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Thread: Dissonance put in context

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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    Default Dissonance put in context

    In some other thread, some people were quite baffled to hear some opinions about dissonance that seemed quite unintuitive at first.

    Two particularly interesting claims were made. First, a reductio ad absurdum of the notion that Schoenberg is 'evindently' more dissonant than any tonal music. It was said there that a movement by Bach could be more dissonant because certain dissonances were taken there to the very extremes of the tonal system, to incredible tension, but that it was more easily incorporated by the listener because the dissonance was quickly resolved to great relief, and that this was the power of the tonal system. In line with this, it was pointed out that an isolated dissonant sound doesn't give too much information by itself regarding how humans percieve and process dissonance.

    Thus: the effects of dissonance are context-dependent. Bach can be more dissonant than Schoenberg in some particular situations.

    The key to this is, of course, the role of dissonance in tonal harmonic function and the (global) lack of this association in atonal music: the 'emancipation' of dissonance. This may be of interest to those interested in knowing the differences between tonal and so-called atonal music.

    I have no other intentions with this thread than to allow those who consider these claims difficult to understand to express their views and those which agree with the claims to expose their fundaments in more detail.

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Are you familiar with Feldman's music? It's very dissonant and I would call it non-tonal, but it's not 12-tone serialism, so the dissonance is extremely deliberate and dependant on context, and while certain harmonies sound extremely dissonant, the overall tone is extremely mellow and relaxing to my ears.

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    Senior Member eugeneonagain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fredx2098 View Post
    and while certain harmonies sound extremely dissonant, the overall tone is extremely mellow and relaxing to my ears.
    I have to believe you when you say this, but I find it very unusual. If you were so relaxed would you even perceive them as 'dissonances'?

    I have no problem with unresolved dissonances, but I know that they are dissonant.
    "I expect I shall have to die beyond my means." — Oscar Wilde, on accepting a glass of champagne on his deathbed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eugeneonagain View Post
    I have to believe you when you say this, but I find it very unusual. If you were so relaxed would you even perceive them as 'dissonances'?

    I have no problem with unresolved dissonances, but I know that they are dissonant.
    So, since you are describing unresolved dissonances as something you know to be dissonant and since unresolved dissonances are presumably typical in Schoenberg’s atonal music as opposed to tonal music, do you agree with the OP: ‘a reductio ad absurdum of the notion [i.e. it is an absurd conclusion] that Schoenberg is 'evidently' more dissonant than any tonal music.’?
    Last edited by DaveM; Jul-11-2018 at 01:33.

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eugeneonagain View Post
    I have to believe you when you say this, but I find it very unusual. If you were so relaxed would you even perceive them as 'dissonances'?

    I have no problem with unresolved dissonances, but I know that they are dissonant.
    Dissonance isn't an interval that sounds bad or unpleasant, it's just an interval that doesn't have complementary tonal resonance. To my ear, the most unpleasant sounds are created by loud and fast music, regardless of its tonal characteristics. I'm not using the word unpleasant to mean bad, just discomforting. I do enjoy a lot of loud, raucous music, classical and otherwise, but like Feldman, I'm most interested in slow, quiet dissonance, at least for classical music.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    I agree with the OP that dissonance has to be put into context. But I arrive at the opposite conclusion, that with context Bach can't be more dissonant than Schoenberg. (What?!) My reasoning is in Bach, the notes are mainly within a key, with sporadic moments that certain off-key notes are added for colour and effect. The melodic lines within each voice are more regular, diatonic and more consonant in Bach, but Schoenberg has the same instrument playing more dissonant notes and intervals at the same time and one after another. The brain (at least mine) can accept a temporary situation where the voices which are progressing within the own melodies regularly, converge or diverge into dissonance with each other. The horizontal melody overrides the temporary vertical instability between different distinguishable voices. It is not the same as playing all the notes of the various instruments on the piano at the same time.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Jul-11-2018 at 02:59.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    In discussing dissonance we have to be clear whether we're talking about 1.) acoustic dissonance (a measurable quantity having to do with the ratio of vibration between tones sounding together); 2.) functional dissonance (having to do with conventional usage in the context of a musical idiom); or 3.) subjective dissonance (having to do with the perception of "harshness," "sharpness," "pungency," etc., a quality applicable either to acoustic or functional dissonance).

    In #1, dissonance is a physical absolute, independent of perception; an interval is more dissonant if the ratio of vibration of its components is more complex. In #2, dissonance is defined relative to the musical context in which it's used; a given interval may be more or less dissonant depending on how it's used within a given style of music (for example, a major seventh may be highly dissonant within the Classical style and demand resolution, while it may be heard as only mildly dissonant within an Impressionistic style, and fully consonant in jazz). In #3, dissonance is whatever you find harmonically disquieting or unpleasant.

    There's considerable coincidence between these three criteria, because acoustically dissonant harmonic relationships tend to be employed in characteristic ways in music and listeners tend to have similar reactions to them. But the subjective perception of dissonance - which might better be called "discordance" - is so variable that it's easy, especially for non-musicians, to lose sight of the acoustic and functional factors that underlie their experience, if these are known at all.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jul-11-2018 at 06:33.

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    I don't know.
    But after surviving a marathon listening session of Merzbow's 13 Japanese Birds recently, I'd say Schoenberg sounds pretty mild. Let alone Bach (even at his most dissonant moments).

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    Generally, there are differences between melodic, polyphonic, contrapuntal(according to the counterpoint rules), functional and psychoacoustic dissonance (consonance).
    I've heard spectrally mapped harmonic timbres into inharmonic spectra to sound consonant while playing in a tuning where normal acoustic instruments would sound out of tune, but you can imagine how hard is to make in real life such instruments or program such sounds using synths - without getting lifeless/obviosly synth sounding results (and woodwinds will generally still sound crappy or weird, so it works only for string, brass/metal/glass type sounds.)

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