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Commentary on Music – Conclusions (For Now…) June 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in classical music, harmony, mathematics and music, modes, music, music commentary, nature of music, religion and music, scales, spirituality and music, 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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X

The Unanswered Question by Leonard Bernstein

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A Quick Note April 15, 2013

Posted 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.
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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 rwfcom@wgn.net.

Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:

Commentary/Review – “The Unanswered Question,” Presented by Leonard Bernstein March 14, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, classical music, Leonard Bernstein, music, music commentary, 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).

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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:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X

2013 – What I’ll Be Offering This Year at this Blog January 7, 2013

Posted 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.
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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

Issa Music – Featured Selection: (13) “West Meets East” January 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in fusion jazz, Issa, Issa Legend, jazz, Jesus in India, music, mystic jazz, new age jazz, Saint Issa legend.
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  • (Each month, I will feature a detailed description of one of the thirteen selections from my CD “Issa Music” with a link to the full piece. That link will remain up for one month. After that, the link at this post will be to a one minute clip. One minute clips of all the Issa Pieces are available at my website. Detailed notes on all the pieces are also available there. The full length pieces available with these blog posts are before mastering for CD release. The complete Issa Music CD is available for sale, along with downloads of individual mastered selections.)
  • (“Issa Music” is an East-meets-West mystic jazz CD released inspired by the “Legend of Issa.” Did Jesus journey to India and study Buddhism and Hinduism before his world-changing spiritual mission in Roman-occupied Judea? If so, are West and East spiritually connected in ways we have never imagined? “Issa Music” celebrates this idea with a blend of eastern and western modes and timbres.)

Play this month’s selection: “West Meets East”

Background on “West Meets East”: This was the seventh and last of Set Three, the last, the 23rd overall of the Issa pieces recorded between 1988 and 1990. This was a great way to culminate what I had been working on with these pieces. We have a ton of “classical” influences here, along with the jazz/Eastern instrumental component. I start off with a simple rhythmic statement, something akin to the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Yes, the ability of the equipment to pitch those tympani drums, and thunder them through the opening statement was a great option to have. I then wound that out into a full-blown classical development section with counter melodies springing out of the original theme and moving around each other through shifting harmonies. The thundering two-measure rhythm of the opening now becomes the soft underpinning of the development section, always there, if well into the background. That short development section comes back to the original statement. This is then followed by an Eastern development section, over the same harmonic structure as the Western “classical” development section, but with improvised lines of exotic woodwinds over pitched drums and syncopated rhythms. The woodwind lines are doubled with strings, bringing a little bit of that “West” into this “East” section. This shifts through timbres and harmonic progressions until we return to the opening statement a third time. After the third statement of the opening theme, there is a short development section that blends the first “Western” “classical” section with the second “Eastern” “improvisational” section. We then finish with a final statement of the main theme, topped off with a thin repeat before concluding. For most of the Issa pieces, I blended jazz and a little pop and rock, with Eastern instruments and modes. I hinted at “classical” style development but only hinted. With “West meets East,” I brought “classical music” elements into the music as a full partner. I was very pleased with the result. I’m not saying every new Issa piece will partner “classical music” techniques with jazz and Eastern as much as “West meets East.” But I will look to do more of this. I’ve begun collecting themes for future pieces.

I have well over enough themes for at least two or three more Issa CDs. I will try to build on “West Meets East,” and the other 22 pieces I produced just over 20 years ago.

“Issa Music is Coming” blog post, September 21, 2011.

Probable liner notes for the Issa Music CD.

Richard Warren Field music page.

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part X December 19, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in American Indian, Andrew Shahriari, blues, book review, books, Canada, ethnomusicology, jazz, music, United States, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX

PART TEN
Canada and the United States

General Comments: This is the music of my home. I enjoy very much the focus on folk traditions, not on current pop or even concert/classical music which I can experience from other sources. And I found some surprises here. A few of the selections focused on what were obviously Celtic traditions that came to the United States and Canada with the Scottish, Irish and English. In this music, we find the some of the same elements from other traditions, like pentatonic scales—yes, the same pentatonic scales we find in many varied cultures. We also hear some good examples of African-influenced music, and two examples of American Indian music. All of this serves to remind me of the huge stew of musical influences already simmering together, and that my desire to do some more melding is in the tradition of my own home culture. Also, elements of this music help the study of music, physics and metaphysics, and the idea of what might be universal in how humans experience music, and what might be culture-specific.

