Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #5 of 6

Graffiti subway art says, "question everything-why"

Truth in graffiti?

One should question everything.  At least I feel that I should question everything.  It’s exhausting but I have no choice.  The more that I question the more questions I have.  It goes on and on.  I’ve been this way since I was 3 or 4 – around the time I started playing guitar.  It was curious to me.  I loved the sound.  You never know where sound will lead you and lately it’s been on my mind, “How did I get here?”  I feel that I am part of a generation, or to put it more succinctly, part of a genealogy of 20th century American guitarists who reached deeply into traditions but were not bound by them.  Questioning led me to scientific approaches, skepticism, and critical thinking.  These perspectives and practices have fostered inspiration, enlightenment and self-realization.

As a teenager I began playing jazz and much of my professional life has been as a jazz guitarist.  Although I’d heard about composers John Cage and Morton Feldman by my late teens, I didn’t spend much time with their works because they were dismissive of jazz music.  Consequently I chose to spend time with other composers and musicians who were more appreciative of jazz.  As I got older and wanted to fill in gaps of knowledge, I spent time learning about Cage’s and Feldman’s music making processes.  Conversations in the 1990′s with jazz pianist Borah Bergmann prompted me to dig deeper into Feldman’s work.  A fine essay on Morton Feldman, “American Sublime” was written by Alex Ross and published in The New Yorker on June 19, 2006.  A reprint of the article is posted on Ross’ Blog here.  What follows are my thoughts, feelings and impressions upon reading some of Feldman’s writings.

Book Review

Give My Regards To Eighth Street:

Collected Writings of Morton Feldman

- edited by B.H. Friedman

Morton Feldman with music scores in background

Morton Feldman

When fellow composer Karlheinz Stockhausen asked Morton Feldman “What is your secret?”, Feldman replied, “I don’t push the sounds around” (143)...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #4 of 6

Lucy of Peanuts.

“Listening is not the same as hearing and hearing is not the same as listening” ~ Pauline Oliveros

In an earlier post we touched on the essay Some Sound Observations written by Pauline Oliveros where it is included in the book  Audio Culture – Readings In Modern Music, an anthology of writings that trace the genealogy of current musical practices and theoretical concerns.  Below we are going to dig into Oliveros’ book Deep Listening – A Composer’s Sound Practice.  I enjoyed this book very much.  Whether you’re a musician or not, if you enjoy music or sound, in any of it’s multi-faceted manifestations, do yourself a favor and read this book.  It puts you in the moment.  In the now.  A place of stillness.  And fosters a practice to enhance one’s listening skills.

Book Review #2:  Deep Listening –

A Composer’s Sound Practice

by Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros is a composer, accordionist, and pioneer in electronic music. Oliveros coined the term “Deep Listening” as the CD title for her 1989 release (xi) and soon Deep Listening Retreats and shorter workshops followed. Her book, Deep Listening – A Composer’s Sound Practice, which details new ways to focus attention on sound and music, is the subject of our attention.

    To begin with, Oliveros develops a rationale about how humans hear by tracing sonic stimulation to the nature of consciousness. Addressing auditory latency, Oliveros quotes the MIT Press noting, “evoked potentials appear in the brain up to a half-second before the individual is aware of a stimulus” (xxi). However, the brain perceives the stimulus as happening in the present moment, i.e. the immediate instant in one’s own sense of time. Therefore, Oliveros concludes, “perception in time is an illusion” (xxi). There is a Zen component to this rationale and argument that this author finds intriguing...

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Western Music History From Antiquity Through The 18th Century

Picasso's Beatles

“The real question is not where do ideas come from but where do they go.”

 ~ From “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

Learning about music history is a great way for musicians to become informed.  For a long time I was deeply informed by the music of saxophonist John Coltrane.  I was so captivated with his music, sound and conceptual developments that I learned a lot of his music while I searched out all available information on him.  I was deeply immersed in this study for about fifteen years.  Furthermore, I studied with his former teacher, Dennis Sandole.  Sandole would occasionally mention composers for me to investigate and I always learned a lot by taking his advice.  On the internet, I am fascinated when I read essays about Trane online.  This one by Lewis Porter outlines the influence of American composer Morton Gould on John Coltrane’s composition”Impressions”.  Trane’s first recording of Impressions dates to his 1961 engagement at the Village Vanguard.  We learn that “Coltrane’s source for the main theme of Impressions is the second theme of Pavanne, which is part of (Gould’s) longer work, American Symphonette No. 2″, which was premiered in 1939.   In this way, Coltrane renews history and imbues an older composition with new sensibilities.   I’d like to note that Ahmad Jamal’s 1955 cover of  Pavanne may have been the first time that Trane heard the piece.  I wonder if Jamal has been asked if Coltrane ever spoke with him about Pavanne.

