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Need Input for Composition Symposium, electro-music 2006
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sbowman



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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 6:56 pm    Post subject: Need Input for Composition Symposium, electro-music 2006
Subject description: Join me in spawning an hour of intense discussion on composition in electro music.
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Hello,

I thought I would be helpful and emailed a suggestion to Greg and Howard that somebody should lead a symposium at electro-music 2006 on composition. Greg and Howard said, "Cool! You do it!" So I'm doing it.

My idea is to have an open discussion on what composition means in electro, technology-based music. For my ears, I think the fact that we're creating music that has a psychological effect on the audience gets lost in our love of the technology itself and of the sounds we create. I think it's possible to make electro music even better, more exciting to play and easier to listen to, by being more sensitive to the time-tested principles of composition, things we used to call "musical structure." Basic things that transcend all music, like balance, contrast, repetition, rhythm, dynamic range, texture, and (dare I say it?) melody.

I'm Steve Bowman. I have an academic background in music composition and musicology--from a many, many years ago. And I do have a synth setup and play and compose music when I get the time. I was at E-M 05 as a devoted fan, but not yet as a performer. In my dayjob, one of the things I do is moderate meetings. So I know how to structure and motivate interesting discussions.

My plan is to make this event a symposium in the real sense of the word--which implies mutual contributions. I's like to seed the discussion with a panel of people who have something to say about the subject--won't be hard to do. But not as an exalted panel of experts. I'll be encouraging audience participation because, as I see it, anybody who jams electro-music--even wild noise like Joker's circuit bending or laptop beats--is a composer, whether they use the word or not.

I think it would be great if we could get the discussion started here, and start finding and exploring the issues and topics that yield the most fruitful insight.

Any takers?

Steve

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 7:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Is this related to the comments I often see about how when the technology makes it very easy to create music, the resulting music is often lacking in depth, emotion, uniqueness?
I'm not sure I agree with this view, but it comes up periodically in most of the music lists I watch.
I do like music to have some structure, dynamics etc. and to be more than just a collection of interesting sounds.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I prefer music that has the kind of coherence that is most often the result of careful design at all temporal scales. I’m really short on insights but the idea that abstract or meta motifs might contribute to structure and coherence recently came up in some exchanges with electro80 regarding his composition Utmost Savagery.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 22, 2006 9:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

egw wrote:
Is this related to the comments I often see about how when the technology makes it very easy to create music, the resulting music is often lacking in depth, emotion, uniqueness?


That's clearly one of the issues that we could talk about, yes. If that assertion has any truth, I'd hope we could take it the next step and discuss how to use the technology and our ears to make the music deep, meaningful, and memorable.

Steve

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 6:17 pm    Post subject: Re: Need Input for Composition Symposium, E-M 2006
Subject description: Join me in spawning an hour of intense discussion on composition in electro music.
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sbowman wrote:
For my ears, I think the fact that we're creating music that has a psychological effect on the audience gets lost in our love of the technology itself and of the sounds we create. I think it's possible to make electro music even better, more exciting to play and easier to listen to, by being more sensitive to the time-tested principles of composition, things we used to call "musical structure." Basic things that transcend all music, like balance, contrast, repetition, rhythm, dynamic range, texture, and (dare I say it?) melody.


It sounds to me that you are just about to present a critique of the state of electronic music. Very Happy

Do you have a list of known good works in electronic music you can share with us? That could possibly shed some light on what you are thinking about when you mention
Quote:
balance, contrast, repetition, rhythm, dynamic range, texture, and (dare I say it?) melody


I think a discussion of these matters is quite called for, even though one of the more long lived threads here, the "What is music"- thread kinda suggests that a lot of the members support the idea that "anything" goes and whatever makes a noise can be music.

Your "basic things" list is something I might support, but then today the terms used can be interpreted in many different ways.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
the idea that abstract or meta motifs might contribute to structure and coherence recently came up in some exchanges with electro80 regarding his composition Utmost Savagery.


I take it you are thinking about coherence relating to the methodology behind the piece itself? Or from the point of the listener`s own immersion in the piece while listening? These are two totally different approaches.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 7:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Elektro80,

Yes, I could present a critique of electronic music. I'm trying to be very careful, though, to soft-pedal my opinions and not have an agenda. My goal is to foster a thoughtful and useful discussion at E-M 2006. A starting point is that the technology raises compositional issues just by the radical nature of the changes, compared to instruments most used 50 years ago.

