Commentary on Music – Conclusions (For Now…) June 1, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in classical music, harmony, mathematics and music, modes, music, music commentary, nature of music, religion and music, scales, spirituality and music, tonality.
Tags: classical music, harmony, mathematics, modes, music, overtone series, religion, scales, spirituality, tonality
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(This is the final post—for now—of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).
So here I am, at the end of a longer journey than I expected, a journey of exploring music at its most basic level. With this post, I will draw together the comments I have made in posts spanning just over a year about this topic and offer some conclusions—some of these will be personal, as they will be oriented toward what this means for me as I approach my own music. But I also believe there is value in the general conclusions I will draw, conclusions I hope will enrich the music-listening of visitors to these pages.
Well, let’s take a deep breath, because I will start out with the metaphysics/physics/music portion of my conclusions. On the frontiers of physics, we are learning that all matter consists of elementary particles and these particles are points of energy that radiate fields. So, existence is a heavily populated cauldron of overlapping, interacting energy fields. We humans have evolved to sense those energy fields within our finite portions of what we perceive as a three/four dimensional space/time continuum. We ourselves are a complex set of interconnected energy fields interacting with many other complex energy fields, guided through this reality by our senses. Energy—that is existence; that is life.
Music is the only art that involves a direct transmission of energy from one intelligence to another. Painting/visual art is created as imagery and experienced by looking at and absorbing the photons from those images, but not through direct energy. The images undergo a great deal of editing and processing before human beings absorb their content. Story-telling involves transmitting words or actions, again to be witnessed visually, or heard and then translated into ideas in the recipient’s mind. Sculpture/dance/books/poetry are also indirect arts. Music is direct energy. It is a series of vibrations through a medium, but the music is not the medium itself; it is the energy that courses through the medium. The music is not the molecules of the medium that are vibrating, it is the flow of energy generating those vibrations. It can be measured by an oscilloscope as energy waves. Linked with words as song, it can be extraordinarily powerful and affecting. Visual arts (like movies) use music to inject emotion—using the direct energy of music heightens the experience of other arts.
Music takes energy and puts order to it. This musical energy supplies an organized tension and release at a visceral level, a level without words or explanations needed. In a sense, it resembles at a manageable level the occurrence of pain, of pleasure, of longing and longing fulfilled. Music can be said to duplicate the experience of a want or need—fulfilled through tension and release, through a dissonance resolving to a consonance.
So music is energy, sound communication flowing directly into the brain, to be processed by the mind. What is the nature of this energy we call music? What can we say about music—what common denominators can we find for humans, or any other sentient creature? Do all sentient beings experience music the same way? Would Bach make sense to intelligent extraterrestrial creatures? There really isn’t enough information available to us now to answer this question because we have no other intelligent creatures to compare ourselves with. Some thinking is still possible despite this knowledge gap. Again let’s reduce this to the basics. Existence is a set of interacting, overlapping energy fields. Our senses filter the information coming from those fields to allow us, as conscious entities, to function. Our senses evolved for the purposes of survival. The ability to sense sound is one of those senses. The question then becomes whether the phenomenon of sound, energy vibrating through a medium (usually air), would evolve for other conscious intelligent beings, and if so, would it evolve the same way? In looking around at Earth’s life forms, we know other creatures see and hear differently than we do. They might hear a different part of the frequency spectrum. Some senses are more acute for other creatures, and not every creature has every sense. So we can probably conclude that intelligent creatures will vary in the way they experience sound, and Bach will sound different to different intelligences.
However, there is an argument against that idea. Sound appears to have some universal characteristics, characteristics experienced by intelligent creatures in the same or similar ways. Here, at this part of the discussion, we will look at the basics of music, and how those vibrations, that sound energy, appears to humans (and may appear to other sentient creatures).
Music is sound organized by pitch, or rhythm—usually by both. (If just one is present, the experience may seem musical, but incomplete). Rhythms are built into the human body and into the fabric of existence. In music, rhythm involves patterns of sound focused around a pulse. Rhythm involves the passage of time, the meticulous control of time. Rhythm resonates with humans, and potentially with other conscious creatures, because rhythm is so inherent in life—in the heartbeat, in breathing, in sexual activity, in simple movements of walking or running, in countless other aspects of the universe. Pitch involves sound at a clear frequency. Both rhythm and pitch are discernible enough to be duplicated, making music possible.
There are three inherent characteristics of pitch that give music a universal commonality across human cultures. These are 1) the overtone series, 2) the ratios of vibrating strings and frequencies, and, 3) partials for wind instruments.
All pitches generate an overtone series. That series of overtone pitches is the same for any clear-pitched musical note—first an octave higher; second, a perfect fifth; third, a second octave higher; fourth, a major third (two octaves and a major third higher than the original pitch); fifth, another perfect fifth (two octaves and a perfect fifth higher than the original pitch); sixth, a strange note between a sixth and a flat seventh—like a “blue note” (two octaves from the original pitch plus that strange interval); seventh, three octaves higher than the original pitch. The overtone series gives us a basis for the universally perceived consonant harmonic intervals—the octave and the perfect fifth. It also gives us a basis for the widely accepted as consonant intervals—the third (minor and major), the sixth (minor and major), and the perfect fourth (the distance between the perfect fifth and the original pitch fifth raised an octave). The fundamental notes of the overtone series are more likely to be perceived by a particular musical culture as consonant intervals. The nearly universal pentatonic scale also can be explained as consisting of the pitches from the overtone series. Even the “blue” note, found in some cultures, has some basis for explanation from the overtone series (the note in the overtone series that occurs in between the sixth and the flat seventh of the conventional twelve note scale). So though we aren’t sure if Bach would be comprehensible to all sentient beings, we can see how humans recognize music cross-culturally, and within cultural familiarity, can appreciate music generated cross-culturally. This cross-cultural music appreciation is much easier translated among human beings than different languages.
Another universal aspect to pitch is the characteristics of vibrating strings. The pitch of a vibrating string goes up an octave when the portion of the string vibrating is halved. Intervals can be derived by simple mathematical ratios and the simplest ratios generate the fundamental intervals of the overtone series. (Here are some ratios/these can vary the farther we get from the fundamental intervals of the overtone series—2:1-octave, 3:2-perfect fifth, 4:3-perfect fourth, 5:4-major third, 6:5-minor third, 5:3-major sixth, 8:5-minor sixth, 9:8-major second, 9:5-minor seventh, 15:8-major seventh, 16:15-minor second, 10:7-tritone.) These ratios seem to confer a mathematical rationale for consonant and dissonant intervals. Mathematics is well-established as the vocabulary of physics, of existence. Mathematics would be the best option for communications between us and intelligences from other worlds. Music is wrapped up intimately with mathematics. This is another indication of music intertwined with reality at a very basic level.
Pitch can also be measured with numbers, with the frequencies of a given sound. The number pertains to measurement of the wave of the vibrations. Double a frequency and the pitch moves up an octave. This is equivalent to the vibrating string phenomenon. The ratios between the frequencies operate the same way as the ratios of the vibrating strings. The simplest ratios yield the most consonant intervals.
Earlier I described music as a mini-drama, of controlled longing transitioning to longing fulfilled represented by the resolution of dissonance to consonance. Here, we have evidence of a physics basis for a universal nature of dissonance and consonance, meaning that within cultural variations, there is a universal basis for a given piece of music resulting in a similar music experience for humans and maybe even for other sentient beings.
A third aspect to music that also overlaps with the overtone series and the ratios of frequencies and vibrating strings is the intervals of open notes for wind instruments. Most conventional wind instruments use valves or holes or keys to change the length of the vibrating air column to change the pitch. But wind instruments have natural intervals that occur from bottom to top. A bugle, with no valves, delivers those natural intervals. (Other wind instruments without keys or valves have the same characteristics.) And the intervals are the same as the overtone series! This is clearly not an accident. There is undoubtedly a physics reason for this convergence that I have not come across during my study of these issues. (I invite any reader to offer a comment on this issue if you can bring more insight to it.) For now, I’ll just call this more corroboration of the inherent universal nature of pitched sound, and its mathematical character.
As we continue our look for universal characteristics of music, we come to a characteristic of most music—scales. Scales are a series of pitches, rising (or falling) between octaves that create a “mode” or “key.” They can be found in music all over the world, in locations where they have separate evolution and development. I have mentioned pentatonic scales, the most common scale among the musics of humans. The five tones of a pentatonic scale would likely be considered the minimum number to constitute a scale. What is the maximum number? A diatonic scale has seven tones (not including the repeat of the octave at the end of the scale). A chromatic scale has twelve tones. Western music (and so the music that is my cultural comfort zone) revolves around a twelve-tone chromatic scale. Western composers and musicians have played with quarter tones, but it really hasn’t caught on to Western ears. Other cultures have microtones built into their musics, tones that seem to exist out of the twelve-tone chromatic scale. But in my (admittedly limited) listenings to that music, the microtones seem like either embellishments of one of the twelve chromatic tones, or tones existing out of the equal temperament scale, but still with a twelve-tone feel.
