CAPÍTULO 20 -- UMA DISCUSSÃO SOBRE A MÚSICA MODERNA E AS TENDÊNCIAS DO SÉCULO XX
"Music was chaste and modest so long as it was played on simpler instruments, but since it has come to be played in a variety of manners and confusedly, it has lost the mode of gravity and virtue and fallen almost to baseness."
"They. . . think it within their power to corrupt, spoil and ruin the good old rules handed down . . by. . . the very men from whom these moderns have learned to string together a few notes with little grace. For them it is enough to create a tumult of sounds, a confusion of absurdities, an assemblage of imperfections."
When one listens to contemporary music alongside that of music a century earlier, there is certainly quite a difference. One of the first observations might be that this era has lost whatever innocence previous times had. Turn on the radio and you'll find songs about sex with very explicit lyrics, songs about drugs, about violence in the streets, about devil worship, about AIDS. You will find music full of anguish about toxic chemicals, the effects of nuclear weapons, or screaming about poverty, homelessness and injustice. Some even seem to be advocating murder, and like gangsta rap, would seem to suggest that we have sunk below the moral level of animals in the way we treat each other.
If music tells a story about the time in which it was written, ours says some pretty startling things about this era.
In the quest for artistic expression and freedom, it would seem there are no more rules left to break, no more taboos. Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between some modern art and pornography.
The "classical music" of this era, if it can be called music, has degenerated into anarchy. Electronic sound effects, musical scores created by random chance, compositions that purposely have as much bone jarring dissonance as possible--these are all hailed as modern works of art. It seems that in many cases, the only guideline for a piece of music is "be as strange, and dissonant, and annoying as you possibly can."
If we think in terms of cause and effect, we must realize we are looking at the effects. When we begin to compare the history of our century with that of previous ones, we quickly see some radical--and perhaps frightening changes in both the times and the music that depicts it.
Does this mean that the human race has changed? Imagine someone from the 18th or 19th century suddenly finding himself living in the present time. At first he would probably be dazzled by our airplanes, our automobiles, and our industries that produce products that couldn't even have been dreamed of in his own time. He would marvel at our electronic media that allow us to instantly see images and hear sounds from all over the world. He probably would have a hard time believing his eyes and ears upon seeing a computer, a fax machine, or a film of a human walking on surface of the moon.
After a while he would undoubtedly notice that for every social action, there is an opposite reaction. He would see that flight has brought with it aerial warfare and bombs that can destroy entire countries. Along with the automobile has come air pollution that is choking our cities, and terrifyingly efficient ways to butcher ourselves on the highways. Twentieth century industry has produced wastes and chemicals so toxic that even most of us cannot fathom their dangers. Our communications media have caused us to lose our sense of creativity and self dependency, focusing on sex, violence, and drugs. The computers have brought us new potential for crime and the invasion of privacy. What would he think of a national debt in the trillions of dollars? Could this person even be sure that he was among the same race from which he had sprung?
What would he think of the historical events of the century which include the two world wars and their unprecedented carnage? Nuclear weapons? Assassinations? Terrorism? AIDS? Drug related violence that is now overwhelming our cities? What would he think about the human race as he read about the creative ways we have found to destroy and maim ourselves? The assault weapons we have turned on each other, not just in war, but in our city streets? Our materialistic obsession with power and money? Would he feel we have lost our innocence as a race?
What would this time traveler conclude from our music on the radio? Would he find it repetitive, mindless, or call it "worthless noise"? Is the chaos and artistic anarchy he would hear not in reality just thinly disguised panic in the society that it reflects?
What would he conclude from our pornography, our literature dripping with obscenities, our hate of each other? What would he say after watching a successful and popular slasher movie such as "Friday the 13th", or "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to mention three comparatively mild examples? Have we changed?
The bewildered observer may very well wonder if the human race has reached the end of its rope. He may sadly compare our society with the last days of the Roman Empire in its decadence and conclude that it will be only a matter of a few years before we have killed ourselves off through war, chemical poisons and radioactive waste, violence, and a lifestyle filled with stress.
In the above paragraphs I have intentionally presented a one-sided case. Over the course of this book, many ideas have focused on the powerful bond between music and the times that produce it. Do the strange new musical sounds (and the violent influences) in our century mean that the human race has changed deep down inside? Without question we have witnessed much historical, social, and technological upheaval. Our music certainly reflects it. . .
