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Post 60

Sunday, September 26, 2004 - 7:56pmSanction this postReply
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Roger says:

It doesn't matter that the music isn't "about" horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting.
It doesn't? 

The fact that the relative duration of the "da-da-DUM" rhythm is similar to the rhythm of a galloping horse is purely happenstance.  If art is a selective recreation of reality, and Rossini did not selectively recreate the concept of horses when he composed the overture to William Tell, then doesn't that negate your argument about the childrens' repsonse to that music? I am curious as to why you suggest that artist intent has no bearing on the situation.

Furthermore, your example entails only one piece of music.  Can you name any other piece of absolute music that might register a similar type of universal reaction among 99.9% of the listeners?




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Post 61

Monday, September 27, 2004 - 12:49amSanction this postReply
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I have to correct a major error that I made, because I assumed Fred Seddon knew what he was talking about. :-(

In responding to remarks I made about the "William Tell Overture" (the overture to the opera written by Rossini about 180 years ago), Fred wrote: "Whoa! Your kids are confusing the Long Ranger with an opera--which by the way is NOT absolute music--we have a text, and as far as I know, its not about horsies."

Unfortunately for Fred's claim about the young listeners my band played for, Rossini's music ~was~ "about horsies." :-) Since I have never seen or studied the opera, I assumed that Fred's opinion about the opera and the overture was correct, that Rossini's overture was not attempting to re-create the galloping of horses. Thus, I wrote: "It doesn't matter that the music isn't 'about' horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting."

Pete challenged me, saying: "It doesn't?  The fact that the relative duration of the "da-da-DUM" rhythm is similar to the rhythm of a galloping horse is purely happenstance. If art is a selective recreation of reality, and Rossini did not selectively recreate the concept of horses when he composed the overture to William Tell, then doesn't that negate your argument about the childrens' response to that music? I am curious as to why you suggest that artist intent has no bearing on the situation."

There are two important points I want to make in reply:

1. Mea culpa: Rossini ~was~ re-creating horses galloping in the closing section of his overture and also in a section of the opera itself. (The former, the overture, qualifies as absolute music, even though it is later realized to be foreshadowing the use of the same music to accompany staged actions of horses. It is widely recognized that the overture "tells" the whole story of the opera in music) Just as the use of that section of the overture was used in the theme song of "The Lone Ranger" to conjure up the image of the white horse Silver galloping onto the screen, Rossini used it to signify the approaching Swiss army. The rousing rhythm Rossini uses (da-da-DUM) is that of a popular dance of the time called the galop. What better dance rhythm to conjure up an image of galloping horses!

2. Even if Rossini did ~not~ intend to portray the galloping of horses with those rhythms, however, people ~hear~ them as the galloping of horses. That is why I said that "it doesn't matter that the music isn't 'about' horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting." (I should have said that "it doesn't matter ~whether~ the music is 'about' horses galloping in its opera setting." Composers and other artists sometimes ~do~ unintentionally portray certain things in their art. (That's not the case in the "William Tell Overture." Rossini ~meant~ to portray horses galloping.)

Pete also said: "Furthermore, your example entails only one piece of music.  Can you name any other piece of absolute music that might register a similar type of universal reaction among 99.9% of the listeners?"

No, because horse gallops are very concrete and very hard to confuse with any other phenomenon on the concrete level. So, horse gallops are more like the dots in abstract cartoons. It's not likely that  anyone would mistakenly identify either the semblance of horse galloping or the semblance of agents pursuing goals and contenting with or cooperating with one another. (The experiments did not result in people interpreting the cartoon dots as being a knight or a soldier &c -- just a person trying to get somewhere, with aid from another dot, and interference from still another dot.)

On the other hand, for instance, something like the "struggle" of a melody to "assert" itself and "reach its goals" is very abstract, and it doesn't sound like some concrete struggle as much as it does the abstracted essence of a struggle. People listening to this musical process often attach specific imagery that is drawn up from their own subconscious, and these specifics can differ from person to person. What they all have in common, though, is the element of struggle, which is the "universal" element. Children, in particular, would have trouble identifying the abstraction of "struggle," while adults would be more likely to identify the universal involved, especially if asked to set aside specific imagery and state the meaning of what they hear in most general terms.