Is this twelve-tone chromatic scale a universal characteristic of music, or are my Western ears accustomed to my own culture’s music? Is there a mathematical explanation/rationale? I believe twelve tones constitute the upper limit on discernible scale pitches, with microtones serving as ornaments to the twelve tones. And there is a mathematical explanation for this upper limit. The first non-octave note of the overtone series, and the simplest non-octave ratio interval of the vibrating strings, is the perfect fifth. The perfect fifth gives us the dominant-tonic move in Western music. The dominant-tonic move, V to I, can be found in almost any music that uses scales. The explanation is easy—we can just look at the overtone series to see how prominent the perfect fifth is, built in to any pitched sound. The V to I move can also be a I to IV move—the I in the first scale becomes V in the next scale, with the IV of the first scale becoming the I in the second scale. This gives us the so-called circle of fifths, or circle of fourths. And if we pursue either one, we derive twelve tones—no more, no less. Taking both from C—Circle of fifths: C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#/Ab-Eb-Bb-F-back to C. Circle of fourths: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db/C#-F#-B-E-A-D-G-back to C. Admittedly, this relies on an equal temperament tuning. Pure cycling through those intervals would lead to some frequency numbers that do not add up. Equal temperament tuning, slight adjustments in the frequencies of the twelve tones, allows the circle of fifths/circle of fourths to work. Equal temperament tuning is technically an innovation recently in Western music. But it is an approach to tuning, to scales, to keys, to harmonies, that I think resonates with nearly every musical culture, and this is because of the universal nature of the twelve-tone scale derived from the circle of fourths/circle of fifths. The microtonal variations found among musical cultures can be explained by the slight adjustments to create the equal temperament scale, and the fact that not all musical cultures make those adjustments.
Different cultures use the twelve tones of the chromatic scale differently (and approach tuning of their scales differently). Here, we start to drift from a universal music. So the universal aspects of music, to review, appear to be rhythm and pitch, with octaves and perfect fifths as consonant intervals, with scales using some combination of notes from a twelve-note chromatic scale. From here, deviations and varieties occur. Aspects are shared among the musics of the world, but not shared by all. While the use of scales seems universal, scales of five to seven primary tones (from a twelve-tone chromatic scale), the notes in those scales vary extensively. The so-called major scale, a fundamental element of Western music for the last five or so centuries, is not at all universal among human musics. Exotic scales (to my Western ears) with augmented seconds occur cross-culturally. For me personally, the variety of scales and modes is one of the true joys of music, one of the variations among musics that keeps music fresh and exciting. In my own music, I like to look for fresh ways to approach scales, and harmonies deriving from those scales.
Not every musical culture has harmonies, and by harmonies, I mean a deliberate scheme of chords, of sounding different notes simultaneously to create compelling combinations of sounds. We can certainly argue that scales imply harmony, and they do. It is a slight step from scales to harmony. Harmonies are built on scale steps, usually in stacked triads. Contrapuntal schemes, also not found in all musics, but found in many, look at harmonies, how the lines of the counterpoint land at any single point to create chords.
When we speak of harmony, we now come to the concepts of consonance and dissonance. These concepts vary from culture to culture, and vary widely. For Western music, consonance and dissonance have changed within the culture over time. What was considered dissonant last century and the century before has now morphed into acceptable consonance. Octaves and perfect fifths are consonant. Half steps and microtones in clusters are usually considered dissonant. Schemes to design fixed rules for dissonance and consonance have been attempted, using the overtone series or other aspects inherent in music. They generally fail because cultural familiarity and even musical indoctrination contribute significantly to the way we humans evaluate consonance and dissonance. And, music without dissonance would fail miserably. Music plays like a controlled drama (as I mentioned earlier). Dissonance begs for a resolution to consonance. Even a V to I move sets up a feeling of anticipation, of tension as V wants to move to I. This, it can be argued, is dissonance to consonance even though it involves fundamental intervals. So a huge number of choices are available for the sonic dramas that are music. This is another reason that music creators will never “run out of material.” Cultural norms are constantly evolving so new combinations of consonance and dissonance, and of rhythm, are constantly available.
“Tonality” also appears to be universal, despite the efforts of some Twentieth Century Western music composers’ and music theorists’ efforts to render it obsolete. “Tonality” is the idea that music is experienced as revolving around a given pitch. That pitch center can shift. I heard some form of tonality in all the musical examples from around the world in my study as detailed in previous posts. It is true that celebrated Western composers of the Twentieth Century invented schemes that attempted to obliterate any trace of music revolving around a pitch, or key, or tonal center. But when actually listening to the music, the ear gravitates toward a tonal center; the ear searches for a central pitch to orient the musical experience. One of the most successful of the “twelve tone,” “serial” composers, Alban Berg, designed his twelve note “tone rows” around triads and other musical devices of tonality. This gives his “atonal” “serial” music a tonal feel. The “twelve tone” or “serial” composers expanded music, giving music creators another tool in the music-generating toolbox. But they did not, in my opinion, succeed in eliminating tonality because humans naturally look for tonality when they experience music. I suspect this would be part of the musical experience for any sentient creature as well, or the sonic experience would be something other than music.
Another more controversial consideration, controversial in our day and age, is the relationship of music to the religious/the spiritual, to metaphysics. In my opinion, music factors heavily into the human attempts to interact with the Divine, with what humans call God. Music brings order to the world. Religion/spirituality/metaphysics brings an explanation to existence. So music parallels that metaphysical search for spiritual answers. For me, the search for a universal music parallels my search for a universal spirituality, for a convergence of physics and metaphysics.
It is possible that music acts as a conduit to the Divine. Right now, it is difficult to be certain in drawing conclusions on this issue. But I believe as we become more attuned to a convergence of science and the spiritual, we will see more connections between music and the Divine, and perhaps even seek music as a way of communing with the Divine. After all, music is energy, and existence is energy. So it is not a huge jump to relate music to the Divine and consider that it could offer a channel, a route to the Divine.
In reading scientific discussions about music, I was struck by how thinkers seemed to want to avoid the possible metaphysical/spiritual aspect of music. We live in an age when science is supposed to bring us more knowledge of the world, when science is supposed to render faith in God, or consideration of spirituality, as something for less sophisticated thinkers. But when fair-minded music historians and ethnomusicologists discuss the issue, they admit that music was used by early man as a way of interacting with the Divine. Developments in human abilities are often explained by pointing out the evolutionary advantages those developments bring. I think we should consider that there could be an evolutionary advantage for intelligent beings who can access the Divine (though when religious fanaticism becomes destructive we are left to wonder if this evolutionary advantage can have a downside). If we are going to be fair, if we are really going to be scientific, then we shouldn’t be excluding any line of inquiry including the possibility that music, with its affinity for the universal language of mathematics, with its existence as energy and vibrations as a part of our universe of interacting energy fields—that music could be a gift from the God force, whatever it is, a gift aiding human communion with the Divine. So my searches in both of these areas overlap. As I create music, and find myself in a zone where something outside of me seems to take over, I’ll be looking for that spiritual connection to music—that is part of what my music is about.
On the more technical side, this study brings me to some approaches to music that will influence what I will do in this arena with whatever time I have left:
1) I am looking to create accessible music that has a universal feel. It will be unapologetically tonal, though I occasionally will flirt with atonal techniques like tone rows and clusters. (Technology allows me to control the music—time and pitch—in very precise ways. I’d be crazy not to see what can be done with it.)
2) I will look for exotic scales from different cultures and attempt to create exotic harmonies from those scales. This will include combining those with pop and jazz mediums popular today, as well as drawing from the rich heritage of Western “classical” music.
3) I’ll be looking for sounds from different cultures to juxtapose in unique ways. This includes electronically generated sounds that may not sound like any naturally occurring sound.
4) I’ll continue combining different styles—no combination will be out of bounds—multi-cultural sounds and approaches with popular music/rock-pop as well as jazz and even concert music as time and opportunity allow.
I’ve already started this. “Issa Music,” my CD released in late 2011, certainly does all of us. My upcoming CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook” at this writing consists of thirteen songs with the basic tracks recorded. This CD includes a cover of “Hotel California” with log drum sounds and a flute duet in the instrumental section. The CD also includes a cover of Miles Davis’s “All Blues” with sitar and African flute sounds, as well as a big Fender Rhodes solo. The basic tracks for my original songs on the CD include everything from big strident guitar synthesizer sounds to gentle choral clusters. But this CD barely scratches the surface of the possibilities. Stay tuned at this blog for more on this topic and for details on my upcoming music.
Previous posts on this topic:
A Quick Note April 15, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
Tags: books compared to movies, books into movies, Crusades, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa legend, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, Third Crusade, writing
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This is a quick update for my blog followers (or any other interested visitors) who are accustomed to seeing more frequent posts from me. The posts will be a little less frequent for a few months. I am at work on getting The Sultan and the Khan ready for publication. This is the sequel to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith. The Sultan and the Khan will also be published by Strider Nolan Media (the folks who brought you The Swords of Faith). I’m also at work on the third novel of his trilogy, The Ghosts of Baghdad, set around the time of the Fourteenth Century “Black Death.”
I am also recording tracks for my CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook.”
The track list:
1 – Fishbowl 4:28 (original)
2 – Hotel California 6:23 (cover)
3 – Magic 6:20 (cover)
4 – Mystic Tide 4:17 (original)
5 – Up from the Skies 5:03 (cover)
6 – A Hundred Thousand Friends 5:35 (original)
7 – All Blues 9:48 (cover)
8 – Chase this Mood 4:22 (original)
9 – Black Hole Sun 5:47 (cover)
10 – Purple Haze 3:52 (cover)
11 – Shanghai Noodle Factory 6:01 (cover)
12 – Avalon 6:36 (cover)
13 – Live Your Dreams 4:14 (original)
I hope to have this ready for release later this year.
But this blog will not be without posts! Coming up during the first part of May will be my final post on the nature of music, concluding a series of posts that turned out to be a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be. And, in mid-May, I will post a Books-Into-Movies on “The Great Gatsby”—I’ll compare the book to the new movie release and to the Robert Redford movie of 1974.
