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Ultimately, what difference does this one incident (experiment) make?

It occurred in one city, affecting a limited number of works and composers, and will not have any effect on the wider group of composers and their work, many of whom I would guess know little about it, and care even less. In my view, the only one who has suffered is the perpetrator of this fraud, Comitas.

To the extent this incident is being used to indict the entire body of serial, atonal, and modern, music is a gross exaggeration, and, at least for me, completely unconvincing.
It seems to have conned you and a few others into taking it seriously and giving it oxygen it didn't deserve. It should have been left to die 500 posts ago.
 

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Discussion Starter · #803 · (Edited)
Well I really don't want to debate objective/subjective because it goes nowhere. But someone earlier in the thread said that the "stunt" proves nothing. I disagree. Like it or not, it does show that an atonal piece composed as a "stunt" can be mistaken for something more "serious". On the other hand I don't think PDQ Bach and the real thing can ever really be mistaken for each other...but if on occasion even that is possible, then big deal. So what. Lighten up.
I agree, and this is the other salient implication of this stunt, the first being that there appears to be an excessive bias towards certain "avantgarde"-aesthetics among various committees.

Apparently arbitrarily striking keys can be mistaken by experts for a legitimate avantgarde composition. And I would argue that such a stunt is impossible in any other musical genre: Imagine mistaking such a piece with a CPT, Impressionist, Rock etc. composition: I think such a stunt would be next to impossible.

Now what does this say about the music? (in particular about avantgarde aesthetics)

I think it shows that the music is very random. Not random in the sense that the notes were randomly assembled, but in the sense that the compositions adopt many characteristics of randomness and are thus by the listener more likely to be perceived as such.

An example is Twelve Tone Serialism: It's music where all 12 tones occur (roughly) equally often. The same could be said of randomly chosen notes, where statistically speaking all 12 tones will occur roughly equally often if the piece is long enough.
So in that sense Serialism moved music closer towards randomness. It's still no strictly the "same" as randomness, but much closer than prior styles and thus more likely to be mistaken for randomness.

This is in contrast to other styles like CPT and also Impressionism: A section focusing on the 7 notes of the diatonic scale is much more distinct and non-random, because it is statistically unlikely that random music would focus on only 7 notes (or even on scales like whole tone or octatonic in impressionism).

AND even if random music happened to focus on 7 notes, it's unlikely that it is going to be a scale as distinct and non-random sounding as the diatonic:

The Interval vector of the diatonic scale is heavily biased towards perfect fifths, and low in minor seconds. So even the intervallic construction of the scale is clearly distanced from randomness:
In random scales the intervals tend to be all over the place.
I know that Elliott Carter didn't make his music randomly, but he composes with all-interval chords, i.e. chords where every interval occurs equally often (sometimes even every note or every trichord!). Such pitch sets are indistinct (compared e.g. to diatonics) and more closely resemble the typical results of randomness.

Now, I would argue if you make your music so close to randomness that kids improvising arbitrarily at the piano can be mistaken for a genuine composition, that you've probably gone too far with the "random" characteristics and should reconsider you aesthetic premises.
 

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I think it shows that the music is very random. Not random in the sense that the notes were randomly assembled, but in the sense that the compositions adopt many characteristics of randomness and are thus by the listener more likely to be perceived as such.

An example is Twelve Tone Serialism: It's music where all 12 tones occur (roughly) equally often. The same could be said of randomly chosen notes, where statistically speaking all 12 tones will occur roughly equally often if the piece is long enough.
So in that sense Serialism moved music closer towards randomness. It's still no strictly the "same" as randomness, but much closer than prior styles and thus more likely to be mistaken for randomness.

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Serialism random? Well not to the composer who imposes their aesthetic and artistic will upon the notes to create music, a fact that you seem to be missing. As a listener, you either like it or not and that's fair enough. If you think it sounds random fine, I can see that it would to some especially if regularity in the rhythm is abolished too. But just a reminder, random is the antithesis of the techniques reason for being.
 