Perhaps a look at historical precedents will enable us to make sense of our music. Reread the three quotations at the beginning of this section.
Do they sound like they were written about Techno? The Beatles? Elvis? Punk? Heavy metal? Death metal? Gangster Rap?
The first quotation is a review of the overture to the opera "Fidelio" by Beethoven. The second quotation is from a music theorist who died in 524 A.D. The third is from a writer who lived in the 1600s. Each writer was repulsed by the new music of his own time.
Could it possibly be that there are certain things that will never change. . . including the reaction of the musical establishment when something new assaults its ears???
There is a collection of poems and songs written by college students called "Carmina Burana". This anthology includes drinking songs, songs mocking religion, songs that contain distinct sexual themes, and commentaries on war. In the Congressional hearings on the nature of rock lyrics a few years ago, no one seemed interested in them, perhaps because these songs date from the fourteenth century. . .
Are we different? In addition to conflicting evidence, it's difficult to judge one's own time because the cream hasn't had a chance to rise to the top--hindsight always works wonders in historical analysis. We most certainly are living in an age rich with experimentation. We have always had a need as Star Trek puts it, "To boldly go where no man has gone before."
On the other side of the coin, there also seems to be some things that tie us together. Needs for food, shelter, love, rebellion, security, order, etc. can be found in all eras and civilizations. Love songs, hymns of praise for Nature and God have been sung since humankind first found its singing voice. In the quest for understanding comes a reach toward a higher power, along with a desire to satisfy earthy lusts. Beethoven summed it by saying, "from the heart, to the heart." Maybe what is in our hearts has not changed that much at all.
Along with a healthy respect for the music from our own times (or at least on occasion, a healthy controversy), our civilization has grown to respect, understand, and treasure past artistic achievements. This suggests that the spirit of the human race as we head into the 21st century might have a lot in common with the human spirit of the Middle Ages--and earlier. If so, that might relieve a few fears about the degeneration of the species. In a sense, Darwin's theory of evolution, about the survival of the fittest, about the most important innovations passed along, could almost have been written about music and art.
Perhaps only when we stop understanding older artistic documents can we then conclude that we have become a different human race. Perhaps when we have completely forgotten our past, scrapped everything prior generations hold dear, when we reinvent everything from scratch each year, then we can honestly conclude that the human race is no longer what it was.
Have we changed in the twentieth century? You decide.
There have been many criticisms of computers in music, synthesizers, recordings, and other electronics.
This century has seen much radical change in our thinking and listening to recorded music, not to mention that it has created an entertainment industry beyond all foreseeable proportions. It has become a constant presence (some would say irritant) in our lives. It is one of the centers of social activity, it is a source of livelihood for millions of people, it creates its own countercultures with effects not necessarily wholesome. Self-appointed guardians feel that this industry has been corrupting morals, causing increased drug use, and creating contempt for an older, more traditional standard of lifestyle, the kind that allowed people to be able to be independent enough to afford to rebel--also known as biting the hand that feeds you.
We have witnessed a specialization in the "freezing" of individual performances as opposed to the value of the music itself. These recordings have begun to capture an individual's improvisations as an end to themselves. Especially in the case of "classical music" the striving for technical perfection (through the splicing together of numerous takes) makes a recording sterile and lifeless. The technique of recording has now become an interpretive art in itself. If you hear a lot of live concerts, you've heard the effects. Many bands almost have two completely different versions of themselves--a studio version and a live version. For several years before their breakup, the Beatles essentially scrapped the live version of themselves. Some would say that producing a plastic, artificial product and its package seems to be more important than the artistic statement itself.
In past centuries, the most common source of music was not the concert hall, but the home. The level of musical ability of the average man or woman was miles higher than it is today. We have become dependent on our stereos and have succumbed to the pleasures of passive entertainment. Many have observed that we sit like idiots and are entertained. Recordings have made us musical, mental, and artistic illiterates.
These are a few of the radical changes that have been brought to our music by our inventions, our marketing, our way of life. The criticisms above and in the next section are only a few of the common responses to that change. As thinkers with a conscience--as the arts ask us to be, we must not close our minds. To do so might put us in the same foolish corner as the man who said in 1899, "Well, we might as well close up the patent office. Everything that's going to be invented has already been invented." (P.S. He should have known--he was in charge of the patent office. . .)
