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Improvisations - from "Dandelion Seeds"

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by glenn, Feb 27, 2010.

  1. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    As a way of introduction to this very cordial and knowledgeable society, I would like to present some excerpts from my recent CD of piano improvisation Dandelion Seeds. Though I make my living playing the double bass for the Phoenix Symphony, I have carried a side career as composer/pianist for many years. I have written a fairly large quantity of music for piano, but almost all of it was written before 1990. I have several tapes of these earlier works, but they are all about 25+ years old and show their age. I hope to start re-recording some of them this summer. For the last 20 years, however, my piano interests have been concentrated on improvisation. Since 1998, I have recorded 10 CD's worth of improvisation but, after the first, have not had the resources available to release them. I do, however, now have resources available to release them digitally (on iTunes, etc.) which I am beginning to do. Right now I have released Dandelion Seeds (2003) and I will shortly be releasing Snowmelt (2001). My first CD, Dreamcatcher (1998) can still be found in places.

    I see that Francois de Larrard has carried the torch admirably for improvisation (or what I know as "free" improvisation) with this society for some years. He is a marvelous improviser and also a wonderful musician. I loved his recent postings of Couperin. There seems to have been a lot of improvisation uploaded for discussion, but his is the only improvisation to make it up on your site, and with good reason. Though his improvisation is more inspired by Classicism than mine, I do think we easily inhabit the same planet, and maybe even the same hemisphere. I agree with his characterization of improvisation on the Improvisation page, but I think he sells himself short when he suggests that improvisation does not dig as deep as composition. To me, the depth of composition comes from reflection, the opportunity to ponder the music at length. Whereas, the depth of improvisation comes from an intensity of concentration. To me, composition and improvisation are analogous to Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund. Narcissus gains knowledge through reflection and discipline, while Goldmund finds wisdom through experience and intuition. Composition allows for a more thorough use of relationship, but the quality of the argument is not always reflected in the conclusion. I do not believe that composition has a monopoly on insight.

    The selections I have presented group themselves into three sets: #3-4, #5-7, and #10-12. The relationships can be heard because these tracks are part of the same improvisation. After my first two CD's (this is my fourth), I started editing my improvisations into smaller sections. I do this because I feel it is more readily comprehended by the listener, and because, as a composer, this is my only shot at this material. Nobody else is going to perform them, so they have to be good. Editing also allows me to not be concerned about the passage of time when I improvise, and just play until I am done. These improvisations were recorded in MIDI, and have been remastered with samples from the Garritan Authorized Steinway Virtual Concert Grand Piano (Under Lid Perspective). For live performance, you cannot replace a grand, but for recording, it is my opinion that these samples are hard to beat.

    I hope you find this music enjoyable. Best regards to all,

    Glenn Stallcop

    Dandelion Seeds - 7: How many children ( 03:05 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 6: How many boyfriends ( 03:28 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 10: Where the wind takes me ( 03:15 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 12: Remembering a thermal ( 03:43 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 11: A new home ( 04:52 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 5: Winds of promise ( 03:37 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 4: Making a wish ( 03:22 )

    Dandelion Seeds - 3: Casting into the wind ( 03:52 )
     
  2. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Hello Glenn,

    Yes, we are very selective when it comes to accepting original compositions. I've just listened to few of your files here and will say that I appreciate the work involved and your obvious love of creating music like this. However, I am not really into this style; I can only take it in small doses. I just like melodies that I can remember and more harmonies that touch my heart. The problem is mine, though, so please don't take offense.

    btw - from what I heard, the one I like best is the Boyfriend piece.
     
  3. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thanks, Monica. I appreciate your honesty. Hmm. . . and I thought the music was so romantic. I'm glad I didn't send my dark stuff!

    Concerning the style, I admit that one of the lures of improvisation is the voyage of discovery, and that is difficult without leaving port. Actually, I have found that non-musicians are often more receptive to my improvisation, as they just listen and respond, rather than concerning themselves with what I am doing or not doing. I think you will be more attracted to my written piano music, however. Thanks, again.

    Glenn
     
  4. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    I like dark stuff!

    Regarding these recordings - just because they are not my cup of tea doesn't mean they are not fit for our site. I'm just going to wait to see what other members say first.
     
  5. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    I don't agree that improvisation can be as deep as composition, even with "intensity of concentration" as you say. Free and spontaneous improvisation is the equivalence to a musical first draft. This has no bearing on how great or how deficient a piece may sound to our taste. There is no composer that I know that can envision everything on the first try, even Beethoven, Chopin, etc. We've all read about labors of countless revisions by these great souls... Improvisation may be the beginning of composition, there is always a sense of incompleteness until several revisions are drawn. Therefore, I cannot endorse an improvisation on equal footing as a formal composition.

