Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lecture 6: Music and Digital Culture, Paul D. Found

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Mandy and Maxine, I'm not sure there is anything I can add. I certainly cannot add a photo because I do not own a camera and my phone has neither a cable nor Bluetooth so I did not take any.


It took a while for me to "get into" this lecture because I am not a musician, and although I listen to and even write reviews for loads of music, I do not as it were, know how it works.

There was a very interesting comment to open the lecture, with Andrew stating that he believed Digital Cultures is a reaction against modernism.

The first piece of music was "Concerto for 9 Instruments" (1943) by Anton Webern. Although only 2.22 minutes it seemed much longer. Musical time can, due to the density and compression of the piece distort the impression we get of real time. I would say that current bands can achieve a similar effect - The Mars Volta producing very dense music which seems to last much longer than it does. It is a phenomenon I had noticed but not really thought about. I digress...

Edgard Varese offered the following definition of music - it is "organised sound". I actually quite like that definition but could disorganised sound also be considered to be "musical"?

There followed some discussion on the formal structure (organisation) of music which is the part where musically inability meant I started to get a bit lost...

Western music was invented in the 15th century with the introduction of major and minor chords, and triads. There are high and low notes. There octaves (8 notes between each octave) which are the same "sound", whereas intervals have 5 notes (the 5th). All this occurs naturally in nature (acoustics) but Western music is merely an approximation and allows key changes/pitch. Not all music uses this system. Indian music for example, has a constant note - the drone - around which the piece is built.

At the end of the 19th century, music changed. Instead of being "pantonal" where all the pitches are used at once, modernist music became "atonal", i.e. music with no sense of pitch or key. There is no structure as such, but it is far from random. It is very organised, uses merkered pitches (1 - 12) within an octave. The order might read 3-6-8-1-11-9-10-4-2-12-5-7 ensuring there is more no repetition and no note is more important than any other. This called serial music and is pure mathematics - a universal language or law. The purpose is to remove any cultural association between the listener/composer and the structure/form of how music "should" be created. This led to a split between the composers of traditional music and modernist music.

Music is either vertical e.g. pop music, or horizontal e.g. jazz music.

Pitch, duration, timbre (sound), volume, articulation are the basic components of music, not melody and harmony. This led to total seriaism where very parameter of music became organised as a series. Messiaen was the first to attepmt a fully serialised piece but Boulez said this was not good enough as there was repitition. Iannis Xenakis and Boulez used computers to compose music. Although much of it sounds random, it is not.

Incidentally, Damon Albarn used serial methods to compose some of the score to Monkey: Journey to the West.

John cage used "chance" to compose music. For example, he would flick ink at blank sheets of muscial score paper, and discovered that his work sounded very similar to that of Boulez. Boulez took 5 years to compose his work, Cage took a week. Cage also experimented with with "aleatonic" music - that composed using the rolls of dice.

Cage also famously composed a piece of silent music (4' 33") which forced the audience to listen to the sounds around them. This could be said to go against Varese's definition of music being organised sound, as Cage did not organise sound, but arrange silence. the sounds the audience heard were not organised as such - it might consist of the sound of the audience coughing, shuffling, booing and so on.

Pierre Schaeffer coined the term "musique concrete", in which real-world sounds were/are manipulated to create music. The were no instruments, just timbre. It used analogue and very early computer technology. He was also the first DJ and invented turntablism in 1945 (to learn more about modern turntablism, borrow the documentary "Scratch" from me!!).

Delia Derbyshire of the BBC polyphonic orchestra created, around 1962, the first electronic dance music, as well as creating the famous "sound" of the Dr. Who theme. Derbyshire and The Beatles on their White Album used looped tapes to create the sounds.

The unwanted "noise" removed from remastered music is now used as an art form/music genre called "glitch" or "micro-sound".

There are 2 ways to create digital sound - "subtractive" whereby you start with white noise (every pitch played simultaneously and in equal amounts, then filtered to get recognisable "notes". Synthesisers do work in this way. The opposite method is the "additive" method where you start with silence and add frequencies or "sine waves".

"Granular synthesis" takes a small sounds, to create "music" which although inaudible to us still effects our moods (see Richard Chartier).

Minimalism is made from the least possible material, but it is not necessarily simple. LaMonte Young's piece X for Henry Flynt (1967) involved nothing more than the performer playing a single note repeatedly until it changed, then stopping. It could be either the music or the listener which changed, and rendered the piece "finished".

Steve Reich's "Come Out" consists of a phrase played on two tape recorders played at different speeds so they start in-sync, then out, then back in until they eventually form a wall of noise.

Fluxus was heavily influenced by Dada, the idea being to be staunchly "anti-establishment". Practitioners of the fluxus movement are "intermedia" - they are concerned with how different forms of media intersect.

There was a lot of information to take in...


Andrew Hugill said...

Please note - it was Edgard Varèse, not Anton Webern, who coined the definition 'organised sound' in his text 'The Liberation of Sound'

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