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Discussion Starter · #805 ·
just remember, random is the antithesis of the techniques reason for being.
Thank you, because that sums up what I mean. Techniques should indeed have the purpose of distancing music from randomness. But what if these techniques actually happen to impose characteristics of randomness on the music? I would say then the techniques have failed their purpose.
 

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Thank you, because that sums up what I mean. Techniques should indeed have the purpose of distancing music from randomness. But what if these techniques actually happen to impose characteristics of randomness on the music? I would say then the techniques have failed their purpose.
sigh...no, totally wrong. Serialism exists to help in controlling and to artistically manipulate 12 tone equality. There is no randomness or failure of purpose from the techniques pov, that is your subjectivity because your ears don't like it. The techniques are excellent at establishing a foothold in a gravity free total chromatic and they allow a composer to explore and commit without a fear of randomness because generally speaking, the parameters established supply the foundations and the justification for choices made.

I see we are still ignoring the composer in all of this. Perhaps as a composer, you'll at least understand or appreciate what I'm saying one day, even if atonal or anything beyond CPT writing is not for you.
 

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It's interesting and I have several thoughts. The first was that as an experiment, much like the original Sokol hoax, it's pretty weak given that all it really shows was that he was capable of "fooling" the handful of people judging that particular piece. It's a big leap from that to concluding that all 12-tone music has no audible patterns and the entire endeavor is a case of Emperor's New Clothes. At least the Sokol Squared hoax tried to remedy this problem by reproducing it with several more trials. I actually think such experiments would be good if they were more common as it should help to keep such things/people honest.

My second thought is that there often IS a fine line between actual randomness/chaos and truly original art. I have no doubt that Wagner sounded like complete chaos to many of his contemporaries and it took time for them to recognize the patterns in Wagner. You might can argue that actually patterned music should creative an intuitive sense that such patterns exist, but I'm not sure this is always the case and if there's any real difference between our initial experience of chaotic music and chaotic-sounding music that is actually patterned.

My third thought is that I'm also not convinced that such patterns are even necessary for making great art. One of the great experiments of postmodernism has been seeing what can be done artistically and expressively with chaos and pattern-less art that mimics the chaos of our own lives. That trend started with Modernism, but most of the modernists sought unifying, cohering elements that the postmodernists have not. As with most things it seems some efforts have been more successful than others, but to take an example in music I think Schnittke's 1st Symphony, with its chaotic juxtapositions of many genres/styles, is quite impressive.

As for 12-tone music, I largely agree that the patterns are not audible, but I don't conclude that means all 12-tone music is bad or that it's all equal. There's a lot of 12-tone music I like (Berg's Wozzeck and Violin Concerto), much I don't (most everything by Webern), and much I'm in the middle of (most of Schoenberg). I tend to prefer the composers that were not slaves to 12-tone methods, but also didn't just retreat to pastiches of older styles: composers like Messiaen did this, and Scriabin had done it contemporaneously with the 2nd Viennese School. Even without tonality it is possible to create patterns by other means, such as rhythmically, dynamically, and with note durations. Patterns exist on multiple levels in music and I've never thought tonality had a monopoly on such patterns.
 

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It's interesting and I have several thoughts. The first was that as an experiment, much like the original Sokol hoax, it's pretty weak given that all it really shows was that he was capable of "fooling" the handful of people judging that particular piece. It's a big leap from that to concluding that all 12-tone music has no audible patterns and the entire endeavor is a case of Emperor's New Clothes. At least the Sokol Squared hoax tried to remedy this problem by reproducing it with several more trials. I actually think such experiments would be good if they were more common as it should help to keep such things/people honest.

My second thought is that there often IS a fine line between actual randomness/chaos and truly original art. I have no doubt that Wagner sounded like complete chaos to many of his contemporaries and it took time for them to recognize the patterns in Wagner. You might can argue that actually patterned music should creative an intuitive sense that such patterns exist, but I'm not sure this is always the case and if there's any real difference between our initial experience of chaotic music and chaotic-sounding music that is actually patterned.