    When you say that the "non-musicians are more receptive to my improvisation," it's because they are being attracted to kaleidoscopic collection of musical colors and react in absolutes, e.g. "that is pretty" or "that is scary." Musicians will try to understand your intentions, through the framework of musical architecture, harmonic, and thematic development, etc. Musically, all the improvisations/compositions sound alike and I can't tell the difference from one title to the next. It's such a diffuse and loose style of musical ideas with no clear form or structure. It progresses from one idea to the next with no clear rhythmic or thematic focus. You present a lot of good musical ideas in a broad image, zoom in on a few of them and transform them through development. There is good potential here.

    The merits of a "Free Improvisation" is pressing record on your recorder and playing whatever comes to mind on a single take. The music sounds improvisatory, but I cannot regard these pieces as "Free Improvisation" once you record it in MIDI and then manipulate it through multiple edits later. The spontaneity of free improvisation is gone. In my opinion, there is little difference between MIDI control and making changes from its initial state, and writing down your ideas on manuscript in a form of a composition. It's just another form of revision and not free improvisation. This digital manipulation debate is ongoing, and is even a bigger issue in photography, as it relates to validity and legality.
     
  6. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Dear 88man,

    Interesting. I didn't think this music would be so controversial.

    First of all, let me say that I am not doing what I do from a position of ignorance of composition. I have a composition career spanning 40 years. I know improvisations can be used as rough drafts, outlines, source material, etc. (I like to think of them as Rorschach tests) for written compositions. I have written several such works since the early 90's, two of which have won awards and one was nominated for a Pulitzer. I improvise out of choice not necessity or lack of understanding. I do not claim that my improvisations are compositions, in fact, I insist that they are not. (I will address your MIDI objection later.) You must realize that your preference for composition is a philosophical choice and not a musical one. It is a preference for planning, reasoned argument, and visual organization over direct experience. A composer often "justifies" his material by directly or indirectly relating it to previous or a priori materials. This is a choice based on the derivation of musical organization and compositional history, but it is not the only one. Having transcribed a number of my improvisations, I have determined that the material undergoes more of an transformation rather than development. A, B, C, D, and E relate to each other in sequence rather than to X. It is like Intelligent Design vs. Evolution. (Check out fellow Red Sox fan, Stephen J. Gould) There is no "point" to evolution, and there need not be a "point" to music, either. But that does not preclude either approach from being expressive, sincere, and poignant.

    When I took up improvisation again about 20 years ago, I did so as a spiritual practice. On one hand I wanted to focus my attention as completely as possible on what I was doing at the moment I was playing; and on the other, I wished to, if not forget, at least dilute all the intellectual musical constructs of form, rhythm, harmony, etc. that were getting in the way of listening directly to what I was doing. I did not pre-plan what I was to do in any way, and if I sat in judgment about what I was doing, the process would collapse. So I just threw my hands into the void, and then reacted. It was a difficult exercise, and took several months to begin to get used to, but I was able to reach a point where the music nearly came by itself. Eventually, I noticed that there was a direct relationship between the quality of the music and how closely and "deeply" I was concentrating on what I was doing. It also made a difference how involved I was with the music emotionally. Though my friends urge me to play in public more than I do, my original intent continues to keep my improvisation rather private, though I now release it on recording.

    My comment to Monica concerning the receptivity of musicians and non-musicians to my music applied to the style. Though I don't believe musicians are any more interested in architectural framework, harmonic, and thematic development than non-musicians, they are more scared off by style because they are the ones who suffer if they play something someone doesn't like. However, when you say that all of my pieces sound alike, I think you are somewhat correct, but I must also note that the difference between stylistic continuity and sameness is small. Many composers' music, especially on unfamiliar first hearing, "all sounds alike". What you say about the music progressing loosely without clear and concise musical ideas or form, and progressing without a clear or thematic focus is all true. Incidentally, I use rhythm and tempo in the same way I use all other parameters, as participants in the ebb and flow of emotional expression. I am happy that you think the musical ideas have merit.

