Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 16

Thread: Is a lot of modern music about stillness?

  1. #1
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    3,220
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Is a lot of modern music about stillness?

    Maybe it's even a obvious thing for many of you (I don't know, seriously), but I've recently realized what's the thing that a lot of modern music I like (from Debussy to Webern, Ligeti, Ohana, Takemitsu, Scelsi, Messiaen, Koechlin and many others): stillness.
    I'm obviously not talking of ALL modern music, but I struggled to realize what composers so different had in common to my ears but it seems to me that it's stillness the thing that actually makes a lot of modern music different from the past. No matter if it's Debussy using non functional harmony or Webern using tone rows, can it be this the real big change from the music of the romantic era?
    I have the impression that the discussions about harmony (at least the ones I've read here) have somewhat missed this important point. Instead of tonal vs non tonal, the change of perspective could be movement vs stillness.
    Or am I wrong?
    Last edited by norman bates; Jul-14-2019 at 11:19.
    What time is the next swan?

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Posts
    5,619
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    2

    Default

    |Excellent thing to think about. I am sure you're right, here, for example, is Ferneyhough's preface to the score of the the second quartet

    This piece is about silence – not so much literal silence (although this, too, is an obvious feature of
    the opening section) but rather that deliberate absence at the center of the musical experience
    which exists in order that the listening subject may encounter itself there.
    Since all forms of silence can only be approached via their own proper negatives, the organization
    of this quartet concentrates on the definition of several, ever-tighter concentric paths focused upon
    this core of stillness.
    The labyrinthine path over which the approach is made attempts to suggest a number of possible
    implications at one and the same time; the dense webs of organization involved in the act of
    composition sink below the surface, thus becoming deliberately absorbed into a flickering interplay
    of surface gestures which, while the work’s most immediately apparent feature, are designed to
    remain permeable to other areas of insight whose salient features are located at many points along
    the line of descent towards the center (which is not necessarily marked by the center-point of the
    work itself)
    and in this cello piece by Lachenmann the composer is explicit in saying that the music is made up of "sudden extremes of stillness and mobility, like certain reptiles and insects (i.e., praying mantis.)"




    It's interesting to think about early Barraque, late Nono from this angle.

    Of course this is just superficial music; the important thing is to ask why this quest for stillness appears so central a part of the modern sensibility.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jul-14-2019 at 12:00.

  3. Likes norman bates, mikeh375 liked this post
  4. #3
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    12,564
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    137

    Default

    I think this is a penetrating insight, and has much to do with the way we perceive the passage of time. See my blog:

    https://www.talkclassical.com/blogs/...ical-time.html

    Here is a recording called "Music of Stillness":

    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-14-2019 at 12:07.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

  5. Likes norman bates, mikeh375 liked this post
  6. #4
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Posts
    4,482
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    8

    Default

    Excellent suggestion Norman! Given that much of the sense of motion in common practice music is due to the pull of tonal gravity, it makes sense that escaping the gravity well or suspending the force would result in a sense of stillness -- or even timelessness. One of my favorite examples of suspended gravity is in the slow movement of Prokofiev's 7th piano sonata. The middle section plays with ambiguity by establishing three equidistant tonal attractors, E, C, and A-flat. Eventually one of them, E, proves slightly stronger, and the movement ends by making that a tonal center of sorts in which tensions are resolved. But for me, the central section has a sense of time slowed and nearly frozen. Technically, after close analysis, the passage could be understood as the expansion of a single tonal gesture, a double suspension, to extraordinary length. What would have been resolved after a couple of seconds in a common practice work is stretched and imaginatively elaborated. I think there are lots of modern works that do this sort of thing: expanding and elaborating a simple tonal gesture to create a timeless, frozen moment. As in the Prokofiev, such moments can be highly charged expressively and deeply moving without actually "moving."
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jul-14-2019 at 14:00.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    Basil Valentine

  7. Likes norman bates liked this post
  8. #5
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    Ford Nation
    Posts
    3,950
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Not in my view. I feel the opposite, that it is mostly very busy, even when slow. And I never feel at ease, except with Ravel.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

  9. Likes norman bates liked this post
  10. #6
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    3,220
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Of course this is just superficial music; the important thing is to ask why this quest for stillness appears so central a part of the modern sensibility.
    interesting question... onestly I don't know.
    Right now I was thinking to the metaphysical paintings of De Chirico, and also the fact that the twentieth century saw the rise of psychoanalysis, surrealism, not to forget the dark periods of the wars. Maybe those factors contributed to a new degree of introversion and contemplation in music to reflect on things like... loneliness. But I really don't know if this does make any sense. It's just what I can think at the moment.
    What time is the next swan?