Thanks for stopping by. Drop me a line any time at email@example.com.
Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, classical music, Leonard Bernstein, music, tonality, Unanswered Question
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(This is the twelfth of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).
In “The Unanswered Question,” the famed conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein takes on ultimate conceptual questions of music. He frames his study in the context of what he calls a “crisis” in music, and takes the title of his study from the Charles Ives piece of the same name. The Ives piece reportedly asks a metaphysical question; Bernstein puts the question into a musical context. At the end, he decides he is not sure what this “Unanswered Question” is, but decides the answer is “yes”—yes to music, and yes to other arts (with an emphasis on poetry).
“The Unanswered Question” was a series of lectures delivered at Harvard in 1973. In 1976, Bernstein released these lectures in a book, slightly edited, with printed musical examples. There are DVDs available of the lectures full of musical examples including a complete performances of classical works played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Bernstein himself. I absorbed this study in both formats. The lectures address Bernstein’s perceived Twentieth Century “crisis” in music, a crisis over tonality—I’d say a crisis of accessibility to what might be called “concert music/serious music/classical music.” Bernstein looks for universalities in music, the subject of my own series of blog posts (see below). Bernstein finds parallels with universalities in linguistics, and refers liberally to the important linguist Noam Chomsky. At times, this comparison is strained (at times Bernstein even admits it), but some insights are developed. As part of his search for universalities, he goes into the physics of music, helpful material that reinforces much thinking about these musical conceptual issues. He spends a lot of time analyzing recent (within the last three centuries) Western “classical” music, using brilliant insights to frame the “crisis” he refers to.
Another thought about Leonard Bernstein before I look at the six lectures individually—Leonard Bernstein lectures in two to three hour sessions, consulting some notes, but clearly without a word-for-word text of the lecture. He speaks for long uninterrupted periods in perfect, often eloquent sentences, with only a very rare (maybe less than five in all the lectures) stammer or “uh” or “um.” He sprinkles in piano demonstrations with ease, rendering complex musical passages as if they are not much more than a shrug of the shoulders. This is a brilliant man—was a brilliant man. It is part of the crisis he speaks of—evidence of the crisis— that when I went to college and studied music (1972-1976) Bernstein was generally regarded as a trivial figure, a sort of pop-classical musician worthy of little attention. I realize now this attitude was part of the problem he himself was elaborating at the same time I was experiencing the effects of it as a young music creator! I was in the midst of this snobby elitism, of composers writing obscure, deliberately dissonant, unfathomable music for each other—the idea of wanting a larger audience was considered tasteless and banal. I must express my belated admiration for this talented man.
Lecture 1 – Music Phonology
- In this lecture, Bernstein gives us a heavy dose of linguistics, comparing the essence of language with the essence of music. He offers the concept that music is “heightened speech” as justification for the comparison. He describes this “heightened speech” that is music as universal among humans. I find the “heightened speech” idea compelling. Speech offers communication at one level—music cranks up that aural communication channel into something above and beyond language. Bernstein goes into universal aspects of music. He describes the tonic-dominant relationship as derived from the overtone series, from the first three notes (the first two being the fundamental—in C, it would be C, C an octave up, then G, the dominant of the scale). He uses the overtone series to explain the cross-cultural prevalence of pentatonic scales, found from Japan to Scotland, from blues to Gregorian Chant, and the summoning sometimes haunting motive of the descending major third. He even gives a convincing explanation of “blue notes,” that fuzzy major/minor third found in American blues scales, but evident in different ways in other cultures. This “blue” note derives from high up in the overtone scale, at a point not easily heard directly, with the actual note of the overtone series somewhere between a major sixth and a minor seventh above the fundamental. He also explains why there are twelve tones in the conventional chromatic scale, using the circle of fifths, the journey through dominant-tonic shifts until our arrival back at the original (the explanation requires an equal-temperament scale).
Lecture 2 – Musical Syntax
- Bernstein’s search for commonalities between music and language continues. He starts into what to me is a forced attempt to relate elements of music to elements of language: note = letter, scale = alphabet. He also relates triadic inversions to Chomsky’s ideas of linguistic transformation—again, this seemed strained to me. The triad itself is not found universally. This starts us down the path to Western exclusivity to a viewpoint that can only serve to make universal conclusions more difficult to reach. Bernstein does point out that music is more like poetry than like prose, and makes comparisons to poetry throughout his lectures. And when Bernstein makes broader comparisons and analogies between language and music, the ideas are more helpful for developing insights into the universal common denominators of music. Language has its universal elements—words, parts of speech, sentences; and music has its universal elements—notes, some form of scale or mode, and some form of harmony whether through chords or through a sense of unity in the way notes of a scale or mode interact. He ends this lecture with an analysis of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. He relates his analysis to the linguistic terminology, but we start to move into an examination of “Western” music, which will take us to Bernstein’s elaboration of the Twentieth Century crisis in music.
Lecture 3 – Musical Semantics
- Bernstein introduces the idea that “ambiguity” is the key to great art, especially music, though he includes the written word and even to the “Mona Lisa” painting as examples. I think this is an insightful idea for artists of all sorts, but especially for musicians—musicians using all styles of expression. It’s that ambiguity that allows the music to go one way or the other, so creates uncertainty, suspense—attention-getting, attention-keeping tactics. He discusses the use of “deletion” to keep music fresh, the idea of yanking out a predictable repetition to avoid the risk of tedium and to create more “ambiguities.” In this lecture, Bernstein also explains why the minor triad seems “sad”—the intervals are further out on the overtone scale. I’m not sure of this explanation, but I haven’t uncovered a better one. The minor mode permeates music all over the world. To me, there must be a better explanation. It could be that the major third is susceptible to that “blue note” idea mentioned earlier. But I’m not sure that’s enough of an explanation either.
Lecture Four – The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity
- Bernstein delves deeply into recent Western musical history, describing the growing development of chromaticism. I found the analysis of Western music fascinating, but drifting off the subject I am trying to study—the search for the universal nature of music, and how that might relate to the melding of physics and metaphysics. I felt the analogies to poetry were forced. I found Bernstein at his best and most helpful to me when he returned to the overtone system as an explanation of the attractiveness of tonality.
Lecture 5 – The Twentieth Century Crisis
- Bernstein links the “challenge” of tonality to historical events (again with a Western focus)—World War I and the coming of fascism. He describes music as becoming overly long, overly complex, overly chromatic—overly ambiguous. He indicates this crisis led to a potential “collapse” of tonality. He relates the issue again to linguistics, describing tonality as “syntactic clarity” and atonality as “syntactic confusion.” He describes Schoenberg, considered the originator of the system of atonal music, the twelve-tone row or serial music, as eventually concluding that atonality was not possible. Schoenberg even admitted his drive to return to tonal writing from time-to-time! Bernstein points out perhaps the most successful, most performed student of Schoenberg’s serial twelve-tone system was Alban Berg, and Berg appeared to deliberately design tone rows shaped in triads. Those triads were bound to create a tonal resonance with listeners even in the twelve-tone, equal-weight-to-each-note (that was the concept) system. Bernstein goes on to look at Mahler’s Ninth Symphony that he describes as 1) the death of Mahler (he did die soon after writing it) 2) the death of tonality and 3) the death of music. I’m going to describe his crisis in a different way. Music creators came to believe there was nothing new to say—no new direction to take music. There were only so many notes, only so many ways to handle a chord or a mode. As chromaticism spun into exotic directions, composers feared a loss of control as well as a loss of new creative terrain. So a new system of music composition needed to be invented to break new ground, to open new frontiers for music. Frankly, I’ve dismissed this idea previously. Cultural context is always changing, so there are always new avenues for music expression. This is one of the most definitive discoveries of my journey through different musical contexts, past and present. (I’ve discussed this in my previous post, “Book Commentary/Review – Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin.”) But this perceived crisis brought on the tone-row serialists, and other experimentation with atonality. In my opinion, this is now running its course, as music creators realize this perceived crisis was a giant collective illusion. Ironically, and gratifyingly, these atonal techniques are now available for every music creator to utilize in his or her musical vision. The door is open to yet even more possibilities. But tonality is ingrained and hovers over all of these musical avenues.
Lecture Six – Poetry of Earth
- Bernstein discusses “sincerity” in this lecture, whether composers mean to convey the emotions, the feelings, their music evokes. He mentions Stravinsky and his hostility to the idea that music conveys feelings. Frankly, I don’t care. I did not find this to be a useful tangent. I don’t see the intention of the composer as making any difference. The music creator can have the intention of conveying specific feelings or the music can just stand as it is. No feelings? “The Rite of Spring” conveys passionate feelings—a girl dances herself to death as part of a primitive religious rite—an attempt to connect to the Divine. Maybe Stravinsky created this music with a detached, unemotional heart. But the music is passionate—it conveys feelings—it would be absurd to argue otherwise. Bernstein spends much of this lecture on Stravinsky. He clearly considers Stravinsky to have the answer to the so-called “crisis”—and makes a convincing case. Stravinsky uses poly-tonality and poly-rhythms to bring new musical expression while maintaining a tonal concept. Stravinsky reaches around the world and into the past to meld many styles into his music. He is the embodiment of what I describe as the continually shifting cultural context that makes options for musical expression inexhaustible, even within a tonal, twelve-note, chromatic-scale setting. Bernstein focuses on Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex,” comparing parts of it to Verdi’s “Aida.” This is more highly “Western”-specific analysis. “Oedipus Rex” itself is an operatic composition—not normally my cup of tea. But some of the choral harmonies are breathtakingly beautiful. After presenting “Oedipus Rex,” at the end of the DVD, Bernstein offers a short statement. In the book, Bernstein goes on at length, expanding his original lecture, tying together semantics and music. At one point he even refers to “Along Comes Mary” by the Association and “the musical adventures of Simon and Garfunkel” as being more desirable to him musically than music written by so-called “avante-garde” composers. Bernstein ends the DVD saying “I believe a new eclecticism is at hand.” Bernstein goes on to express a list of beliefs deriving from these lectures in a solemn, serious tone, in a litany. “No matter how serial or stochastic, or otherwise intellectualized music may be, it can always qualify as poetry as long as it is rooted in earth.” He goes on to say “I believe from the Earth emerges a musical poetry, which is by the nature of its sources tonal. I believe that the sources cause to exist a phonology of music, which evolves from the universal known as the harmonic series.” After listing some further beliefs he concludes by saying “and finally, I believe that because all these things are true, Ives’ unanswered question has an answer. I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is “yes.”