CD 3, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Canada: CapeBreton Fiddling
This is a basic Scottish/Irish sounding violin ditty. It features a quick triplet rhythm in a minor key, going from i to VII with no hints of the raised 7 found in the conventional harmonic minor scale. The melody cruises along in seconds and thirds, cadencing on a triplet followed by a quarter note, 3-1-1 – 1.

CD 3, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States of America: Ballad-Singing
A solo female voice sings a single line melody in a minor key. It migrates up to III, then winds back to cadence on i. The scale/mode is quite similar to the mode used in the little ditty of the previous selection. Even the singer’s accent feels Scottish/Irish. The end cadence is 4-3-1, also a similar move to the 3-1-1 cadence in the previous selection.

CD 3, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Old Regular Baptist Lined Hymn
This is a choral piece in a major mode, but with a pentatonic feel. There is a soloist and a solo-response feel like some of the African vocal music. There is no real structured rhythm—the lead vocalist sets whatever rhythm there is based on his rendering of the words. The chorus seems to follow, echoing the soloist.

CD 3, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Singing School Shape-Note Music
A chorus sings in a natural minor mode, with a flat 7, no hint of a raised 7 at any point. This music has a very specific rhythm and imitative style, with eighth note figures articulating the rhythm. There is a raw, unrefined quality to the voices that makes this music feel very basic.

CD 3, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Bluegrass
This music features a driving 4/4 rhythm with a basic I-IV-I-V progression, laid out by a plucked banjo, mandolin, fiddle/violin and bass. High voices harmonize in tight third/fourths (fit to the chord) rendering the song’s melody. Between the vocal sections, different instruments pop out with solos over the chords. There is no percussion in this ensemble. The bass and mandolin lay out the rhythm most of the time. I was really surprised to learn that this music comes from the mid Twentieth Century, after jazz, blues, and not long before rock.

CD 3, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Spiritual
This is vocal music in a pentatonic scale, but with a muddy, blues third. There is a soloist, but this isn’t really call-and-response music. There is a trudging feel to this music. This song is in a slow three. There is a clear move to 2 (which implies V) just before the ending cadence on 1. There’s also a move to 4 at the outset. So we have a basic I-IV-I-V-I feel.

CD 3, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Gospel Choir
Here we have a peppy rhythm offered by an organ, with the bass from the organ driving the rhythm at key points. Handclaps join in from the chorus about midway through. This song is in a major key, but the chords are varied with a II7 chord and some other minor chords supplementing the major key primary chords. These chords often move in rapid succession. The melody line is simple so the melody can be sung by many untrained voices together. The harmonic underpinnings are more complex and challenging than the melody line.

CD 3, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Country Blues
This song gives us the familiar twelve-bar blues, with just a guitar and voice, the way the songs were originally sung. We get a melody phrase twice followed by a third phrase. There is also a point where a variation on the melody adds more lyrics.

CD 3, Track 25 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States/“Nuyorican” (New York City): Salsa
This music sounds Caribbean or South American. We have the recognizable rhythm of the downbeat on one and a pickup from off of two. There are lots of percussion instruments driving the pulse of the music. The bass anchors it. Complex arrangements of brass and woodwinds with prominent flute lines move around the melody. Harmony/chord progressions are adventurous, with the melody sometimes outside the chord. At the beginning, after brass sounding like a train whistle, there is an intro section that goes I to ii to iii then in to flat chords in a circle of fifths to get back to I. Another distinctive feature is the individual piano line in rhythm, arpeggiating the chord structures, as if staking out a middle ground between percussion and pitched instruments.

CD 3, Track 26 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Cajun Music
This music features pounding straight rhythms with a fiddle/violin and accordion. There are strong downbeats with eighths and sixteenths also pushing the pace. There is little syncopation in this music. A whiny, high-pitched vocalist sings the melody, which is then restated by the fiddle and accordion-type instrument. The chord structure is very simple, I to V to I. But there is something captivating about the pure emotion reflected in this music. And despite the accordion, this music does not sound solely European. Unlike the tango example from the previous post on South America and Mexico, there is something distinctively American about this music. This is probably due to the fiddle sound, and the Southern twang of the voice, with a hint of a French accent, but clearly not French.