My third thought is that I'm also not convinced that such patterns are even necessary for making great art. One of the great experiments of postmodernism has been seeing what can be done artistically and expressively with chaos and pattern-less art that mimics the chaos of our own lives. That trend started with Modernism, but most of the modernists sought unifying, cohering elements that the postmodernists have not. As with most things it seems some efforts have been more successful than others, but to take an example in music I think Schnittke's 1st Symphony, with its chaotic juxtapositions of many genres/styles, is quite impressive.

As for 12-tone music, I largely agree that the patterns are not audible, but I don't conclude that means all 12-tone music is bad or that it's all equal. There's a lot of 12-tone music I like (Berg's Wozzeck and Violin Concerto), much I don't (most everything by Webern), and much I'm in the middle of (most of Schoenberg). I tend to prefer the composers that were not slaves to 12-tone methods, but also didn't just retreat to pastiches of older styles: composers like Messiaen did this, and Scriabin had done it contemporaneously with the 2nd Viennese School. Even without tonality it is possible to create patterns by other means, such as rhythmically, dynamically, and with note durations. Patterns exist on multiple levels in music and I've never thought tonality had a monopoly on such patterns.
I think that is a rather poor example of the point you are trying to make. The Schnittke piece in question is full of patterns, even within in the form. I can go into it if you’d like (I am not referring to what I am going to say below).

The thing is, is that any listener can only comprehend something in a context of a short-term memory. Music unfolds in time, little by little, not all at once. We can only recall how something sounds EXACTLY as it is the very moment it sounds. The further we are from the sound event, the less reliable and less exact we remember it. We are placing what we are currently hearing in the context of what we remember hearing in the past, which is dwindling as time goes on. This means that the juxtapositions of genres that Schnittke is doing in the piece is of very little effect since the “chaos” is on a scale of longer periods of time in which the point of reference for comparison is large. If the “chaos” were happening literally every second or fraction of a second, the effect would be more poignant. The way it is, it is basically no different than a “medley” of multifarious styles, rather than anything truly “chaotic”. And one can develop an expectation of patterns with the frequency of changes over time.
 

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I think that is a rather poor example of the point you are trying to make. The Schnittke piece in question is full of patterns, even within in the form. I can go into it if you’d like (I am not referring to what I am going to say below).

The thing is, is that any listener can only comprehend something in a context of a short-term memory. Music unfolds in time, little by little, not all at once. We can only recall how something sounds EXACTLY as it is the very moment it sounds. The further we are from the sound event, the less reliable and less exact we remember it. We are placing what we are currently hearing in the context of what we remember hearing in the past, which is dwindling as time goes on. This means that the juxtapositions of genres that Schnittke is doing in the piece is of very little effect since the “chaos” is on a scale of longer periods of time in which the point of reference for comparison is large. If the “chaos” were happening literally every second or fraction of a second, the effect would be more poignant. The way it is, it is basically no different than a “medley” of multifarious styles, rather than anything truly “chaotic”. And one can develop an expectation of patterns with the frequency of changes over time.
You can explain the patterns in the form of the Schnittke if you want (I'd certainly be interested), but even if you do will it then just be an example of patterns existing in the seemingly-random chaos of such juxtapositions.

I don't disagree with your point about musical memory, but that's part of the reason why genres, forms and conventions are popular because they provide a kind of intuitive "road map" of what a piece/song is doing, providing immediately recognizable patterns. When original and innovative music eschews these conventions then it can be difficult for people to pick out the patterns, assuming they exist; and even if they do exist if people don't like the music, which many (most?) don't with 12-tone music they aren't going to strive to discover them. As for the Schnittke I'd still argue that such juxtapositions of genres can sound chaotic precisely because they are not expected and I don't think the longer time span matters much here. Hypothetically, even if a piece lasts an hour one wouldn't expect to hear a section of bebop or pop or funk in the middle of an otherwise classical symphony.
 

