Thursday, January 15, 2009

Music Form & The Mind

Recently I was reading a book by James Tenney all about "Clangs" and "sequences" in music. Clangs being just groups of sounds, either horizontal or vertical, and sequences where collections of these sounds. There were all kinds of tidbits of a lot of technical jargon about how these groups of sounds effect form and create form etc... 

and then I was reading a book entitled "The Psychology of Music" by Seashore. Where, for an example of the content, there was a lengthy look at vibrato, what makes it pretty, why we like it and how much the average vibrato deviates from the pure tone (using some very complicated graphs). 

This is all well and good, and, for the most part, was actually very cognitively interesting. But it got me thinking. Even though it is all interesting and these two people obviously went to great lengths to break apart music and analyze it on these minute, almost atomic levels and I appreciate their academic research and endeavors, but when it all comes down to it, who cares. In the Seashore he went on about how we can scientifically analyze music on an emotional level. It was really bizarre. I still can't quite understand how he worked that but I have come to grips with my failure. 

I have always had some issues with this kind of analyzation and breakdown of music. I know it is there, it exists, I have had to do quite a bit of it and all that, but when it comes to actually creating something musical, I actually go to some length to disassociate my mind from these aspects and allow things to organically unfold as they see fit. So, outside of the academic world, and geeks like me, what does this atomic level of analyzing really mean, and what are we suppose to do with it. People don't actually compose grouping things into "Clangs" consciously and so forth. 

One thing Tenney did talk about, which I liked, was when he was talking about music forms, traditional forms in particular (i.e. Sonata, Rondo, Fugue etc...) he made the distinction that these are not forms, but formulas

I am not really sure what my point is in writing, but it got me thinking about the purpose of analyzing music in this way, and does it really serve a functional purpose. 

Another fine example is Forte's "Structure of Atonal Music". This book goes beyond the horizon of Set Theory and takes it to levels that I can't even imagine. And in the end, who cares how many times set 3-12 is transposed and smattered throughout "The Rite of Spring". In the end it still caused riots and still is one of the great 20th century pieces and no one is the wiser... especially given the fact that Stravinsky did not do it purposefully. Which further begs the question, why impose analytical and formal functions on music that was written without those tools. Take that Schenker!!!

It really chaps my hide.