Author Topic: Theoretic/Philosophic Question  (Read 919 times)

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RJB54

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Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« on: October 20, 2016, 11:36:19 AM »
I have a theoretic/philosophic question that I've been going around in circles on and I'm thinking that I can't resolve the issue in my mind because I'm too close to it and I'd like to get another perspective.

As I've said elsewhere, in my music the basis for a given composition is a group of specific pitch collections running from four tone pitch cells up to twelve tone rows.

My question is with the concept of non-harmonic tones in relation to such pitch collections. If one is working with, say, a four note pitch cell and a non-cell pitch is used as a neighbor-note, for example, technically one has a different five pitch cell which is not a base pitch collection thus breaking the structural integrity of the piece.

A large part of me says that the neighbor note in question is not acceptable because this five tone cell is not theoretically justifiable and once you've opened that door what's to stop you from doing something like that whenever or wherever it's convenient and ending up going down the road to a free atonal environment which is not desirable for me.

A smaller part of me says just go with it, if the extraneous tone works creatively at that spot just use it and not care about the unjustified five note cell, larger ramifications be damned.

I'd like to hear what opinion any of you might have on this issue.

Thanks in advance.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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stevel

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2016, 12:05:31 PM »
Well, I suppose if we're making an analogy to key-based music, we could say that your "cell" is equitable to "key".

Certainly, the use of a chromatic non-chord tone doesn't destroy the key. I also wouldn't say that using a chromatic non-chord tone changes the basic key.  Obviously, if we're in C Major, and you start using a lot of F#s, and REPLACING F naturals with F#s, you're going to have a different "cell" - the G Major Cell.

But it seems like you're saying that adding a 5th note to your 4 note set inherently changes the set (either to a 5 note set or a different set of 4 notes). If that's the case, I don't buy it - that's like saying adding a C# in the key of C Major as a chromatic passing tone now gives you an 8 note set or a different 7 note set.

If it's *functional* - such as a secondary dominant, it even then only temporarily alludes to another "cell".

So I don't see where the spurious use of a note beyond that of the original set's contents in any way disrupts the original set.

Obviously, this will still be context-dependent, but that's kind of like saying the occasional use of ® in text somehow alters our basic alphabet!

I think you'd only need to justify it if the context is such that this note will be heard as part of the entire collective rather than "outsider".

I agree that if you "open that door" it could be anything. But did classical music composers use 1, or 5 chromatic notes? Just because they might use 1, or 3 chromatic notes, does that mean they'd start using a 12 notes all the time? No. That's kind of like saying, "well, I can modulate to a different key, but that opens up the door to modulating to any key" - but did people do that? They might modulate once or twice, or in some cases, quite a few times, but it's all about what you want to do.

I agree with your ending sentiment - it's art, not science. If it sounds good it is good - don't lock yourself into some arbitrary thing. It's ok to "restrict" yourself to certain note sets. But I think this is a fallacy of a lot of - let's call it "simlpler" music for lack of a better term - a lot of people who are still writing key-based music still write in C Major only. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but they're under the impression (because someone taught them this or they read it online) that they can only use the notes in C Major.

That's not really how real music is written. Sure there can be pieces that do expressly remain in a single key, or mode, or even small set of notes. However, unless that's a specific goal of the piece (an "exercise" in some ways), that's a rather simplistic way to look at music in most contexts, especially what we generally think the long-standing of traditional "composing" entails.

I say go for it! As long as the ramifications are good music, full speed ahead.

Michel.R.E

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2016, 01:03:03 PM »
I say go for it! As long as the ramifications are good music, full speed ahead.

Hear hear!
And thus sayeth I as well.

Who cares what the system is.. the system is not the end result, it is but a means to achieve that end result.

The end result is: music.
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RJB54

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2016, 01:44:03 PM »
Well, Steve, when you are working in a diatonic framework you are working with larger implied pitch collections and relationships which do not need to be completely present at all times to keep their structural integrity; therefore, the presence of an F# when in C Major doesn't break the integrity of C Major and can be explained as a deviation of some kind (secondary dominant, chromatic neighbor, etc., as you described).

In my framework there cannot be such implied pitch collections and adding or removing a tone changes the given absolute pitch collection being presented into an absolute collection which is not structurally part of the piece.

While I tend to agree with the idea you and Michel expressed about allowing the music to speak as it desires, I need to have all of the material in a given piece be part of the basic material chosen for the piece, it's kind of a thing with me. One can make an argument that I am being too anal about it but that's the starting point for my mental/creative process when composing. I need to have that analytical structural integrity, without it the piece will not be 'right' to me.

After much thought I'm leaning towards using set class theory to relate these sorts of pitch collections, the idea being that the 'new' temporary pitch collection can be related to the base material via set class relationships with the set class transformation being a sort of 'modulation', if that makes any sense. At least that's my thinking at the moment.

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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stevel

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2016, 06:11:46 PM »

In my framework there cannot be such implied pitch collections and adding or removing a tone changes the given absolute pitch collection being presented into an absolute collection which is not structurally part of the piece.