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I remember reading an article about modern audiences being unable to "hear" sonata-allegro form. During the 18th century, audiences were very familiar with the style and had expectations of how a work would progress, and could easily follow the key modulations and Exposition - Development - Recapulation structure (although these terms were unknown to them).

Today's audiences lack that familiarity as well as knowledge of the form itself, and the article argued did not even have the memory skills to recognize the development section and recapitulation, much less the key relationships.

So memory is a factor even in the music of Mozart ,and Haydn, and Beethoven.
 

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I remember reading an article about modern audiences being unable to "hear" sonata-allegro form. During the 18th century, audiences were very familiar with the style and had expectations of how a work would progress, and could easily follow the key modulations and Exposition - Development - Recapulation structure (although these terms were unknown to them).

Today's audiences lack that familiarity as well as knowledge of the form itself, and the article argued did not even have the memory skills to recognize the development section and recapitulation, much less the key relationships.

So memory is a factor even in the music of Mozart ,and Haydn, and Beethoven.
It's not just memory, it's discrimination. It takes me ages to recognise where a theme has been repeated from one movement to the next but in a different guise. Sometimes within a movement!

I wonder, were the worthies of the 18th/19th C really so well attuned that they could do this from just one hearing? Were they all trained musicians themselves? I get that the aristocracy valued the ability to play piano to be a complete gent, but it seems a stretch to say that contemporary audiences were so familiar with sonata form that they could spot it better than current CM audiences who get to hear LvB, WAM and JH over and over.
 

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It's not just memory, it's discrimination. It takes me ages to recognise where a theme has been repeated from one movement to the next but in a different guise. Sometimes within a movement!

I wonder, were the worthies of the 18th/19th C really so well attuned that they could do this from just one hearing? Were they all trained musicians themselves? I get that the aristocracy valued the ability to play piano to be a complete gent, but it seems a stretch to say that contemporary audiences were so familiar with sonata form that they could spot it better than current CM audiences who get to hear LvB, WAM and JH over and over.
You have to remember that what we call "sonata-allegro" form did not exist in the minds of the composers and the audiences. What existed was an idea of rhetoric between the voices of the musical work, and conventions of thematic development through key shifts connected with arpeggiated and scalar transitional sections. All structured in a series of movements based on the sonata form, as well as old dance forms, theme/variations, and often an episodic form like the rondo.

The 18th century audience knew beforehand what the composer was going to provide, much like we have a good idea what will occur in a James Bond movie: the tropes, the style, the characters.

We've lost that natural understanding and have had to recreate it through music theory which long after the fact codified the sonata form, as well as the other conventions of that time.

So, we will never be able to experience a Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven, symphony with the same facility and familiarity as did the audience of that time. And even a basic skill of recognizing the entrance of a secondary theme in the dominant key is a challenge to most listeners, even many trained musicians, since because the form was liquid in their hands composers varied the elements that were later codified in a myriad of ways - but still easily recognizable to their audience.
 

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Also, audiences of the late 18th century knew mostly contemporary and recent music (going back maybe 20-30 years from the present, with very few exceptions), so it was the "natural" style to them.
They didn't need to adjust their expectations and sensibilities between the styles of e.g. Haydn, Wagner and Prokofiev like modern audiences might have to.
That's why the common style was "clear" to them, or more precisely it usually provided exactly the mix between conventions and innovations to remain still understandable but not get staid and boring and why deviations or complications that seem very mild to us today (and clearly within the compass of the late 18th century style), like some Mozart (quartets dedicated to Haydn) or even early Beethoven (there is a review of his first violin sonatas op.12 calling them overly dense and learned) were irritating to some of them.
 

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^ I get that contemporary audiences were familiar with the tropes and forms and knew what to expect, regardless of whether they knew technical labels (or they yet existed). What I find hard to believe that is that their ability to memorise and discriminate from one listening was so much superior to modern audiences of comparable experience and interest who hear these works so much more often.
 

