Friday, September 5, 2008

critical massage, pt. 2 - "chromatic" vs belle cacophonie

saturn calling...

- because reconfiguring - or exploding - the rigid aesthetic exoskeleton imposed on the listening ear by society via the diatonic scale is not "colouration", which itself is something very specific, largely timbral/textural and a question for arrangers rather than composers as such; tearing the scaffolding down is something else, something apart. and it's what we need to look at (i think).

there are these two ways - reconfiguration (which itself is a form of musical/aesthetic heresy, punishable at the very least by lack of commercial success - herbie nichols... etc) and demolition, just blasting the whole thing the fuck apart, usually with all the noise and fury that this would seem to imply; but then this too will be seen to be appropriate since destruction is actually part of what's required in the first instance: the programming must be pulled out by its roots, and whether or not that is seen as destruction by the uprooter is neither here nor there: that is how the implanted part will experience it.

reconfiguration is often best done by piano players - notes are all right there laid out in front of you, picking patterns through them is an obvious game; elmo hope, sonny clark (ish), mengelberg, nichols, monk - aha, well, we'd better come back to monk.

demolition often best left to the heavy brigade - but that too can include pianists of course - taylor, crispell (earlier), bley, sun ra, i'm gonna put monk in here as well. just a quick glance at that short list reveals that the job can be achieved with flicks of the wrist as well as thunderous rendings of the skies.

what sun ra knew when he reputedly told trane to play an apple is that using sound to tell a pretty story - and often therewith to inculcate a complex set of normative social and aesthetic values - is just one of the many uses to which musical sound can be put: and he showed us some of the others! listeners who engage freely with his music are, in fact, transported beyond themselves. (this is of course not unique to sun ra... happens to me rather frequently with braxton..!) it is not just colour, not just an effect - it is the substance and it's not good enough to have to use the term "chromatic" when dealing with it. naturally... we are stuck with it for the time being. but free sound is surely what we're really trying to deal with. bailey - again, the demolition can be subtle but it's equally devastating to the structure which is being demolished. defenders of diatonic purity are scornful in their dismissal of bailey precisely because he is such a potential threat... braxton too i suspect. times may be changing, though... we can still have our say in this.

* * *

monk i keep going back to - as a breaker of sound he is almost unsurpassed, yet was content to eke this out so finely and over so much time that many seem not to have noticed it in him at all; yet some of the themes can almost make one ill with the ear-dismantling necessary to learn them ("played twice"), and although these may be regarded as exceptions in a smallish book full of deceptively simple blues and nearly-as-simple 32-bar songs, digging deeper into even the simplest (say, "misterioso"..?) reveals merciless clashes on the higher harmonic levels which are the real clue as to what monk was hearing. let's not forget also that the recorded performances have the bass parts missing - the parts monk played with his feet on the invisible pedals, notes which only he could hear and which many have wrongly assumed was dancing. well, the man was known to dance and on stage, but only (pianist) laurent de wilde among the authors i've read has pointed this out and explained it, and it's worth remembering.

having taste means having your own taste

seek your own music

(if we were all exposed to diamond-clef gtm from day one we would have truly free ears!)


centrifuge said...

no, this isn't anything to do with radano or even with lewis, though dipping into both and reading the odd thing or two online, such as point of departure, has probably got me going somewhat... any continuing thoughts on the (various) (nefarious) ways in which society imposes one version of events as the *only* one for the sane individual will appear under the "critical massage" banner from now on.

next up... mmm, not quite sure yet, either more gtm or more gap-filling, back to the stations which didn't get visited..!

ubu xxiii said...

What happens with the (canonical) piano is that it's tied to the tempered scale, a great invention if you want to change key without retuning or picking up a different instrument, but limiting in other ways. Monk may never have codified this verbally, but it seems he was always searching for the sound between the notes on the piano. One possibly relevant quote is from a Monk discontented after a gig saying 'oh, I played all the wrong mistakes tonight.'
Monk's music is there for those who want to try playing it. Tod Rundgren had a go, Zorn played 'Shuffle boil' on a game-call, but did they contribute anything to the audible difference (on violin family & trombone for instance) between C sharp & D flat?
Partch & Joe Maneri had their own microtonal systems, but AACM musicians, particularly Roscoe Mitchell & Braxton, but also of course Lester Bowie in his continuation of the Rex Stewart half valve tradition, incorporated microtones almost as a matter of course.
To conclude, a paraphrase of a college session Warne Marsh was giving. One guy asked him about microtones, to which Marsh said 'let's hear you sing a C major arpeggio'. The respondent didn't do this too successfully, & Marsh's predictable reply was 'why bother with microtones when you don't have a grip of the basics?'
[From Peter Ind's 'Jazz visions']

centrifuge said...

