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electronic instrumentation question
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bachus



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2007 6:33 am    Post subject: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

From another thread

Wout Blommers wrote:
I'm still wondering why most synthesizer owners want their instruments to sound like conventional musical instruments? Why not use and create 'never heard before' sounds? Why use it in conventional composing concepts (e.g. drum part, bass part, lead...)?


My first reaction to this question was basically “because I do” i.e. just an inscrutable matter of taste. But I have continued to reflect on this and can say more, though one is never sure in matters of one’s taste when one is just rationalizing.

I think I prefer analogs of or transforms of sounds generated by physical systems because the sounds produced those systems encode their energy input in a way that directly corresponds human intuition about the physical world. This provides physical instruments with an expressive vocabulary that is immediately intelligible to the human ear (gentle, strong, strained, fierce). A purely arbitrary sound has to establish its vocabulary in the course of the composition in which it is used. There is nothing wrong with that but it does shift the compositional process toward one that has to put more focus on timbre than suits my taste.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 02, 2007 7:50 am    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
There is nothing wrong with that but it does shift the compositional process toward one that has to put more focus on timbre than suits my taste.

I agree but I think it applies mostly to a linear approach to composition (the traditional way of writing music). these concerns do not apply, IMO, to loop based music, or, at least, they would be secondary.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think Bachus makes a strong point above. Also: why still use these parts or 'conventional composing concepts'? Well, I'd say these are just very senseful roles for musical parts to play. I think there have been 'bass', 'rhythm (in the sense of percussion or drums)' and 'lead' parts all through musical history. Just why should we want to change that now that we have a new means of generating sound?

But perhaps I don't quite understand what you mean when you are referring to these concepts. It would seem to me that any part coming to the foreground and explicitly drawing most attention in some way could be called the 'lead' part. And any part sticking principally to low frequencies could in a sense be called the 'bass' part. Etc. It would perhaps not be impossible to escape using such 'conventional parts', but I don't really see the need to do away with them altogether.
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

There is also the pragmatic side to all this. If, as composers, we discard ALL things that are familiar to whatever our audience is, then we have lost them (and I'm assuming that we are creating music to communicate). Sound or form, or performance situation, something must be there that the listener can attach themselves to.

The first time I heard Cecil Taylor play piano, I was lost. I'd never heard anything like that, but it was piano music. Some comments about Ornette Coleman.... at least it was saxophone. Later, as tastes changed, I heard more to their music. The first time I heard a recording of Milton Babbit, I had to turn it off... there was nothing there to get a grip on. Like it or not, "Switched on Bach" did give many listeners a chance to deal with new tone colors in a somewhat familiar setting.

IMO, like it or not, we are still very much in the embryonic stages of a fantastic new music. Those who understand where it has come from an have a vision of its future need to educate the listen public (even if that public is other composers) as to the potential by showing new ideas (sound) in old values (musicality).

In other words... either the wine or the bottle can be new.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

chuck wrote:
... either the wine or the bottle can be new.

in other words: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue"

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think there is a practical side to this too. Many composers don't choose to work at a big university where they can get their music performed. Nowadays, you can get a pretty good realization of instrumental music on your computer with relatively low expense. This opens the world of composition up to many many more people who would other wise be blocked by economics, not to mention the snobbery and social pressure to conform to the university's artistic norms.

I think Bachus has it right about taste though. Why else pick the timbres with which you compose? One can certainly write inventive music for a conventional instrument, as well as banal music on a advanced electro-computer sound generator never before heard.

We are very fortunate that there are more instruments available to us now than any of us has time to try out.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 2:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

On the other hand, didn't Wendy Carlos' Switched On Bach garner a lot of attention back in the day?
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

So, new sounds will not be used, besides as an effect, because the audience nor the composer isn't ready yet to appreciate it? I think that could be true in 'pop' music, but the more serious 'art' music, using conventional instruments, is producing sounds not familiar to the larger audience, because a composition for saxophone, which just uses the sounds of the of the claps and the breathing by the player through the tube without the mouth piece, is hardly to be called using 'familiar' sounds to which the audience is used to...

The funny thing is regarding the use of real sounds, although electronic generated, the listener wants to be referred to a real instrument. There is a rather large context, determined by the timbre of the sound, e.g. a lute like sound, but the music itself (tone material) determined if it is a western lute or a arabian ud.

So, what connection has a E minor chord with reality? I think no connection at all. I think music, besides the players and their instruments, is as surreal as can be. The synthesizer will eventually set the sound in music free. Only musicians have to realize it Wink

The problem is, and that was the thread from which this discussion is derived, which way have musicians (and their audience) have to go to obtain this? (Future of electronic music)

At the other hand...
The most beautiful symphony (pure naturalistic and real) I ever heard was in the part of Belgium, which is still Dutch (Zeeuws-Vlaanderen) It was made by the wind in the trees, two cows mowing in separated stables, flocking sterlings, some cyclists on the dike talking - just parts of their words - and a young boy doing his vocal exercises, using swearing words, until his father slammed his face... And I was the only one who heard it Smile

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
chuck wrote:
... either the wine or the bottle can be new.

in other words: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue"


I prefer old whisky in new bottles but would never tell any artist can't, or don't, or always, or never, or some such set of similarly categorical canons. hobo drinking, hic!

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:28 pm    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
I think I prefer analogs of or transforms of sounds generated by physical systems because the sounds produced those systems encode their energy input in a way that directly corresponds human intuition about the physical world. This provides physical instruments with an expressive vocabulary that is immediately intelligible to the human ear (gentle, strong, strained, fierce). A purely arbitrary sound has to establish its vocabulary in the course of the composition in which it is used. There is nothing wrong with that but it does shift the compositional process toward one that has to put more focus on timbre than suits my taste.



Indeed, and the main point with writing music is writing interesting music.

There seems to be a bit of confusion re newness, tradition, new sounds and new esthetics. I tend to think that the obvious artificiality of the artificial and crude electronic sounds of the 50s ( and in fact earlier ) has been reinterpreted as an ideology stressing the excellence of crude electronic sounds. I am not saying crude electronic sounds were bad/are bad. I really love a lot of that stuff, but still what made a lot of the good stuff good was composition, musicality and craftmanship.

Please consider that some "modern" art music that has been carefully carved in order to break with tradition, even going as far as taking the musician out of the performance, mostly succeds when it tangents tradition. Tradition is never a static formula. It builds all the time and goes new places.

Discussing music is often problematic because it is way to easy to forget that we now have seen the unique effects of approx. 150 years of pop music and a mass market for such. Pop is nice, but it seriously confuses issues a lot. The existence of a mass market for music is not something that tells us what music is, what can be done and where music goes from here.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Wout Blommers wrote:


...The problem is, and that was the thread from which this discussion is derived, which way have musicians (and their audience) have to go to obtain this? (Future of electronic music)
Wout


I would agree with that with the understanding that there is no one true path to future of musical enlightenment.

And halving said that, I will wager, however easy it becomes to create any imagined sound, a substantial fraction of "serious" music (non commercial/pop) will continue to closely reflect sounds of natural physical systems, at least for as long as humans remain humans. (Just my intuition.)

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:00 pm    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
....mostly succeds when it tangents tradition.
Ooooo! Well put!

elektro80 wrote:

Discussing music is often problematic because it is way to easy to forget that we now have seen the unique effects of approx. 150 years of pop music and a mass market for such. Pop is nice, but it seriously confuses issues a lot. The existence of a mass market for music is not something that tells us what music is, what can be done and where music goes from here.

And that's an important insight that should be obvious. But the effect is so pervasive a part of culture that I don't think I've fully recognized the impact of its extrinsic nature (extrinsic to purely aesthetic concerns).