First, what, if anything, exactly is music supposed to be? This is a definition that has been redefined by every era. The first humans to perform music did so without anything even resembling what we now consider to be a musical instrument. Music has always been a sponge, absorbing all that is around it, absorbing all that its composers find important or influential. One of the many things it absorbs is our environments in addition to our inner workings. Primitive music echos this as well as any computer generated sounds. It has picked up elements of our language, our verbal sense of pitch; it has picked up elements of our environment (see below) that include sounds of nature and man-made sounds. It's perfectly natural that music should pick up our quest (or demand) for precision by incorporating our high-tech devices including our latest state of the art computers.
We are also living in a time dominated by the free market, by publicity and advertising. Should we not see that in the music just as prominently as we saw revolution in the Romantic era's music, an unquestioning faith in God in the music of the Middle Ages? I'm not suggesting that the following is necessarily an evil, but if you want to see how much commercial influence takes place in the current music industry, take an objective look at the advertising, the carefully planned videos, the tours with the posters, shirts, sample programs, the careful and consistent promotion on the airwaves, the hype in interviews, the record clubs promoting their own products. . . This applies to artists from Leonard Bernstein to Twisted Sister. It has become a dominant presence in the music industry. And, true, at times the commercial packaging seems really a little more important than what is inside (the appropriate term "flash without substance" is used in a lot more places than art). It's not enough for a band to tour, advertising their musical product. Most of these "commercials" are now sponsored by large corporations, using a commercial for a commercial!
With all of this surrounding the production and distribution of much of today's music, how can the element of commercialism possibly not creep into the expression itself?
But more importantly, is the presence of such commercialism mutually exclusive with quality? Is is possible to compose music for money or for the purpose of making a living? Bach and Beethoven, among others did. Mozart started many pieces of music and never bothered to finish them because there was no occasion for them to be performed. So much for writing for posterity. . .
Commercialism is cited as causing a general drop in quality of our arts. Many film critics voice frustration with movie scripts lacking realism and the basic quality of older films. Has the quality gone down? Not necessarily. Certainly, movie-making has become more and more of a collaboration of many talents (script, special effects, photography, sound, music, etc.) and less of an emphasis on one of the aspects such as story line. Perhaps the same thing can be said of music.
On the other side of the coin, all art produced today certainly doesn't reflect the high-tech influence or commercialism, nor does it have to. Don't forget that art will many times react to the same influences in two opposite directions--people tend to either get on the bandwagon or to rebel violently. To define music as only being either one or the other is doing a tremendous disservice to the wide range of expression that it can be.
Many musicians and artists feel that music and art MUST speak to the problems of contemporary society or else it is meaningless--that art must offend, it must give one a good kick in the conscience. You will hear others simply calling that a fad, that we are going through an era where social concern is just the trendy "in thing" of the moment.
Perhaps there is room for all of the above, be it computer music, commercial music, or music with a social consciousness. One person might look at a situation and call it chaotic and shallow. Another might look at the same and marvel at the riches, at the individual expression and variety available to the listener of the late 20th century.
CRITICISM #2: Since when has it been necessary to shape our natural sounds, or create new ones? What is the point to processing real sounds and creating sound abstractions? Why should the simple taking of sounds, altering them and putting them together in an odd fashion even be called "music"? How can "sound effects" or things that make extensive use of sampling possibly be considered art or artistic in any way?
Some of the oldest pieces of music that I have in my personal record library incorporate vocal or instrumental "imitations" of drums, birdsongs, etc. Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" includes sounds of a stag hunt, a depiction of a storm, among other sounds. Beethoven's sixth symphony includes bird imitations and another storm. Bartok's third piano concerto contains a section that beats them all for bird sounds. That would seem to be the essence of sampling in its fullest sense, minus the detail that these composers just didn't have computer technology at their fingertips. Sounds are a part of our living environment, something that music touches more than we can imagine. There are even convincing arguments for the case of music incorporating such diverse elements as machinery, the landscape, the language the composer speaks unintentionally--supporting the idea that music can tell no lies.