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Neither audience was homogeneous although the 1780s-1800s one much more so. Of course, not everyone would have had the same abilities of explicit or implicit pattern recognition. But I think it is hard for us to imagine a world without some kind of recorded music playing almost every day. Almost everyone in the 1780s audience would have had some musical instruction and this would often even have included a bit of improvisation/composition. Even the less musically educated ones would have had heard family members or friends play/sing in the contemporary style for home entertainment and been used to the musical language in some way.

While it's not the same, I think it is a bit similar that modern movie watchers are rarely confused by quick cuts between different story lines that seem fairly recent and have become far more frequent and the overall pace has become much faster than it used to be, I think. Many people my mother's age (mid-70s) dislike or are confused/irritated by such features of movies but they are hardly a problem for people 40 or younger.
 

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I guess an able musician could make a fake short piece that fools experts in the short term that it is by Shostakovich or Beethoven. The difficulty in producing such music would be boredom - the temptation would be to add something distinctive and personal, perhaps a joke or a shock.
 

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I guess an able musician could make a fake short piece that fools experts in the short term that it is by Shostakovich or Beethoven. The difficulty in producing such music would be boredom - the temptation would be to add something distinctive and personal, perhaps a joke or a shock.
..it can be frighteningly easy to do, depending on ability. This is largely because it's already been done by past masters who have provided the templates to work with.
Yes, boredom (of the distant past especially) and the willingness to explore beyond the comfortable and the familiar are traits to be encouraged imo.
 

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^ I get that contemporary audiences were familiar with the tropes and forms and knew what to expect, regardless of whether they knew technical labels (or they yet existed). What I find hard to believe that is that their ability to memorise and discriminate from one listening was so much superior to modern audiences of comparable experience and interest who hear these works so much more often.
It is precisely because 18th century audiences only had one shot at a work, in live performance, that their concentration was greater and their powers of memory were more developed. Today, with recordings, we can let them play without any sense of urgency to listen since we can always come back to it, and consequently we don't invest the same kind of concentration as did the 18th century audience who has one opportunity to hear the work.

It has also been demonstrated that oral societies, who had no written traditions, were able to memorize long works as opposed to those with written texts, who had no need to memorize them. We live at a similar time with recordings as opposed to only having live performances.
 

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You can explain the patterns in the form of the Schnittke if you want (I'd certainly be interested), but even if you do will it then just be an example of patterns existing in the seemingly-random chaos of such juxtapositions.

I don't disagree with your point about musical memory, but that's part of the reason why genres, forms and conventions are popular because they provide a kind of intuitive "road map" of what a piece/song is doing, providing immediately recognizable patterns. When original and innovative music eschews these conventions then it can be difficult for people to pick out the patterns, assuming they exist; and even if they do exist if people don't like the music, which many (most?) don't with 12-tone music they aren't going to strive to discover them. As for the Schnittke I'd still argue that such juxtapositions of genres can sound chaotic precisely because they are not expected and I don't think the longer time span matters much here. Hypothetically, even if a piece lasts an hour one wouldn't expect to hear a section of bebop or pop or funk in the middle of an otherwise classical symphony.
I wrote quite a bit of analysis on just the form for the first section of mvt 1, which I'll post below. I can do the notes themselves from the same section at a later time, either Thursday or Friday perhaps. Thanks for the interest.

I don't think I disagree with anything you've said enough to keep belaboring my point. Thanks for the interest in my analysis.
 

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It would take a two-hundred-page book to analyze the whole thing, but maybe I can do the first five and a half minutes (the first section) of the first movement. I have a tendency to be long-winded, but I’ll try and keep it brief (I doubt it).


Looking at the “big picture” form of this opening section, I would personally analyze this as a straightforward additive process, or additive form. If you don’t know what that is, I can try and explain.