Best regards,
Roger Bissell




Post 62

Thursday, October 14, 2004 - 11:14amSanction this postReply
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Roger,

RE: post 58.

"It doesn't matter that the music isn't "about" horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting."

Should I take this as a confession that art is not about the artists's metaphysical values judgments? That puts quite a crimp on Rand's definition. Maybe art is whatever kid's want it to be. Interesting.

Fred



Post 63

Thursday, October 14, 2004 - 1:54pmSanction this postReply
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Hey Fred! Very interesting thread.

Those who experience art like Curly are frustrating because there is so much more to the artistic experience than they realize! It's like giving a savage a check for $5,000,000.00 and him not knowing how to cash it. He likes to look at the check and hold it in his hand but he's missing out on the yacht and the supermodel wife.

In my experience, if a child hasn't experienced art in a profound way by age 15 or so it's not gonna happen. And by profound I mean experiencing the creative spirit that runs through the piece. That's what Curly is missing. Curly is focused on the technique of the work. He's saying, "Whoa, listen to that guy on the cello!" He's not "tuned in" to the essence of the piece.

Take Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I have a few different versions of it and I have no idea who is performing either one. And it doesn't matter. Even though the performers are world-class at putting their fingers here and there at the right instant, the technical aspects of the music are eclipsed by Beethoven's creativity.    




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Post 64

Thursday, October 14, 2004 - 11:02pmSanction this postReply
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This thread is really getting tangled. First, Fred claimed that The William Tell Overture isn't about horses galloping, and I took this true and wrote: "It doesn't matter that the music isn't "about" horses galloping in its ~opera~ setting." The kids ~hear~ it that way.

Then I researched the matter and found out that Rossini did indeed intend for the anapest rhythm to be heard as (connoting) the galloping hooves of horses. In his opera, it was to symbolize the cavalry, while in the much later Lone Ranger radio and tv program, it was to symbolize the LR's horse, Silver. (No wonder the kids hear it that way!)

But then Fred asks: "Should I take this as a confession that art is not about the artists's metaphysical values judgments? That puts quite a crimp on Rand's definition. Maybe art is whatever kid's want it to be. Interesting."

We're confusing levels of content and meaning here. The musical motifs (melodic and rhythmic) and what happens to them are the SUBJECT of the music. The character of those motifs is the ABSTRACT MEANING of the music.

E.g., the da-da-dum rhythm of the W.T. Overture as spun out over and over portrays horses galloping (and suggests someone, a "good guy" (or guys) heroically riding them). This is the level that young kids "get" and appreciate (very enthusiastically!).

Now, embodied in how the da-da-dum rhythm is developed is the abstract meaning, the metaphysical value-judgment that heroic action is possible, values can be pursued. That is why this kind of music is so exciting to youngsters, even though they couldn't give you a dissertation about it, nor understand it if you tried to. That is why this rhythm became a cliche of heroism -- see the Light Cavalry Overture by Von Suppe -- and was used more subtly and sparingly by later composers to connote heroism and value-pursuit. (Rachmaninoff used this rhythm to very good effect in his 2nd Symphony and 2nd Piano Concerto and his Prelude in G minor.

So, to answer Fred's question about what music is "about" -- on the level of subject, it is about the ~music~, the musical motives (melodies, salient rhythmic patterns, etc.). But the music ~connotes~ non-musical things, such as horses galloping, so people can privately add imagery as they listen (or the tv producer can match the music to the horse's hooves, etc.). And in ~that~ sense, music can be "about" whatever a child, or adult, wants it to be.

But on the level of theme or abstract meaning, it is about some basic view of man or the world, such as: heroism and pursuit of values are possible. This is a metaphysical value judgment. Kids are just starting to form them on an emotional level, and as I said above, they just aren't going to appreciate the music in any way they can explain to you on that level. But one thing is for sure: you can't get "man is evil" or "suffering and defeat are man's lot" out of the William Tell Overture!

In my way of understanding all of this, Rand's definition of "art" is uncrimped and intact, even as it applies to music.

Best 2 all,
Roger Bissell




Post 65

Saturday, October 16, 2004 - 1:29pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Lance,

"And by profound I mean experiencing the creative spirit that runs through the piece. That's what Curly is missing. Curly is focused on the technique of the work. He's saying, "Whoa, listen to that guy on the cello!" He's not "tuned in" to the essence of the piece."

That is not what I wrote that Curly is doing. I wrote "He loves classical instrumental music. Music without words, programs, or titles. Music that is usually called “absolute music.” He revels in the structure of the sounds, the tonal colors of the instruments, the textures, harmonies, melodies etc. of the music." Notice that I did not mention the technique of the performer. As for the creative spirit, that is on another level. We revel in that when marvel at the composer's ability to integrate melody, rhythm, harmony, texture, color, etc.

"Those who experience art like Curly are frustrating because there is so much more to the artistic experience than they realize! It's like giving a savage a check for $5,000,000.00 and him not knowing how to cash it. He likes to look at the check and hold it in his hand but he's missing out on the yacht and the supermodel wife."

A couple of points. Notice you said "art" rather than "music." It would be, not frustrating, but unbelievable that people could experience painting and literature like that. In fact, that is what makes Moe and Larry so goofy. They are ignoring an obvious semantic dimension. But music is different. People who see "heroes and shipwrecks in the music" (E. M Forster) are really free associating and missing the music.

Fred




Post 66

Saturday, October 16, 2004 - 2:03pmSanction this postReply
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Roger,

"what music is "about" -- on the level of subject, it is about the ~music~,"

In a sense I agree, but that sense is the sense one gets when one realizes that music can't be about anything. In another sense, I find it to be an equivocation on the word "about." Seems like a desperate move of someone who is trying to save a representationalist theory.

"But on the level of theme or abstract meaning, it is about some basic view of man or the world, such as: heroism and pursuit of values are possible. This is a metaphysical value judgment."

Two responses. One by Rand and one by Mendelssohn (Felix, not Moses). Rand might say you're already be toooo specific for music. On the other hand, Mendelssohn (Felix, not Moses) thought music was toooo specific for words. Common nouns refer to what two of more units have in common, whereas music refers only to an individual theme, melody etc. and hence cannot convey any of those kind of concepts. I'm torn. I think I'll stick with Forster's music is a "most sublime noise." (I read noise as a metaphor and not as defined by aperiodic vibrations.)

Finally, I can't believe I let all of this "da-da-dum rhythm" stuff go by without mentioning in amazement that if Rossini, you and 5000000000000000 children hear horsies, they must all be crippled horsies. Galloping horses usually have four legs. Hmmm. Maybe Beethoven's Fifth is really about galloping horsies.

Finally, I was going to say something about being totally unconvinced by any of your arguments, but I paused and asked myself, what would it take to convince me. It might have something to do with a weakness in my position--something Kivy refers to but simply doesn't answer to my satisfaction. The counter argument goes like this.
If in order to be profound, art has to about a profound subject and treated in a profound way, then music will fail to be profound since it has no subject matter. I do confess that I think Bach's Well Tempered Clavier is profound as does Kivy, but then he confesses that he can't "provide any rational grounds for ...thinking it." "So if you ask me, now, what my justification is for thinking the Well Tempered Clavier profound, the only response that comes readily to mind is the notorious misquotation: 'Play it again, Sam.'"
If I'm stuck with that (and I do feel stuck) then Roger you have my permission to gloat. For Galt's sake, I feel like Luther. (Or is it Popeye) Here I stand, I can't do no other.

I think I'll go and listen to your CD.