In the first section of the text the point was made that music has a remarkable similarity to certain types of primal vocal expression. Sounds mean things to us. Music often captures that sound in the form of symbols or imitations. Occasionally the medium used is a sonic parallel to a collage. Sometimes we just have to get accustomed to the use of radically new sounds on radically new equipment.
CRITICISM #3: What can possibly be behind or beyond the artistic chaos heard today? What about Gangster Rap? If music reflects the times, where do we go from here? How can it get any worse? Is this the end of the artistic line and since art represents humanity, is this foreshadowing the end of the world (or at least civilization)? Look at what they say happened about the ancient Romans and their decline into decadence. . .
What is behind the music of today? CHANGE--very rapid change. Technology is increasing at an exponential rate. The second something new hits the market it has become outdated. This is responsible for causing a lot of radical exploration and experimentation, understandably resulting in a certain amount of chaos. Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of seeing the results of these experiments in the same perspective as we view the late 1700's. The passage of time is often a wonderful filter, filtering out many failed experiments, eliminating some who achieved status in their own times, discovering and canonizing some who were relative unknowns in their own times. Why do we sometimes think that 20/20 hindsight will never be applied to our own era?
Generally there are only two composers that are often recognized from the Classical era--Mozart and Haydn. SURELY THERE WERE MORE THAN TWO PEOPLE COMPOSING MUSIC DURING THAT TIME!! Many of the "also-ran" composers captured the feeling of the era, but their music failed to capture a universal sense of the human spirit in the Classical period, and it fails to strike a chord with us. In this present era, we need a little time for the cream to rise to the top of the bottle. I completely disagree with the school of thought that says that we are going through an artistic famine. I fully expect some writer in 2094 to look back at our era and marvel at how artistically rich the last half of the 20th century really was. I expect that among a list of names whose voices summed up the era we might find Krzysztof Penderecki, George Crumb, Dimitri Shostakovich, Philip Glass, and John Cage. I would not be the least surprised to also find David Byrne, Lennon/McCartney, Laurie Anderson, Bruce Springsteen, Jagger/Richards, Bob Dylan, etc.
Here's a slightly different idea that merits a little thought--WHAT IF the the Classical period is more accurately represented by all of those forgotten names? In some ways, J.S. Bach is an awful example of a Baroque composer because his music was so far superior to anything else written during that time. Beethoven's music is so distinct that many music historians can't really agree if he's Classical or Romantic, so they often just give him his own chapter in the books.
There's more than one approach to the situation. If our purpose of studying and listening to music is to understand the average mind of 18th century man, we probably should write off Haydn and Mozart. If we wish to get a sense of our universal selves speaking in an 18th century dialect, then we should reconsider.
CRITICISM #4: Synthesizers and computers are merely toys that deserve to be relegated to only making the bleeps, blops, and hisses.
They do bleeps, blops and hisses very well. On the other hand, a synthesizer that has any performance capability has been around for less than 35 years. The finest violins had been around for nearly 100 years before a Paganini came along and showed what really could be done with the instrument. We do have a few virtuosos such as Wendy Carlos, Keith Emerson, Isao Tomita popping up, but even then, the medium is just beginning to be explored. To complicate matters, electronics innovations are happening so rapidly that mastery of their potential is becoming more difficult. Yes, a situation can become difficult because of TOO MANY possibilities.
CRITICISM #5: Synthesizers and computers are putting "legitimate" musicians out of work. I recently attended a concert in which the pieces of music were based on sampled bird sounds and the performers weren't musicians as much as they were computer and electronic technicians. I'm not sure either of them could even read printed music. . . According to what people say about MIDI, it allows a non-musician to make music on a nearly professional level. Is that fair?
First, if not being able to read music disqualifies one from being a musician or creating music, we just wiped out most of the music ever created by the human race, including primitive music, folk music, early jazz, Medieval music, etc.