It is gratifying to me that this brilliant recent thinker about music drew some of the same conclusions I have, decades later. There is an ingrained, inborn tonal orientation in the way humans perceive music—a wired-in tonality. Even when composers attempt to muddy, obscure or even eliminate tonality, human ears will naturally search for a tonal center to orient them to the musical experience. Bernstein defends this idea using his incredibly wide knowledge of music and culture, and I believe his viewpoint, a viewpoint I’ve seen dismissed by some, will ultimately prevail. This set of lectures then will become a treatise for the years to come— particularly for music creators of Western “concert/serious/classical” music. (More of my thinking on this subject is in my essay “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”)
There is one last post to come on this admittedly huge topic that grew on me, exploded on me. In that post, I will attempt to tie all of this together, the universal nature of music, with human consciousness, physics and metaphysics. That’s all—not too ambitious…
Previous posts on this topic:
2013 – What I’ll Be Offering This Year at this Blog January 7, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
Tags: books compared to movies, books into movies, Crusades, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa legend, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, Third Crusade, writing
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2012 was a year of many posts here at CreativeEccentric, living up to the impulsive name I gave to my blog in 2010. My 820th Anniversary “Third Crusade” series, pertaining to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith, came to its conclusion, followed by a bonus Christmas post. (There will be two more intriguing bonus 820th Anniversary posts coming up early in 2013—stay tuned.) My monthly posts on the selections from my “Issa Music” CD also concluded with my recent January 1st post on Track 13, “West Meets East” (the final track on the CD). My series on the nature of music and music’s possible link between to physics and metaphysics is coming to its conclusion—I ended up with a lot more posts on this that I had foreseen. (Here’s a link to the most recent post on this subject, which has links to all the previous posts.) 2013, I suspect, will be a year of fewer posts. But with traffic multiplying as the posts multiply, readers can be assured I will continue posting on popular topics for the foreseeable future:
- Books-Into-Movies posts will continue—they are among the most popular pages here. There are two coming up in January—on “Anna Karenina” and on “Lincoln.” I will pick and choose these as they strike me. They may pertain to upcoming movies (and television miniseries), or to past classic movies. They will usually have a historical aspect to them.
- I will be posting commentaries about books written by authors I know. This will expose my readers to books they may not have heard of anywhere else, but may very well enjoy.
- I will be producing one, maybe two CDs in 2013. This will lead to posts about music (in addition to my concluding posts on the nature of music).
Beyond that, there is always the unexpected. Anyone who has been with me over the last the 2½ years of this blog will attest to that!
I hope everyone has a happy and productive new year and enjoys what I have to offer here, and through other creative outlets.
Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:
- August 24, 2012 – CADD™: A Personal Confession
- Janury 1, 2012 – 2012 – Personal Notes: What I’m Offering This Year at this Blog, and Elsewhere
- July 19, 2011 – The Sultan and the Khan: A Progress Report
- June 22, 2011 – Dying to Heal, a Novel: A Personal Note
- January 1, 2011 – Personal Notes About the New Year
- October 26, 2010 – Some Personal Notes
- October 9, 2010 – Opportunity in Adversity: A Personal Note
- July 2, 2010 – Final Thoughts Before The Swords of Faith Release
- June 4, 2010 – Another Creative Eccentric Strikes the Blogosphere
Spock’s Beard – Top Ten List August 16, 2012Posted by rwf1954 in music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Spock's Beard.
Tags: music, music commentary, Neal Morse, progressive rock, rock music, Spock's Beard
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This is the second of what will be a series of posts offering Top-Ten lists of selections from various progressive rock bands, past and present. (When I started this blog, I said it would be mainly for writing, but with some surprises. I have now posted a number of times about music, including a few posts specifically about progressive rock: The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes, The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, Flower Kings – Top Ten list, Music Review/Comentary – MoeTar and Beggar’s Opera – Rock Music Commentary. I released my own mystic jazz CD “Issa Music” late last year.)
A few words about this Top Ten list for Spock’s Beard—this list will pertain to the six studio albums released between 1995 and 2002 that included Neal Morse. For me, “Spock’s Beard” without Neal Morse sounds like a different band. Also, “Snow,” the final release of the six, is a dramatic whole. I have extracted cuts from that whole for this list, and have not treated “Snow” as one selection. I also treated “The Healing Colors of Sound” from “Day for Night” as one selection even though it is offered as six selections. It is as complete a whole as other long-form selections on the other CDs. This choice is arbitrary. “Snow,” for me, was uneven, and would not make this list as a whole. But selections from it are wonderful, worthy of consideration for the list.
For my tastes (please offer comments if your tastes are different—or, you can say if you agree), I found no Top Ten selections from their first CD, “The Light.” And I found many from “Kindness of Strangers,” “Day for Night,” and “V.” So, obviously, for people trying to decide which Neal Morse “Spock’s Beard” CDs to buy first, I recommend those three CDs.
So here’s the list, from Number Ten, finishing with Number One:
10 – “The Big Nothing” from “V,” 2000 (27:18)
One of Spock’s Beard’s epics with catchy piano riffs and poignant acoustic guitar riffs tying together melodic voice-chord song sections also punctuated with guitar and keyboard solos. The riffs stretch out into improvisational opportunities. They tie the big epic together near the end with the melodic electric guitar riff that started it off, concluding the nearly thirty minute selection with an anthem-like finish featuring two wailing guitars. The subject seems to be about music commerciality versus art.
9 – “The Devil’s Got My Throat” from “Snow,” 2002 (7:17)
This is a visceral, driving, tuneful song from Spock’s Beard’s opera “Snow.” It starts out with an ambiguous rhythm of hammering, thumping organ chords jumping in intervals, working its way into its dynamic hook—“The Devil’s Got My Throat, I’m going down, that’s all she wrote.” They slip into a few instrumental interludes, and even some vocal counterpoint, developing themes from the bass rhythm and notes, but the song’s strength is that driving rhythm and jumping, pounding chords.
8 – “The Doorway” from “Beware of Darkness,” 1996 (11:27)
One of Spock’s Beard’s most thematically developed long-form pieces, with ideas worked over and varied as the song seems to describe a spiritual journey, though the exact nature of the doorway, and the “[who] are the doorway” that goes with the “you are the doorway,” is left open to interpretation. The anthem-like conclusion (followed by a brief coda) and the inventive development of this early Spock’s Beard piece puts it in the Top Ten.
7 – “At the End of the Day,” from “V,” 2000 (16:30)
Much of Spock’s Beard’s music, including many of the epic progressive-style pieces, evolve around strong songs—chords under lyrics in a great marriage of words and music. So for a number of the epic-length pieces coming up, it is a matter of taste, of what melody, what song, strikes the listener as most pleasurable. The hook “at the end of the day” is pleasant and so is the theme of not getting too wound up about transient events because “at the end today, you’ll be fine.” Also included is some solid development of the main melody, played by a french horn, and a B section reminiscent of a sort of Spanish-style chord progression/riff, with an electric piano solo played over the riff. The reprise of the main verse sections features a great running bassline pounding underneath with some wah guitar effects adding to the turbulent flavor of the final reprise.
6 – “Day for Night,” from “Day for Night,” 1999 (7:34)
“Day for Night” is another fine song, great melody and chords, winding out into a larger whole. It is a tighter construction than some of the epics, making it easier to grasp, so for me, elevating it on the list. The song climaxes with some wonderful vocal harmonies and counterpoint, making this memorable tune, well-developed and economical, one of the top Spock’s Beard tracks.
5 – “The Healing Colors of Sound” from “Day for Night” (selections 8 to 13) 1999 (total cumulative time 21:07)
In the tradition of Jethro Tull’s “Passion Play” (and even “Jesus Christ Superstar”), we have a story-selection (broken into different parts, but clearly meant to be taken in as a single whole) loosely based on the New Testament story of Jesus. Memorable themes, anthems that build in intensity—the “My Shoes” vocal line rises an octave as it evolves—make this a top Spock’s Beard effort. Along the way, we have the biting rock style of “Mommy Comes Back,” and the lighter rock style of “The Healing Colors of Sound” complete with fanfarish french horns. The whole selection culminates with a huge anthem, the epitome of the Spock’s Beard style, a reprise of “My Shoes.”