    Concerning the use of MIDI, I find it interesting that you object to my improvisation because it is not composition, and my performance because it is. When I first started to record my improvisation in the late 70's, I would play on my reliably out of tune upright and record it on an old Sony reel-to-reel. Then I would choose good improvisations and transcribe them, learn them, and record them at a local studio. That would take almost a year, and the music would undergo a spiritual transformation in the process. Time is shorter for me now. I still cannot afford a record quality piano, space, and equipment, especially with $40K tied up in basses. But I can afford a good digital keyboard and computer. Recording is a high quality medium, and I cannot afford to compromise on sound quality or performance. The recording industry is well beyond that of a "frozen performance". There is no debate on digital manipulation. We are not waiting on the decision of some committee. MIDI and digital recording and processing are here to stay. Furthermore, Classical recordings have been edited, spliced, remastered, re-recorded, added effects, etc. for decades. Recording has its own rules, and there is no excuse to sound bad! I am interested to know what you think I did to make these recordings "sound" improvisatory? I use MIDI to record because it is cheap, true, and easy to edit. There is nothing in these recordings that I did not improvise. My editing amounted to excerpting sections out of larger improvisations, some cleaning up of double notes where necessary, and adapting volumes, etc. to the software. I cannot play another take; there is no second chance. I have used MIDI to make sampled recordings of my compositions and know of many composers who do their composing on a multi-track MIDI recorder and then transcribe them. But that is not what I did here. These recordings sound like improvisation because they ARE improvisation. When I use the term "free" improvisation, I refer to there being nothing planned, no previously decided themes, motives, meters, keys, textures, etc.

    Glenn
     
  7. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    I only listened to one piece so far, but I liked it a lot. Many original and intrigueing harmonies, and plenty of invention. It reminded me a bit of Kapustin in improvisational mood (however he maintains having absolutely no interest in improvisation). I must certainly check out all of these.
     
  8. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thank you, Chris, I am flattered! Kapustin is an intriguing composer and monster pianist. I would need about a 2 liter injection of adrenaline to sound like most of his music I've heard, but we do share an interest in compound harmony and chromatic lines. He may not be "interested" in improvisation, but he has certainly heard a lot of it!
    Best wishes -
    Glenn
     
  9. s_winitsky

    s_winitsky Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Hi Glenn!

    These are really some excellent quality recordings! While I admit perhaps not exactly my favorite genre of music ( I hope this does not sound bad but I prefer my music to be a bit more tonal,) no one will doubt your dedication and accomplishment.

    Funny discussion about improvisation. You know I have heard improvisation described by other musicians as a type of real time orchestration or arranging. Where the musician learns to do quickly with his/her hands what others would write down on pen and paper. The spontaneous aspect of it being the interaction of the musicians while playing, musicians closely listening to each other to know what to do next. Of course there is a difference between improvising and composition, though I have always felt to be effective at improvising, the line needs to be small. All this being said, I generally don't do any improvising myself, but I have nothing but respect for people who can do it :)

     
  10. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thank you for your gracious comments. I do consider my music to be tonal in spirit. I try to emotionally deal with dissonances. I consider my tonal palette to include both F# and Gb, they are not treated like percussion instruments as atonal composers do. But I don't have a tonal "center" (unless one was to determine a tonal "mean") and think of my harmony as floating up and down (sharp side/flat side) in a tonal sea. My tonality is used for expressive purposes rather than architecture, and is more akin to Monteverdi than Mozart.

    Playing music with anybody is a bonding experience, even on the scale of my orchestra (talk about soap opera!). But improvising with others is an almost spiritual experience because you are sharing emotional creative energy. I suggest you try to improvise by yourself sometime, just start to play and listen. Start white keys and then add other notes - be experimental. But you can't be critical, and you must keep going. The ghosts of judgment are just that; they are not real. It is a lot of fun! Best wishes -
    Glenn
     
  11. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Glenn, if you feel your music has created controversy in a way that has brought about a healthy argument, then be rest assured that your music has succeeded! Because throughout history, most of the greatest works have been subject of considerable controversy. This is good type of controversy, and in this context, I find it evocative to have a civil exchange of ideas that brings about new concepts and even revolutionize one's current thinking.

    You have made a very convincing argument. I thank you for presenting some great philosophical and musical ideas which I now see really brings your music into full light. Yes, my quibble was a philosophical one, and not a musical one. I just wish I knew what your intentions were from the outset. I was trying to decipher your musical motive(s) through structural and thematic development in the conventional sense. After reading your intentions and compositional philosophy...

    ... It makes sense to me now. I listened to the pieces again and I can now appreciate that your intentions are to render the theme through transformation in a linear progression A, B, C, D, E,... and not be confined to a cyclical format, such as A, B, A, C, A, etc. Transformation is replacing development, hence the birth of modern music. The merits of adopting a transforming approach is conducive to thinking "outside the box" in terms of key, rhythm, form, and thematic evolution. This is analogous to a piece without geometric boundaries or focus/center. From the standpoint of the composer, I would think the linear progression of ideas would be difficult to instill a sense of continuity to the music. But, after having listened to the music more than once now, I see that there is a slight gravity field that somehow keeps things together quite well. This is not easy to do, but I feel that you have succeeded in this regard!

    My other quibble was your definition of "Free Improvisation." As far as the debate over digital (or analog) manipulation of a recording continues, I am from the purist camp that respects the merits of "Free Improvisation" as unedited first take. Perhaps, if you had just said "Improvisation" then I would not have minded, regardless of all the edits, cut/pastes, etc. Again this is a philosophical argument and there would be no easy way to prove one way or the other.

    Great, now that the "controversies" are resolved, let's all enjoy your music, which deserves new found appreciation! I hope you find that great piano in your search. In the meantime, the Garratan Virtual Grand sounds better than most other software based programs I've heard.
     
  12. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Dear 88man -

    I am humbled by your gracious reply. I am encouraged that I was able to write a reply that was intelligible (not always the case), let alone convincing.

    It is quite difficult to create a cyclic form while improvising without planning to do it ahead of time, but it does happen sometimes. When it does, the returning material must be so distinctive that you can remember it without consciously thinking about it. Even then, the material often seems to transform anyway. My memory seems to easily adapt or change the remembered material to the present circumstances without me realizing it.

    It heartens me no end that you were able to get this from the music. There are two things that I have done to try to facilitate this. The first is musical and has to do with pacing. When I first started writing compositions from improvisations, I would "stretch" the material and harmony to create whole phrases from smaller gestures. But this technique, without me realizing it, gradually worked its way back into my improvisation. I didn't notice it until I realized that the "stretching" no longer was appropriate, the timing was already there. I had to alter my approach and write a variation on the material instead, which is how I would have used COMPOSED material. The second effort was psychological. There are just too many things happening to keep track of when you are creating in real time. I eventually decided that I would simply "delegate" the large-scale structural parameters to my subconscious and intuition. I had to ALLOW this to happen, and this is easier said than done. For the most part it has been successful, though I must be quite sensitive when I edit or excerpt.

    Our other issue seems to be semantic, and that is fine. "Free" to me refers to the musical concerns of structure and planning. I would call your definition "live free improvisation". No problem.

    I would like to thank you heartily for your vigorous reply! It made me think really hard, and this is a good thing. That others would enjoy this music is certainly all I really care about. Without that, the rest is meaningless fluff.

    Best regards,
    Glenn
     
  13. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Dear Glenn,

    I am unfortunately not a very regular contributor to PS, by lack of time, so it is only yesterday that I discovered that someone else in this world was interested in improvisation... Well, I'm kidding, but I felt quite lonesome on the improvisation page, and it is a great joy to find a new fellow who, of course (isn'it, administrators ?) deserves to feed this part of the site.

    Yes, we are certainly from the same planet, same hemisphere, and we share a good part of musical culture (I think you are also a jazz lover, not a very common vice in this PS brotherhood !). And I can say that if someone had presented to me a short section of your improvisations as one of mines, I could have been trapped. I love your approach of the instrument, your sense of polyphony and polytonality. Do you like the late Skriabin (I am thinking about the last sonatas, "Black mass", "Insects" and all those incredible works)?

    I read with great interest this discussion on the merits of improvisational vs. compositional approach to music. As it is the case for you, I have been thinking about these questions for a very long time (actually I improvise for the age of 5, and I am 52, so you can calculate...). As a personnal direction, when I improvise for other people - of course improvisation can be 'only' a personal relaxation technique - I try to adopt a very simple convention, and to stick to it during the whole section. By section, I mean an isolated piece of music or a movement of a longer piece. This convention may be, as you suggest to one of our friends, to use only white keys, or only black keys, or to remain in a restricted part of the keyboard, or to use a left hand ostinato, or whatever. Since at our time the strict tonality became quite obsolete, we have to find other constraints. Total freedom sometimes can be enjoyable, but may also make you working only with your reptilian brain (I mean with your reflexes) and eventually produces monotony. A good illustration of this asumption is given by the great free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. Notwithstanding the admiration I have for his volcanic energy and committment, I could never listen more that 30 minutes of his music... However, I never had the chance to see him on stage. Probably this total lack of shape and structure can work in a living performance.