The study of music history brings about an awareness of other perspectives such as structural functionalism, ethnoscience and linguistic theories, paradigmatic structuralism, Marxism, literary and dramaturgical theories, cognitive and communication theories, performance theory, feminism, phenomenology, historical research, postmodernism, post colonial theory, and semiotics.

Within this essay one may perceive multiple overlapping theoretical orientations, and each theory is not totally exclusive of one another...

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Anthropology of Music – Post #3 of 3

Photo of Albert Einstein with quote"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

Einstein knew that different perspectives yield new solutions to old problems.

 “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” ~ Voltaire

Through questions that are asked, this essay explores the recent intellectual history of cultural anthropology with respect to contemporary theoretical perspectives.  Our inquiries explore a variety of topics.  What makes different versions of a song the same song?  What gives a song its integrity as a distinct musical utterance?  And one or two others.

Theoretical Perspectives and Research:

Questions That Guide Studies in the Contemporary Field

Ruth Stone

Dr. Ruth Stone

This author was intrigued by ethnomusicologist Ruth M. Stone’s assertion, in Theory For Ethnomusicology, “One of the ways to compare theories is to consider what questions that theorists, employing a particular theory, find interesting and appropriate” (2008: 224). This author seeks to understand the questions that culture theorists and ethnomusicologists have asked in the past ten years. Or put another way, what is the recent intellectual history of cultural anthropology with respect to contemporary theoretical perspectives? This paper seeks to document a broad sample of questions regarding specific theoretical orientations posited by scholars that have been published since September 11, 2001. This date is not arbitrary, as it conveys to this author a global social impact that connotes a worldwide change in mood and perspective. This author suggests that three overlapping viewpoints – identity, modernity, and continuity – inform the experiences investigated by ethnomusicologists during this time period. Identity issues of uniqueness, retention, and change with respect to social encounters, gives rise to expressions of modernity. Modernity offers an approach to perceiving emerging genres through theoretical continuity in the field.

Since the early twentieth century, ethnomusicologists have focused on an array of theories...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #3 of 3

Dreams may be the source of songs.  Personally, I’ve had some of those.  Games may be another source for songs.  Kids do this all the time.  Practically every game I played as a kid had a song that went along with the activity.  Even as an adult, I make up songs almost everyday while I’m playing with my dog.

This is the third and last paper, with this heading, that will be published here. In earlier blog entries you’ll find my first two papers and some background info.  In this essay we will investigate the use of narrative songs, game songs, cross cultural collaborations, the celebration of community relationships, contemporary intertribal encounters

Another subject we will look at in this essay is Native American throat singing.  With throat singing, two or more pitches may be produced simultaneously.  The sound is hauntingly beautiful.  I think the first time I ever heard throat singing in person was in the 1990′s by the bassist Peter Kowald.    Furthermore some saxophonists including John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Dewey Redman and Evan Parker along with a few contemporary trumpeters including my friend and musical cohort Peter Evans, seem to simulate this through their own means.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re not throat singing but they do produce multiple pitches simultaneously.  Although I don’t want to assume I know how each of them produces “those” sounds, the sounds are exciting to be around.  You gotta hear it in person!

Understanding and Listening to Native American Music

“Human wellbeing involves far more than simple adjustment to a given environment, natural or cultural; it involves endless experimentation in how the given world can be lived decisively, on one’s own terms” (xii).

~ Dr. Michael Jackson, Existential Anthropology: Events, Exigencies and Effects

In order to understand and listen to Native American music, it is essential to understand human behavior through the study of people because the enculturated “mythical ideas of racial essences (which) are deeply embedded within t...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #3 of 6

Although the caption is, "This is not a piano", this an image of a piano.