4 – “Flow” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (15:48)
This is a long form, epic piece with a few simple ideas—the biggest idea is the “true believer” who will never be a victim of the “great deceiver.” For my taste, the entire piece hangs together magnificently, with every instrumental interlude and new theme a joy with no real soft spots. And the concluding spiritual/mystical section (“Into the Source”) is one of my favorite Spock’s Beard musical moments, with its towering simplicity, musically and lyrically. After sections of turbulence and tension, the “Into the Source” finale invites us into a simple yet elegant state of mind.
3 – “The Good Don’t Last” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (10:04)
This is my favorite of the epic-length Spock’s Beard pieces (Number Two and Number One are shorter song forms). The opening jazz waltz, with one line working up while another works down until they are joined at the end of the phrase, lets us know we’re in for something special. The verses have a tuneful, memorable flow. The piece seems to refer to lost opportunities, to missed chances to accomplish greatness. But at the end, there is hope we still have a chance—“The radiant is still here… And it’s not going to disappear.”
2 – “June” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (5:29)
For the top two, I admit I am emphasizing music over lyrics, song-craft over epic-craft. This song simply has a wonderful melody and harmony, with images of nostalgia and “fire girls” dancing through it. Yes, it is the kind of song that sticks in your head for days.
1 – “Skin” from “Day for Night” 1999 (3:58)
This song is just simply a great combination of words and music. It’s catchy and there is depth to the lyrics as well. It is not as big in form as some of the grander Spock’s Beard epic cuts. But it is a song I can hear over and over and walk away singing. This makes it a great melding of progressive rock and tuneful, popular music.
Almost Made the Top Ten
11 – “Wind at My Back” and “Made Alive Again/Wind at My Back” from “Snow” 2002 (5:12, 8:28)
- One of the big anthem selections from Spock’s Beard’s two-CD rock opera “Snow.” I listed the selections together because they both feature the “Wind at My Back” melody. There is an exhilarating inspirational quality to the song.
12 – “I Will Go” from “Snow,” 2002 (5:09)
- Right before the big climax of “Snow” with “Wind at My Back,” comes this song of decision, rising, building from the depths of despair to the energy of determination.
13 – “Revelation” from “V” 2000 (6:04)
- Starts as a dreamy song, with electric piano bouncing across the speakers, then hammered with a big hook about the “rain of revelation.”
14 – “Crack in the Big Sky” from “Day for Night” 1999 (9:59)
- Driving-rock, guitar-riff oriented epic-length song about “Crack in the Big Sky,” with rain, but with “night staying and music playing” that “could not shame this high.”
15 – “Long Time Suffering” from “Snow,” 2002 (6:04)
- Great hook on the lyrics “Long Time Suffering,” in this selection toward the beginning of “Snow.”
16 – “Gibberish” from “Day for Night,” 1999 (4:18)
- Complex instrumental and vocal counterpoint, reminiscent of Gentle Giant’s “Reflections” give us an adventurous progressive rock song influenced by Gentle Giant, but with Spock’s Beard’s distinctive stamp.
17 – “Strange World” from “The Kindness of Strangers,” 1997 (4:20)
- “The bomber got his manifesto published in the New York Times.” It is a “strange world,” well described musically in his ditty-like, quirky song.
With this post, I have followed my Top Ten list for Flower Kings. These two progressive rock groups are more contemporary groups, issuing their CDs during the 1990s and 2000’s. My next Top Ten progressive rock posts will be more ambitious. I will tackle Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, King Crimson, and Gentle Giant. You can expect those posts over the next six months or so. In the meantime, feel free to offer your comments. Formulating a list like this is a way to share reactions to the music. Of course, there is no right answer to this sort of assessment. So please feel free to offer your own take on Spock’s Beard with your comments.
Music Review/Comentary – MoeTar May 9, 2012Posted by rwf1954 in MoeTar, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music.
Tags: album review, CD review, MoeTar, Moorea Dickason, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Tarik Ragab
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There are a few times in my life when I have heard new music and was stunned. “What exactly was that? I’ve never heard anything like that before. What the hell was that? I need to hear it again—and again—and again.” Some instances I can recall: 1) As a teenage kid hearing “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, 2) As a slightly older teenage kid hearing Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus,” 3) Around the same time—“Dance of the Maya” by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, 4) As a college student hearing Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for the first time, 5) Later in adulthood hearing Dimitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, particularly the leaping slightly off-kilter fanfares that start the piece, and 6) “Cult of Personality” by the late 80s/early 90s group, Living Colour. Now we can add to that “Dichotomy” by MoeTar. Thank you Magna Carta records for keeping me on your mailing list and letting me know about these people.
“Dichotomy” is one of a number of really captivating cuts in the MoeTar style. I’ll discuss each cut individually. Generally, we have the crystal clear female vocal stylings (except for occasional raspiness in the upper range) of Moorea Dickason over adventurous rhythms and harmonies (most writing credits are attributed to bassist Tarik Ragab) producing a sound that is hard to compare to anything I’ve heard before. Certainly influences from progressive rock both past and present are evident. But this really is an original sound. And during some sections, if you want to sing along, you are going to have a challenge keeping up with Moorea Dickason as she sings complex vocal lines in unison, and sometimes in harmony, with the guitar and keyboard. Do I think MoeTar will break through the way Jimi Hendrix did? In this current music climate, probably not. This music takes effort to absorb—effort well worth expending, by the way—and often in our culture now it is the simple, sometimes overly simple, pounding drum and bass lines under step-like melodies with easy leaps that catch our attention, then fade quickly as their shallowness causes our attention to drift to the next banality. But those of us who like our music fresh, and inventive, and adventurous, need to stick up for acts like MoeTar. And—encourage them to produce more music!
My comments on the cuts:
Dichotomy (3:57) – It’s in eight. Not two 4/4 measures. It’s in eight. The rhythm throbs along with a strange bass accent at the end of the eight that had me searching for an unconventional time signature. So the rhythm calls out for attention. After a rousing introduction with quick instrumental flourishes, in comes the lilting, jazzy vocals: “Doom architects, skin cineplex infiltrate dynastic manifest…” Here we go! The lyrics fly by—it took a few listens just to pick out a few lines I really love: “…masters of our own banality,” “…experiments on supplicants, social engineering detriments”—with the closest to a vocal hook being “paradox dichotomy,” recurring throughout the song. In the middle of the song, we have an interplay among bassist Tarik Ragab, keyboardist Matt Lebofsky and guitarist Matthew Heulitt reminiscent of Gentle Giant. In fact, the song reminds me faintly of “Cogs and Cogs,” though “Dichotomy” is no clone of that progressive rock classic! The lyrics and music sail by so fast that I was compelled to listen over and over—to try to figure out—what the hell happened here! Once I got a handle on it, I could only marvel at how wonderful the song is, and hope for more of the same. This is my favorite on the CD, but others come close as I will discuss.
Infinitesimal Sky (3:01) – Starting right out with the line “where’s that idiot clown,” this song features block chord shifts over a quirky driving rhythm in five. The lyrics—“Burn up. Burn down. So much for you.”—bring us to a climax of sorts.
Butchers of Baghdad (4:19) – The underpinnings of this song—the bass, keyboard and drum rhythm section—could be a chord progression/arrangement for a late Beatles song. But over the top is a flurry of lyrics and complex vocal lines sung in perfect unison with the guitar. A few lines speak out absent the guitar doubling, offering a contrast of clean purity against the turbulence of the unison sections. A performance of this song is featured in MoeTar’s video at their web site http://www.moetar.com.
Random Tandem (4:11) – A light carnival feel here, with alternating long note melodic sections and flashes of quick, leaping lines (a trademark of the MoeTar style). The exotic doubling of the long vocal notes with a lilting instrumental note adds to the creepy carnival effect.
Ist or Ism (4:57) – This starts out with a hard rock riff stated by the guitar, developed into the main A section, also with a heavy rockish feel. The A section is then wonderfully contrasted with a lighter B section, with a jazzy, swinging rhythm, consisting of scat sections that would make the scat-master female vocalists of Manhattan Transfer proud.
Morning Person (2:54) – Lumbering tribute to waking up slowly, with some wild instrumental interplay at the end.
New World Chaos (5:39) – Dickason’s overdubbed vocal pad provides the gentle, haunting pulse for the song—the guitar, keyboard, bass and drums flit around through the shifting, calm-within-the-storm vocals. Through this section, the vocals are the rhythm section. This matches the title’s implied mood perfectly. The guitar, keyboard, bass and drums calm down with the lyrics: “Blue skies. Green scenes. White light. Red dreams.” This creates a mystical repose with the rhythm section and vocals in sync again. But it is a masterful out-of-sync before we get to that repose!
Screed (4:40) – This one starts out with a big Gothic theme and develops into one of the more straightforward cuts on the CD, still recognizable as MoeTar, thanks to the lyrical style of Moorea Dickason’s distinctive vocals.
Never Home (4:50) – Gentle ballad about never feeling at home in New York City, in a light, slow, jazz waltz style. MoeTar dresses it up at the end with the jam-like coda section.
From these Small Seeds (5:19) – Okay, here’s another one—“What the hell was that?” Turbulent harmonies and off-kilter rhythms underpinning lyrics like “harbinger of dreams… Precognistic themes… Apocalyptic dreams and memes…” This goes on until the jumble stops dead with the wonderfully harmonized words “who cares.” There’s something of a swagger with this line, as if we are caught in a mismash of pretentious abstraction, and so we throw up our hands—“who cares.” And then we shift into a clearly stated hook: “I’m past the point of no return.” But that line cadences off the home chord of the key we are in, leading us right back to the wonderfully controlled chaos that permeates most of the song, including a vocal interplay at the end that leaves us unsettled—the song is not going to give us an easy way out. If I had heard this before “Dichotomy,” it might have been my favorite. It is a close second for me.
