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Thread: Are experimental composition techniques passť?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    Default Are experimental composition techniques passť?

    Have things like indeterminancy/aleatory, graphic notation, serialism, process music, collage etc become old fashioned?

    Can they be both passť and not depending upon the way the methods are implemented?

    I know it doesn't really matter but I'd like to where the cutting edge is (for future reference).

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    Is there a cutting edge any more?

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    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Polednice View Post
    Is there a cutting edge any more?
    Yes. Most of it relies on technological advances allowing new ways of producing electronic music e.g. glitch and various other new IDM subgenres.

    I was just wondering if any of those techniques that were pretty fresh in the 50's and 60's have become established as still non-cliched options or whether they are too tied to their time period. In other words are they still considered avant garde techniques or are they now old hat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Argus View Post
    Yes. Most of it relies on technological advances allowing new ways of producing electronic music e.g. glitch and various other new IDM subgenres.

    I was just wondering if any of those techniques that were pretty fresh in the 50's and 60's have become established as still non-cliched options or whether they are too tied to their time period. In other words are they still considered avant garde techniques or are they now old hat.
    Are you asking for anybody to comment, or do you mean to get a perception of current academic perspectives?

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    Moderator Huilunsoittaja's Avatar
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    Well, the Romantic Period took time to die down, and ended up lasting almost 100 years. The 20th Century Modern period has also been really popular, and has lasted about that long too. We're only into the first years of the 21st Century. Surely things will begin to pick up, when people become sick of Modernism. Well, that's how the schmoltzy, sentimental Romantic era came to a halt: Modernism was a reaction to Romanticism.
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    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    My knowledge of the music of the post-war era is not as comprehensive as some others, but I am familiar with a number of the key works (& also got to concerts of the latest stuff as much as I can). I think that the continued validity of these technical innovations of earlier times kind of depends "upon the way the methods are implemented" as you say. In the end, these things (just like the older things like sonata form, counterpoint, harmony, etc.) are just techniques or "tools" that every composer carries in his/her "toolbox." If they are used with imagination & flair & end up "speaking" in some way to some (or even many) listeners, then a composer using them would have achieved something, imo. Many composers didn't move music "forward" in a strict sense, but still used cutting-edge innovations to great effect & with a kind of unique verve. Eg. Leonard Bernstein with that great 12 note "Cool Fugue" from his musical West Side Story probably exposed more people - without them knowing it - to some aspects of serialism than the seminal works that established this technique. Perhaps the somewhat dry and rigid "total serialism" which became a kind of fad & cliche in the immediate post-war period is dead as a dodo, but this is because some of those composers - though probably not the best of the best - mainly concentrated on it as a technique or an end in itself, rather than it being as part of the bigger picture of what a work was conveying on many levels.

    Actually, my favourite composers who used the serial technique were not strict "total" serialists - eg. Walton, Dutilleux, Carter, Stravinsky in many of their works. These guys used note-rows but often it was not exactly 12 notes, but who cares? If their works move me to some levels, then is this important? I understand that even though Boulez was like the proseletyser and almost zealot of serialism in his younger years, he hardly composed anything that was strictly serial. I was listening to his piano sonatas last night, & I think they were flexibly serial, if I remember reading correctly. His third sonata even incorporated some of the "chance" driven techniqes of Cage, but not in a literal way. In any case, I could hear the clear imprint of Boulez's teacher Messiaen in those piano sonatas more than anything else (Messiaen himself composed only one totally serial piece, I think, more as a demonstration/study tool for his pupils than for his own musical interest/development). Similarly, the composers of the c20th Vienna School - Schoenberg, Berg, Webern - just as often, if not more(?), employed this technique flexibly as more strictly. They were about flexiblity, but a good amount of the post-war composers were not.

    Another thing is that it is often hard to surpass the "originals" in these experimental fields. Eg. take electro-acoustic music, I haven't so far heard anything as highly engaging as things like Varese, Xenakis, Boulez, or Stockhausen's works in this area. It's like it's hard for the "sequel" to be as "good" as the "original." But that doesn't put me off hearing music of more recent composers. Eg. I heard George Crumb's Voice of the Whale (comp. 1970's) live last year, and his imaginative use of many techniques, like amplified acoustic instruments and prepared piano (like Cage) was probably not original in a strict technical sense, but in other ways it was. Bringing these "hard" technical things together to produce a work as hauntingly beautiful as that, speaking to nature & the threatened/fragile environment, spoke to me on just as many levels as those "original" pioneers, but maybe in different ways.


    Quote Originally Posted by Huilunsoittaja View Post
    ...Modernism was a reaction to Romanticism.
    This is true in many ways, artistic creators often react/ed against the legacy of their forebears. But in many ways they also address what they did & carry aspects of the "old" forward. The new is old, the old is new, all that jazz...
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    Senior Member Klavierspieler's Avatar
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    I have heard (which means it may not be true) that there is a move towards Realism in Painting and Sculpture, if this is true then I think Music will follow suit with a move back towards an earlier style.
    Beautiful music reflects a beautiful Savior.