"always searching for the sound between the notes on the piano" - yeah, well put... and monk found the damn things too, by virtue of the aforementioned clashing/forced co-resonance of notes which do not "belong" together - according to the rules we (don't) live by. monk's basic building block is to make two-note "chords" out of relationships which don't work at all from a western diatonic standpoint and then work off the implications (which are always vast) - this basic fact was summed up on jazz library recently(ish) by jason moran ("an a flat chord and he plays a natural"); it also explains what to me is otherwise a fascinating absurdity, namely the fact that the chords of "'round midnight" are frequently disputed - some of them presumably are not really "chords" at all hence can be explained in more than one way... and this in a popular ballad no less...

sun ra gets *right* between the notes, but of course that's one thing synths are very good at - don preston was using them in a similar way from the days of the early mothers of invention (ok, not synths exactly at that point, but homemade electronics etc) - i presume he was, to an extent at least, influenced by sun ra but he's another whose head is just wired up that way - picked up easily on throbbing gristle when they entered the picture...

braxton's use of microtones is very well highlighted by comp. 22 (four overdubbed saxes, on complete 1971) ... mitchell, don't know his work well enough yet to make any such "nominations" - in any case you are right enough, ubu xxiii, for these guys it was all just part of the package.

what the anecdote fails to tell us is whether or not marsh was well known for using microtones himself...? naturally i take his name seriously but i still have very little familiarity with his music.

david_grundy said...

spot on post, cent. as derek bailey says in some online interview, he feels that "poor Richard Cook" in the Penguin Guide could never really get his head round the music - he was trying very hard to convince himself that it was jazz, and to judge according to that standard, and failing. Now, the jazz issue aside, the same thing could be applied to the diatonic standard and deviations from it...You have to change your way of listening to appreciate it, just as you have to change the way you approach a poem if it's by J.H. Prynne rather than, say, Wordsworth. You have to "take things on their own terms" perhaps - to cut some slack, not just dismiss straight off (I don't like Shepp's barfing saxophone, he's crap and can't play up to the 'technical standards' I demand, so I'll dismiss all his 'mad' playing...) Sometimes I think people just hear what they want to hear, even if it's well-intentioned: hence the Morton comments on the Braxo jazz library, or assertions that Cecil Taylor "just plays loudly all the time," little dynamic variety, etc.

There's also the fascinating question of how to analyse sounds that aren't covered in the diatonic/ western model, such as 'shrieks' or 'squeaks' employed by free jazz or free improv saxophonists. I wonder to an extent whether a new critical/technical vocabulary should be developed to accomodate these (they've been around over 40 years by now, we should have got to grips with them, or at least attempted to) - or perhaps the escape from technical clutter should be maintained. What do you think?

centrifuge said...

what do i think, d? mmm - well, i think that one man in particular *has* gone out of his way to classify and distingush between various "non-musical" sounds such as those produced through the use of "extended" techniques - ! in the fullness of time i shall be hoping to relay mr b's thoughts on these matters with as much clarity and succinctness as i can muster... for the time being i am stuck using my own half-arsed/incomplete vocab base for (the description of) such sounds... mitchell (again), evan parker and john butcher would be good people to talk to on the subject of classification(s) - IF it is worthwhile doing it at all... which it probably is... i think ;-)

"Sometimes I think people just hear what they want to hear" - mmm, yeah, me too, but then i've been saying this for a while now. name j.h. prynne doesn't ring a bell but otherwise... etc. (looks up prynne) oh right, one of your lot eh :) you know full well i'm (semi-)allergic to poetry..!

ubu xxiii said...

For what it's worth some of the more forward-looking 'serious' comosers in our day (e.g.Ferneyhough, Lachenmann) are more prepared to take stuff like microtones & multiphonics on board than the average 'jazz' composer. This is nothing new either; the piano (apart from its interior) is none too popular with these composers, & a revered figure like Lutoslawski could not only write multiphonics into his concerto for oboe & harp, but hear it played, by Heinz Hollnger. (Don't ask me how it's scored.) It's the kind of composers favoured by BBC (Turnage, Volans etc) who are clinging to the apron strings of a tonality that is associated now with bog-standard pop more than anything.
The noise & multiphonic element in jazz &/or improv has just kept on growing more refined & sophisticated. Butcher & Parker are like the latest in a long line (Rex Stewart, Roland Kirk, Albert Mangelsdorff etc. etc.- oh no, not more lists)

centrifuge said...

one of these days i am sure i will start checking out some of this contemporary "classical" stuff... eventually... it'll still be there when i get round to it! the idea of scored multiphonics (etc) sounds pretty cool.

more lists eh ;-) let's stop right there then! your point is well made and taken. as regards the trombone, for example, it was regarded at the outset as a jazz instrument par excellence because of its extraordinary expressiveness, then ended up almost finished by bebop and has really only been saved from the dustbin by rediscovering that expressiveness in the free/avant scene. ok, there are exceptions but... anyway, even a mainstream 'bone player like robin eubanks uses multiphonics these days.

"clinging to the apron strings of a tonality that is associated now with bog-standard pop more than anything" - ha! nice putdown... yeah, well, it's cool to be fooled as they say. bit of a shame though isn't it... those of us with minds of our own HAVE to go in search of our own shit, cannot simply sit there and swallow and swallow.

roland kirk was a genius (mr improv would certainly not agree!)

kinoboy said...

Obviously, Aug 5th entry.

I thought this might be of interest.


(Ps. Cent: Yes, I'm still alive. No, I clearly didn't make it to your neck of the woods this Summer...more's the pity, miss you guys. Hope all's well x)

centrifuge said...

kinoboy, thanks for passing that on, i hadn't seen it (becoming increasingly out-of-touch with the wider blog scene these days!)... i *suppose* it's a sort of compliment, right?! only, appearing as it does under a banner declaring that braxton's fans are full of shit... he doesn't actually explicitly say that i'm not, does he ;-)

(another year goes by eh... we'll catch up with you one day, before we're all old and grey... heh heh... things not too bad here anyway thanks, hope it's all good with you..!)