Friction (3:07) – Great finishing cut. “Golden prizes fill your eyes to fill your head…” A big soaring melody over an unconventional chord progression. (No I-IV-V-I’s for this group!) The shifts from four to three give the cut a wandering feeling, shifting, drifting, searching. The chords themselves seem in search of a resting place but simply will not arrive there. The cut seems to be in any number of keys all at once. And if you think the final chord will give you that resting place, forget it! “Fear and deny. Turn from the cry. Now.” I consider this in my top three favorite cuts from this sensational album.
MoeTar indicates on their website that they’re working on a new CD, possibly as you are reading this right now. I say to them—bring it on! I suspect there is an enormous amount of creative opportunity within this style!
Flower Kings – Top Ten List March 25, 2012Posted by rwf1954 in Flower Kings, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Uncategorized.
Tags: Flower Kings, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Roine stolt
This is the first of what will be a series of posts offering Top-Ten lists of selections from various progressive rock bands, past and present. (When I started this blog, I said it would be mainly for writing, but with some surprises. I have now posted a number of times about music, including a few posts specifically about progressive rock: The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes, The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, Flower Kings – Top Ten list. I released my own mystic jazz CD “Issa Music” late last year.)
My first two posts will be about two more recent progressive rock groups, my favorite contemporary (within the last decade or so) groups. The first is a Top-Ten list for Flower Kings. (The next Top-Ten post will be about Spock’s Beard. Those familiar with this music know that key members of Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard, Roine Stolt and Neal Morse, combined their prodigious talents in the progressive rock super-group, Transatlantic.) I am not sure why we don’t hear a lot more about Flower Kings. I sort of stumbled on them a number of years ago when playing around at CD Universe, looking at “customers who bought this also bought this.” Flower Kings have produced album after album of fresh, dynamic material, big-themed, sophisticated development of musical themes—everything we can ask from progressive rock groups. I think their style resembles most closely the progressive rock group Yes, but also includes elements of Gentle Giant and King Crimson within their influences. And make no mistake about it, they have their own unique style!
Coming up with this list was not easy! It was mainly a challenge of narrowing things down. I’ve included a second ten as well. (I won’t do that in every post.) I limited myself to the studio albums of the 1990s and 2000s (no live cuts included). I included Roine Stolt’s “The Flower King” album which includes many of the same personnel of the Flower Kings group—it really seems like a first Flower Kings album. It was not easy comparing shorter songs with longer ones. (In the case of Flower Kings, we’re talking about songs under six or seven minutes as short.) But, all disclaimers and explanations aside, here is my list. Of course, offer your own at the comment page! Or your quibbles…
10 – “Driver’s Seat” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 18:22
A rock epic about taking control, getting back into the “Driver Seat’s.” The middle section brings us a really wonderful alliance of a driving harmonic and rhythmic momentum carrying vivid lyrics, dramatizing how out of control our circumstances can get. This sets us on a musical journey ending with a repossession of the “Driver’s Seat,” “a million options chiming,” but ending with an ambiguous line—“Time is such a bitch and fate its little liar”—did we get into the “Driver’s Seat,” or was that impossible from the start?
9 – “I Am the Sun” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, Part I, 15:03; Part II, 10:48
Progressive rock at its best, with motivic and thematic development, shifting moods, twisting and turning through various sonic-scapes. There is a nice section in the middle of Part I with the repeating phrase “break down doors,” which then moves into a hard-edged riff and off to some hard-driving rock guitar work. Part I ends with a haunting, utterly gorgeous section, minor key shifting to major chord cadences:
“In time our heart will open, you’ll let her in
To see we are one, this one that we are
In time your eyes will open, time will tell
‘Larger-than-life,’ ‘revolve among stars’”
Part II acts as a long coda, as if it is a few comments after the journey in Part I. This starts as a gentle, casual coda, and finishes with a final statement of the main theme, followed by an extended musical journey moving through synth, bass and guitar lines migrating over continually shifting chords.
8 – “The Flower King” from Roine Stolt’s 1994 album “The Flower King,” 10:28
Roine Stolt, the undoubted first among equal artists in the Flower Kings, says in the liner notes of “The Flower King” album that he recorded this song as a counterweight “to the flood of destructive, dark ‘n-evil-hard-core-death-trash-speed-black ‘n suicidal metal music’ out at the time.” Basically this is a simple anthem, with some progressive rock type development, but at its essence a simple positive statement, lyrically and musically. It can be considered nothing less than the theme song for this great progressive rock group, a group with the courage to reach out with some positivity during a time when cynicism often rules and optimism is often thought of as a synonym for naivete. This song also displays one of Roine Stolt’s big strengths as a songwriter; he creates anthems—this song would be the first of many for “Flower Kings.”
7 – “Monkey Business” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 4:20
This is the shortest song on this Top Ten list, essentially a modified blues progression song with a bridge. This made the list because the verses are catchy; it’s a tight little song. Each of the four verses starts out with a protestation of what the singer is not, followed by some clever phrases about what he is—better than a monkey, but not better than much of anything else.
6 – “Devil’s Playground” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 24:30
Here is one of those epic song/pieces characteristic of progressive rock. “Devil’s Playground” is about making a deal with the devil to survive. The Flower Kings call us out in this one:
“This is how you raise the Cain
This is what you teach our children
Back on duty, dog eat dog
Clueless in the Devil’s Playground”
The music backing this section is memorable and effective. They use it frequently within a number of musical settings. They seem to implore us to reconsider our activities on the “Devil’s Playground,” after working us through a musical journey. The 24 minutes holds together as a unified whole—provocative, evocative and musically satisfy.
5 – “In the Eyes of the World” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997, 10:38
A brilliant song about that insecurity people have all felt, that everyone watching us finds us to be ridiculous. From the driving organ ditty that starts it off, clown-like, leading to the weightier parts of the song, what makes it most effective is that the chorus starts well away from the tonic minor key and drifts toward it with a series of unresolved chords that finally payoff at the end of the line—“I’m just a clown in the eyes of the world.” There is some nice development, reminiscent of 1970s Gentle Giant. The song has an everyman allusion in it—that feeling that every mistake we make is on display for all to see.
4 – “Chicken Farmer Song” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:09
I admit it; this one is here because I simply love the way it sounds. I love the cascading vocal harmonies in the verses, the driving triplet-laden rhythm, and the fun chorus about being a “chicken farmer.” This is just a flawless song, gorgeously arranged, dreaming of the simpler life—no big spiritual/mystical event here, just a fun, well-crafted song!
3 – “Genie in a Bottle” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 8:10
Another catchy one from the Floral Royalty—Yes, this one has a real sticky little hook! “Look to the left, look to the right, I’m looking for a Genie in a Bottle!” But to go with that catchy hook is actually a much deeper song. It’s about that last hopeful dream when all hope seems lost—that desperate wish for a magic miracle that will solve all problems, that will lift the dreamer from the depths:
“All I need is another dream
All I need is some self-esteem
Can you take me, can you take me this time?”
Just looking for that big miracle, that “Genie in a Bottle.”
2 – “Psycedelic Postcard” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 9:50 (that’s that way they spell it on the album…)
This one starts out quirky, almost as if it is a joke song—“the world is all in the hands of a juggler.” The timbre of the vocals could be called the Munchkins Tabernacle Choir, telling us about strange, maybe even drug-induced images. But by the end, the tone is much more serious—and uplifting. It is possible to be free of the absurdity of these images–
“My Mind’s Eye can still see…..,
Can’t take that away from me
In My Mind’s Eye I’ll be free….,
Freedom believer, Freedom deliver”
The journey of the song, from absurdity to uplifting anthem, puts it near the top of the list.
1 – “Love Supreme” from “Adam and Eve,” 2004, 19:50
“Coming up, growing up, looking for a bigger understanding
Coming up, growing up, speaking of respect for all the planet
Coming up, building up, new religion sees the light of day
Coming up, building up, changes ahead but don’t you be afraid”
For someone like me who loves progressive rock for the big themes, the ambitious song subjects, the long forms developed, forged with peaks and valleys, this is my favorite of the Flower Kings album selections. It shimmers with Steve Howe type leads and Yes-like vocal harmonies. We have the song of19:50culminating with almost a gospel-church feel—“…all my wanting is down to understanding,” “…all my longing is focused to be justified… I’m finding out just who I am.” When the musical journey charted by this epic ends, engaged listeners will feel as if they have been through a mystical experience.
The Second Ten
11 – “The Truth Will Set You Free” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 30:04
- Great chorus for the title line, well-developed in this lengthy selection.
12 – “The Merry-Go-Round” from “Stardust We Are,” 1997 8:17
- A musical whirlwind in five, shooting through changes like a fast merry-go-round! (It does move off into a more conventional four.)
13 – “Slave to Money” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 7:30
- Strong, powerful piece about the perils of being a “Slave to Money”—“God may look at what we’ve done, knowing we are the ugly ones.”
14 – “Underdog” from “Space Revolver,” 2000, 5:29
- Classic Roine Stolt anthem/epic complete with bagpipe sounds.
15 – “Garden of Dreams” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 59:57 (18 parts)
- Eighteen part epic disjointed and uneven at times, but “Don’t Let the d’Evil In” and “Love is the Word” are classic Flower Kings brilliance.
16 – “Silent Inferno” from “Unfold the Future,” 2002, 14:25
- The “Silent Inferno” appears to be a reference to insomnia over second thoughts; the verses flow through a dark but gentle chord progression.
17 – “Deaf Dumb and Blind” from “Flower Power,” 1998, 11:09
- Poignant piece about spiritual wisdom lost, with a great litany in the middle: “gone the spirit, gone the gold; gone the justice, so we’re told…”
18 – “Paradox Hotel,” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 6:30
- Hard rock riff gives this relatively simple song big energy.
19 – “Road to Sanctuary” from “The Rainmaker,” 2001. 13:50
- Big wall-of-sound theme with driving guitar riffs contrasts with gentle emotional sections in Roine Stolt’s classic anthem style.
20 – “Monsters and Men” from “Paradox Hotel,” 2006, 21:19
- Musical call for rejection of fanaticism, and for reconciliation, includes poignant vocal harmonies: “the more you look, the more you try; the more you free the inner eye; there’s a mountain we can climb.”
Beggar’s Opera – Rock Music Commentary January 11, 2012Posted by rwf1954 in Beggar's Opera, electrosensitivity, music, music commentary, progressive rock, Ricky Gardiner, rock music.
Tags: Beggar's Opera, electrosensitivity, music, progressive rock, Ricky Gardiner, rock music
This post exists purely because of the internet, specifically because of blogging. Beggar’s Opera, the 1970s progressive rock group, came to my attention as a result of interactions with my blog. I had never heard of Beggar’s Opera. I did a little internet research and had a feeling I would like them—some of my favorite music from the 1970s is progressive rock, and my research indicated they created music in that style. I picked up their first four albums, and two more recent efforts of their lead guitarist. It’s fun to find new music from an old era. Progressive rock has migrated to new places—places I like by the way—Spock’s Beard and Flower Kings, to name a few. But 1970s Beggar’s Opera takes me back to a past era, offering new musical experiences in an old familiar style, like an old friend offering new surprises:
“Act One” (1970): This album reminded me immediately of Keith Emerson’s pre-ELP group, the Nice. (With apologies to Lee Jackson, the vocals on Beggar’s Opera are a big improvement over the Nice.) Alan Park, the organist, quotes classical music pieces throughout “Act One,” with guitarist Ricky Gardiner joining in. They even play homage to the Nice with a quote from the Karelia Suite, one of the Nice’s more successful pieces. The song “Memory,” with its shift of rhythm, and shift through chord changes, riffs gliding over the rhythm and harmony, took me back to early Yes and Gentle Giant, with a hard rock driving push added.
“Waters of Change” (1971): A mellotron is added to many of the tracks, thickening the texture of Beggar’s Opera’s music. But one of the highlights of this CD is a short piece, “Lament,” with an organ and distant drum offering a droning chant-like feel, like a bagpiper standing alone on a hill in the early morning mist, plaintively calling for attention. “Festival” is another highlight of the “Waters of Change” album, calling to mind Jethro Tull, along with other progressive rock influences. Flute riffs permeate the background of parts of “Festival.” The music throbs through wonderful chord migrations with the cadence on the lyrics “festival is here to stay” that surprises in a really satisfying way. “Festival” paces through development and shifts as we expect from a good progressive rock song. In fact, this is my favorite cut from the first four Beggar’s Opera albums. The quotes of classical music are reduced in this album, but have certainly not disappeared. “Silver Peacock” starts out with the C minor prelude from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (I) played flawlessly at break-neck speed on the organ.
“Pathfinder” (1972): This album starts with “Hobo,” a catchy song about a truly tragic situation! The bouncy minor key seems at odds with the story, an effective tension that makes the song effective. They also take on pop music’s late 1960s flirtation with the progressive rock style, “MacArthurPark.” The keyboard background and soaring vocals put the band’s stamp on the song. Creative combinations of piano, harpsichord and organ bring enchanting colors to the effort.
“Get Your Dog Off of Me” (1973): The group seems to be transitioning away from the progressive rock style with this final effort from the original “Beggar’s Opera.” There is a bluesy, old-time rock ’n roll, sometimes almost country-rock feel to many of the songs. There are some hints of progressive rock here, with adventurous chord shifts during “Morning Day,” and the riff-based “Working Man,” with guitar lead lines flowing through the lead vocals of the chorus in well-placed counterpoint. And they offer a great progressive rock rendition of Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” with a dynamic synthesizer fanfare where the brass section comes in, and an instrumental break with a crisp synth solo.
The other two CDs I picked up are recent releases from Beggar’s Opera’s guitarist, Ricky Gardiner. One is a Beggar’s Opera CD. The other is a rock opera about an affliction Gardiner has been struggling with, “electrosensitivity.”
“Close to My Heart” (2007): This Beggar’s Opera group is a family affair with the original Beggar’s Opera guitarist playing the guitars, bass, and adding some vocals. His wife, Virginia Scott, a member of the group in some of the original Beggar’s Opera recordings, sings the lead vocals and provides some supporting keyboard parts, including mellotron sounds, recalling her contributions to the 1970s albums. Their son, Tom Gardiner, plays the drums. This CD is basically a guitar CD, with block chords and searing, clean-sounding leads soaring over the chords. But though the textures are relatively simple, and certainly simple for progressive rock, the music itself has an exotic feel, with unconventional chord changes, involving chromatic moves as well as through shifting keys, overlaid with the lilting quality of Virginia Scott’s voice, often effectively doubled with harmonies. “Passing Her” is a highlight of this CD, with an apparently simple rhythm, with simple melodic lines. But the exotic chromatic moves give the music a pleasantly eerie vibe. The B section breaks into an electronic pulsing bass that lowers while the melodic line raises, creating a musical stretching effect. “A-Ha” is a hypnotic, catchy song with a little bass riff during the chorus that will stick with you long after you hear it. “Angelus Thread” starts out simply, with two chord progressions moving in half steps under a chant-like melody. But as the song develops, we get our most progressive rockish selection, with flowing guitar lines and piano countermelodies intertwining through the chord progressions.
“Lost a Life” (2011): This is a rock opera produced by the same Gardiner family comprising the 2007 Beggar’s Opera group. It is the story of an affliction that has transformed the life of Beggar’s Opera guitarist Ricky Gardiner—“electrosensitivity,” a disabling sensitivity to the electricity generated by all the technological devices surrounding us. It seems a cruel fate for someone so steeped in music electronics, someone so capable with beautiful, clear-toned electric guitar passages. But Gardiner takes on the affliction in the way we might expect, by creating music about it. During “Masts On My Roof,” we have what may be the signature passage of the rock opera, with choruses of “electrosensivity” harmonized in Virginia Scott’s upper vocal range, calling out in distress, with that one word, begging for an explanation and a solution. It does not seem to be forthcoming. The selection ends with a long list of devices that must be avoided—and heart-wrenchingly, even people with those devices. One of the more striking of the selections from “Lost a Life” is “Dr. Carlo.” Finally, a medical person takes the affliction seriously. It is not just some psychological tweak—“electrosensitivity” is a real illness, with drastic measures needed to address it, but validating the symptoms experienced as something beyond “in the head.”
I suspect there are other gems out there like Beggar’s Opera. Folks, if you know of one, please feel free to comment!
The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” November 16, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
Tags: Awaken, lyrics, progressive rock. Going for the One, rock music, song lyrics as poetry, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Yes
(I have offered posts at this blog a about the poetry of Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Sand,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “Up From the Skies,” “Axis: Bold as Love,” and “House Burning Down”). This is the second post that expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. The first was about “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.”)
This post concerns a short section of the huge Yes opus, four LP record sides for four pieces, “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” I’m zeroing in on approximately two minutes of music and lyrics at the beginning because I find it to be one of the most powerful passages of progressive rock music ever recorded. This short passage has brought me to tears, to a feeling of a mystical connection to something beyond worldly power that has me revved up but somehow at peace at the same time. I won’t try to go into all of “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” or even all of this Part One. I am here concerned with this fourteen lines of chant-like introduction at the beginning.
(My apologies to Yes—one of my favorite rock bands—but after the extraordinary power of this introduction, I found the rest of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” to be anticlimactic. It would have been hard to match the power of the opening. For me, the rest didn’t. But that does not detract from the greatness of those two minutes!)
In the liner notes for “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” Jon Anderson writes that the piece was inspired by “the four Shastric Scriptures which cover all aspects of religion and social life.”Anderson found the Shastras “so positive in character” that he and Steve Howe, and eventually the rest of the group, created four large-scope progressive rock pieces that became “Tales from Topographic Oceans.”
The “1st Movement” is the “Shrutis.” (In researching the meaning of this term, I found that it can refer to something that is heard, and that it can also refer to the notes of the Indian music scale.) In the liner notes, Andersonwrites: “The Revealing Science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge examining the complexities and magic of the past and how we should not forget the song that has been left to us to hear. The knowledge of God is a search. Constant and clear.”
The lyrics in this introductory section are chanted in a tight rhythm. The chanted lyrics provide the rhythm of the music. And the effect builds, with accompanying music encircling the chant, and with the chant itself rendered more powerfully and intensely as it goes. There are comments I could offer for nearly every phrase of this amazing lyrical/poetic procession of rich metaphysical allusions. I will focus on phrases that struck me. I invite comments from readers on what struck them.
The passage breaks into four sections, each starting with “Dawn of:”
- Dawn of Light
- Dawn of Thought
- Dawn of Our Power
- Dawn of Love
This progression itself takes us on a mystical journey—culminating with love.