This is not a piano.

 It’s been said, “The word is not the thing” and “The map is not the territory”.  With respect to a photograph or for that matter a sound recording, isn’t it just a representation?  Basically, as far as music is concerned, is sheet music or a recording of music, for that matter, actually the music that was originally sounded and recorded?  With this being the third post in this heading, we are going to dig into the conventional notion that objects correspond to words and images. Through the use of parody we see that artists may create a paradox. Parodic reworkings of previous music may illuminate a rubric of previously hidden perspectives.

Book Review:

A Theory of Parody – The Teachings of

Twentieth Century Art Forms

by Linda Hutcheon

     Modern parody is a mode of expression that is flexible, multi-faceted and intertextual. In A Theory of Parody – The Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms, Linda Hutcheon observes the use of parody in the works of architects, composers, filmmakers, painters and playwrights. As Hutcheon details the range of intent in contemporary parody, distinguishing characteristics illuminate it’s nature in contrast to allusion, burlesque, pastiche, plagiarism, quotation, satire and travesty. Hutcheon’s book is a reconsideration of both the nature and the function of parody. Hutcheon identifies contemporary parody as a unique theoretical perspective that intersects with invention and critique as a way to deal with the texts and discourses of the past. Parody is a dialogue with the forms of the past, a dialogue that re-circulates rather than immortalizes. In this way, parody expresses it’s genealogical function.

     Hutcheon notes that the most commonly cited purpose of parody is “critical ridicule” employing humor and derision (51). However, Hutcheon sees this ethos as an outdated limitation. Historical and modern parody is not always ridicule. Numerous critics have recognized the use of parody as wit devoid of ridicule or burlesque (52)...

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Music Theory And Harmony

Pierre Boulez composing at his desk.

Pierre Boulez

“In principle all instruction should be based on historical evolution;

there should be no obligation to make a specialized study of musicology,

but a knowledge of texts of the past, recent or remote, should form a foundation”

~ Pierre Boulez (Nattiez 1985: 119)

This essay will define how and what I learned to master a solid foundation in music theory and harmony through formal and informal learning commensurate with first-rate college level education as exemplified in courses at Columbia University, Harvard University, Oberlin College and Berklee College of Music. Much of the information I have learned about music theory and harmony is demonstrated in my compositions, 15 CD’s and performance history. Additionally, what I learned about species counterpoint will be covered in this essay.  Although references to guitar technique, performance and composition are occasionally made to underscore how I learned music theory and harmony, a future essay will  address “Advanced Guitar and Performance Technique” and the essay “Musical Composition and Structured Improvisation” was published here four weeks ago. Therefore, it is not my objective to address those subjects in this essay.

Supporting documents (SD) and endnotes, which further clarify and substantiate theory and harmony scholarship, are not included but will be supplied upon request. I have been learning and engaged with music harmony and music theory for over 30 years and I have a deep knowledge of these subjects. I learned music theory and harmony in a variety of formal environments including one-on-one private instruction and in classroom situations. Using Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method I learned many music theory fundamentals with my first guitar instructor, Vincent Pattaglia, including staff notation, rhythmic notation, pitch, tuning systems, tetrachords, scales and chords.[i] Later, in private instruction with retired professional guitarist Joe Yurko, I wrote out intervals, scales and harmonization of major and minor scales in every key...

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Anthropology of Music – Post #2 of 3

Edison phonograph and wax cylinders from the collection of ethnomusicological recordings at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

Edison phonograph and wax cylinders from the collection of ethnomusicological recordings at the Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv

This is the second post in this heading.  In this essay we are going to learn about the perspectives of some of the most influential theorists who helped to conceptualize the modern field of ethnomusicology including Alan P. Merriam, Bruno Nettl, Phillip V. Bohlman and Ruth M. Stone.  The Society Of Ethnomusicology (SEM) has an annual conference which I attended in 2012 when it touched down in Philadelphia.  While at the conference I was fortunate to hear many interesting academic lectures.  Additionally, I was honored to meet Bruno Nettl and Ruth Stone.

Reading Review 2 - How Do We Know What We Know?

