Killer post! Sorry it has taken so long to reply.
It is the last sentiment I'd like to comment on.
The various kinds of music you have so well assembled above is wide, but it must also be added that the scope of musical potential to the composer is much much vaster. Aside from all of these more canonic modern composers, there are countless others within the classical tradition - there are some of the more immediate off shoots, jazz and musicals say, and then what goes under the huge umbrella as "pop" or "rock" or "dance" or "hip hop" or "house" or...and then there are all of the worlds classical tradition, and folk music...the array is staggering with modern communications, mixed societies, and mega cities for composers to be influenced by.
T herein, I hope, lies the next great trajectory of artistic expression - individualism through anarchy. The free and open mixing of different music, jettisoned by the deep search for artistic identity and purpose. This puts a huge demand in the area of linguistics.
The linguistics of music is not the same as language - it is terrible at nouns, and hit or miss with adjectives and verbs, but systems of syntax can be generated. The staggering array of variation between different cultures bears witness to the inherent creativity the human can do with sound to create comprehensible syntax. The freest of all, and the one we are most attuned for is timbre recognition. Timbre is the essential resonance of a given sound producer independent of pitch or rhythm (envelope)- it is how we can recognize a person's voice through the chaos of non harmonic tones. An incredible reflex of our auditory capacity.
I feel that the western classical music tradition can provide an excellent resource for these meeting of sound. But I think we can work on progressing more from a technical/mechanical side, rather than a metaphoric or sentimental notion. Not that there is anything wrong with these treatments per say, but rather there are more malleable ways to connect through using a syntax/language based structure - language makes the associations comprehensible. This liberates form, and form is what classical music does best. But in order for the tradition to make this transition, it must accept new and different timbres into the mix. The classical music institution needs to have a timbral shift.
With this, syntax can be born from the sound objects themselves - place two sounds besides each other, and we generate a timbral dichotomy. This relates the objects to the functional tonal system - of tonic and dominant. Counterpoint weaves various lines, with a few sets of rules - resonances with enunciation and harmony - density and tessitura variation. These ides not only work in metaphor, but also in function with timbre based ideas. Particular resonances can be joined to find a tonic sonority, and then explore ways to move from it. The creative process comes from sound to syntax, not the other way round.
There is nothing new to this process, but I don't feel that it has come close to its maturation. We still have strong boxes built that confine the language of classical music to particular timbres, rather than any timbres. This bias, rooted in socio-political structures rather than aesthetics, stifles creativity, and creates unnecessary divisions between different musical systems and sonorities. The composer should be driven to push at these timbral boundaries to find not only their own unique voice, but to unearth the semantic potential between different timbres, and utilize these to define form.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Debussy.
And that’s a killer response. Many thanks! Thought provoking so it took time to come up with a reply, hopefully not too jumbled: the subject is slightly on the huge side!
I was wondering if the issue of “linguistics” could be approached from the vantage of meaning. While a verbal communication (that seeks a criterion of non-ambiguity) depends on a syntactically ordered set of signifiers that can be classified as various parts of speech, music depends on a set of signifiers ordered according to conventions which, as with verbal language, develop culturally. The musical signifiers have no exact match with verbal signifiers and the conventions are less rigid as rules (as far as I know) than verbal syntax but both (other things being equal) aim to induct meaning in the receiver.
Naturally it isn’t as simple as that. Other things being equal = if it could be measured, the degree of meaning would be the same, impossible if the phenomena are disparate of course, though they aren‘t always. Unfortunately information language is afflicted by inadequacy. It’s possible to issue unambiguous instructions, e.g. road directions. Or a computer program. Otherwise its signifiers evoke different ideas from different people according to their experiences.
I suppose music starts in this category. It’s conventions arouse different reactions, emotions, in different people though they can sometimes be similar. We're stuck by having no vocabulary with which we can describe our experiences except in the grossest of terms. It stimulates some kind of response from a listener - or if unable to reach that far, a blank, as a verbal language might be if in a language unfamiliar to the listener. The action of some of these “parts of music” are difficult to define. We all know what cadences are but why their effect? Just before summer recess the teacher of a Medau keep fit/dance class I attend was preparing new routines, showing one of them - the music, usually drizzly pop stuff, utterly predictable because it’s so conservative (nothing wrong, the class quickly learns how to anticipate rather than just listen), ended in a substantial perfect cadence. All but me in the class burst into applause. First time I’ve known it in a keep fit class. But we rarely have music with such a grand cadence.
As words move away from their prosaic superstructure, (even poetry using words in the traditional syntactical system but relying on various prosodic devices), they take on different values. Depending on their technical “part of speech” interest might focus on their meaning, on their timbre and/or envelope when uttered (I suppose this is how onomatopoeic words came into being.) - or their grammatical connection only with surrounding words. Silences might take on greater significance than before, so might dynamics. In print, the ratio of white space to typeface can suggest tempo and texture; type size can mimic dynamics (as writers do with italics and bold).
Mallarmé regarded the word as the material for (his) art and was using words in this way while taking advantage of the typeface/style/silence possibilities. He claimed to be concerned with the musicalisation of speech (preface to Un Coup de Dès), while composers were “delinguifying” music, trying to develop something absolute with its own principles of form. To me, they seem to be doing the same thing. Mallarmé might indeed have been trying to analogise aspects of music in a printed “poem” but his use of the word mimics what composers were trying to do: break away from conventional forms.
I suppose, what I’ve said here is a very small part of a multidimensional story that should take in speech related more directly to music: song; wordless choruses manipulating vowels - anything that can be classified as sound organisation. As far as carrying Mallarmé’s work a little further, performance leads at least to the possibilities of blending speech and music. Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge breaks words into phonemes, thus the word is raw material even if it becomes music. Berio later used this scheme in his Omaggio a Joyce.
“Berio's intention was "to produce a reading of Joyce's text within certain restrictions dictated by the text itself," and more broadly to establish a new relationship between speech and music, in which a continuous metamorphosis of one into the other can be developed. Thus, through a reorganization and transformation of the phonetic and semantic elements of Joyce's text, Mr. Bloom's day in Dublin...briefly takes another direction, where it is no longer possible to distinguish between word and sound, between sound and noise, between poetry and music, but where we once more become aware of the relative nature of these distinctions and of the expressive character inherent in their changing functions” (regrettably I can’t find the author of this note but it expresses it better than I would)
I’d better pack it up here. I’ll exceed the word count boundary otherwise! Thanks for raising some most interesting thoughts.
Last edited by Aran; 18-08-12 at 11:15 PM. Reason: italicising.
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