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    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Argus View Post
    Have things like indeterminancy/aleatory, graphic notation, serialism, process music, collage etc become old fashioned?
    I feel experimental music by definition cannot be passť. The above are passť because they are no longer experimental, but quite well established. I agree with Sid James' point that these forms are dominated by a handful of 'originals' and have not proven to be great avenues for additions by other composers; that coupled with the fact that so few people give a *****, they're not so much passť as merely failed experiments.
    Last edited by Couchie; Jul-28-2011 at 05:37.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member some guy's Avatar
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    Only some of the items on Argus' list are experimental and not all of them even really qualify as composition techniques, though they could be used that way, I suppose.

    Collage, for instance, though I've rarely seen that word applied to music, sounds very much like a technique. Process music not so much.

    So there's a mix of specific (technique) and general (philosophical) in this list that I find difficult to sort through. Serialism is definitely a technique. Aleatory is a limited use of chance within a controlled environment. Indeterminacy is more a way of thinking about the situation, making decisions, which one can then realize in various ways.

    Working with sounds will never go out of style, but various ways of doing the working will certainly do so, though.

    The basic divide among composers since John Cage has been between control and non-control or intention and non-intention. There are other divides, but I would call that the basic one. Since Cage, the big question for anyone must surely be "Do I continue writing as an expression of myself, of my tastes, of my personality, or do I set things up in such a way that lets the sounds express themselves?"

    In both, as people* quickly noticed, there are limits. No one can completely avoid self-expression and no one can completely control everything. (This is why such a compromise technique as aleatory has lasted so long. It doesn't have the philosophical chops of indeterminacy, but it's mixed just like everything else in the real world, so has a kind of validity on that level, I guess.)

    I'm not sure there's a cutting edge any more either. It's a different metaphor, but Cage once remarked that if art is like a river (hence the term "mainstream"), then we are now (mid 1900s) in the delta. Perhaps even in the ocean already.

    I think that what I see as I travel around would bear this ocean idea out. Everyone's busy doing a lot of very different kinds of things. A real richness and variety but no single leader, no main stream.

    *including Cage
    Last edited by some guy; Jul-28-2011 at 07:17.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by some guy View Post
    ...Everyone's busy doing a lot of very different kinds of things. A real richness and variety but no single leader, no main stream.
    I agree with that. The last century or more, esp. the period since 1945 (post-war) has been about "richness & variety" - diversity, plurality & eclecticism. I suppose one can say that about the music of past ages as well to some degree, but in more recent times this lack of "centredness" has become much more marked. Eg. it's probably fair to say that in Beethoven's time, he was most at the "cutting edge," but who is now? Probably no-one & everyone at the same time.

    I think this can be kind of confusing to a fair amount of listeners, but then again, quite gratifying to many others. I'm in the latter category. I really don't care if something is described as more "cutting edge" or "conservative," the main thing for me is whether I am able to connect with it on some level. Anyway, these descriptions are quite rubbery, vague & "cliched" terms in themselves. I don't even care about the supposed distinctions between "high" & "low" art. Music is a form of communication, imo. Techniques are just that, often they are just the "garb" a musical creation is clothed in. In the end, it doesn't matter what stylistic "language/s" a composer is "speaking" in, as long as I'm engaged by it to some degree. I also try to take each composer on his/her own terms. But in terms of what I enjoy the most, I just like what I like, regardless of whether it's considered "cliched" or "passe" by some others or not...
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    Contrasts and Connections in Music

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    - Algernon Moncrieff (in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest).

  11. #11
    Senior Member Argus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    I feel experimental music by definition cannot be passť. The above are passť because they are no longer experimental, but quite well established.
    Some of them will always be and are only experimental i.e. the outcome of the compositional process is unknown until it is complete and the music is heard. Others can be used in a more planned and deftermined manner.

    Quote Originally Posted by some guy View Post
    Only some of the items on Argus' list are experimental and not all of them even really qualify as composition techniques, though they could be used that way, I suppose.

    Collage, for instance, though I've rarely seen that word applied to music, sounds very much like a technique. Process music not so much.

    I'm not sure there's a cutting edge any more either. It's a different metaphor, but Cage once remarked that if art is like a river (hence the term "mainstream"), then we are now (mid 1900s) in the delta. Perhaps even in the ocean already.
    Yeah, some of those techniques are only experimental when used in a certain way rather than being inherently experimental.

    I used the word collage as a kind of catch all to try to describe the use of acousmatic/musique concrete techniques and sampling non-musical sounds with either tape, vinyl, CD or digital manipulation.