CD 3, Track 27 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Plains Indian Dance Song
A drum beat drives the rhythm of this simple song, almost like a heartbeat with a quarter followed by eighth/three feel. The chant is very simple, in a major pentatonic scale. It starts up high and descends to a final resting place at 1. In fact, the initial note starts at an octave higher than the final cadence note. There are occasional lingerings at other scale levels, but the end of the vocal phrase always gravitates down to 1.

CD 3, Track 28 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Native American Flute
A beautiful flute sound plays a major key pentatonic mode in this piece. The sound is like a recorder, but does not sound quite as delicate. The line also seems to float down to a cadence at 1, similar to the previous selection, but with more excursions than the vocal music. In fact, the passage starts with an octave leap on the 5. And this excerpt ends on 5 (though it clearly is an excerpt).

Personal Compositional Note: I am not sure why, but I loved the thumping basic drive of the Cajun music and will look for way to bring it in to my own work. I’m clearly already influenced by blues and jazz that are native to my country. This Cajun music seems every bit as basic as the blues with the same soul/deep-level feelings. It couldn’t be much more different from the blues, which makes it even more fun that it is also part of my culture. I’m thinking there is a way to incorporate those characteristics into some music of mine in the future. The Native American flute sound would also make a nice melody line instrument. The use of the piano as a combination percussion and pitched rhythm instrument by having it arpeggiate a chord in rhythm, like the salsa music, is also an idea to bring in to other music contexts. Of course, I am already familiar with many of these styles of music, and know they are already part of my own musical vocabulary. But it was nice to arrive “home” again after these stops all over the planet and find some fresh musical angles.

This is the final post of this series within a series. The next post will be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question. I believe my thoughts on his ideas about music will be more insightful now that I have completed this musical journey, courtesy of Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX December 16, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Amazon, Andrew Shahriari, Argentina, book review, books, Brazil, ethnomusicology, Mexico, music, Peru, South America, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII

PART NINE
South America and Mexico: The Amazon Rainforest, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico

General Comments: As in the Caribbean, discussed in the previous post, we have a blend of styles from different places. Brazilian music combines African and European music. Some other examples seem almost completely European. And, we have examples of Amazonian and Peruvian panpipe music which appear to predate European or African music.

CD 3, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Amazonian Chant
This is totally rudimentary music—no drums, no pitched instruments, just male voices. They chant a pitch, then bend the pitch down, then speak rhythmically, then return to the original pitch. There are no scales, no melodies, no harmonies. This is interesting music because it is music at a very basic level. It can serve to help us understand the nature of music for humans, but there is not much for me to latch onto for my own future music projects.

CD 3, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Peru: Sikuri (Panpipe) Ensemble
This piece sounds like a panpipe marching band. The rhythm emanates from a quick-paced driving bass drum on down beats, skipping an occasional downbeat, but never enough to lose the momentum of the rhythm. The simple melodic line is a pentatonic minor scale—there is no 7 to distinguish it as harmonic or natural minor. The melodic line is harmonized by other panpipes playing other parts of the pentatonic scale. This music would be easily grasped by “Oriental” or Celtic cultures. Because of the pentatonic scales and the flute instruments, the music has a universal feel. Those scales and that instrumental sound can be found almost everywhere. This music may provide an example of universal human music.

CD 3, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Argentina: Tango
An accordion plays a minor key “Western” theme that could be from a Paris café as much as from South America. This example, with a solo accordion, does not seem rhythmic enough to be dance music. I suspect there are better examples of the tango to listen to. (I am not that concerned about finding a better example of the tango for my study of this subject or for my future music projects.)

CD 3, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Samba
The rhythm is the huge defining factor for this music. We have a strong beat one, with an eighth note pickup to a strong three. The two and four also drive the beat, functioning as strong after-beats. The exotic chord progressions add to the effect. We certainly have a tonic, and a basic tonality. But the chords do not come in simple triads, and the moves are smooth but adventurous, not I-IV-V-I type moves. Common tones bridge what on paper could seem to be unrelated chords. I love the rhythm and the chord-moves as something to emulate in some of my own music.

CD 3, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Capoeira
This is much more basic music from Brazil. It sounds African, with a solo-response concept. Drums, including almost Gamelan sounding percussion, back up the male chorus. The melodic line is three notes, starting on 3 of a major scale, moving to 1 then back up to 3. This repeats as a basic melodic chant with a soloist moving in and around it. The metallic percussion seems to sound 5 to 4 to 5 of the scale, but the pitches are indistinct. And like the samba, there are some eighth note pickups within the rhythm that give it a fresh exotic feel.

