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The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Sonoristics 

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Bloody good point.

The problem someone like Copland would have had with music as sound rather melody, rhythm and structure, though, is that in the end he says "I do not mean to suggest that sounds in themselves, taken out of context, are of any use to a composer. Interesting sonorities as such are scarcely more than icing on the musical cake." Every producer from at least Phil Spector to Timbaland has recognised the central place of sounds to Popular music. The classical world still considers 'sonorism' (a term associated particularly with Polish composition in the 1960s) a term of derision. For classical composers, as for Jack White it seems, the quality of the sound you make is secondary to its place within a structural framework. (Although, the problem with White's kind of rockist position is that your structure is usually not that interesting either, since you're usually tied to the same chord patterns and verse-chorus form as Pop is. Pop's liberated itself from sameyness by elevating the sonic dimension to a higher status.). As a result of several factors, not least of which was the invention of music recording and the studio, it could be argued that the most important musical development of the second half of the century has been this re-evaluation of the qualities nuances of sound as a key compositional factor. So much music, from Motown to free jazz, to Górecki, to ambient, to hip hop, of the last forty years or so has been created with sonority at the forefront that it seems ridiculous to me to continue to marginalise it and pretend that it's not important.

On a slightly related note, there's been surprise noted elsewhere over Sasha's observation in his NYT piece that Timbaland never learned a musical instrument. No cuss to Sasha, because his was a relatively small point in a great piece of writing, but for people to be surprised by his observation, I find a pretty classicist thing to say, too. Just because Timbaland never had violin lessons as a kid means nothing: the simple fact is that decks, ProTools and mixing desks are instruments. Pretty difficult to get lessons, so you're self-taught. And Tim plays his studio better than most other musicians can play the piano. The difference is that when you're playing your studio, you're working with sounds first, melodies and rhythms second. When you learn the piano, it's the other way around: in fact getting a good tone out of your instrument only comes after four or five years of learning. Two totally different ways of thinking about music, and for all that Aaron Copland said, he and Jack White are on one side, Timbaland, Górecki and Brian Eno are on the other.


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