Although I have a classical background, I am not of the school that there is a "right" way to compose or even listen to music, especially one based on tradition. That said, I see all historical music as a rich treasure trove of wondrous sounds and ideas--much to learn from. I'm also not a believer in the superiority of any system--harmony, for example, which reigned superior for 200 years. Or melody. Or counterpoint. But I think they all have a place in electro music.

I agree that any sound can be heard as music. But I don't think just any sound is 'good' music that I want to listen to. Perhaps there's a distinction there worth arguing. Frank Zappa said (paraphrasing), "Art is anything with a frame."

Can I point to examples? Of electronic music I find I keep going back to Subotnic (Silver Apples of the Moon; Sidewinder). Stockhousen. I think the trance group Underworld makes wonderful electro music.

But I don't listen to too much pure electronic music. I think there's a lot of direct lessons for electro musicians in the music of Ligeti (he did some electronic, along with every other conventional form). And Charles Ives. Steve Reich and Terry Riley show how to organize around repetition. The Grateful Dead's drums and space portion of every later-day concert is 'random' sound by masters of the art with a sublime sense of dynamic range. Electric Miles Davis. African drumming. 12th-century organum illuminates a fresh approach to drones.

I'm rambling, but I'm trying to model an ecumenical approach to composition, which I believe opens minds and ears. I'll see what I can do to send out actual examples. Can I attach MP3's in this Forum?

I'm open to all comments and criticisms. Again, I'm trying to spark a discussion that will culminate in a live symposium. I'm not trying to prove anything.

Does anybody want to make the case that it won't be worth the time slot to talk about composition at E-M '06? I'm open to that too.

Steve

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 7:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
bachus wrote:
the idea that abstract or meta motifs might contribute to structure and coherence recently came up in some exchanges with electro80 regarding his composition Utmost Savagery.


I take it you are thinking about coherence relating to the methodology behind the piece itself?


Yes, I was thinking something like a function over time such as a wave shape that could be applied to a number musical dimension simultaneously; contour a “melody,” shape dynamics and rhythm at various time scales etc. I am mentally stuck in more traditional patterns of thinking so this is kind of a guess about how I would try organizing non-traditional music or how others might organize it.


elektro80 wrote:
Or from the point of the listener`s own immersion in the piece while listening? These are two totally different approaches.


I personally segregate listening to music for its aesthetic value and listening for analysis. Generally I do my best to completely turn off my analytic and conceptual mind and submerse myself in the sensual experience—i.e. music at its best is rather like making love. Just the same, for myself, highly “organized” music generally produces the most satisfying experience. “The Art of Fugue” is my favorite example. For me great performances of this piece are pure and perfect sensual experiences—much as mosc has described Bach: like directly experiencing a force of nature.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 23, 2006 7:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sbowman wrote:

Can I point to examples? Of electronic music I find I keep going back to Subotnic (Silver Apples of the Moon...).


Interesting, that was one of the pieces that came to my mind. I don't know if that means it fits the criteria well or we are both of a certain age.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 8:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

When I first heard about this subject, I was thinking that there are several compositional techniques or parameters that were well developed in classical music though tonal theory that apply to electonic music as well, but haven't been defined and documented.

I'm thinking of things the Bachus has referred to: cadences, harmonic motion, phrases, form, etc. In tonal theory, these have been well understood and described in many ways. The use of tertian harmony or 12 tone systems don't change the underlying principles.

When we move into "new" sonic materials that are very far from tonal music - such as "noise", "distortion", music concrete, etc., it is hard to describe a cadence or a phrase. There are no "notes" to refer to. Yet, IMHO, the principles are still the same.

When I hear good noise improvisors - I'm thinking of Joker Nies - the music is clearly "musical" even though there many be no notes. In fact, Joker makes perfectly musical music with bent circuits that are played by touching the insides of the circuit boards. It is impossible to repeat what is being played. But, Joker is constanly aware of the musical structure as it evolves and he reacts in ways to modify what is happening so as to give the music cadences, phrases, form and structure, dynamics and - dare I say - harmonic motion.

In 20th century music, some people have moved to "get beyond" these musical elements. I'm thinking of John Cage and the "process music" advocates of the 60s and 70s. While this stuff is interesting from an intellectual perspective, I personally have never liked the music. I'd rather listen to Joker improvise on a unstable noise circuit derived from some old electronic toy than to a carefully programmed stocastic composition of Xenakis, for example. This is because Joker is making music more like Mozart - if that makes any sense.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
This is because Joker is making music more like Mozart - if that makes any sense.
Yes.