Second, as far as jobs being lost, this is an unfortunate, but true consequence of the current electronic revolution. An important source of income for a lot of "freelance" musicians comes from being hired to play incidental music in movies, TV shows, documentaries, backing bands, etc. One person on a synthesizer can replace a section of strings, getting paid much less than the sum total would have been. With MIDI and a set of keyboards, one person can nearly replace an orchestra. Who gets the extra profits? Most likely they go to the contracting agency or the record company or someone else besides the musicians. There's something about this that's not quite fair, but yet--it's nothing new for musicians to have their roles redefined by changes in practice or technology. I can easily imagine the flood of complaints during the Paganini and Liszt eras ("Oh, no! You mean in addition to playing harder music we also have to be showmen and entertainers and performing monkeys just to keep the stupid audience on its toes??") In the Baroque era, one entire family of strings died out--the same for the common use of the organ and the harpsichord. While it's fairly easy to transfer the technical skills from one keyboard to another, it's a little more difficult for modern string players to become modern synthesizer players. I really don't believe that acoustical instrument playing will die out in the foreseeable future, but more than a few musicians will be facing lean times. A slightly bright note; studies have found that musicians are among the fastest to grasp computer programming, and the computer promises some very bright creative possibilities. . .
As to the question of MIDI, it's not quite what it seems at face value (or at least what some ads claim). The basic fact is that if you ask two people, a novice and an accomplished musician to create something by way of MIDI, the accomplished musician will always be able to produce something far more polished, far more imaginative, far more musical than the novice. This presumes that they are on equal footing with the computer/synthesizer understanding necessary to work the hardware and software. In each case, it allows the musician to extend his abilities. It's not likely that a novice will surpass a professional.
And in the rare event of a non-musician being able to produce a professional product, it would seem unfair to deny the person that privilege of experiencing music, of learning more about a field that can give endless pleasure.
As much as musicians might want it, there has never been a time when someone could create a piece of music just by thinking about it (although with modern computers and software we're coming a lot closer to that goal). Behind every instrument is a lot of technique, practice, training of specialized muscles, etc. Perhaps in modern music, that training has begun to include a knowledge of physics of sound and computer literacy.
CRITICISM #6: Self-appointed guardians feel that this industry has been corrupting morals, causing increased drug use, violence, etc.
Interesting point here--did Renaissance art cause humanity to glorify in his devices or does it just tell the story of that philosophical change? Did the stuffy elegance of Baroque art influence the monarchy, or did it reflect it? Did Beethoven's fifth cause major social and political revolutions or did it mirror the new freedoms and truths held to be self-evident? Does contemporary popular music cause drug use, rampant sexuality, amorality, OR AS EVERY PRECEDENT SUGGESTS, is it a symptom of what is going on in twentieth century society? Agreed, there is an illness, but is the music the illness or just a symptom? Certainly some of the lyrics aren't very wholesome, but shouldn't we perhaps first find out which is the cart and which is the horse?
True, we are living in an era where popular music has reached new levels in vulgarity, anger, profanity, and explicit lyrics, but if we look at historical precedent and the facts and trends that have sifted down to us through history, we find that nearly without exception, the music and art didn't cause social change--it told the story as it was going on. Is this era any different? Perhaps in a few decades when the dust clears, we will really know for sure.
As long as we have touched the topic of rating recordings, here's a short list of ten pieces of earlier music, and why they are also morally objectionable. Perhaps to be fair and have a good perspective on things, those involved in the Congressional hearings should have gotten a little more history in their perspective.
In addition, since the liturgy of the Mass (with its Communion) plays such an important part in the history of Western music, a number of writers have made the tongue-in-cheek observation that it involves ritual and symbolic cannibalism.
CRITICISM #7: Recordings have made us musical, mental, and artistic illiterates. In the eras before we had television, recordings, etc., families and small groups would entertain themselves by purchasing chamber music and performing for themselves. The level of musical ability of the average person had to have been much higher in those days. Technology has become the beginning and the end of our creativity. When one person with MIDI can take the place of a symphony orchestra, what can possibly be left of real live music? What will happen when computers can compose music?
I remember reading an article about ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) that made the claim that almost everyone in the human race has that mystic ability. We have the capability to see images from faraway places that we have never visited before, we can hear voices from many thousands of miles away, we can communicate with each other instantly over great distances. We have a technological ESP. The author of course was talking about television, radio, and the telephone. Our technology has replaced with reality any fantasized ESP.
