Category Critical Theory And The End Of Noise

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

Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman

What does blues, bebop, improvisation, Science fiction, soap operas, Carousel, and Sigmund Freud have in common?  They are all subjects found in Ornette Coleman’s music which has inspired me since I was a teenager in the late 1970′s.  However, I was introduced to Ornette’s music through my study of jazz guitar.  Fortunately a good friend’s older brother had a treasure trove of ECM records that he encouraged me to listen to.  One record I borrowed, and bought soon afterwards, was Pat Metheny’s “Bright Size Life”.  I did my best to learn most of the songs on that record including his covers of Ornette Coleman’s “Round Trip” and “Broadway Blues”.  So, I feel that Metheny introduced me to Ornette’s music.  Thanks Pat!  Then I got some of Ornette’s records and learned from them.  After I moved to NYC in 1996 I met Ornette.  It’s been an honor to get to know him and play music with him many times at his home.  Sometimes with a band and several times for many hours playing duo.  He is a very generous person and I can’t thank him enough for the experience, insight and inspirations he has shared.

In the essay below, the music of Ornette Coleman’s output will be read against Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Parody – The Teachings of Twentieth Century Art Forms.  As you may recall, Hutcheon’s work has been covered here before.  A few weeks ago I reviewed Hutcheon’s book.  You can read that review HERE . In this review I note, “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...

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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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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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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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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (2 of 2)

(this post is continued from last week)

Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (2 of 2)

Giving value to Noise allowed electronic music pioneers to experiment with and establish new forms of musical expressions. The innovative power of electronic music lies in the hands of those composers who use the medium for experimentation in order to scrutinize musical axioms. French composer, musicologist and experimental electronic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer coined “music concrete”; ‘concrete’ meaning “directly” as opposed to dealing with the detours of notation and conductors (xiii). Many influential musicians worked with Schaeffer in his electronic studio including Varèse, Györgi Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio. Composer Makis Solomos notes, “It is true that the electro-acoustic practice of the 1950s made Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Berio discover radical new ways of conceiving music in general, and that they applied these new ways of thinking to their instrumental music” (245). In this way composers used Noise as the sound upon which they would build from. In essence, this is the ‘grain’ that Barthes wrote about. Some composers were captivated by new sounds before they began experimenting with electro-acoustic music. Solomos notes, “Xenakis is more like Varèse, who wrote radically new music before the introduction of the new technology, a music that is no longer composed with sounds but composes the sound” (245). After World War II, new theories about music composition and production thrived simultaneously.

Iannis Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis

Solomos mentions, “I will say with [music theorist] Theodor Adorno that the evolution of the new, electro-acoustic means of artistic production converged with the independent evolution of music itself ” (245). The power of experimental music was found in the new Noise. Solomos notes, “With Xenakis, as with some other composers of his generation, music became partially experimental...

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Critical Theory And The End Of Noise – Post #1 (1 of 2)

Blue peeling paint on a Tokyo building.

image by BE

In the winter of 2012 I took a course called “Critical Theory And The End Of Noise”.  This post, a reading review, is the first of six papers from that heading which will be published here.  These papers have been edited or modified since I originally wrote them.  I added a few commas and tied some points together a little better than before.    There is always more I could do, but my hero Bruce Lee is whispering in my ear , “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”  People get ready, a variety of high-brow and low-brow sources are cited.  Sheesh, this essay runs the gamut from German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, to French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician Roland Barthes to French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic Michel Foucault to composer Edgard Varèse to French economist Jacques Attali to champion of experimental music Henry Cowell to French composer, musicologist and experimental electronic pioneer Pierre Schaeffer to music critic Simon Reynolds to pop singer Adele to prolific musician, writer and editor Merzbow.  The street artist Banksy wrote, “Some people criticize me for using sources that are a bit low brow but you know what? ‘I’m just going to use that hostility to make me stronger, not weaker’ as Kelly Rowland said on the X Factor.” Thanks Banksy!  Did you know that in 2013 my co-led trio TOTEM> released  a CD called “Voices Of Grain”?  Barthes and some other writers, but especially Barthes, sourced in the following paper,  inspired that title.  Thanks RB.  By the way, some readers may not know that I was fortunate to study with composer Gheorghe Costinescu who received a Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University and also received a Post-Graduate Diploma from The Juilliard School, where his main teacher was Luciano Berio.   Berio was a student of Schaeffer...

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