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Thread: Does it matter if composers have dumb ideas about music?

  1. #16
    Senior Member Sid James's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinera View Post
    I haven't listened to Carter's music, but the quote sounds far from dumb. It is quite obvious he wanted his music to reflect the new type of world and era people lived in, and he tried to articulate how those changes informed his musical ideas. I am not terribly eloquent myself, but I get what he tried to convey.
    Carter's innovation of metric modulation - music moving simultaneously at different speeds - probably relates go this. I know others like Ives - who Carter personally knew - Nielsen and Grainger used similar techniques.

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  3. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Texas Chain Saw Mazurka View Post
    I've mulled it over a bit and I'm positive I have no idea what this means. Is it something to do with moving continuously instead of taking steps? Something about machines? Am I even warm? Should I feel very bad that this stupid idea is over my head?
    If you've ever broken the speed limit in a high-powered automobile this makes perfect sense.

    Lots of past music invokes military movements (marches, galopping etc etc) or other forms of motion.

    Carter here is clearly alluding to the modern form of motion. The adrenaline-inducing kind. We have much more exciting forms of motion nowadays than 100 years ago.

    There are lots of tunes that make me want to plant my right foot on the gas.

    Having said all that, I don't believe I've ever heard one of his pieces

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  5. #18
    Senior Member Crudblud's Avatar
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    Just because you composed the music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. Just because you listened to the music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. Just because you write about music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. I'm sure we've all at some point come across the "dancing about architecture" quote and in very many senses it is true, music is extremely difficult to talk about sensibly and without resorting to dry technical jargon, and in all likelihood you will look very silly trying to translate musical ideas into words. Most composers do their best thinking with sounds, not with words, and that is generally why they are composers in the first place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    This makes some sense if we abstract the thing that the plodding of horses and the marching of soldiers has in common which is not present in flying or driving - namely, a steady, regular beat. A constant meter providing a foundation and context for other rhythmic structures underlies nearly all Western music prior to the 20th century.

    Carter might have cited any of a number of natural rhythms which exhibit regularity - the beating of the heart, the running of a gazelle, the beating wings of birds, dancing - but no doubt deliberately chose ones that sounded dull and unappealing. He wasn't being dumb; he was merely acting like a typical Modernist - like Babbitt, Boulez, at al. - belittling the past in order to make his work seem more necessary to the present.
    Hm.. I am not sure I agree with this. Carter's chosen examples relate specifically to human industry and activities in relation to the world. I doubt he meant his examples to be belittling. The fastest means of transport people had were horses, the biggest obvious might and power they could gather were army, marching. Cars and airplanes relate both to civil and military, where earlier armies marched, now they fly, don't lets forget the nuclear weapons same airplanes carried to another continent during ww2- the marching is basically a show-off fetish that's left from bygone era some countries do in their spare time once a year on some holiday. .
    Last edited by Marinera; Oct-11-2018 at 11:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sid James View Post
    Carter's innovation of metric modulation - music moving simultaneously at different speeds - probably relates go this. I know others like Ives - who Carter personally knew - Nielsen and Grainger used similar techniques.
    Alright, now I want to hear it.

  10. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrien View Post
    If you've ever broken the speed limit in a high-powered automobile this makes perfect sense.

    Lots of past music invokes military movements (marches, galopping etc etc) or other forms of motion.

    Carter here is clearly alluding to the modern form of motion. The adrenaline-inducing kind. We have much more exciting forms of motion nowadays than 100 years ago.

    There are lots of tunes that make me want to plant my right foot on the gas.

    Having said all that, I don't believe I've ever heard one of his pieces
    Riding a horse would certainly be more adrenaline-inducing than my average drive to work. I don't think he only had speed in mind. I'm not too familiar with Carter's music, but if memory serves, it mainly invoked a feeling of the guy stopped behind me at a traffic light having his car stereo on so loud that it plays over whatever I'm listening to.

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  12. #22
    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Texas Chain Saw Mazurka View Post
    I've mulled it over a bit and I'm positive I have no idea what this means. Is it something to do with moving continuously instead of taking steps? Something about machines? Am I even warm? Should I feel very bad that this stupid idea is over my head?
    Not having done any research about the specific work for which Carter's comment was a program note, I'm guessing the remark had little to do with rhythm, meter, or tempo per se and more to do with broader philosophical notions of time, which was a lifelong fascination for Carter. There are two general ways in which people experience time: in terms of duration (how long an interval of time lasts), and in terms of change (how many things happen within an interval of time). I think Carter's remark was intended to show that the time spent in an airplane or car has the interesting feature of being experience-able in either manner: you can focus on the duration during which you're simply sitting still in the vehicle (even when the vehicle itself is moving), or you can focus on the change you observe if you look out the window. The time spent plodding on a horse or marching with soliders, by contrast, seems more amenable to the change model, since you are generally moving at the same rate at which things around you are changing. Philosophers (I'd have to check but I think Carter has cited Henri Bergson in some writings) have claimed that the duration model is a more "modern" phenomenon, and so the preference Carter expresses for airplanes and car over horses and soliders has less to do with modern music vs. old music or modern times vs. old times, but modern philosophies of time vs. old philosophies of time.
    Last edited by Eschbeg; Oct-11-2018 at 15:16.

  13. #23
    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    It was a little bit trollish of me to use the word "dumb." To be clear, I don't think these were dumb guys, but I do think the particular sentiments they were expressing here were wrongheaded.

    In Carter's case, I'm pretty sure that he didn't just mean he wanted his music to be fast or exciting - he wanted it to be about time, and the way he went about that was to have multiple tempos going at once that don't "fit together," that eradicate a sense of underlying pulse, and shift the focus to longer time durations.

    That of course is all fine, but I'm baffled about why he would say that the sense of pulse in earlier music has something to do with soldiers. He said this multiple times - there is an interview on YouTube where he says it not long before he died - so I think he really did believe it. What does it mean that you can have a major composer who hears a musical pulse and thinks of soldiers rather than dance? And whose idea of the connection between music and life is so superficial and literal?

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    Only if they write dumb music.

  16. #25
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Thank you for affirming the obvious, which some here seem to be missing. How much pre-Carterian music suggests plodding horses or soldiers to any of us here? Would we evoke those particular phenomena to explain the kinetic qualities of Perotin, Bach, Chopin or Stravinsky? Why did Carter choose those uninspiring images in particular, one of them evoking wearisome labor (what kinds of horses "plod"?) and the other, regimentation and war?

    Sound waves, the revolution of the planets, the cycles of the day and year, the songs of birds, the chirping of crickets, the vibrations of dragonflies' wings, the beating of hearts, the inspiration and expiration of breath, the hammering of nails, virtually every form of locomotion... Rhythms exhibiting regular pulsation inform natural phenomena, our physical beings, and our sense of time; they are, in fact, the means by which time is ordered and made comprehensible and usable. The regularity of meter in music and poetry expresses a primal perception of how life functions.

    There are perfectly good artistic reasons for composing music in which the sense of meter is attenuated or eliminated altogether, and 20th-century composers were not the first to do it. Baroque composers loosened their normally tight metrical constraints in free fantasias and recitatives; the Romantic urge to make music a direct seismograph of emotion sometimes subordinated pulse to gesture until it effectively vanished. 20th-century music approached rhythm in a variety of ways; Carter's complex layers, not bound by an underlying pulse, are one approach. But I have to say that his music doesn't suggest, to me, flying in a plane or driving a car, any more than earlier music suggests farm labor or military drills.

    People say all sorts of odd things to justify their choices. What I would say in contrast to Carter's odd remark is that his music largely abandons the two primary impulses that determined the structure of earlier music: song and dance. That's just fine, but he ought at least to acknowledge that Beethoven's pastoral folk are not plowing the fields or marching off to war. What they seem to be doing is kicking up their heels and giving thanks for the return of the sun.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-11-2018 at 19:25.

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  18. #26
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    I've plodded around many a time on a horse, and I admit that on occasion I've whistled or hummed music, admittedly old music, Beethoven or Brahms. Certainly never Elliott Carter. Perhaps there is something to his comment!

    Still, I've flown and driven in fast cars and have never had urges to whistle or hum Elliott Carter in those venues either. So what does that suggest?

    I suspect that if I ever ride in a spaceship I will have the urge to hum some Ligeti, but I have yet to ride in a space ship and have no immediate plans to do so. So I can't say for certain I'll have a Ligeti urge in such transportation.

    Maybe next time I hop onto Virgil I'll hum a little Elliott Carter. Hmm ... I wonder if I even can hum Elliott Carter! Let alone whistle his music! On horseback or anywhere else!
    Last edited by SONNET CLV; Oct-11-2018 at 20:26.

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  20. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crudblud View Post
    Just because you composed the music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. Just because you listened to the music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. Just because you write about music doesn't mean you're able to talk about it. I'm sure we've all at some point come across the "dancing about architecture" quote and in very many senses it is true, music is extremely difficult to talk about sensibly and without resorting to dry technical jargon, and in all likelihood you will look very silly trying to translate musical ideas into words. Most composers do their best thinking with sounds, not with words, and that is generally why they are composers in the first place.
    I like a lot of what you've said. I had the "dancing about architecture..." quote in mind after reading through some of this thread. However, as a composer I also think I'm pretty good at turning a phrase. While I can discuss the technicalities of my compositions, I find that people (audience) are more interested in the story behind the music, the "why" it was composed. Many composers believe their music should stand on its own and not require explanation. In my experience it just doesn't seem to work that way. People get music they already know, but when we're talking about a piece where the ink is still wet they're less likely to "get it." So I try to explain my quirkier pieces or give them titles that will give a listener a starting point. Creative titles are also more inviting than titles like "sonata" that mean nothing to most people.

    As for Elliott Carter, I'm more inclined to think his point was less about the pace of his music and more about rhythmic complexity. It's unfortunate that there isn't more to the quote.

    Steve

  21. #28
    Senior Member Sloe's Avatar
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    For Carter and Babbit the only thing I can think is: So what?

    I like Carter not so much Babbit.

  22. #29
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    Words composers write about music may be of some interest if you are curious about their process or how they expected their music to be performed. But I almost always find they contain nothing useful, particularly when they address the music of others.

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