Perhaps--our level of music literacy ain't so bad after all. As mentioned above, a common form of entertainment during the pre-recording era was to have the family and/or friends gather around with their instruments and play through a string quartet, a set of sonatas, a song cycle or other chamber music. Outside of attending a concert here or there, this was how the average man got to hear music. Composers earned none of their income from recordings, but did earn money by arranging their own (and sometimes someone else's) works for a different ensemble, i.e. a symphony for a piano, violin, and cello arrangement. Publishers would gladly pay for these arrangements, allowing the common musician the privilege of enjoying the music of Schubert, Beethoven, etc. without having to hear it at a live concert.
Hmmmmm. . . could it be that that's the basics of what happens when I get up from my word processor, go to my stereo and play a compact disc of music by Beethoven or the Talking Heads? Perhaps our level of music literacy isn't quite as far in the pits as often suggested. Perhaps our technology has become not only our ESP, but our ability to create ordered musical sound.
There are many millions of people in the United States who a)don't have the time to learn musical notation in the context of their own demanding professional needs, b)who don't have adequate ability to master musical notation satisfactorily (yes, some of musical ability really IS an hereditary gift), or c)any one of a dozen other reasons. Should we deny those persons the joy, the enlightenment, the pathos, the relaxation, the spiritual uplift, the physical and mental stimulation, the hundreds of other gifts that music brings? That would be pretty selfish. It would be equally stupid.
To be sure, we are seeing major changes in the music and communication procedure in the 20th century. There have been a number of generations of musicians with many members who have grown up without the ability to read or notate music. Many have developed incredible talents for hearing musical sound and then translating it into their own instrument's voice. In the past this was more or less looked down on by "legitimate" musicians (even though it is quite a talent in itself). But then--what is the purpose of notating, storing, or preserving something? The purpose is obviously to reconstruct the image, the sound, or whatever was stored. Perhaps--our mechanical devices have not only become our ESP modules, but our musical memories as well. Musical illiterates? With the catalog of available recordings bursting at the seams, we'd better think this through again: the twentieth century human has more music surrounding him and touching him than anyone in prior eras could have dreamed.
Not to ignore the basic facts, there's certainly a lot to be said for being able to read musical notation. a)One is not limited to the music that one can hear--not everything ever written has been recorded and is easily accessible; b)complex and great artistic works cannot be accurately learned and interpreted "by ear"; c)one potentially denies himself his past musical heritage; d)learning to read ANY written language produces a certain physical development of parts of the brain. Music does an excellent job of this, and as mentioned above, is similar in nature to the logic of computer programming; e)performance accuracy and flexibility is very limited; f)if one wishes to notate a composition, he must either depend on a recording device or some other person. (However--the U.S. Copyright Office now accepts tape recordings in lieu of a written out musical composition.)
The influences of recording and electronics have profoundly changed our communication processes in a way that earlier generations could never have even imagined. Some of the gadgets used to transmit communications have become part of the message itself.
To understand what kind of a change electronics represent, take a look into the basic communication process itself. In many ways the following is an oversimplification but it does illustrate one view of the differences in the ways that music and written literature get their points across.
When someone communicates through the arts--this could be through music, literature, drama, visual arts, etc.--what ultimately happens is that the person I'll call the creator (artist, composer, poet, etc.) is sending a program of emotions to the receiver (audience, viewer, listener, etc.). These emotions may be on a spiritual plane, they may convey an intellectual stimulation, they may appeal to one's baser emotions. They may convey a sense of isolation, a sense of guilt, a sense of frustration, tragedy or anything else that you can imagine. BUT--the point remains that it's some kind of communication from the creator to the receiver.
As much as we would like to do so, the creator simply can't tell the receiver, "All right, be happy for five and a half minutes, then for seven minutes be thoughtful and nostalgic, then be anxious for three more," etc. Most audiences lack charity with this approach. Somehow the creator must involve the receiver in some process that a)keeps the receiver's attention for the time necessary to pass along the emotional program and b)causes the receiver's emotions to change in the pattern desired. The easiest way for the creator to accomplish his goals is to encode his message in some kind of language. Let's first take a look at how one might accomplish this communication through a written language such as English.
The author conceives a program of emotions (told by the actions, the conflicts, the tragedies involving the characters in the story). He uses a series of symbols called letters and starts building words. Those words are symbols of ideas that will have the same meaning to the reader through his training in the English language. These words are used to build sentences, paragraphs, and chapters into what finally becomes the book. When the receiver begins to read it, he begins decoding the letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters reversing the process until the receiver has gone through the emotions and thought that the author wished. This book has accomplished a couple of things--it tells a story about a concrete set of facts or plot elements, perhaps its style has been entertaining. Beyond that, the writing style, the grammar, the story line has kept the reader amused while the author sneaked his emotional program through. If it has communicated well and transmits ideas that a lot of people enjoy, the author has a best seller on his hands. One major drawback to this whole process--if the person on the receiving end doesn't know English, then he's out of luck.
Music accomplishes the process a little differently by skipping a few steps. Assuming the receiver doesn't have to perform the music to hear it, he doesn't need to understand the subtleties of a written or verbal language. A third person in the process--the performer--takes care of this. The receiver then directly experiences the tensions and relaxations present in the compositions without needing to think of or analyze what he is hearing. As this text has mentioned before, music is terrible at conveying the precise raw ideas that are used to form a story. But--it effectively deals with the emotions that the story may have been trying to convey in the first place. It needs far fewer translation steps than verbal or written language. In addition, very little training is necessary for most individuals to understand what the sounds of music are communicating. Music gets its point across on a more subconscious level, it is a more direct form of communication. This is additional evidence that suggests that it music is more of a basic language than speech and one of the reasons why it is often spoken of as "the universal language".
Getting back to the idea of how electronics have changed our communication processes--the traditional musical communication procedure consisted (or consists--much music is still performed this way) of the following steps--(1) The COMPOSER would write a piece of music (at its most basic level, an emotional, spiritual, intellectual, or physical message encoded into a piece of music); (2) by way of printed music, the PERFORMER would play or sing this (this was always physically distinct from step one even if the performer and composer were the same person); and (3) the LISTENER would receive the message. This is a three way collaboration--the composition itself is a framework that will be brought to life by the performer. The creator composed a framework with all the basic elements there, and the performer added some of his own 'color' to the basic musical canvas. This is also called "interpretation".
With the advent of the electronic age (for practical purposes, let's agree that it began when recorded sounds could be reproduced), the act of performance took on a new definition. Individual performances could be 'frozen' or preserved. The act of recording itself became an interpretive art that in many ways eliminated the role of the performer. Certain musical effects became possible in the studio (multitracking, tape effects, etc.) that became impossible in a live performance (first major rock example--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the BEATLES which took hundreds of hours in the studio). In many ways, the act of composition and performance became one and the same. If you could call it that, the "performer" was now the radio, television, record, etc. It became the final word and didn't make many changes in interpretation.
At the end of Unit 3 this book briefly discussed Impressionism and then posed the question of what might happen to painting if someone came up with an invention that could capture an image mechanically and exactly (and more to the point, quite easily)? There would be quite a change in the way things were done.
Impressionist painters (as well as later Expressionists, Abstracts, Pop-Artists, etc.) simply began doing things the camera could not. Painting grew into a subjective art, giving an interpretation of reality that was not necessarily untrue, but heavily influenced by the artist's view of things.
At the end of the previous unit, the question was asked, "what about music?" What would happen if someone gave us a parallel invention that could quickly and easily capture a performance?
That invention is the process of recording, mass duplication of the sound, and the mass distribution of it.
Many of its effects have been discussed previously in other parts of this text. Some examples are a)recordings many listeners feel are sterile and lifeless in the quest for technical perfection; b)the creation of a giant industry which creates its own popular demand and feeds off of a multi-billion dollar market; c)musicians gearing their output specifically for the recording environment--i.e. music that cannot be performed live, or bands that seem to have two versions of themselves--a studio version and a live version; d)the invention of music that is generally spontaneous and changes from performance to performance, unable to be captured in its full essence. Jazz and aleatoric music are two excellent examples of this.
Ironically, another effect of the process is a change in live music performances (which one might guess would be trying hard to throw off the influence of recordings). The role of the interpreter has become much less in many live performances. Assuming they can handle the music, most bands who play other people's music try to play it as close as possible to the recording. Many types of music have become very specialized, performed mostly by its composers.
Compared with earlier times, not very many musicians outside of the Beastie Boys perform music of the Beastie Boys. The same can be said of the vast majority of contemporary popular (and much "classical") music. This seems to be vastly different from even a few decades ago when much music was written specifically to be performed by the average musician. (There were notable exceptions to this such as the cases of Liszt and Paganini whose music was--at the time--too difficult for anyone else to perform.)