Additive forms are usually associated in the modern era with composers of the Stravinskian style, although I don’t think Stravinsky did it that often. And I am not aware of any 12-tone composers using it. In the Contemporary Era it is used quite often in Minimalism as it works extremely well in that style. Jazz/funk and even pop music uses it too.
Anyway, there are two kinds of it. Horizontal/linear, and vertical/contrapuntal. This is what it is. The linear version takes a phrase in a single voice and then repeats it. After it repeats, it adds a new phrase. Then those two phrases repeat one after the other again, in the same order. Then a third phrase appears after that. Then all three repeat (keeping the same order) and the pattern continues: A, AB, ABC, ABCD, or if it were song lyrics it would be:

My name is John….then: My name is John. I like music…then: My name is John. I like music. I am a composer….and so on.
The vertical/contrapuntal version is when there are multiple voices, but they don’t do the horizontal thing above, what happens is this:
Voice 1 plays say, an 8 bar phrase. A.

Voice 1 repeats the same 8-bar phrase A as Voice 2 enters an 8-bar phrase B.

Then Voices 1 and 2 repeat their same phrases assigned to them A and B respectively while Voice 3 comes in with 8-bar phrase C.
And the pattern continues.


A……..A……..A……..
B……..B……..
C……..

The illustration for this would be the Jazz-rock standard Chameleon by Herbie Hancock as covered by a lot of bands. What you’ll often hear is the signature bass line start, then it repeats, but on the repeat, the drums enter, and then those two instruments repeat, but when they repeat, the guitar/keyboard comps the chords, those three repeat their parts together, but then the next time around the cycle, the melody comes in. Sometimes, you’ll hear it do the opposite on the outro. The instruments drop out on all the repeats one at a time until the bass is left on the last repeat.

Three points to keep in mind: this is not a fugue as the parts do not interchange with each other, and also each part must repeat over and over in its own voice (this is not free counterpoint, or a free layering of parts). And when a voice enters, it doesn’t stop and the line doesn’t carry somewhere else. An additive process is a unique thing.
Children’s songs usually use the horizontal version while everyone else, including classical music, usually use the contrapuntal kind. Schnittke is no exception. The section from the piece in question is a vertical/contrapuntal additive process.

So right at bar 1, the chimes at the beginning would be voice 1 playing material A (I will go into actual note analysis at a later time), then as each new voice enters, you see he marks the score with wavy lines of the voices already entered indicating the previous material from the previous section of that instrument is to be repeating/continued over the new material from the new instrument. Then that new instrument gets a wavy line on the repeat, etc., etc. Its an additive process. Note that each line is repeating its own material when each new voice enters and that no lines share material. Also note that when a voice enters, the line doesn’t stop and carry somewhere else. Hallmarks of additive form.

Notice how this was composed with expert craftmanship, if you don’t mind me saying so and shoehorning in my hobbyhorse. What I mean is this. If the goal was to get to the 5 minute texture, because maybe that what he heard in his ear or had in his head, what would have been an audience reaction if you started at the 4:30 or 5:00 mark? It would sound like noise, and wouldn’t make any sense. It’s a mess.

I love how the audience applauds at the end of this section at the beginning of this movement!!! It’s because of what he did. He made it work. What he did was lead up to and progress to the “chaos” or “cacophony” logically and by a pattern, so that a listener can follow it coherently and make audible sense from it. It was the additive form. Each voice did not change, either orchestration-wise (every instrument kept playing to the end), and it repeated its material as each new layer entered. It’s extremely smooth, patterned, with a sense of predictability, yet there’s excitement in what is going on. He is essentially “spoon-feeding” the audience the music so the complexity at the end seems inevitable.
It's like what I always say about taking principles of the past in order to write competent music today. Such as in counterpoint. Counterpoint is similarly used as above. An audience will generally accept almost any kind of harmony, dissonant or otherwise, any kind of tonality (quartal, pandiatonic, even microtonal), if the counterpoint is logical and crafted well (not referring to style). This is what we have learned from the past (i.e., Chopin and others).
 
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