Fred




Post 67

Saturday, October 16, 2004 - 7:03pmSanction this postReply
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(Edited by Irfan Khawaja on 10/19, 4:02pm)




Post 68

Saturday, October 16, 2004 - 7:29pmSanction this postReply
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Hey buddy, no argument from me if your argument is that music differs from painting and literature. Painters use direct images to evoke emotions and writers use language to do the same thing. Instrumental musicians use something that remains mysterious: tones.

A friend of mine is a jazz guitarist of some repute and I remember asking him why this jazz instrumental song is called "Rain" and this other one "Fido" or whatever. He just kind of looked at me.

Are you claiming that Curly's musical experience is non-conceptual?

"He loves classical instrumental music. Music without words, programs, or titles. Music that is usually called “absolute music.” He revels in the structure of the sounds, the tonal colors of the instruments, the textures, harmonies, melodies etc. of the music."

Is this the best possible musical experience for Curly? Maybe. It still seems that he is focusing on the smaller elements that make up the music (tonal colors, chord structures) which are technical elements.

The question: is there a conceptual theme in instrumental music? If there is, Curly is missing it. If there's not, Curly is right where he needs to be.

I tend to think there is at least something pseudo-conceptual going on with instrumental music. A Major chord in music doesn't say, "Sunshine" or "Smile" but it does have a positive, life-affirming sound relative to the minor chord. Why is that? Good luck trying find an answer. It seems to be a physiological given. Just like when we hear good news our heart rate goes up and when we hear of a tragedy we slump.

Now I wonder if anyone here can speak to the different modalities of non-Western music. I'd like to know if other cultures also have this happy/sad harmonic structure or if they keep it rhythm and melody or what.




Post 69

Tuesday, November 9, 2004 - 11:03amSanction this postReply
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Lance,

"Are you claiming that Curly's musical experience is non-conceptual?"

No, he is certainly able to conceptualize it and if he is a philosopher of music that is what he does. I agree with you that if he is only listening to the technical elements he is missing something--but even that something is musical for the musical purist. When one is swooning to a great melody, it is still true the melody is only one element of the music. In one sense you must get it all--in another sense one sometimes focuses on the melody, or the harmony, or the appearance of the second theme, or the relation of one variation to the previous one and even to the one to come (if you very familiar with the music.) I think I agree with Glenn Gould. The end or purpose of music is ecstasy. In the end it's got to knock your socks off. But after that you may ask what was it about the music that did that. Maybe you don't get an answer. Say on something like the major/minor. Maybe you do. I can still remember years ago when I finally realized that it was the entrance of the second voice in a Bach fugue that was knocking me out. Or the third theme in the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th that was driving me over the edge. Etc. And of course there are those listenings in which I just let the whole thing flow over me in unbelievable ravishment. It reminds me of Scarlet being ravished by Rhett. Oh well. Back to the music.

Fred






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Post 70

Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - 9:47amSanction this postReply
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Fred, in a musical universe long ago and far away, you wrote:
I can't believe I let all of this "da-da-dum rhythm" stuff go by without mentioning in amazement that if Rossini, you and 5000000000000000 children hear horsies, they must all be crippled horsies. Galloping horses usually have four legs. Hmmm. Maybe Beethoven's Fifth is really about galloping horsies.
The laugh is actually on both of us, Fred. The horse hoof rhythm for the gallop is da-da-da-dum. All four legs strike the ground separately. The horse hoof rhythm for the canter is da-da-dum. Two of the four legs strike the ground at the same time.

So, children really are hearing "horsies," when they hear the William Tell Overture, the Light Cavalry Overture, etc. But they are hearing horses cantering.  :-)

Which means that the dance form and musical form "galop" is mis-named. Unless the word "galop" or "gallop" was more broadly applied (to include what is now called the "canter") back in the 17th or 18th century. An interesting bit of musical historical trivia, and a modest research project for some ambitious college student. :-)
I think I'll go and listen to your CD.
I'm glad you enjoy it! Others may wish to check it out at www.cdbaby.com or at www.gemtone.com. The name of the CD is "The Art of the Duo," and the artists are Ben DiTosti and (myself) Roger Bissell.

Best to all!
REB




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