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Re instrumentation, isn´t it compelling how a huge lot of electronic music is of the John, Paul, George and Ringo variety? Why? Intuitively it makes more sense to have seen huge lots of innovative electronic music for larger ensembles.. We now have cost effective ways to record such music and wouldn´t it been nice to see the concept of an orchestra pursued in a meaningful way either completely electronic or using hybrid instrumentation ideas? This is what should be happening in those bedroom studios out there. ( Running classical music midi files through a Proteus doesn´t count. )
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:14 pm    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
elektro80 wrote:
....mostly succeds when it tangents tradition.
Ooooo! Well put!

elektro80 wrote:

Discussing music is often problematic because it is way to easy to forget that we now have seen the unique effects of approx. 150 years of pop music and a mass market for such. Pop is nice, but it seriously confuses issues a lot. The existence of a mass market for music is not something that tells us what music is, what can be done and where music goes from here.

And that's an important insight that should be obvious. But the effect is so pervasive a part of culture that I don't think I've fully recognized the impact of its extrinsic nature (extrinsic to purely aesthetic concerns).


Indeed, and before we ditch tradition we should consider what the evil traditional classical music meant( and there never really was such a thing as traditional classical music.. but.. keep reading.. ) and how the audience and the composer experienced it. A vital part of what we call classical music is really about a human subjective experience. We only go wrong when we don´t understand that we understand less than we think.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:31 pm    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
elektro80 wrote:

Discussing music is often problematic because it is way to easy to forget that we now have seen the unique effects of approx. 150 years of pop music and a mass market for such. Pop is nice, but it seriously confuses issues a lot. The existence of a mass market for music is not something that tells us what music is, what can be done and where music goes from here.

And that's an important insight that should be obvious. But the effect is so pervasive a part of culture that I don't think I've fully recognized the impact of its extrinsic nature (extrinsic to purely aesthetic concerns).



Kinda related is the evolution of affordable electronic instruments. Do we really know how to use or make the best use of what we have? I am not seeing the polka devices as evil. Clearly it is OK to have truly polyphonic instruments ( but hey.. are these really truly polyphonic instruments.. one to ponder ). Clearly the polka devices are useful. This doesn´t however mean that the instruments themselves should dictate how we write and how we use them. A violin sounds like bunch of pets being horribly abused. Yup, that´s how a violin sounds unless you have mastered it beyond the obvious screeching and painful quacks.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:31 pm    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
A violin sounds like bunch of pets being horribly abused. Yup, that´s how a violin sounds unless you have mastered it beyond the obvious screeching and painful quacks.


I have to start here, back at taste. My mother always claimed that violins sounded that way to her, regardless.


elektro80 wrote:
... Clearly the polka devices are useful. This doesn´t however mean that the instruments themselves should dictate how we write and how we use them.


Absolutely! But I doubt there are many here that believe they should. Your point about knowing how to best use them is well made and no doubt that's part of the evolution/revolution toward radically new music.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 2:09 am    Post subject: general response to the discussion of the topic Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

One of the things not really touched upon yet in this discussion is the idea of the past becoming a wall against the future for the present, a concept I borrow from Wassily Kandinsky. For example, nowadays Impressionism is not seriously entertained by those who are interested in the evolution of art because it merely reiterates past radicality for a sensibility which uses it to justify its refusal to move on. This is why Dada is so significant, not as as style, but as an general approach to status-quo culture. One admires the clockwork precision of a Bach fugue, but doesn't this conception reflect the suppositions of that time around 1735 when the universe still seemed Euclidean? There is a dynamism in the nature of things, subtle, counter-intutitive, that Newtonian physics cannot apprehend. The old world is gone, and Rationalism has weighed anchor irrevocably. To reflect the new world founded on that which lies beyond traditional logic a new form was needed. This is what lies behind the innovations of Stravinsky, Varese, Ligeti. And now, it makes even less sense to return to something that existed before these pioneers changed the landscape forever. No, we have to go further out along this risky line, further into what had heretofore been thought of as madness...
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 2:10 am    Post subject: Re: electronic instrumentation question Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

bachus wrote:
elektro80 wrote:
... Clearly the polka devices are useful. This doesn´t however mean that the instruments themselves should dictate how we write and how we use them.