But may I suggest your post rubs up against the question of “what is music”?

So, with that as my excuse I’m gona throw in my to bits here. I think one has to take other people at their word when they attempt* to describe their subjective experience of music. And from such data it is hard to doubt different nervous systems can experience the same music in profoundly different ways. Thus it would be difficult to justify any kind of assertion that there is “one right way” in music (or any art for that matter). And I find this one of the wonderful things about art in general and music in particular.


*And attempt is all anyone can do.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 24, 2006 6:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sbowman wrote:
That said, I see all historical music as a rich treasure trove of wondrous sounds and ideas--much to learn from. I'm also not a believer in the superiority of any system--harmony, for example, which reigned superior for 200 years. Or melody. Or counterpoint. But I think they all have a place in electro music.


I fully agree with you there.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 9:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes, so can we reduce (or is is expand) counterpoint (for example) to include the realm of electronic sounds? Are there corelations to "avoid parallel 8vas, 4ths, and 5ths"? How about the other rules?

I don't have an answer, but I think in electronic music, the tendency to use a straight 1 or 2 measure (or any time period) delay (because it is to easy) creates what is equivalent to bad (or at least unimaginative and uninteresting) counterpoint. The classical masters did use rounds occationally, but it was avoided - for good reason IMHO.

So, is there a theory anywhere of counterpoint that is not based on conventional notes in a conventional tuning sytem?

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
When we move into "new" sonic materials that are very far from tonal music - such as "noise", "distortion", music concrete, etc., it is hard to describe a cadence or a phrase. .


I think cadence should be considered a subtype of caesura. And caesura should be generalized to anything that transmits the idea of structural or sub structural division. This done there is no problem in using these for compositional purposes and it seems to me that it is in fact done in many electronic compositions. In certain genres such as “ambient” and “space” they seem less often used and perhaps less relevant to the intent.

mosc wrote:
Yes, so can we reduce (or is is expand) counterpoint (for example) to include the realm of electronic sounds? Are there corelations to "avoid parallel 8vas, 4ths, and 5ths"? How about the other rules?


Any parallelism in the voices would weaken voice independence. As for other rules, those regarding the resolution of dissonances might have close analogues. But my guess is that an educated ear and a sensitive gut would provide the best guidelines at this point in the development of electronic music. Better for practice to precede theory I think.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 11:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
But my guess is that an educated ear and a sensitive gut would provide the best guidelines at this point in the development of electronic music. Better for practice to precede theory I think.


Maybe, but this makes for a weak symposium. Rolling Eyes

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 25, 2006 11:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
Maybe, but this makes for a weak symposium. Rolling Eyes


Oh! Right! Embarassed
Smile What I meant was I think there is not enough context and practice to produce a set of rules a la Fuxx. A set of ideas for experimentation seems to be more within reach.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Now we're getting somewhere. Lot's of provocative things to comment on in the last exchange between bachus and mosc.

But I'm still focused on the question of the symposium. The theory/practice question gets at the heart of my intention. I believe that a healthy give and take between theory and practice yields the best music. The give and take can be historical (Bach extrapolated harmonic ideas from the masters of his day, then the music he wrote became the basis for an elaborate theory of harmony), or personal. Pro-sumer electronic music is still quite new and we have more practice than theory. Let's see what's useful to say about the compositional theory of electro music, based on both current practice and informed by historical ideas. How's that for a manifesto?

Example. Mosc you mentioned voice leading rules--parallel 4ths, etc. (I hated voice leading rules in harmony class.) I don't think those rules should come anywhere near electro music. BUT the original intent of the rules was 'independence of voices.' I think that is a directly relevant, not as a rule, but as a compositional principle (i.e. embrace it if you want).

First, the idea of "voice." A piece or performance can have one voice, two, three, four, maybe five or six. A voice to me is a sonic personality that the listener can follow for a stretch. In polyphonic vocal music, it's an actual voice. In conventional instrumental music it's an instrument, or a group of instruments (first violins, french horns). In band music of the last 100 years each person is a voice--trumpet, drums, piano, lead guitar, lead singer, backup singers. When I'm jamming or composing electro music I'm aware of the clarity of the voices, even if one voice is a synth patch with 5 layers and octave doubling and swirling effects.

"Voice independence" is the basis for counterpoint. It's the thrill the listener feels from being able to follow more than one voice at the same time. Supreme examples are Bach and the best Grateful Dead jams. In many cases, the voices are having some sort of conversation with each other. The opposite of independent voices is mush. Or a wall of sound, if that's the intention, which I would say is a single voice with lots of texture.