  11. Likes Larkenfield liked this post
  12. #7
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    3,220
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    Not in my view. I feel the opposite, that it is mostly very busy, even when slow. And I never feel at ease, except with Ravel.
    Busy of course, but a lot of the music I'm thinking of (like many works of the composers I've mentioned) is actually very busy. But instead of the idea of an adventure, or the development of a musical plot, I often have the sensation of isolated events puts one against the other. I'm not saying this in a bad way, but with a lot of modern music I don't have anymore the sense of being transported from point A to point B to point C, but that I'm still in a place contemplating different things.
    What time is the next swan?

  13. #8
    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2017
    Location
    UK
    Posts
    367
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    2

    Default

    Edward makes sense of the vertical for sure but don't forget the lack of an overt, regular pulse which has the ability to suspend time. The linear 'gravity' exerted by metric regularity is often nulled by complex nested tuplet work or long durations that are not obliged to be predictable.

    Mandryka, stillness is doubtless a paradigm in modern musical thought for many reasons, but I bet rhythmic freedom has had an influence and one that has quite possibly made the idea of stillness almost as 'functional' as other compositional elements, at least in a composer's mind...it's implicated in the new rhythmic freedom as a greatly expandable resource as much as complexity is.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Jul-16-2019 at 11:13.

  14. #9
    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Sedona
    Posts
    3,856
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    4

    Default

    ...............
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Jul-16-2019 at 12:54.
    "That's all Folks!"

  15. #10
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    Ford Nation
    Posts
    3,950
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by norman bates View Post
    Busy of course, but a lot of the music I'm thinking of (like many works of the composers I've mentioned) is actually very busy. But instead of the idea of an adventure, or the development of a musical plot, I often have the sensation of isolated events puts one against the other. I'm not saying this in a bad way, but with a lot of modern music I don't have anymore the sense of being transported from point A to point B to point C, but that I'm still in a place contemplating different things.
    In Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Varese, and Henze (where's Paul when you need him? ), and just many other composers, especially tonal ones, I feel a lot of movement. It is only locally or in the immediate, the sense of direction is more ambiguous. Even with Ferneyhough, there are little small motifs. Like a lot of tonal music it is phrase after phrase. So I get a sense of motion that way.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

  16. #11
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Paradise, Montana ... on
    Posts
    2,341
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Music has always, apparently, been about contrasts, so that in nearly every suite or symphony or concerto or ballet or opera or whatever -- even within a single song form -- one experiences fast and slow, hot and cold, light and dark, silent and noisy. I listen to a lot of "new music" and recall my wife once remarking that everything I listen to is "noisy". I guess she didn't catch that there were quiet, still, silent moments. Alas....

    Perhaps if one tends to prefer quiet, reflective, slow moving ambient pieces, one will seek them out and tend to feel that the majority of music is such a way. I have in my collection music by all of the following: Debussy, Webern, Ligeti, Ohana, Takemitsu, Scelsi, Messiaen, Koechlin. Sure, they have gentle moments. But one can certainly find loud, colorful, "noisy" music from these folks, too. Take Webern, for an example. One might immediately think of the "quiet" piano variations. Indeed, Webern's music, generally lightly scored, tends toward the quiet, allowing tone colors to shine for brief moments in time. But a listen to his Passacaglia or Symphony, among other works, will reveal that the "quiet" moments give way to raucous outbursts that are anything but silent. Which is what I much prefer to a continually slow, always quiet, homogenous drone … or much of the music of, say, Morton Feldman, who may be (I don't know his music well) the one composer who might make a case for the argument that modern music is about stillness. Still, the music Feldman wrote for Samuel Beckett has quite a few contrasts; there are other ways to produce contrast (movement) than just by slow/fast or soft/loud. (Beckett starts two of his greatest plays with the lines "Nothing to be done" and "Nothing to be said" and yet goes on in his work to present a lot of doings and sayings!)