Absolutely! But I doubt there are many here that believe they should.


That is true. I never suggested that this seems to be the fashion amongst our most excellent members. Very Happy Far from it.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 2:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
... This is what should be happening in those bedroom studios out there. ( Running classical music midi files through a Proteus doesn´t count. )

Which brings me to the thoughts... If something becomes more democratic and easier to obtain by more people, does it mean it will evolve easier?

I think creative evolution depends on human contact, in the flesh, and to learn what others are doing. Here in The Netherlands, in pop music, there has been always two main musical centres, which are The Hague (West Coast of Holland) and Volendam, both with a complete different creative signature. Human interaction was always the main drive.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 4:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

this discussion reminds me of when I was a teenager (few months ago Wink ). I remember thinking that I, as musician, had to start from scratch, that I did not need to learn about that "old crap" of musical theory etc. Only a teenager is allowed to be so pretentious.
Growing older makes things look different. I think it's too simplistic to say "never look back". I think that the only way to build something worthwhile is to do it "on the shoulders" of those who came before us or... maybe I misunderstood the meaning of this thread.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:06 am    Post subject: Re: general response to the discussion of the topic Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

David Westling wrote:
One of the things not really touched upon yet in this discussion is the idea of the past becoming a wall against the future for the present, a concept I borrow from Wassily Kandinsky.

If it was up me I would never let the past dictate the present. And since for my own music, it is up to me, I don't. And I think it's as simple as that.

David Westling wrote:
One admires the clockwork precision of a Bach fugue, but doesn't this conception reflect the suppositions of that time around 1735 when the universe still seemed Euclidean?


Actually, I always felt that Bach's music reflected his hysterical Lutheranism, the strictures of counterpoint grasped desperately to keep from being swept away by the roiling madness of his religious fervor -- Newton's world not even on his radar.

David Westling wrote:
The old world is gone, and Rationalism has weighed anchor irrevocably.


I don't believe that's true. In terms of reason and logic Quantum Mechanics has provided fuzzy logic (an infinite valued logic) that supersedes Aristotelian logic and converges to Aristotelian values as naturally as the equations of relativity and QM converge to Newton's in the appropriate contexts. Rationality and logic remain the bedrock of science and mankind's hope for the future. It is just more subtle, more deep in its formalism, and more profound in its scope.

David Westling wrote:
And now, it makes even less sense to return to something that existed before these pioneers changed the landscape forever. ...

Well "even less sense" seems to move it in the direction of madness--something I support (I mean if the sane are running the world....).

David Westling wrote:
No, we have to go further out along this risky line, further into what had heretofore been thought of as madness...


The only thing I have a problem with is the "we." Embrace diversity I say, even musical diversity.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Re Newton, his take on science should be seen in context with his religious madness and his alchemy project.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Wout Blommers wrote:
Human interaction was always the main drive.
Wout


Is that an endorsement of the idea that the way things have "always" been done in the past is a marker of inherent virtute? Wink

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
I think it's too simplistic to say "never look back".
I think that the only way to build something worthwhile is to do it "on the shoulders" of those who came before us or... maybe I misunderstood the meaning of this thread.


I think there are multiple views in this thread. David Westling seems to be a principled iconoclast, Wout Blommers seems to think that technology will, in its natural course, dissolve "icons", while I favor subverting "icons" from the inside (at a tangent Wink ) and believe that as musicians we would do well to support all these directions and any other creative approaches that occur to "us".

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2007 6:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think Babbitt's quip from the 50's still holds true -- "Nothing becomes old so fast as a new sound."

My own views are closer in line with Elektro80's than to some others on this thread. I see the need for a balance between exploration of new territory and connection with musical tradition(s). The latter connection need not be slavish adherence, but a recognition of the role of traditions in maintaining musical communities... and without said communities, what is the point?

If you smash an icon in the privacy of your own home, and nobody finds out about it or cares, what has it accomplished? :p

James

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