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 Forum index » Discussion » Composition
Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music
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michinoku



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PostPosted: Sun Dec 12, 2010 9:40 pm    Post subject: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Anyone ever read this great treatise by composer Carlos Chavez? While I don't believe he ever did any electronic music he wrote this great book speculating upon the impact of it, although I don't think he imagined the possibilities they would open up in terms of texture and timbre compared to the already diverse ranges of the symphony orchestra in the hands of a skilled orchestrator (as he was.)

But the most interesting that I can remember about the book is that he's speculating that electronic music is the truest way for a composer's vision to be realized without any interference, be it showboating, interpretation, any kind of variable on the part of the performer. It's an interesting theoretical text, although before electronic music had moved beyond the theremin and the ondes martenot there are obviously some practical issues electronics that Chavez probably couldn't have envisioned, and he doesn't seem to mention the idea of synthesis, instead talking about reproduction of sound (perhaps he was envisioning the mellotron?)

anyhow, a rare, but interesting read. highly recommended.
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Octahedra



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

michinoku wrote:
he's speculating that electronic music is the truest way for a composer's vision to be realized without any interference, be it showboating, interpretation, any kind of variable on the part of the performer.


I hadn't heard of this one... Looks interesting. Turns out it was published in 1937, so like Varese this was very much in the era of lots of imagination and theorising but precious little actual kit to play with.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see the idea of total composer control didn't work out quite as expected. The design of user-interfaces of the instruments has affected the music that people produce. But also vice versa - and how quickly this feedback loop got going when the electronics were accepted into pop music. In fact some composers (Wuorinen for a start) have said that the rate of change of electronic gear is a good reason for rejecting the whole lot of it. Mad The amount of discarded old ideas and gear does bother me in principle, but I think the reason it bugs older generations of composers so badly is that they expect their music always to be performed on the exact same instruments, and simply can't accept a recording as the final form of their work.

Gordon
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michinoku



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

It's true, and quite curious, that even the development of a theory of sound-wave synthesis didn't give the average composer or performer a unified technique with which to approach the idea of electronic composition.

Incidentally, the specification of Electronic Music has created a lot of composer performers, which I'm sure was a solution that Chavez didn't imagine to the idea of performer interpretation as diluting the composer's intent.

although I think it's a good indication of the progress of electronic music that recordings, and not scores, are considered the document of a composition, I also find it interesting that a lot of electronic or electro-acoustic music is composed/programmed in a way that is often highly specific to the interfaces it is conceived on, whether a particular synthesizer or on a particular piece of software or patch. (it's curious that a lot of electronic scores may have scores written for them after the fact, or as a non-essential part of the composition's interpretation, merely to give some kind of narrative map to a listener than to give the performer instruction).

I find that with acoustic music I'm especially fond of seeing hearing various performances or interpretations, though, and I wonder if electronic interfaces, processes or interfaces will ever become standardized enough that similarly, multiple recordings or performances are a worthwhile exercise? Certainly this would have to be something beyond the standardization of MIDI and Garageband presets, but it's something I've thought about, especially given how many different ways there are to achieve a similar effect through processing, live sampling, etc.


But then a part of Chavez' opinions seem to be based on the outmoded duality between composers and performers, which has been sufficiently blurred and deconstructed in the past half-century years of new music.
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bachus



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 5:41 pm    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Octahedra wrote:
... , but I think the reason it bugs older generations of composers so badly is that they expect their music always to be performed on the exact same instruments, and simply can't accept a recording as the final form of their work.
Gordon


I find that a pejorative view Smile And historically it is incorrect. Bach, Vivaldi, et al. certainly did not think it important nor expect that their music would always be performed on the same instruments for which it was composed. With the rise of Romanticism and the cult of the artist things changed. Also a factor was the increasing importance of nuances of specific timbres. And today much of electronic music seems to be almost exclusively about timbres. And so one can see why composers of this kind of music would want exactly the same instruments used consistently in performance. Why compositions in this idiom would need or how they would benefit from notation is not at all clear to me. So I will admit that for some composers it may be an emotional desire unrelated to the aesthetics of the composition. But I still think it is a little tarty to say they "can't accept it." Laughing

My music is essentially performer-less, or rather I'm the performer by computational indirection. However my feelings about the desirability this varies considerably from year to year often leaving me with the feeling it is sour grapes. But for me notation is about much more than performance. It captures important abstractions about the music allowing for a kind of analysis and reflection that is not possible without it.

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Acoustic Interloper



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:11 pm    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

We are sort of in a Precambrian Explosion of instrumental and denotational forms rights now. It takes a while for these explosions to settle down. Fun times.
bachus wrote:

My music is essentially performer-less, or rather I'm the performer by computational indirection. However my feelings about the desirability this varies considerably from year to year often leaving me with the feeling it is sour grapes. But for me notation is about much more than performance. It captures important abstractions about the music allowing for a kind of analysis and reflection that is not possible without it.