Does a delay create counterpoint? Maybe. I think it would be more productive to conceive of effects as part of the voice, and focus on whether the voice can be heard independent of whatever else is going on in the sonic space.

I do have my opinion on this--for my ears, counterpoint in any form is the pinnacle of art. But I'm not asking people to agree with me. I'm only hoping to show electro musicians that it's possible to approach the creation of this music with voice independence as one goal. And then, I'd like to see if that makes a difference in any way. At the very least, it gives us a language to use to talk about the music.

Now "cadence" is an example of another idea that warrants the same kind of inspection. And cadence brings up segmentation and structure. Does everything have to melt from one section to another like an opium trip?

Steve







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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

We have demonstrated here that there is indeed enough to talk about at your sympoosium session.

When I started composing seriously in 1967 I was lucky enough to have access to the studio at Jacksonville University where there was a new Moog and a Moog-Viking 4 Track tape recorder. I immediately started recording 4 tracks and mixing down as my compositional/production method. I noticed after about a year that most of the time I only used 3 tracks - the forth was used during transitions. A few years later when I was able to get myself a nice Tascam 8 track, I noticed that after getting over the facination of having all those tracks, I was using just 3 or 4 tracks most of the time.

Many years later I was listening to a Peter Shickeley radio program and he did a lecture on trios. He said that the vast majority of classical music (and most other music) are really trios. Trios are music with three voices. He said that even classical symphonies are mostly trios. Often, a voice in a symphony can be played by many instruments. The blending of the different instruments timbres contributes to the timbre of the voice.

This observation by Shickeley hit me like an epiphany.

In the last few years I've been enjoying improvising. I have found that as a rule, the best music comes when there are three people playing together. Four works well, if one player isn't playing. Wink

How about all those famous legendary jazz trios?

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Maybe a trio in music, three voices, is the most natural ensemble, with a sufficient number of combinations to keep the conversation interesting, and a texture that can be easily followed by listeners. But there's also a lot to be said for quartets, from jazz, rock, vocal, to string quartets. Quartets are exponentially richer than trios. Beethoven's string trios are wonderful, but the quartets are a constant source of amazement.

But I have to agree that improvisational space music works best with three people. Sometimes two works just fine, but often with the help of a sequencer or loops, which makes a third.

Steve

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I don´t quite buy that there is a lack of available theory and ideas applicable to modern electronic music. I would rather argue that there is already a substantial body of hot stuff and many are already using this in their work. Seeing that you mention a pro-sumer angle, you are probably targeting an audience that has little knowledge of modern music and theory?

There is a lot of interesting stuff you could bring in. I always liked Solomon´s discussion of atonicity as well as his clever stuff on Cage.

Larry Solomon now has his own website. http://solomonsmusic.net/theory.htm

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

When I used the term "pro-sumer" I was talking about the way the music is generated, not the theory--I was qualifying my statement to not include university-sponsored experimental electronic music from the 50's and 60's. The fact that for $2000, or less, anybody can buy enough equipment to make serious, full-bodied compositions or play live, changes the territory. Many people who never read a bit of theory are making music--some of it great, some of it not.

I wonder how many electro-music 2006 performers would claim to know music theory of any stripe. Anybody want to guess?

And I admit, I know nothing of current theory on electro music. I know traditional theory, and I remember controversies on modern music that were current when I went to college many decades ago. My opinions come mostly from listening critically and thinking about what I hear.

I'll check out the Solomon.

[editor's note: changed E-M '06 to
electro-music 2006. Let's use the real name. --mosc]

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sbowman wrote:

I wonder how many E-M '06 performers would claim to know music theory of any stripe. Anybody want to guess?


I think you might be surprised to find that most have a substantial knowledge of music theory.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

One branch of the "current theory" tree is curator driven. I am not sure how much sense this stuff really makes, but it does propel a lot of the academic art music.

Larry Solomon is of course something else altogether. I love the way he handles both the old and new.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 12:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

egw wrote:
..most have a substantial knowledge of music theory.


That is my impression too.

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 12:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

OT: Some years ago Eduardo Lores sent me his thesis "Just In Time - Towards a theory on rhytm and metre". I think his work is seriously good.
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A Charity Pantomime in aid of Paranoid Schizophrenics descended into chaos yesterday when someone shouted, "He's behind you!"

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