Sunday, October 16, 2005

Paradigm Shifts

I have this saying that I tell people from time to time: "From wherever I am in life, I can look back ten years and say, "I was an idiot ten years ago'". By that I mean, it's healthy to be self-critical enough to re-evaluate old, ingrained positions from time to time. Not only that, but it's important - for me anyway - to change positions I have evaluated as no longer tenable. Or, at least to modify them enough to soften the coarsness that is a natural part of my peculiar personality (Much more in print than in person, to be sure).

I must admit to hating a lot of music. With a passionate kind of loathing. There are certain composers who I find completely worthless: Cage, Stockhausen, Schoenberg (Post "Transfigured Night"), Webern... You get the idea. As I personally define music - tone poetry that explores the implications of the Natural Harmonic Overtone Series - what they created does not qualify: It is simply not music to me, it's noise. Words mean things. Speciffic things: Music is music, and noise is noise, and "ne'r the twain shall meet", as the saying goes.

Remember: I owned a Synclavier for twenty years, and was a pioneer of the art of sound sculpture back in the 80's; I have no problem with the "noise as art" concept. Far from it. But, when I was creating sound sculptures, I didn't think of them as music. Not even for a second. So, the problem I have is with what I consider to be noise masquerading as music. If it's noise, at least be honest enough to admit it. No shame in that.

I am 104% convinced that if you took a dozen human beings who had no knowledge of music - six male/six female - and dropped them onto a terraformed Mars, within a few generations, you'd have... what we call "tonal music", or at the very least, some variant of modal music. For me, it is an inevitability present in the very nature of sound: The overtone series. Not only that, but I believe you'd have stringed instruments and keyboard instruments for a related reason: The nature of human physiology. The anecdotal evidence is the 100% modal/tonal nature of music of every single culture humanity has ever produced, and the ubiquitousness of the stringed instruments across cultural divides (Keyboards being more peculiarly Western, but a result of the solicitude the West maintained for so long, which could certainly be duplicated on an isolated Mars).

Here's the rub: I have finally come to realize that there actually are people who - perish the thought - really and truely, and honestly like the stuff the members of my aforementioned hate list created. I - to my discredit - offended one of them the other day with my big fat mouth. Now, I had always considered people who claimed to like Cage to be fools or worse: Liars who were posing as intellectuals. But something this guy said cut through that, and I suddenly realized that he defined music in a completely different way than I did. He, somehow, was able to listen without expecting the fulfillment I require resulting from my study of the overtone series. Frankly, I don't understand how such a thing is possible, but it evidently is.

For those of you who are tonal music fans, fear not: I've known where my path was for almost twenty years now, and I'm not leaving it. I am a classicist, and will remain so. But, I have come to understand that other points of view may, perchance, have some legitimacy. Hey; it's progress.


Blogger rgable said...

I have little use for Schoenberg, from Stockhausen I only like his Mantra, and as for Cage, I enjoy quite a bit his music. I don't have a theory that covers that slice of music other than to say as I get older, to my surprise, the more I like Cage and the less I care about Mozart.

Robert Gable

12:19 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Funny you mention Mozart. I love the guy's music, so don't get me wrong about that, but it's Haydn who is becoming more and more interesting to me. I used to consider Haydn to be an inferior version of Mozart, but the more I listen to him, the deeper he gets. Remember, he was composing before Mozart was born, and was composing after Mozart died (And, he taught Beethoven for a time): I now consider him to be superior to Mozart, but probably mostly because Mozart's career was so tragically cut short by his untimely death.

A part of me wishes I could get as excited about a twentieth century composer as I am about ninteenth, eighteenth, seventheenth, and sixteenth century guys, but it just ain't gonna happen. I chose the name "Hucbald" to blog under because he's the oldest of all western theorists known by name, and I have always been acused of being impossibly "old school" (sigh).

3:17 AM  

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