Monday, April 13, 2009

Another Knot-Slicer

  Man, it seems the blades have been sharpened all around. On the never-ending flame war at SOLO, Ellen Stuttle has weighed in with her own knot-cutting of Rand's insistence on setting the bar too high in musical matters:
Meanwhile, a quick comment... You're misunderstanding what I mean by the musical nitty-grittys. I'm not talking about the neurophysiology. Thinking that one had to know that is a place where Rand made a mistake (resultant from a couple earlier mistakes in her beliefs about how music works).

 So what does Ellen mean?

 What I mean is that Linz doesn't get at the fundamental musical issue, that of tonal drama. He focuses on melody, which is a result (the kind of melody he's talking about), not the primary.

 I'd be interested in hearing a more detailed explanation of this. I'm not quite sure what she means by this. But the first thing that comes to mind is the analogy of music to literature ("tonal drama.") Of course, it was Rand who said that music "cannot tell a story," but it does have an analogy in its temporal aspect (music with a beginning, middle, end, etc.). I'm not bothered by the analogy, but more by the seeming assertion that ALL music has to be "dramatic." I think of music that can be used for relaxation, or simple melodies, that is meant to induce calm and NO drama. She may be using this term in relation to Perigo's discussion of opera and "Romantic" music, so a term like "tonal drama" brings that operatic, dramatic connotation. Of course, Ellen may be speaking more abstractly in her use of the word dramatic. 

 I personally don't wan't to limit her comments; what I find interesting is the argument about melodies being a result, not a cause. I don't know if this is her intent, but what this suggests to me is that it is not so much the particular notes of a melody that work musical magic, but the "tone" of the melody. This is demonstrated in the contrast of different performances of a given passage, the tonal colors chosen, the tonal "attitude" of the performance. (Compare the use of the song "Light My Fire" by the Doors in a tv commercial, which prompted Jim Morrison to throw a tv through a window.) This also reminds me of Robert Jourdain's argument in Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy regarding melodies, how many successful melodies break the rules of melody, defying the "Pritchard" method of judging poetry, or the American Bandstand variant. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

 Anyway, could be an interesting discussion growing. Poster Jonathan already puts forth one objection to her statement:

I think it would be more accurate to say that melody is not the primary ~to you~. It can be the primary to others. And to additional others, rhythm can be primary. Your lack of primary response to melody or rhythm doesn't mean that melody and rhythm are less meaningful, dramatic and expressive, or lacking in "idiosyncratic formal potentials," as you put it earlier.
(Update: It seems Ellen answers my speculation in her response to Jonathan [geez, I wish those two would get along; while I don't agree with everything either one say, I find them to be among the better posters there. Oh well, who is John Galt?] , pointing to a post where she goes into what she means  by "tonal drama":

Briefly, it's a musical method of producing a sense of tension and resolution by first establishing a tonic key, then modulating away from the tonic to a related key, then (optionally) taking variously long and complicated key excursions, then modulating back to the tonic." It seems she is referring to something less "broad" than I though. Fair enough.)

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