    I suspect I'll give you Morton Feldman for your argument. But please, not those other composers. They all have too much more to offer the listener than just a study of stillness.

  17. #12
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    3,220
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    In Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Varese, and Henze (where's Paul when you need him? ), and just many other composers, especially tonal ones, I feel a lot of movement. It is only locally or in the immediate, the sense of direction is more ambiguous. Even with Ferneyhough, there are little small motifs. Like a lot of tonal music it is phrase after phrase. So I get a sense of motion that way.
    Well I've mentioned the composers above to have an idea of what I'm saying, I don't know if I could generalize to all the works of all composers. Even because maybe there are ways to avoid that effect I don't know. For instance Stravinsky is well known for his use of a lot of different rhythms, so it should be considered that too.
    What time is the next swan?

  18. #13
    Senior Member norman bates's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Posts
    3,220
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    Music has always, apparently, been about contrasts, so that in nearly every suite or symphony or concerto or ballet or opera or whatever -- even within a single song form -- one experiences fast and slow, hot and cold, light and dark, silent and noisy. I listen to a lot of "new music" and recall my wife once remarking that everything I listen to is "noisy". I guess she didn't catch that there were quiet, still, silent moments. Alas....

    Perhaps if one tends to prefer quiet, reflective, slow moving ambient pieces, one will seek them out and tend to feel that the majority of music is such a way. I have in my collection music by all of the following: Debussy, Webern, Ligeti, Ohana, Takemitsu, Scelsi, Messiaen, Koechlin. Sure, they have gentle moments. But one can certainly find loud, colorful, "noisy" music from these folks, too. Take Webern, for an example. One might immediately think of the "quiet" piano variations. Indeed, Webern's music, generally lightly scored, tends toward the quiet, allowing tone colors to shine for brief moments in time. But a listen to his Passacaglia or Symphony, among other works, will reveal that the "quiet" moments give way to raucous outbursts that are anything but silent. Which is what I much prefer to a continually slow, always quiet, homogenous drone … or much of the music of, say, Morton Feldman, who may be (I don't know his music well) the one composer who might make a case for the argument that modern music is about stillness. Still, the music Feldman wrote for Samuel Beckett has quite a few contrasts; there are other ways to produce contrast (movement) than just by slow/fast or soft/loud. (Beckett starts two of his greatest plays with the lines "Nothing to be done" and "Nothing to be said" and yet goes on in his work to present a lot of doings and sayings!)

    I suspect I'll give you Morton Feldman for your argument. But please, not those other composers. They all have too much more to offer the listener than just a study of stillness.
    Well composers like Messiaen or Ohana have passages of extreme dynamics in their music, fff and ppp. But I'm talking about a sense of motion vs stillness, not quiet vs loud.
    What time is the next swan?

  19. #14
    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    12,564
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    137

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Of course this is just superficial music; the important thing is to ask why this quest for stillness appears so central a part of the modern sensibility.
    I think it has to do with "the end of narrative" brought about by the awareness of the end of time, e.g. World War II and the hydrogen bomb, and thus the end of "identity-based awareness" (ego), into a more selfless focus.

    Identity-based awareness led to nowhere, death, annihilation.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-17-2019 at 13:54.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

  20. #15
    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Sedona
    Posts
    3,856
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    4

    Default

    Some consider stillness as an energetic quality of being and that it differs from silence. I find very little stillness in music; there are far more experiments in silence that might simply be a secession of noise. I believe that most musicians and composers understand silence but not necessarily stillness. I believe it could be said that they are not the same. I would look for stillness more in religious or meditative works rather than in most that are secular. I believe there are qualities of inner stillness that can be found in Gorecki's 3rd Symphony.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Jul-17-2019 at 14:12.
    "That's all Folks!"

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •