Saturday, January 14, 2006

Welcome Sequenza 21 Readers!

ROTFL! Holy crap: I got over two weeks worth of traffic in two days! If I was a traffic hound I'd be looking for another group to dis, but since this blog is basically just an enhancement to my autodidacticism, I believe I'll pass.

So, who am I and why do I feel the way I do about contemporary composition?

Drinking coffee (awesome coffee!) at La Trattoria tonight before the "Pizza Night" crowd arrived.

My name is Pepper (Yes; my real, actual legal name, just like "Sgt. Pepper"), and I came of age musically in the seventies: I was the kid in the garage band playing Hendrix, Clapton, and Zep that the neighbors used to call the police on for playing too loud. I studied at the Guitar Institute SW with guys like Jackie King, Herb Ellis, and Pat Martino in the late seventies before going to Berklee in 1980.

Immediately after Berklee I took a job as a roadie for Johnny Thunders on his 1983 European tour. It's a miracle I survived that year! But, it was a lot of fun. Too much fun.

When I returned to the States, I got a Synclavier and became a pioneer of avant garde electronic music composition on that instrument: I am THE GUY who first took the timbre-frames which were intended for resynthesis and made sound sculptures out of them by connecting them with long crossfades, combining them with odd and fractional FM ratios, and wild stereo auto-pan effects. I programmed so many sound effects on the Synclavier that I still hear one of my sounds from time to time in some ad, TV show, or motion picture (The old Strar Trek TNG show - among others - used several of my sounds and derivatives of them). During that time I was also a Synclavier Guitarist in NYC and even appeared on MTV's "The Week in Rock" a few times (My "fifteen minutes").

So how did I get from that point to basically hating almost everything written after 1915? Blame the Synclavier. The more I worked with the additive synthesis section of the Synclavier's voice architecture, the more connections I began to make. Like just about everyone of my era, I was taught that musical rules were arbitrary: I found that teaching to be in error. Once I realized that the first seven partials of the overtone series made a dominant seventh chord, I understood why it seemed like every chord wanted to turn into a dominant seventh and be absorbed into the chord a perfect fifth below. Realizing you needed a dominant chord a fifth above the tonic as well as one a fifth below made me realize that Ionian major tonality was an inevitability of nature for triad-based music (I, IV, and V triads make an ionian scale/i, iv, and v make an Aolean scale), just as blues tonality is for seventh-chord based music (I7, IV7, and V7). Later, I understood that the underlying laws governing musical motion in counterpoint are also defined by the overtone series: No parallel consonances that are superparticular ratios in both inversions are allowed (Perfect consonances), but parallel consonances that are only superparticular ratios in one orientation are allowed (Imperfect consonances), and so on.

So basically, after twenty years of writing pop, rock, and jazz of every kind as well as electronic music, I realized I didn't know anything about writing real music at all. What I did was to return to the beginning: Solo acoustic classical guitar music in two-voice counterpoint and harmony with counterpoint-based voice leading (Stuff I could play myself). That was fifteen years ago. All I have been doing the past fifteen years is writing, writing, and writing some more; along with studying, studying, studying, and practicing, practicing, practicing. During that time I've earned an MM in trad theory, and I took all of the courses for a DMA in trad comp (I gave up on that degree because they required that I write big, bombastic orchestral crap, and I hate virtually all of that garbage (Most pieces over five minutes in duration lose my interest, even if they are by "the greats", with the exceptions of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms (How predictable!)): I just wanted to write cool little pieces for the guitar mostly). I've written tons of solo guitar music: Over 75% of my two hour set is my own stuff (Whether it a plus or not I'm not really sure, but many laymen (And at least one music critic!!!) think it's Bach when they hear it).

I also came to realize that the equally tempered chromatic system is not possible to rationalize without an integrated modal heirarchy superimposed upon it: 01) Tonic Degree, 02) Phrygian Second, 03) Second Degree, 04) Minor Third, 05) Major Third, 06) Fourth Degree, 07) Lydian Fourth, 08) Fifth Degree, 09) Minor Sixth, 10) Major Sixth, 11) Minor Seventh, and 12) Major Seventh.

For all of these reasons and more, I realized that it was fact - and not opinion - that all atonal serial music is bunk (I knew I didn't hate it only because it sounds like crap!), along with the overwhelming majority of the rest of contemporary [scarequotes] "serious" [/scarequotes] stuff.

If I don't like what you write, that's one thing (Great composers I don't like: Wagner, Schumann, Schubert &c.). However, if I think what you write is not viable as music - whether I like it or not - (I like some sound FX-type electronic stuff, but I do not define it as music: It is "noise art", which is perfectly viable as a genera unto itself, but "noise art" using acoustic instruments just doesn't work, because people will always expect to hear music from instruments. Yes, the boundaries are blurry, but they are nevertheless there) there are a series of very good reasons based on years of scientific investigation into the nature of music behind that conclusion. I heard a lot of non-viable stuff the other night (Along with some viable stuff I just didn't care for). Also, there was a weird stride-piano type piece - I can't remember who it was by - but it was actually quite good. Sorry I forgot to mention that.

You can ignore nature if you want, but people who do remind me of a study I did on Psalm 14's opening line: "The fool hath said in his heart, "there is no God."" The key word is "fool": It has lost it's impact in this day and age, but it used to be the worst insult you could hurl at someone without resorting to expletives. Behind it is the Hebrew word "Lbn", which transliterates to "nabal", and that in turn comes from the proper name Nabal. Nabal was scornful of David's emissaries and later died of dread when he realized he was doomed to death at David's hand for his actions. His name became a byword for a morally deficient person who is incapable of perceiving the spiritual dimension in life: A spiritual retard. Or, in my preferred abjective form with full-tilt anti-PC ramifications, a spiritual Mongoloid Idiot.

Musically, saying the overtone series doesn't matter is exactly like spiritually saying there is no God: It only reveals you as a musical mongoloid idiot. Over ninety percent of the time, I can tell within one minute whether or not a composer is aware of the implications of the overtone series (And, a lot of composers I don't like were very aware of it, like Wagner): If he ain't, I tune out.

So that's it. Au revoir

Funny. I didn't see her eating pizza tonight.


Blogger David Valdez said...

Studying the overtone series is as close as you can get to studying god. It's the inner and the outer, over and under. All vibration is ruled by the overtone series and what isn't vibration?

Too bad that young musicians aren't taught more about the overtone series in music schools. It should be the foundation of any musical education.

You seem to have some background in Hebrew. Did you know that the Hebrew alphabet is directly related to the overtone series? Each letter represents a whole number ration, therefore a musical interval. These letter/intervals are relationships between different overtones/integers.

3:22 AM  

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