This is where the Minimalists and their Process perspective resonates with me. A notation should not only, "capture important abstractions about the music allowing for a kind of analysis and reflection," but also include generative power. A lambda calculus of music. My ideal notation is also generative, when coupled in a performance environment with performers, instruments, an electro-acoustic environment and listeners. Standardization can come later, and is to a fair degree about commercial adaptation. Of course, I have a strong taste for improvisation.

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Octahedra



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:26 am    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
I find that a pejorative view Smile And historically it is incorrect. Bach, Vivaldi, et al. certainly did not think it important nor expect that their music would always be performed on the same instruments for which it was composed.


Maybe I was a bit grumpy there Embarassed and you're right that early and baroque pieces were often played on different instruments, even if they sometimes got rewritten a little bit to achieve that. I was mainly having a go at composers in the modern era after the instrumentation of the orchestra stabilised a bit (ie. most of the new inventions that became mainstream were tweaks to existing instruments, and performances of music by dead people started to become the norm). That's the environment where electronics (and even saxophones and world instruments) have had less acceptance than I think they deserve. Of course I'm mainly talking about new instruments for new music. We should still be able to hear the old music played on instruments that are appropriate to it.

The early days of electronic music were dominated by experimentalists (lots of noise and atonality) but soon mainstream pop found completely different uses for the same gear. Maybe a lot of people in the classical mainstream didn't want to be associated with either extreme, and didn't see the need to find a compromise position...

Gordon

Last edited by Octahedra on Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:47 am; edited 1 time in total
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bachus



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 6:49 am    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Acoustic Interloper wrote:
... A notation should not only, "capture important abstractions about the music allowing for a kind of analysis and reflection," but also include generative power. A lambda calculus of music.


I will continue being unreasonably fussy and disagree with “should” regarding both the capture of important abstractions and your suggested lambda calculus of music. What notation “should” do is serve the needs of the composer and performer (if any). Symbols that map to contextual irrelevancies “should not” appear in the notation. But I would agree with “should be capable of” for both of those. I think that is the hope and the promise of extensible, dynamic, “electronic” notation; and a universal format (such as XML) that you have raised in another post.

"Precambrian Explosion" How delightfully apt!

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michinoku



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
My ideal notation is also generative, when coupled in a performance environment with performers, instruments, an electro-acoustic environment and listeners. Standardization can come later, and is to a fair degree about commercial adaptation. Of course, I have a strong taste for improvisation.


I think the similarities between notation/indication for improvisation and for electronic or electroacoustic music should definitely be noted. They both are required to summarized or abbreviate active performance gestures that may often require an extreme amount of sublety, beyond what is often capturable by direct notation or verbal cues. A lot of my composition and performance both has significant amounts of improvisation involved, and trying to find something that accurately balances all of the sensibilities I want in a composition is sometimes a challenge.

To that end I've found that there are systems of conduction that work really well for cueing improvising musicians in a way that can work both on its own or in tandem with through-composed sections. Butch Morris has one such system and Anthony Braxton has one called Language Music that figures into his longer compositions in a really unique way that I don't fully understand as of yet. But, I digress.
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bachus



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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

michinoku wrote:
I think the similarities between notation/indication for improvisation and for electronic or electroacoustic music should definitely be noted. They both are required to summarized or abbreviate active performance gestures that may often require an extreme amount of sublety, beyond what is often capturable by direct notation or verbal cues.


And clearly traditional score is hardly more than a skeletal mapping of the music it represents. But of course this kind of lossy relationship is both inherent in abstraction, and part of its value. Finding new abstractions suited to data rich graphic representation appropriate to “electronic” music is, I would think, the central challenge.

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Acoustic Interloper



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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 11:57 am    Post subject: Re: Carlos Chavez - Toward a New Music Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
Acoustic Interloper wrote:
... A notation should not only, "capture important abstractions about the music allowing for a kind of analysis and reflection," but also include generative power. A lambda calculus of music.


I will continue being unreasonably fussy and disagree with “should” regarding both the capture of important abstractions and your suggested lambda calculus of music. What notation “should” do is serve the needs of the composer and performer (if any). Symbols that map to contextual irrelevancies “should not” appear in the notation. But I would agree with “should be capable of” for both of those. I think that is the hope and the promise of extensible, dynamic, “electronic” notation; and a universal format (such as XML) that you have raised in another post.

"Should be capable of" sounds about right. The point of lambda calculus is really the point about any so-called declarative language, which contrasts with an imperative language largely by eliminating "contextual irrelevancies." The specific point about lambda calculus relating to improvisation is that a lambda expression can leave open free variables that are bound, at performance time, by performers, instruments, environment and audience.

I attended a talk by Philip Wadler at a Domain Specific Language conference in 1999, wherein he tore off his shirt at the end of an XML talk, revealing that XML is really the latest incarnation of λ calculus. (There was a big λ on his underlying t-shirt.)

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