CD 3, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Mexico: Mariachi
This music is like a fast waltz in a major key, moving through a number of chords with a basic I-IV-V-I feel. The B section moves briefly to the V as a key center, using II7 to get there. But it slips back to I quickly. The harmonic structure is tonal/Western European. The Spanish vocalist and the trumpets chattering in thirds identify this as distinctly mariachi music.

Personal Compositional Note: The rhythms of the samba and capoeira music are enticing to me as I meld styles. I also love the sound of the Peruvian panpipes. This could all end up in music I will create in the future. The Brazilian music reminds me of the Caribbean fusion of African and European music, though they do manifest this fusion in slightly different ways.

The next and final post of this series within a series will move to Canada and the United States.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII December 13, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bahamas, book review, books, Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, ethnomusicology, Haiti, Jamaica, music, Trinidad and Tobago, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

PART EIGHT
The Caribbean: Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Cuba, The Dominican Republic

General Comments: This music is already a melding of disparate international styles—African with European/Spanish styles. We have complex rhythms underpinning “Western” tonality. This can be diatonic harmonies, and also the exotic modes and instruments of some of the music of Spain, including Arabic-tinged modes and instruments.

CD 3, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Haiti: Vodou Ritual
The solo-response African concept permeates this selection. It is raw and emotional, with a single thin voice emoting, backed up by a mixed ensemble with percussion instruments and a few “bamboo trumpet aerophones.” The melody lines derive from a pentatonic scale, in some places with moves reminiscent of a blues scale. The drums pound out a steady complex beat. The second half slows in tempo. The tonality appears to be the same, but the aerophone emphasizes a different pitch in the scale, making it feel even poly-tonal briefly.

CD 3, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Jamaica: Reggae
This is a familiar style to any casual listener of “Western” pop music, a style that has influenced “Western” pop artists and has also been popular on its own. This song is a tribute to Bob Marley by reggae artist Carlos Jones. The distinctive identifying feature is the off-of-the-beat rhythm section chords following the downbeat in either a quarter notes or eighth notes. The timbale fills at the edges of phrases in eighths and sixteenths. This is basically a I-IV vamp with a B section that slips briefly away, landing in V before going back to I-IV again. The instruments are “Western” pop—drum kit, bass, electric guitar, electric organ, with flourishes of exotic drum sounds added. The drum kit uses rim shots as opposed to snare hits, giving the music a lighter style than a typical rock song. The drum kit acts as a background anchor, a straight man for other, mostly subtle percussive effects.

CD 3, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Calypso
The vocals dominate, giving a philosophical statement in melody, but with the words clearly intended to be more important than the melody. This is a sung recitation over music. The instruments could be playing classical chamber music (except for guitar, bass and congas—but they all offer a quiet background rhythm). We have a piano, clarinet, trumpet and violin sounding melody lines and fills, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint. The music is minor-key tonal, slipping to the relative major for the B section before a strong V takes us unambiguously back to the minor key.

CD 3, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Steel Band
This is one of the most fun and distinctive Caribbean sounds. We have a percussion sound that plays pitches. These pitches can be used to play all sorts of music. Their detuned sound gives the notes a rich, exotic timbre. The sound doesn’t sustain, so tremolos and trills are needed to sustain longer chords. This selection is a I-IV-I-V little ditty that seems to capture the basic feel of the sound, the “standard” feel. But the timbre of this sound brings incredible possibilities, both on its own and as hybrid sounds realized electronically or by doubling.

CD 3, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bahamas: Rhyming Spiritual
World Music: A Global Journeytells us that “Tories” fled the newly formed United States and took their black slaves with them to the Bahamas. This music lets us know they took their “negro spiritual sound” as well. This is the African solo-response concept. A solo voice sings out a line, and follows through on the song words while a small chorus of voices sings a repeated refrain. There is no percussion or other instruments. The cadences alternate between resting on the 1 and 5 of the scale. The scale is a major scale, but sometimes fuzzes the third, giving us a blues feel. When the lead vocalist reaches for the 7 of the scale, he hits a flat seven, giving us a Mixolydian blues feel at times.

