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Sound -- Recapitulation

Let us review what we have talked about so far in this chapter. In most of our analysis, we have focused on the relationship of the normal level of hearing to the micro levels (for an in-depth discussion of the different levels of musical perception see Koblyakov[22]). By now, we should have an awareness of such qualities as sound and music on any level of the musical communication process. That means that at any point that we focus our attention where there are structures below or above the focus point, we should be able to understand what we hear in terms of the sound and music relationship. In the communication process, every focus point by itself can be looked at as a point of trade-off between the channel of the communication -- which is mostly dependent on the past -- and the information which is transmitted over that channel. Where this trade-off between channel and information, or sound and music, or material and organization, becomes inherently ambiguous, we can use the ambiguity for communicating a musical idea. Once we remove the ambiguity by committing to a definition of our focus point, then the rest of the structures in relation to the focus point become clear as far as this communication process is concerned. That is to say that we become aware of the plexus which every focus point defines while acting as content, while the plexus, acting as context defines the focus point.

By now, we may have built an intuition about how this plexus is created for a tonal piece of music. This plexus is a somewhat subjective entity which is created by the relationships which exist in the structures of a tone, resulting in special forms and operations in time or frequency and creating a special type of musical timbre. Through the passage of time, not only the form has been affected by our consciousness of the structures of the tone, but also this form has helped us to better recognize the structures themselves. This effect can also be seen in the development of (almost all) instruments whose evolution not only changes how the form is used, but is deeply affected by the requirements of the form (e.g., the relationship of piano and piano reduction). We may also be able to see the sound/music relationship on higher levels; for example, we may agree that we can tell apart the music of two composers, or two different eras, by the sound and not by the music. One needs no academic music training to be able to learn to recognize a composer's style. It seems very plausible to say that we can recognize two different styles, in exactly the same way that we can recognize the timbres of two different instruments; the only difference is that one is the timbre of the sound and the other the timbre of music. Here, we would like to define the idea of a ``musical timbre''2.13as the quality which makes two pieces of music different to us independent of any logical (conscious) analysis. This may seem vague; however, it is no more ambiguous than the definition (or the lack of definition) of sound timbre, which is whatever is left in the characteristics of the sound after we account for pitch, loudness, and duration[10, page 63]. We believe that the case where we are not able to tell the difference between two composers by their musical timbre, but by conscious analysis of their music, is similar to being able to tell apart the sound of two instruments only by conscious analysis of their partials.

Any time that we define an acoustical entity as timbre, we also have to define its instrument. For example, the timbre of piano is played by the piano, and the timbre of tonal music is played by the tonal form; or the sound of Mozart's music is played by his style, or the timbre of the music of Pierre Boulez is played by his compositional style2.14. This is not to say that a single composer has only one type of musical timbre. However, again, we come into the idea of unity in a composer's language, and one can usually feel the evolution of the musical timbre in the progression of the composer's pieces in her lifetime.

Music has its own evolution, and it is no surprise that usually the music of the composers who live in the same era sounds very similar. Their music, or in the other words its emotional content, may be completely different; however, due to social and cultural issues, what they hear and what they learn is perhaps similar. Therefore, they come up with instruments for their music which are very close to each other; that is one way that the musical language of an era comes about. The same analogy about sound and music applies to this level as well; however, there is a certain distinction on this level. The timbre of the music of different eras is played by a society of humans, and not individuals any more. The implication is that music separates itself from the personal freedom of the single individual, becoming an entity in itself.

The evolution of the material and organization of tonal music is the fruit of many centuries of work of musicians. Many composers of the late 19th century had digressed away from the formal requirement of tonality, not by conscious choice, but out of the necessity of feelings. Once Schoenberg realized why and how this path should be taken, the composers who wanted to be adventurous and revolutionary were suddenly confronted with a dilemma. The revolutionary who was ready to break barriers and tradition, came face to face with a space which had no barriers. Schoenberg formally broke all barriers of music on all levels by recognizing that the logical difference which had been assigned to consonances and dissonances was actually a physical continuum.

Schoenberg was not an anarchist. While discovering these principles, he also realized that the practice of music is very far from dogmatic theory. He understood the implications of blindly applying a newly founded theory to art would be useless. The only parameter he attacked was pitch, and even that only relative terms. He attacked the long-term relationship of pitches in form (long term being three or more pitches), and created a technique in which pitches are only related to one another, different from the tonal form where all pitches are only related to a single pitch. When asked about the further subdivision of the octave, something that has already evolved in monophonic music cultures, he first said[41, page 424]:

However that may be, attempts to compose in quarter or third tones, as are being undertaken here and there, seem senseless, as long as there are too few instruments available that can play them.
In the second edition of his Theory of Harmony, Schoenberg reconsiders the question and adds a footnote, mainly to show that music cannot change by theory alone and that change has to come from musical necessity. It is unfortunate that Schoenberg did not know about computer music, otherwise he would understand that not only could there be instruments capable of playing all tones with the greatest precision, but that one can also control them with unlimited temporal accuracy. He says[41, page 26]:
Perhaps here, once again, laws and scales will be erected and accorded an aesthetic timelessness. To the man of vision, even that will not be the end. He recognizes that any material can be suitable for art -- if it is well enough defined that one can shape it in accordance with its supposed nature, yet not so well defined that the imagination has no unexplored territory left in which to roam, in which to establish mystical connection with the universe.
Did Schoenberg know that he himself proposed one of the greatest laws, which is lawlessness? The material for computer music is a strange beast; it has no intrinsic constraint, which means that it has no shape and no form; it is not only not well enough defined, it is not defined at all. In the other words, computer music (or music conceived in that spirit) has no material, and according to Schoenberg's argument, no form. Can we conclude that we cannot make music with computers? This is a paradox. From freedom we reach the point of no choice at all. However, we can live with this paradox by a paradoxical way of looking at the music of computers, which is to assume that form and material are the same parameter. It is paradoxical since when we listen to the music we feel the form, and we hear the material as well; however, the unity implies that if we go deeper into the structures of what we perceived as material we should find the structures of the higher level form again (or a form related to it), and if we look into that form we would find the same material again. This is so since they are both defined according to the same parameter. Stockhausen, who is one of the pioneers of electronic music, says[47, page 111]:
Harmony and melody are no longer abstract systems to be filled with any given sounds we may choose as material. There is a very subtle relationship nowadays between form and material. I would even go as far as to say that form and material have to be considered as one and the same. I think it is perhaps the most important fact to come out in the twentieth century, that in several fields material and form are no longer regarded as separate, in the sense that I take this material and I put it into that form. Rather, a given material determines its own best form according to its inner nature. The old dialectic based on the antinomy -- or dichotomy -- of form and matter had really vanished since we have begun to produce electronic music, and have come to understand the nature and relativity of sound.

next up previous contents
Next: Homogeneity of Music Up: Unity of Material and Previous: Unity of Material and   Contents
Shahrokh Yadegari 2001-03-01