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Thursday, 21 July 2005

Crit Music Theory

Kyle Gann just blogged about art/crit theory and how it does(n't) apply to music. "The painters, performance artists, et al, assume that every piece is political in intent, and critique . . . every work in terms of its positioning along a social spectrum. In so doing they indulge an elaborate word game virtually unknown in the music world." He writes. Hasn't he read McClary's Book Feminine Endings? All music (not just wordy stuff like mine) is totally analyzable from this perspective and indeed should be analyzed in this way. The idea of "pure music" as an apolitical expression of pure beauty came from the 19th century and should be left back there where it belongs. Chord structures, triumphal bits etc all evoke certain ideas. They have political meaning. A traditional piece where everything keeps returning to a I, a dominant key and a set chord progression also says something about a social order and a forward or backwards thinking idea. Conversely, Lou Harrison's use of 12 tone structures was also political, although for him, tonality equaled harmony and peace, but the 12 tone stuff represented war, capitalism and domination. Tuning systems play a huge political role for him and others too.

I can't imagine thinking about music solely in terms of sounds without deeper meanings, but I can't imagine approaching anything in an uncomplicated way.

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5 comments:

yesyouam said...

As someone who composes a lot of absolute (or "pure", as you'd say) music, I'd be curious to have a political analysis of some of my compositions.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read "Feminine Endings" since grad school. Now I wanna read it again and buy my own copy...
Polly

cxjo said...

ya, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar..

Anonymous said...

I just remember in "feminine endings" the analysis of a Tchaikovsky piece that posited that by using certain things he was dealing with his homosexuality -- It's a tough sell, imo. Sure, he was probably gay, but I think this is a case of a researcher imposing on the subject. It's an incredibly creative piece of work, but I don't buy it. I'll try to go back and read it again, it's been a bunch of years.
Music and language do not inherently contain any fixed meaning -- their meaning is totally reliant upon the interpretations of the receiver, which is dictated by a universe of variables.

Anonymous said...

p.s. I believe that thinking about the phenomena of humanly organized sound on its own plane is actually much more complicated than adding a layer that attaches analogic connections like political meaning, symbolism, etc. Those just serve to connect the experience/phenomena to a web of meanings that the receiver already "knows". I'm not talking about "pure" music, I'm talking about no inherent, built-in analogues. It's the context and culture of the receiver (and creator) that determine what meaning is placed on that collection of sounds.