CD 3, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Cuba: Son
Here is a clear blending of Spanish and African. Drums pound out a strong rhythm in four, with complex timbale rhythms filling the sound. The guitar gives this a Spanish feel, as well as the words in Spanish! A wailing, almost whining trumpet moves in and around the vocal lines. There is room for improvisation, sort of jazzy, but not totally. We have a long guitar solo that recalls flamenco and jazz. The tonality is harmonic minor, with a natural 7 and the flat 6. The vocal harmonies are in thirds. The i minor becomes a I7 to move to iv, then to II7 to go to V7 and back to I. The unambiguous third of the V7 chord gives us the melodic minor scale.

CD 3, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Dominican Republic: Merengue
We have a quick tempo here, in four, with accents on two and four. An accordion underpins the solo-response feel of the vocals. The chords are simple V-I, over and over. The accordion breaks into florid but simple scale lines during a break for a solo. The percussion instruments provide lots of motion, lots of notes, to bring energy and drive to the selection. This again is a blend of African and Spanish/Western European influences.

Personal Compositional Note: I love the steel drum sound, a distinctly Caribbean contribution to the world’s musical palette. I will be using that sound as part of the new music I will be creating. Also, there is a lot to learn from the way musical styles have melded in these Caribbean examples. The Cuban music brings together African rhythms with “Western” tonality and language. The example of the Dominican Republic merenge has an accordion playing joyfully over syncopated African type drums. The Caribbean example is an invitation to try anything—nothing is out of bounds.

The next post will move to South America and Mexico.

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII December 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Africa, Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, Central Africa, ethnomusicology, Ghana, music, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, world music, Zimbabwe.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI

PART SEVEN
Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Central Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, The Republic of South Africa

General Comments: When we think of African music, we think of rhythms, of drums and pitched wooden percussion bound together in energetic syncopated magic. And there is a lot of that with these selections. Another African characteristic is the solo-response choral style where a soloist sings a line and a chorus responds by repeating the line or playing off of it in some way. This music also has elements seen in other music—pentatonic scales and even tonal “Western” harmonies. Even with the exotic and distinctive rhythms and sounds, there are more indications here of universal human musical commonalities.

CD 2, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: Polyrhythmic Instrumental Ensemble
A driving rhythm in four moves this piece. Those familiar with Santana (late 1960s Santana) would feel right at home with the way the bongo-sounding drums pound out the main rhythm. A syncopated hand clap springs out of the drum chorus with 16th note drum beats ornamenting the main rhythm. This underpins the singing. There are no pitched instruments in this piece. The singing is carried by a lead male voice (later trading with a female vocalist), with a chorus echoing the melodic lines. The lines are simple—1 to 5, cadencing down to 3, to 2, then resolving to 1. There is a syncopated feel to all of this—yes, the downbeats are pretty clear, but the music jumps and gyrates around the beats. That syncopation is familiar to jazz and rock fans, not necessarily in the comfort zone of traditional “Western” music.

CD 2, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: “Talking Drums”
This is really just a simple recitation. A female speaks (not singing notes, speaking), barely in any kind of rhythm. The drums are the only musical instruments, pitched a major second apart.  They appear to comment on the rhythm of the words.

CD 2, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
Nigeria: Jùjú Popular Music
This is modern pop music in a Sub-Saharan style. We have electric guitars, organ and bass. The song starts with a drum kit, but the drum kit recedes in prominence, with African drums pushing the rhythm. The song is in a basic 4/4 rhythm, but at times feels truncated possibly to accommodate the vocal lines. The vocal lines are simple, almost motivic; diatonic major (though I hear diversions to the flat 3, almost a blues move). What makes this sound African as opposed to “Western” pop? Stanzas found in “Western” pop song construction are not present. The form is freer—the music starts with a little intro that is clear ensemble playing, but then drifts into an ongoing rhythm on one basic. There is a little motivic hook from 2 to 1 to 6 back to 1 played in unison with the bass. The primary percussion is a plethora of African drums. The drum kit stays back—I hear primarily hi-hat with some snare drum sprinkling in. The bass does not join the drums to anchor the rhythm—the bass notes join guitar notes and sometimes the vocals. It is a fun marriage of the pure African style and modern “Western” pop-rock colors.

CD 2, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Pygmy Music
This piece has an exotic, strange-toned vocal line that underpins it—pentatonic motives intertwined to create a shimmering effect. Handclaps are the only rhythm. The rhythm is in a basic four, with a lot of syncopation. The vocal lines are simple, but intertwined in a way that creates more complexity. A solo voice calls over the top of this, mostly singing in a pentatonic mode, but sometimes shouting.