Most certainly, Marshall McLuhan's comments about the medium becoming the message apply equally here.
And, as mentioned in a footnote on visual arts, the computer is around to thoroughly (and richly!) complicate things.
Computers have touched many areas in our lives making countless tasks easier, faster and more accessible. One of the last areas that still raises a few eyebrows is the use of the computer as a creative tool in the arts. The arts represent documents of what is inside us, what we think and feel, and what makes us human. They are a living part of history that links our past to our present, and eventually to the future of the human race. Something as mechanical, as coldly and electronically efficient being able to produce these statements about ourselves gives many of us the shivers. Even though we're well out of that infamous year, a passing reference to George Orwell's "1984" (or even Huxley's "Brave New World") seems appropriate during discussions of computer arts. The question arises as to how that can even be considered art. . .
Before we panic--first and foremost--any programming, any software that executes a set of commands capable of producing something aesthetically appealing comes directly from . . . a living, breathing, thinking human being. They reflect his or her abilities, limitations, decisions, self imposed rules or any other parameters that you can think of. The computer is simply acting upon commands and a logic system the same way that any good student will follow his teacher's instructions--except that the computer will do it with its usual blinding speed, pinpoint accuracy, and singularly dedicated sense of purpose. This last element is the most important in any discussion of creativity.
Anyone bothered about computers replacing artists, or a computer not being a real live person should re-examine the creative process and how complex it really happens to be. This doesn't even take into account the process of artistic growth during one's lifespan. The most elaborate computer (and software) can only follow the rules and algorithms it has been given and faithfully execute them.
In composing a piece of music, there are many thousands of rules to be followed (or deliberately broken; keep in mind that deliberately breaking rules is vastly different from not having any), hundreds of IF--THEN decisions, possibly a few random chance determinations among many, many other parameters. Music and visual arts also have a healthy set of mathematical proportions that bind them together. These elements are the ones that lend themselves to programs that seem to actually think in artistic terms. There's an important thing lacking, though--the vital element of creativity. True creativity is the element in the mixture that is responsible for the pulling together of many divergent elements, synthesizing the old and the new, of tapping into inspirations (perhaps some even being subconscious), and simply making a piece of art be alive and worthy to be called "art". This ingredient in the recipe is able to be supplied by only one super-supercomputer: the biological one called the human brain and it is linked directly to the human soul.
A few experiments HAVE been done in which music has been fed into a computer and the computer has been able to produce new music in the style of that composer. If the programmer has been able to capture the true creative element of the composer, then by all means please!! The world could use a little more music of Bach, Mozart, Thelonious Monk, or even the Beatles. But of course, even a good human imitator couldn't get away with that, because the art of those individuals is inseparably linked with each of its creators, the time period, and the events that spawned that art: not to mention the elusive sense of inspiration, imagination, the subconscious element known as creativity.
Looking back with an historical perspective, we see that each era has had its own inventions that have made waves in its historical documents, namely the arts. Each era has incorporated these inventions into its own statements--willingly or unwillingly, be it the invention of a new type of printing, a new kind of keyboard, or a new way of preserving/creating images. One of the items that has caused a lot of change, a higher standard of living and sometimes a lot of frustration in our own time, of course, is the computer. It should be only natural that some future art historian will look back and see the computer having taken its rightful place as a TOOL to assist the creative individual in his realizations of his art--which is a process that goes back to the dawn of human history.
In closing, one of the things I've tried to do in this chapter is point out is that perhaps in the middle of our radical new sounds and ideas, if we're not careful, we might find that things aren't so different after all. . . Perhaps in the middle of avant-garde experimentalism, art is alive and well. It just dresses a little differently. It wears the clothing of the late 1900's, as it wore 1800's clothing in that era and so on--but what's inside of that period costume hasn't really changed that much. Perhaps in spite of World Wars, political terrorism, a growing AIDS crisis, the Holocaust, thermonuclear weapons, punk culture, yuppie ideals--we hear the voices of the original Adam and Eve--virtually unchanged in their lusts, their dreams, their goals, their desires, their prayers. The arts allow us to understand what was deep in their hearts and souls. The arts allow us to do the same with ourselves.