Dawn of Light
Genesis tells us that God said “let there be light,” and existence then began. Modern physics might actually confirm that light did indeed come first. Light is the one constant of the universe—even space and time vary. So the phrase “Dawn of Light” starts us at the beginning of existence, a powerful start. We have one voice, Jon Anderson’s thin, delicate vocal sound offering these powerful words. A few simple notes of bass and guitar imply what will be a fairly simple harmonic underpinning. Other phrases that struck me in this section were “in moments hardly seen forgotten” and “we fled from the sea whole.” “Moments hardly seen forgotten” for me refers to the idea that we still look to that ultimate beginning for ultimate answers. Those beginning moments were “hardly seen,” and certainly not forgotten. Science looks far into the distance with powerful telescopes, backwards in time, trying to see that initial burst of light. Science also looks at the behavior of basic particles at high energies, at conditions prevalent at the beginning. And we know, if we can ever solve the beginning, the “Dawn of Light,” we may find ultimate physical and metaphysical truth. “We fled from the sea whole,” with a distinct pause between “sea” and “whole,” brings to mind the evolution of humanity from a carbon-based chemical soup in the ocean (likely near the coasts of primordial land).
Dawn of Thought
This section appears to refer to the beginning of humanity’s search for ultimate answers. With the phrase “revealing corridors of time provoking memories disjointed but with purpose craving penetrations offer links,” we reach for it, occasionally touching these answers. The phrase “we took to the air a picture of distance” evokes humanity’s emergence into space, with the deepening understanding of our physical world, but still struggling with the “self instructors sharp and tender love.” Keyboard chords emerge faintly, growing, offering more structure to the rhythm. A second lower vocal line adds depth to the chant. We know now we’re building toward something.
Dawn of Our Power
The chant is less gentle now, moving forward with driving emotion. A lone synthesizer note blasts over the top, questioning whether this “Our Power” has brought us the peace and love it should have. We are “redescending,” maybe misled or deceived by “misused expression.” We look for love, but we end up with “passion chasing late into corners.” (“Passion chasing late into corners” is one of my favorite lyrical phrases of this selection.) Here we are, modern humanity, so educated, so materially successful, yet so utterly destructive. Our passions, misguided reaches for love ending in hate, box us into corners, trapped in the destructive modes of behavior that killed more humans over the last century than less “civilized” humanity killed in previous millennia. But we “danced from the ocean.” Have we emerged again? (I hope, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, that we have.)
Dawn of Love
The music now pulses toward a climax—but make no mistake about it, the rhythm of the words still drives the piece. “Dawn of Love sent within us” begins this section. We have the “colours of awakening” (Yes deals with spiritual awakening in their masterful piece “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.” See my previous blog post about the Poetry of Yes). We culminate with powerful music and words, offered with almost a singing shout—“As the links span our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.” “The freedom of life everlasting” is an extraordinarily powerful phrase offered at the peak of emotion. It brings the momentum of this driving rhythmic procession of words to a fitting dramatic climax. Ultimate truth may well reveal how mind/soul might exist outside of material time and space. That would grant us an immortality, not of body, but of mind/soul, of consciousness. If consciousness never dies, could that be considered freedom, ultimate freedom? So we seek “endless caresses” of that freedom, the “freedom of life everlasting.”
Of course, with any sort of analysis like this, I run the risk of people telling me I got this totally wrong. That’s fine. There is more than one way to experience these lyrics. My attempt is simply to enhance enjoyment for those who love this music (and lyrics/poetry) as much as I do. All reasonable comments will be posted!
Complete lyrics of the opening of “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales form Topographic Oceans”:
Dawn of Light lying between silence and sold sources.
Chased amid fusions of wonder. In moments hardly seen forgotten.
Coloured in pastures of chance dancing leaves cast spells of challenge,
Amused but real in thought. We fled from the sea whole.
Dawn of Thought transferred through moments of days undersearching earth
Revealing corridors of time provoking memories. Disjointed but with purpose,
Craving penetrations offer links with the self instructors sharp
And tender love as we look to the air. A picture of distance.
Dawn of Our Power we amuse redescending as fast as misused
Experssion, as only to teach love as to reveal passion chasing
Late into corners. And we danced form the ocean.
Dawn of Love sent within us colours of awakening among the many
Wont to follow. Only tunes of a different age. As the links span
Our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.
The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes October 13, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
Tags: Awaken, lyrics, progressive rock. Going for the One, rock music, song lyrics as poetry, Yes
1 comment so far
I have offered posts at this blog a about the poetry of Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Sand,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “Up From the Skies,” “Axis: Bold as Love,” and “House Burning Down”). This post expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. I will very likely offer other posts along these lines as mood or inspiration strikes for Yes, and for other rock artists.
Yes lyrics, with credit usually given to Jon Anderson, are among the most esoteric, enigmatic rock lyrics ever created. Many of these lyrics work as poetry, as a flow of words creating moods and feelings, with precise meanings hard to pin down. Themes of the lyrics are generally mystical/spiritual, exploring subjects far different from the often earthy, base subjects of rock songs. In fact, the term “song” really doesn’t fit what Yes does. They write pieces with developed themes, like pieces of “Classical Music.” (I discuss “Classical Music” in more depth in the article at my Internet column, “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”) In fact, as I address the poetry and music of Yes, I know I will find myself turning a little to analytical skills learned during my conservatory training (eons ago). As I did with Jimi Hendrix, I will select some personal favorites, pieces that touch me as particularly poetic.
There are a lot of poetic Yes selections to choose from. But the one I will start with is “Awaken” from their 1977 album “Going for the One.” This piece has moved me to tears more than once with the incredible power of the combination of music and words. At times, I have felt as if this music connected me to some power beyond what is evident in the material world. So I will start “The Poetry of Yes” with a look at “Awaken.”
I will not deconstruct any Yes pieces word by word. There are too many ways to go with these lyrics, and trying to analyze them line by line would be silly. What I will do instead is speak of the piece in terms of overall effect, quoting lyrics as part of the process. (And I will post complete lyrics at the end, as I did in the Hendrix posts.)
“Awaken” is a piece consisting of five distinct sections, building dramatically to the climax—and then a denouement. Part One is a hint of where we will end up. For me, the lyrics of this section, and the end, refer to an awakening of a dormant spirituality, a dormant connection with something beyond mortality, but recognizing our material limitations. “High vibration go on,” calls to mind an energy beyond what we can touch and quantify. And we “wish the sun to stand still,” and reach for that objective while realizing “now” is where we exist.
Part Two bursts into an edgier section. “SUN HIGH STREAMS THRU” and “STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE” glide above the imperative throbbing of “AWAKEN GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” This is a call to awaken, to stop what we are doing and rediscover “GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” But the call to awaken will not be so simple.
During Part Three, Yes takes us to the “workings of man.” The music cycles through a dizzying succession of chord changes, as if struggling to stay centered. And the words and music, though hinting at the struggle, do stay centered. Despite all the chord changes, each stanza migrates back to the tonic, back to the tonality of the piece. The words refer to the “workings of man” possibly causing a separation from the awakening, but each stanza ends with lines like “all restoring you” and “is promised for his scene is reaching so clearly.” We are back to the coming awakening. The section ends with “all is left for you now.” “All is left”—for the “awakening.”
Part Four is the section that takes me to the flood of emotions I referred to earlier. It is like a mystical prayer offered in a chant-like style, calling to mind images of monks praying in unison to God, to the spiritual force. The vocal line rises, step-by-step, rising as if to touch the heavens, to touch God Itself/Himself/Herself. We have the same shifting chords. But they are less frenetic, rising and falling methodically, with each deliberate cadence taking us a step closer to the piece’s spiritual objective. The stanzas start out “Master of images,” “Master of light,” “Master of soul,” “Master of time”—I see this as a supplication to a singular power, a massive enveloping power, in control of “images,” “light,” “soul,” and “time.” And we ask the “Master of light” to allow “the closely guided plan” to “awaken in our heart.” We shed doubt. And as we look “forever closer,” we bid “farewell.” For me, this is a farewell to the slumber. This is the call to “awaken” the piece refers to. Here is the climax—the “awakening” has occurred.
With Part Five, we’re back to the beginning, which was a hint of the ending. But added are the lines:
Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing next to me
This, to me, is a piece about reconnecting with a spiritual force, ever present, but easy to lose track of in a world that can seem harsh and difficult, often mired in the material.
No doubt, there is more than one way to experience these lyrics. I invite your comments.
Complete lyrics for “Awaken:”
High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be
Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
Here we can be
We can be here
Be here now
Here we can be
AWAKEN SUNS HIGH STREAMS THRU AWAKEN
GENTLE STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE GENTLE
MASS .)(. MASS
TOUCH STAR, SONG, AGE, LESS TOUCHING
Workings of man
Set to ply out historical life
Reregaining the flower of the fruit of his tree
All restoring you
Workings of man
Crying out from the fire set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing his reaching so clearly
Workings of man
Driven far from the path
Rereleased in inhibitions
So that all is left for you
all is left for you
all is left for you
all this left for you now
Master of images
Songs cast a light on you
Hark thru dark ties
That tunnel us out of sane existence
In challenge as direct
As eye see young scars assemble
Master of light
All pure chance
As exists cross divided
In all encircling mode
Oh closely guided plan
Awaken in our hearts
Master of Soul
Set to touch
All impenetrable youth
That thought be contact
With all that’s clear
Be honest with yourself
There’s no doubt no doubt
Master of Time
Over all of our lands
And as we look forever closer
Shall we now bid
High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be
Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
Here we can be
We can be here
Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me
Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me