CD 2, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
Zimbabwe: Mbira Dza Vadzimu
Two Mbira Dza Vadzimus lay down the instrumental tracks. They sound a lot like steel drums, though less edgier. The two combine to create a I7 to IV progression that repeats. The detuned quality gives us a quarter tone/microtone feel, though the music is still diatonic major (but with the flat 7 of the scale). The vocalist sings over the top within the I-IV diatonic feel. A rattle taps out the rhythm, holding together the two instrumental lines.

CD 2, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
Uganda: Akadinda
Western percussion instruments play together to create a shimmering pattern.  It’s a pentatonic feel, and serves to outline a chord, but in a frenetic way. World Music: A Global Journey indicates this is easier to follow visually, as we can see what each percussionist is doing. Musically, this is an exotic feel, a wonderful way to express a single chord without just holding the notes sustained. “Western” composers do this, trading lines around different timbred instruments to spice up a static chord or tonality. It gives the music a drive, a life, like atoms/quarks/the energy of existence bubbling—nothing is really ever still—this music captures that.

CD 3, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Senegal: Jali with Kora
The kora is a “bridge harp.” This is again a diatonic major scale with introductory lines offered in cascading thirds. The instrument then goes into a vamp on a I/major chord. A male singer brings us a descending vocal line that seems to cadence on 1s, but sometimes drifts down. The singer hits both the natural 7 and the flat 7, implying a Mixolydian mode and major scale. The kora does not give us a 7 in the scale, so the singer is free to go Mixolydian or diatonic major (or neither, maybe just pentatonic).

CD 3, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Republic of South Africa: Mbube
This piece is performed by an all-vocal all-male ensemble. The soloist sings the line, followed by a big choral response. For some of the solo lines, we hear a low chanting of chords. Everything is I-IV-V-I in various combinations. There are lots of suspensions from the 4 to the 3, leading to cadences on the I chord, suspension-resolution cadences that would make a “Western” church choir proud.

CD 3, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
South Africa: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
This is an internationally popular a cappella choral group. The harmonies involve simple, big chords, meticulously accurate and polished both in pitch and ensemble. The African sound comes from the solo-response style, plus the sounds of the voices. The rhythm is a basic four, but phraseology bends the rhythm at times. Syncopation is evident in the music as well, and a kind of percussion comes via vocal sounds like rolling r(s), tongue clicks, and rhythmic chants of block chords.

Personal Compositional Note: I will be employing rich rhythms as I have in my own music already. Technology gives me access to many sounds from all parts of Africa. And these rhythms are already part of my own musical culture as they were brought over with blacks and incorporated into the American music tradition in blues, jazz and rock. I like the solo and response feel. My melding of music will be instrumental, but there is no reason the concept of solo and response can’t by applied to instrumental music. Harmonically and modally, the African music I heard is not as intricate as some of the other traditions. African rhythms with some of those modal traditions will be fun!

The next post will move to the Caribbean.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI December 8, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, bagpipes, book review, books, Bulgaria, ethnomusicology, Europe, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, music, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Terry E. Miller, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V

PART SIX
Europe: Greece, Spain, Russia, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria

General Comments: This, of course, is one of two areas on this musical tour that I consider my own culture. The selections here are from folk traditions, so this allows me to look at these musical traditions at their roots, unaltered by cultural melding. I was struck by how many of these selections involve drone tones. I know this is a small cross-section (a really tiny cross-section) of European music. The drones serve to anchor us in tonal centers. This is a great musical tool to keep listeners engaged and oriented when the mode is exotic and unfamiliar period. Drone tones may be a part of the universal human musical experience. Even the Tibetan music with its drone followed by a drop of a major 7th, put a drone idea in their unique musical scheme. Otherwise, this small slice of folk/Europe gave me a chance for some assessments of my own cultural roots and generated some food for thought.

CD 2, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Greece: Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) Chant
This is a modal chant with a drone; an all-male vocal chorus sings the piece. My ears settled on the drone tone as the tonal center. That gives us a scale of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6 (and I’m not sure the 7 was played) mode again. But it cadences on the 4! And that is how I heard it—not as a cadence on 1, but as a last-minute, sudden, unexpected move to 4. I have to admit, the drone sneaks in the 4 tone, but not prominently. If 4 is intended as the tonality, then this is a harmonic minor mode in the minor 4 key. But my ears don’t hear it that way. I like it in that original mode with a sneaky move to 4 at the end, like a Picardy third cadence. This music feels deeply spiritual, an attempt to blend with the Divine from yet another area of the world, offering more indications of confirmation that music functions as a bridge for humans from the physical to the metaphysical.

CD 2, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Spain: Flamenco
Guitar, energetic singing and emoting, and lots of rhythmic clapping, dominate the selection. We can almost see the dancing in our minds. As stand-alone music, it lacks a clear shape, as it is accompaniment for dancing. The guitar plays I-V7, with an occasional move to IV. At the end, we slipped in the harmonic minor, with a i-V7 harmonic structure. Flurries of notes punctuate the tight, rhythmic strumming.

CD 2, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Russia: Balalaika Ensemble
This is an ensemble of balalaikas, separate instruments pitched differently to create a sort of balalaika orchestra. The selection is played by a Russian ethnic ensemble in Ohio. They play an obviously structured, composed tune, simple but catchy, with that distinctive twangy balalaika sound. The harmonies are straightforward “Western”: I-V, I-IV-V. Then for fun, the piece modulates to the V and plays I- V7-I in the new key (V- II7-V in the old key). Tambourines come in to accentuate the rhythm, but this ensemble sets that rhythm nicely without it.

CD 2, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Scotland: Highland Pipes
This is one of my favorite selections from this musical tour. We have the well-known drone with the melody over the top. A snare drum wraps out the rhythm. The meter is 4/4 with triplets or 12/8 if you want to notate the triplet notes as 12/8 figures instead of 4/4 triplets. The drone is on the 5, not the 1. This took me a few listenings to understand. The 1 is heavily implied, but not played as the drone tone. The melodic line clearly sets the tonality. During the first half of the piece, every cadence is 3-1-1 on beats 1-2-3 of the 4/4 measure. There is no mistaking the tonality with that move. The mode—major key. The lines slip into circling around other tones, but always migrate back to that 1 at the end. I can easily hear a synthesizer or electric guitar playing a line like this over a synthesizer/electric guitar drone as a compelling musical blend, and on modes other than a major key.

CD 2, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ireland: Uilleann Bagpipes
These are thinner bagpipes (not as familiar to me—not as much to my taste, not as commanding or rich as those Scottish bagpipes). The mode is a major scale, but the melodic line slips into the flat 7 when moving to the IV chord. That is my favorite musical moment in this particular selection.

CD 2, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Hungary: Tekerölant (Hurdy Gurdy)
The instrument involved here is a box that drones like bagpipes. The really exotic thing about this is the move back and forth between the major and minor third. (With a flat 7, we’re talking about a Mixolydian to Dorian move, though this is primarily Mixolydian with a flat 3 in the scale played most often at the end of cadences). There is one tonal center here, but with that changed third scale degree, we have some ambiguity in the music, giving it an exotic feel.  Yes, in the American Blues, the third of the scale is played bending the pitch between minor and major. But this is different because there are no chords here, and the lines are so clearly stepwise that the ear does not hear the adventurous leaps, turns and harmonies we get from the Blues. The third when it is played is unambiguously either major or minor; there is no in- between or bending when the pitches are played.

CD 2, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bulgaria: Women’s Chorus
OK.  I didn’t get it.  Even the drone pitch doesn’t sound consistent. There is yipping, hinting at yodeling, that zips off, but to no discernible pitch. The authors of World Music: A Global Journey say this is some of the most popular “World Music” today. Not with me. This simply does not fit into my musical vision. If someone reading this would care to comment and stick up for this music, I welcome your contribution.

Personal Compositional Note: Drone tones as elements of my musical vision present many possibilities. I can even see shifting drone tones—just because folk traditions stay with one tonality for an extended period does not mean I have to. The Greek Orthodox chant featured that mode again, that mode I have seen in a few traditions: 1, flat 2, (natural) 3, 4, 5, flat 6, (natural) 7, 1/8(octave). Again, I wondered, particularly with the final cadence to 4, if I wasn’t really hearing the top half of a harmonic minor scale. But that doesn’t explain the flat 2. And my ears want to hear this within a “Western” tonal context. The people playing this music, including the Greeks, most likely do not experience the music that way. I know that I enjoy messing with that mode as-is, and I will! Maybe a Scottish bagpipe ditty on that mode! Maybe even a look at that Hungarian mode that alternates major and minor thirds.

The next post will move to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl