Overweening Generalist

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday: Music Appreciation With the Whacked-Out OG

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Even though Arnold Schoenberg said that JS Bach was "paradoxically speaking, the first twelve-tone composer," Arnold was being a tad hyperbolic: Bach did not use a tone row. (Although see HERE for dissentual data.) Schoenberg seems to want to claim Bach for his side, for which I will quote William S. Burroughs completely out of context: "Wouldn't you?"

Here's a 2 minute video briefly explaining this 20th century theory in music, with a charming female British accent:
Okay. So, there's a bit of academic kerfuffle about who first "really" used the chromatic scale in such a way. Some say Bartok. A case has been made for Scriabin. In my view a stronger case has been made for Hauer, but I'll go with the conventional wisdom and pick Schoenberg.

Leonard Bernstein, influenced by Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories, said that humans hear serial music as noisy, because we have something like a "deep structure" to apprehend music, too. In this widely held view, the experiments with seriality by (mostly American) composers only appeal to highly-trained academic ears. You, Dear Reader, likely do not dig dodecaphonic music either, and it's not your fault, according to this theory, which in Chomskyan terms, is like throwing a bunch of phonemes together randomly and concocting a "language"...it doesn't work that way. But still...

[Side note: Bernstein himself used dodecaphony in his Third Symphony, Kaddish, in order to depict the "tremendous agony" in a dialogue with God. He reverted to tonality within that piece, because it symbolized for him "affirmation of faith."]

Here's one of my favorite guitarists in the world. He's a very cerebral heavy metal player, and I'm working on a longer piece about him for some other site. His name is Ron Jarzombek, and here he is, explaining the guitar parts in his band Blotted Science's piece "Oscillation Cycles." It's 8:15, if you can hang with it:

In my opinion, Schoenberg's system has finally found its most congenial atmosphere, here in math and musical theory geek Jarzombek's whacked metal mind. I think this guy's genius is firing on all cylinders, oscillating. Likely most of you will disagree. "What a bunch of NOISE! How can you listen to that crap?" If you think that, fine. You're with the majority. But my aim was to get you to see, in the wonderful oddity of things, how the delicate and tortured freak-genius Schoenberg has flowered in the most unlikely of places, roughly 80 years after he revealed a freshly delineated Whole New Ballgame for thinking about how to use the 12 notes in the Western system.

You're welcome. (ELL OH! ELL)

Now, for the .00003 of you who LIKE this stuff, here's the actual Oscillation Cycles, in all its 1:40 glory, the whole band, just killing (I don't think I need to caution viewers in a library that you might want to lower the volume):


IF I've jarred your nervous system into some tangle or jangle and you're feeling unpleasant now, I apologize and offer this to bring you back into harmony, both glandular and psychologic stasis regained, we hope:

I hope that helps. If it doesn't, and your Jarzombek-frazzledness persists for four hours, contact your doctor. Ta!


Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

Lenny Bernstein also used a 12 tone row in the fugue in "Cool" from "West Side Story."

In college I wrote a little ditty called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" which used a row which used the six notes of one whole tone scale and then the six notes of the other. I still play that row for music classes when talking about serial music.

I loved Charles Rosen's book on Schoenberg.

michael said...

I remember deriving great enjoyment from Rosen's Schoenberg book also: slim volume, immensely engaging. The bits about Arnold and his fear and fascination with certain numbers is the kind of thing that will keep the pages turning for me.

What do you make of the Bach 12 tone row?

Dig that whacked take on Mozart at the end?

When I taught guitar lessons in a music store I'd often get rebellious teenagers. When xmas rolled around, sometimes a kid would say they were expected to play something for Grandma and Grandpa when they visited in 2 weeks. We'd pick a popular xmas song and I'd show 'em how to harmonize the basic melody in 3rds and 6ths. Then, I'd play the same song in a minor key, substitute the flatted 5th interval for any perfect 5th and invariably, the kids would laff. I never once got in trouble, either. If the kid had good rock technique, I'd show 'em how to play "Amazing Grace" in a Steve Vai style. Fun, fun, fun...

michael said...

Correction: Mozart famously did his own variation of the folk melody "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman."

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I love Mozart "Twinkle, twinkle little star." I used to have an lp of Igor Kipnis playing that.

I do love Charles Rosen's writing. I wonder if he will write another book.

michael said...

Rosen is the best critic I've read who has a negative attitude towards the New Musicology, of which Susan "Beethoven Rape" McClary and her husband, Robert "I'm a PhD Who Wrote a Thoughtful Book on Heavy Metal Guitarists" Walser are notable champions.

You know who I think is an unbelievably horrible critic of New Musicology? Theodor Adorno. His takes on jazz are so...wrong, you can't even believe it until you read it. It would be difficult to find someone so HighBrow who is so stunningly wrong about what they're saying.

So, as of today: Rosen for me is the best critic of the New Musicology; Adorno tries to be critical of it, but only makes me want to defend people like Walser. I will not defend McClary until she says what an assholic thing it was to say she hears rape in LvB. I really love Walser's book on metal.

Royal Academy of Reality 1132 said...

I love Rosen's books and Joseph Kerman's books. I want to read Adorno's book on Wagner. Perhaps I will read that in 2013 for the Wagner bicentennial.

michael said...

Funny: as I read what you wrote on the Wagner bicentennial, I happened to be reading Wagner himself right then!