ways to convey emotion" which I agree with. They should get someone to rewrite it, though.
posted by Nattie at 12:54 AM on May 27, 2008


Classical music isn't dying because of some deterioration of our collective ability to appreciate art; it's dying because it's the effete court music of 18th-century aristocrats.

This statement makes no sense whatsoever. Some classical music answers to this description (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, I'm looking at you) but most of it just doesn't. The music composed by Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Gershwin, Rachmaninov... it's not effete, it's not court music, and it didn't come from the 18th century.

I don't mean to put down people who are into classical music

"I like classical music; most people don't; therefore, I am a nerd".

These two statements appear to contradict each other.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:39 AM on May 27, 2008


Nine thumbs down
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:02 AM on May 27, 2008


Daily Alice: I think there might be confusion between music from the Classical era, which is the effete court music of 18th-century aristocrats (well-said, by the way), and the music that most people call classical, which is lately called "Western Art Music" in academic circles. Like I said, I prefer to call it WAM.
posted by nosila at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2008


I'm aware of the difference between "classical music" as the term is generally used and the Classical period; do you really think Mr. "Everyone who likes classical music is a nerd" was speaking of people who only like music from the Classical period, but not the rest of us nerds who listen to Romantic, Impressionist, or contemporary music?
posted by Daily Alice at 7:21 AM on May 27, 2008


which is lately called "Western Art Music" in academic circles. Like I said, I prefer to call it WAM.
posted by nosila

Is there a chance that a concession could be made, and we started calling it "Western Hemisphere Art Music"? that way we could just call it WHAM.
posted by micayetoca at 7:32 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some classical music answers to this description (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, I'm looking at you) but most of it just doesn't. The music composed by Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Gershwin, Rachmaninov... it's not effete, it's not court music, and it didn't come from the 18th century.

I was generalizing for humorous effect. The point is, it was music made for rich people in an era and culture that has very little to do with the era and culture we live in today. Sure, you can argue that humanity is universal, and transcends time and space—and that's true—but why do people go around acting like European rich-people music from 1600 to 1850 (or whenever), of all the many kinds of music across time, space, and culture, is the pinnacle of the art, and that people who don't like it must be shown the error of their vulgar ways?

The authors claim, in their introduction, that this isn't their attitude, but the entire remainder of the article disproves that claim.

I guess effete is in the eye of the beholder, but it sure sounds effete to me.

These two statements appear to contradict each other.

Only if you assume that being a nerd is a bad thing. I'm a nerd. But I realize that most people don't care about information architecture theory or ambient music or evolutionary psychology, and—here's the key—I don't go around clucking my tongue at people over it.

Being into centuries-old aristocratic music is an esoteric interest. There's nothing wrong with that, but there is something wrong with acting all high and mighty about it. Doubly so when said acting takes the form of a confused, overlong, pseudo-intellectual essay.
posted by greenie2600 at 8:02 AM on May 27, 2008



ef·fete

1: no longer fertile 2 a: having lost character, vitality, or strength


Seems appropriate if you mean that nothing noteworthy is being done in this genre of music at present time.
posted by jeblis at 9:39 AM on May 27, 2008


The point is, it was music made for rich people in an era and culture

that you know nothing about

bach's last gig was as cantor of the St. Thomas School of Leipzig - it was owned by the city at the time and had hundreds of students - i also notice that it started as a "schola pauperum" which is a rather odd name for a rich person's school

it's hard to say how many people belonged to the associated church, where bach's works were played, back in the day, but the current congregation has 3200 people

st nicholas was also a church that bach played at - again, there seem to be no mention of aristocrats

were they aristocrats? were they all rich? not even his employers were aristocrats there, they were the city council

there were certainly a lot of middle class people in that church - and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there were poor people, too

of course, it's a lot easier to throw around a bunch of unexamined cliches about rich people and aristocrats than it is to actually learn something about history

by the way, is there some intrinsic property that separates "rich person's music" from "poor person's music", and is it the kind of thing you could detect by just listening, without knowing anything about the composer?

ps - bach was baroque, not classical
posted by pyramid termite at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2008


micayetoca: I am so all for it. As far as I'm concerned, it's done.
posted by nosila at 10:52 AM on May 27, 2008


I'm very glad that this piece was posted. Why are people bored with classical music? Let's suppose we don't blame the potential current audience. Are there techniques that better expose what makes this music interesting?

A whole lot of people over a whole lot of time have loved this music, even if most were rich and old. I want to feel what they felt. I want to listen to and love your favorite band, even if other people say they suck.

Look, Iggy Pop said it better than I can, though he was talking about punk rock.

If the words in the link bother you, listen to the samples. These are unconventional interpretations, and I found that I was interested when I listened. That's better than I can say when I turn on my local classical music station.
posted by ferdydurke at 12:26 PM on May 27, 2008


Heres a rough summary:

1: Always play with one hand leading the other and vacillate between them.
In ensembles, when the upper voice leads, the music soars. When the lower voice leads, the music lingers-resisting forward motion.

2. Avoid performing music in strict accordance with the beat.

3. Organize musical information in easy to follow and understand gestures.

4. Sing (in your imagination) every line in a score and then play the music as you sang it.

5. The recognition signal in human speech is designed to express agreement, it is sounded: uh-huh, with the pitch rising at the end.

6. Don't be afraid of making 'ugly' sounds.

7. Play with an attitude.

8. Be aware of where in a piece a value may be played at 116 or 72 and test these tempi on listeners.

9. Gradually diminish the volume for unimportant moments, like the ends of phrases or arpeggiated chords.

10. Delay for a brief moment before playing the highest accents.

11. Slow down at moments involving dissonance.
posted by Lanark at 1:03 PM on May 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


In other words, be Glenn Gould
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:40 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


5. The recognition signal in human speech is designed to express agreement, it is sounded: uh-huh, with the pitch rising at the end.

Speaking as a linguist, I don't believe this is true, even for English; there are plenty of widespread "recognition signals" I can think (including the declarative "OK" in most dialects and many contexts) that fall in intonation "at the end." A rising intonation, in fact, more often signals a desire to *be* recognized in my intuition of English discourse norms; I can think of plenty of likely examples of evidence that there is no non-arbitrary relationship between sentence intonation and message content, and there's plenty of empirical work on this to consult; never mind the problem of phonemic tone in relation to sentence intonation, discourse norms governing emphatics, etc.

The music/language relationship is simply not as one to one as this essay suggests, and the equation of specific musical gestures with specific rhetorical tropes has a long (indeed ancient) history in several cultural traditions of music theory (possibly including the ancient Greeks, definitely including major art music traditions of Asia and Africa).
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2008


"Is there a chance that a concession could be made, and we started calling it "Western Hemisphere Art Music"? that way we could just call it WHAM."

Wake me up before this thread go-gos.
posted by stenseng at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2008


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