I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, so:

Why?

Quote
I need to have all of the material in a given piece be part of the basic material chosen for the piece, it's kind of a thing with me. One can make an argument that I am being too anal about it but that's the starting point for my mental/creative process when composing. I need to have that analytical structural integrity, without it the piece will not be 'right' to me.

I can sympathize with that. But, it was you who asked the original question :-)

I've been very "strict" with things I've done. I've also dug myself holes I couldn't get out of, or set up hurdles I couldn't jump over by doing so...

Quote
After much thought I'm leaning towards using set class theory to relate these sorts of pitch collections, the idea being that the 'new' temporary pitch collection can be related to the base material via set class relationships with the set class transformation being a sort of 'modulation', if that makes any sense.

Makes perfect sense. That's what other composers working with pitch sets have done.

I guess what I was trying to say is that one can see some paradigms as completely independent from tradition. For example, there are many people who go online asking questions about parallel 5ths when they're composing completely non-Tonal, non-Common Practice Period music. That's an extreme example but it makes the point that, if you have a "non-traditional harmonic framework", does it even make sense to think about "non-chord tones"?

Just like in many contexts, the idea of resolution of dissonance is a non-issue.

So, like Bob Ross said, it's your world, and you need to decide how much tradition, if any, is going to apply.

Personally, I find that relating concepts to traditional ideas is something I sometimes want to do - like you saying it's a "modulation" of sorts - while it's not a traditional modulation, the philosophy is the same. So I say, if your style, or even the style of this one piece exists in this "some ties to tradition" conceptual world, then that's justification enough. Some pieces can be strict, and others may not. Even traditional composers wrote strict canons versus loose imitative counterpoint, and had both tonal and real answers.

I like the idea of setting up "worlds" in which pieces exist, and in some of these worlds, only 4 notes exist. And I find imposing those restrictions on myself can force me to come up with creative solutions (and it poses a challenge, etc.). But again, as Bob Ross said, if there's a "happy accident", I'm often cool with it. It adds "character" or "personal quirks" and so on. So I try not to "dismiss" something just because I'm wanting to be strict or stricter in a certain piece. Sometimes to I want to, but then I step back and think, "hey, maybe this wasn't the piece for that". Since you were asking for that outside perspective, that's where I've been able to step outside and look in myself.

HTH,
Steve

RJB54

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2016, 07:15:30 AM »
Steve, thanks for your time, I appreciate your thoughts.

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2016, 07:17:23 AM »
A large part of me says that the neighbor note in question is not acceptable because this five tone cell is not theoretically justifiable...

This is the part of your question that jumped out at me. I have done a lot of thinking along these lines over the years, and I have a very strong opinion on it.

It is my belief that getting past this feeling of "not acceptable" is critical to freeing up your writing process. It has certainly made me feel free to get past it, and believe me, I understand the psychological hurdle. No musical system, particularly if it's your system, should feel like a prison. Forget absolutes, and write that unacceptable note -- not only because you know you want that note -- but because writing in an exception is a useful and strong statement unto itself. I would almost go so far as to say you owe it to your music to break your own system.

Do it now, get it over with, and teach the manuscript paper who's boss. Stop worrying about an imagined theorist in the future finding a "mistake" in your music and write the notes you know you want to. It's your music; you don't owe them or anybody else anything.

Ron

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2016, 07:27:46 AM »
As one of my composition teachers told me: "Let the music speak for itself and let the graduate students worry about the theory. They need something to do." :)
Ron
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RJB54

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2016, 11:14:33 AM »
As one of my composition teachers told me: "Let the music speak for itself and let the graduate students worry about the theory. They need something to do." :)

LOL

It does bring up another way of trying to express my mental problem. If one was to plunk down one of my pieces in front of a student and give an assignment to analyze it would they be able to or not. If the piece has the internal structural integrity that I strive for it could be possible, but if you include random pitch collections because it would result in a desirable surface effect it wouldn't be possible and that's my problem, theoretical justification for such 'non-harmonic' tones in a non-diatonic environment.

Maybe I'm just worrying about nothing.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
Frank Zappa

Michel.R.E

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Re: Theoretic/Philosophic Question
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2016, 11:33:06 AM »
It does bring up another way of trying to express my mental problem. If one was to plunk down one of my pieces in front of a student and give an assignment to analyze it would they be able to or not. If the piece has the internal structural integrity that I strive for it could be possible, but if you include random pitch collections because it would result in a desirable surface effect it wouldn't be possible and that's my problem, theoretical justification for such 'non-harmonic' tones in a non-diatonic environment.

Maybe I'm just worrying about nothing.

Why do you care whether or not a student could analyze your work?
I'm absolutely positive that a student, or even a musicologist, could not really analyze my work. Do I care? Nope.

You don't need "theoretical justification". You need musical justification.
And if you refuse a musical idea because of a theoretical (ie: system-related) worry, then you are damaging your own music.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"