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Re: zen and the fluent music

Lots of interesting thoughts on looping in a
through-composed(/improvised) manner. A couple further thoughts,
expressed far less poetically,particularly regarding statements about
rounded forms (e.g. ABA, ABA', ABACA, etc.):

In Western Classical Music of the so-called common practice era (ca.
1685-1890), it is true that probably 95-99% of small pieces, or
movements within larger works are constructed in some sort of rounded
manner (by rounded, I mean "bringing back the A section material to
round-out the form"). However, rarely is (or should) a dance suite or
a sonata or a symphony "parted-out" such that one only hears a single
movement and nothing else. It is far more rare to find a large scale
form like the symphony or even a suite where the whole is constructed
to be rounded. In other words, the final movement of the symphony
rarely brings back the primary theme of the first movement. (I am
certainly not claiming it never happens, though.)

To perhaps amend the analogies and make some other points:

1) The movements within a larger work act as in a similar manner to
scenes in a play or a movie, or even a scene or chapter in a novel.
The movements deal with a specific theme in a specific setting, often
related in some way to the themes used throughout the other movements.
A good symphony has a balance of ties to and development away from
material in various movements.

2) The analogy between a piece of music and a photograph or painting
is strained by the fact that a piece of music must move through time
in order to be experienced. When viewing a painting or a photograph or
a sculpture or some other object, one can spend one's own time with
the experience of the work. I can look at one part of a painting, then
move back to view the whole, and then move to another section of the
painting, perhaps focus on a part I've already seen, making
connections between the parts or not. This is not true with a piece of
music. With certain exceptions, each piece of music has it's own
time-span during which it must be experienced. As time progresses, we
don't have the luxury of pausing and rewinding or fast-forwarding to
attempt to experience the piece in a non-linear way. In fact, even if
the piece is constructed in a non-linear manner, we must experience it
in a linear way. No matter how complex the form of a Stravinsky work,
or the non-linear DJ-style glitch looping of Andre Lafosse, we
experience it linearly.

3) It is precisely this linear nature of music which makes the role of
repetition within the development of Western music so important. It is
certainly not the act of a lazy composer looking for the easy way out.
If one spends any time looking at the sketchbooks of Beethoven, it
becomes quite clear that even the slightest variation of a basic
motive within a piece was subject to countless revisions. Repetition,
either direct or varied, aids in the comprehension of a piece of
music. It is very similar to the Taoist principle of "from one thing,
know 10,000 things." In other words, with even a varied repetition of
a motive or theme, we are able to comprehend that motive or theme,
since we can go from what we know (i.e. what we remember of the
motive/theme from earlier in the piece) to what we don't know (i.e.
the new form of that motive/theme).

4) Repetition is helpful in creating drama and surprise within a piece
of music. Even if we take hundreds of works as our set of varied
repetitions (i.e. how many pieces end with a V-I harmonic progression,
implied or explicity?), then that repetition gives us a chance to
dial-up the tension at the right moment by playing with the listener's
expectation upon hearing the V...if we shift gears and follow it with
the VI (or vi, depending on how you like your roman numerals), we have
the classic "deceptive cadence" which really dials up the tension to
be later released by the so-called "authentic" V-I cadence. This is
part of the difficulty of composing music that does not follow the
harmonic and melodic grammar of music so frequently
heard---repetition, however, aids in defining the grammar for a
particular piece. This can be, also, the difficulty of
through-composed/improvised music: it's as if an entirely new set of
characters are introduced with each new scene, with few or no
characters held-over or brought back from earlier scenes. Granted, to
the specialist listener, these new characters may be heard (seen) as
the same characters in various levels of disguise, but to the average
(and often the above average) listener they bear little or no
resemblance, leaving them confused. Confusion is an uncomfortable
feeling which often leads to a dissatisfaction toward the piece of
music which left them in that state. At the very least, it creates a
tension that most listeners will want resolved.

I make these observations/statements as one who has composed a number
of works that range from maximal repetition to minimal repetition,
although usually with some sort of 'rounding' to the form.

Thanks for helping me think about something other than work for a
little bit this morning/afternoon.


Jon Southwood

On 7/10/05, Matthias Grob <matthias@grob.org> wrote:
> it seems to me that far over 90% of the ever played music ended in
> the same theme as it started in, because its basically showing a
> single picture.
> There may be some dynamic, even a story in the middle, a natural way
> to show a picture is to show its total first, then go into details,
> back to the total, some other detail .... and close at the total.
> wants some ABACA... structure... probably a reminder of old dance
> styles and polite forms... and simply a help for the memory... easy
> composing... ?