    By cutting edge I mean usic that sounds like it could only have been created in the very near past. Most of this is reliant upon the increase in computing power allowing the average musician access to software that makes possible realities than were only ideas in the past.

    I agree that a lot of these techniques were developed as a way to 'free' the music from stricures of composition at the time, but I think now these ways of working are used with more determinance. Sometimes the music is the idea and it's not possible for new composers to use that technique without totally ripping off a sound. In C, It's Gonna Rain and Come Out, Decay Music, I Am Sitting in a Room, plenty Stockhausen and Cage pieces. This is were these processes differ form counterpoint or serialism. They are very closely linked to individual composers and even pieces and updating them in original ways is a mean task.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    But in terms of what I enjoy the most, I just like what I like, regardless of whether it's considered "cliched" or "passe" by some others or not...
    I agree. It doesn't really matter if a music is out of date or retro as long as you like it. I like loads of music where the aim is to replicate a certain type of sound from the past and add a bit extra to it. That basically describes most rock, jazz, blues, soul etc. Most genres rely and celebrate in the past but it doesnt mean they don't want to be original and fresh as well.
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  12. #12
    tdc
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    I agree with a lot of whats been said in this thread. I think some composers are more innovative by nature and others are more builders and perfectors. Some fall kind of in between, but I think both have equal roles as artists across all genres, and you'll find some of the best composers in both areas imo.

    Some basic examples:

    Buxtehude innovator - Bach Perfector
    Debussy Innovator - Ravel perfector
    Schoenberg innovator - Berg perfector
    Falla innovator - Rodrigo Perfector

    In other genres you`ll find many other examples. Led Zeppelin were not very original in ways, yet no other band really sounded like them. They were definitely more builders and perfectors, as opposed to innovators, yet unquestionably one of the best within their genre.

    Finally, when I say perfector I don`t mean to imply the music of these artists is perfect. Just that they fall into a category of artists that like to refine and perfect things as opposed to create new things from scratch. Innovation is unquestionably one of the best characteristics a composer can have, but imo many of the greatest sounding works came from composers who were more along the lines of builders as opposed to innovators, but again these two traits can both be present to varying degrees in many composers.


    edit - in response to the OP - no, I dont think experimental composition techniques are passe... but in agreement with whats been stated above it is dependent on how they are used, (or not used). I think there will always be innovators out there thinking up new things and there are infinite ways of mixing up existing techniques.
    Last edited by tdc; Jul-28-2011 at 21:16.

  13. #13
    Senior Member regressivetransphobe's Avatar
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    No. All real music is experimental, even if it's not obvious.
    People who hide are afraid!

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    tdc
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    Quote Originally Posted by regressivetransphobe View Post
    No. All real music is experimental, even if it's not obvious.
    How would you define 'real music'?

    Here is another question just for anybody. What if a bunch of aliens came to this planet, and had ways of listening to our music, but not ways of understanding who the different composers were? Do you think they would be able to distinguish what the really innovative and experimental pieces were? Or would they just be able to identify certain sounds that they liked?

    A post Weston made the other day, started me thinking about how much people may be influenced by knowing who composed a certain piece, or even when it was composed before deciding if they even liked it. I think there is something to this, and a lot of people are very effected by this, they seem to want to make sure the music they are listening to is legitimate somehow perhaps.

    I'm starting to take this idea further... if you think about it aren't all ways of composing simply building upon previous influences of some kind? Who actually composes in a bubble? Even extremely experimental and avante-garde composers are reacting against something, otherwise how could we even label their pieces 'cutting edge'? They have to be 'cutting edge' in comparison to something else. In a way 'cutting edge' could be anything depending on what is currently considered 'the norm'.

    If we take this idea far enough one may even come to the conclusion that it is fairly absurd even assigning credit for any composition to one individual person. No man is an island as they say...All compositions in this way can be seen as part of the human evolutionary process and experience and therefore as connected in ways to everybody and owned in ways by everybody.
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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Here is another question just for anybody. What if a bunch of aliens came to this planet, and had ways of listening to our music, but not ways of understanding who the different composers were? Do you think they would be able to distinguish what the really innovative and experimental pieces were? Or would they just be able to identify certain sounds that they liked?
    Most probably the latter where they are just able to identify certain sounds that they like. This is no different to many lovers of classical music for example. When I was a child, coming from a non-musical family, I clicked strongly to the "pretty tunes" of classical music as I used to call it, whereas nobody else in the family did. These were just classical music that I randomly heard, say TV commercials/shows/whatever.

    I guess the real question is why would a child, without previously ever been taught anything about classical music for example, describe these as "pretty tunes" as I did. If somehow a child intuitively feels these are "pretty tunes", then perhaps a reference point has already been made in this case to measure or to compare other types of music that may or may not be "pretty tunes", or indeed what is avant-garde music that aliens from planet Uranus might like or dislike ...
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