This reading review focuses on three texts: an anthropological approach to conceptualize ethnomusicology, The Anthropology of Music by Alan P. Merriam; a collection of essays on the history of ethnomusicology and it’s methodological and theoretical foundations, Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music: Essays on the History of Ethnomusicology (CMAM) by Bruno Nettl and Phillip V. Bohlman; and a contemporary overview of ethnomusicology’s theoretical underpinnings, Theory for Ethnomusicology by Ruth M. Stone. This paper has two primary objectives. The first is to look at the ways that these books specifically relate the history of anthropological theory to that of ethnomusicological theory. The second is to see how these works convey this relationship to the reader and to recognize how closely intertwined the two fields are.

Philip V. Bohlman, ethno-musicologist and writer of numerous books on music around world.

Philip V. Bohlman

Ethnomusicologist, musician and author, Philip V. Bohlman remarks, “Seeing ourselves in the Other and the Other in ourselves” is one of the primary motivations of anthropology (CMAM: 142-43).  Beginning with Alan Merriam’s work, the same could be said of contemporary ethnomusicologists...

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Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #2 of 3

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, with his blue Fender stratocaster guitar, fronts the Blues Kings.

Arizona Navajo, Sir Harrison, fronts the Blues Kings.

“With the power of soul, anything is possible.” – Jimi Hendrix

This is the second of three papers in the heading, “Native American Perspectives in Music”. In an earlier blog entry you’ll find my first paper and some background info.  In this essay we shall see that linking music with traditional and contemporary indigenous knowledge transforms human consciousness into the spiritual field.  One point that is made explicit by almost every author in this anthology is that legends, dance, music and song texts weave traditional and contemporary knowledge to generate power and transform consciousness.  Furthermore, with this transformation we learn that sound is a healing force.   Finally, we shall see how the preservation of ecology is related to the preservation of culture.

Understanding Native American Music Across the USA (Part 2)

“The sound takes me there.”

~ Margaret Paul; Passamaquoddy Traditional Singer (Browner 2009: 60)

Native North American’s weave traditional and contemporary knowledge by linking music with legend and dance to transform human consciousness into the spiritual field. This review focuses on a book, a website and a recording to develop understanding about Native American music across the United States. Specifically, key points from the Introduction and Chapters 3-9 of an anthology of scholarly case studies, Tara Browner’s Music of the First Nations, will be explored. Additionally, this author will summarize three stories at the PBS website, Circle of Stories-Many Voices, and explain why this author selected them and what was found to be important. Finally, using a musical piece from the CD accompanying Beverley Diamond’s book, Music of The First Nations – Tradition and Innovation in Native North America, this author will explain this musical piece’s contribution to the understanding of Native American perspectives discussed in this paper...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #2 of 6

Listening device - not necessarily for music.

Listening device – not necessarily for music.

Does music change when new musical practices and new technologies emerge?  Does subversion and transgression uproot the tyrannical weight of cultural memory?  This is the second post in this heading, “Critical Theory And The End Of Noise”. We are going to explore the thoughts and perspectives of some new and old friends. Look out below!  because we are going to interact with Canadian philosopher of communication theory, public intellectual and fixture in media discourse – Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980);  Austrian composer, longtime Bertolt Brecht associate – Hanns Eisler (1898-1962);  one of the foremost continental philosophers of the twentieth century,sociologist, philosopher and musicologist known for his critical theory of society – Theodor Adorno (1903-1969);  innovative French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician – Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995);  Spanish avant-garde experimental musician and sound artist – Francisco López (1964);  Swedish musicologist, researcher, writer, music critic – Ola Stockfelt (1953);  English musician, composer, record producer, singer, visual artist, and one of the principal innovators of ambient music – Brian Eno (1948);  author and Professor of Cultural and Postcolonial Studies known for his interdisciplinary and intercultural work on music, popular and metropolitan cultures – Iain Chambers (1949);  American composer, accordionist, author, and music professor who is a central figure in the development of experimental and post-war electronic art music – Pauline Oliveros (1932); and American composer, music theorist, early adapter of electronic music, and Professor of Music Emeritus at Princeton University – J.K. Randall (1929-2014).

Reading Review #2

As new musical practices and technologies emerge, it is necessary to develop a new discourse about listening conventions because changes in music production and the reception of sound have caused a shift in the definition of “music”...

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