    Anyhow, which is always strange is how your music is perceived by others, including musicians. Some 20 years ago, I recorded a solo piano CD, some parts of which can be classified as modern jazz - I mean a regular tempo, a theme with a chords series followed by variations on the same chords then re-exposure of the theme - and other parts being pure free improvisations with no predetermined structures. I sent it to a friend, who is a quite good clarinetist and jazz arranger, fond of Duke Ellington and middle jazz. His answer was: "Well, not bad, but this is written music and I prefer improvisation"...

    Welcome to PS, and I am looking forward listening more of your music (whatever the mode of creation !) !
     
  14. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    I <3 jazz. I think that if I had Bach, Chopin, and bebop, I could live without all other music.

    I also prefer functional harmony over the 'modern' stuff (so these improvs are not really for me); I know there's a lot of crazy chromaticism in bebop, but mostly it's functional chromaticism. Parallels can be rather illusory unless the composer goes out of his way to avoid a tonal center, which the bebop jazzers generally did not.
     
  15. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Good to see that others can be open to this kind of music. To me bebop was historically very important, but my interest starts just after...although Thelonious Monk was my first love in piano jazz, and he is sometimes classified in the boppers.

    :?: Sorry, I don't get you. What do you mean by 'parallels' ? Another basic question: what's the meaning of 'I <3' ?
     
  16. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    I tend to like a lot of what comes after as well - and in fact, most of my familiarity with bebop comes from a guitarist friend of mine who sometimes plays standards in his sets, but tends toward later styles in general, and sometimes bluegrass - but that bebop influence is pretty crucial to me. Going backwards, swing is generally too carefree for my tastes, and blues...I do love it with good musicians, but I can only handle so much of it. I need more harmonic variety.

    <3 is a sideways heart shape. :lol: Silly internet slang that I have become attached to. By parallels...I mean this notion that essentially began with Debussy, that we move chords in parallel motion rather than contrary. Functional harmony is based on contrary motion, not only in counterpoint but in harmonic progression, so it is seen as fundamentally different, when Debussy often uses parallel chords instead. I say it's illusory because often different spellings and perhaps subtly different voicings will show that function still lurks underneath the surface, and Debussy's treatment of the harmony becomes more an issue of color than anything else, and this variant approach to color greatly affected jazz harmony.

    For example, I was writing a little essay on the evolution of the Neapolitan cadence recently, and as I tossed around in my mind for an example from one of the boppers (dunno how you would classify the chart, but it's largely irrelevant), and Naima came to mind. In the resolution of the A phrase, is it Amaj7/Eb - Gmaj7/Eb - Abmaj7/Eb....or is it N7/5 - V+#9 - I 4-3 (and of course, in the final instance of that cadence, the I is in root position)? Perhaps not a terribly important question, but that is what I am talking about.

    Sorry for hijacking your improv thread, Glenn. :lol: I just wanted to make it known that there was another jazz fan lurking.
     
  17. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Thank you, Francois, for your kind words and vote of confidence. I thought, from listening to your improvisation, that we had very similar interests and tastes. I very much appreciate you comments.

    I love the music of late Scriabin (not the personality). I have always felt sorry that he did not live another 10-20 years and/or had a couple of really talented students. He crossed the same threshold that Schoenberg did, but in a completely different and creative way.

    I got this from your posts. I don't think it is necessary, but I understand the urge. Live performance does present a problem for contrast. Since I have great deal of composed music, I usually mix in improvisation with my written works. In all-improvisation concerts, I often will invite another performer. I also play the bass, which I also use for contrast. I am sensitive to this problem, but I believe it can be solved in a number of different ways without limiting or changing my approach to improvisation.

    To me, it is not a matter of reflex vs. response, but the representation and expression of emotional content. In Cecil Taylor's case, I don't see enough variation in emotional content. Not all emotions are high energy. I don't think it is a lack of structure. The variety of emotional content is a concern to all of us, me included. Romantic composers typically have a large repertoire of emotional tricks to work with, but many modern composers tend to concentrate on a limited few.

    I also never know what someone is going to say about my music. Was that my music you were listening to? Anyway, thank you again, and I look forward to hearing some more of your music.
     
  18. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    To me, tonal harmony has three sources - the resonance of the string (harmonic series), the implied motion (resolution) of the scale degrees, and the relation of the notes by fifths (notes not keys). The harmonic series implies that certain scale degrees are more important than others (tonic, dominant, mediant, etc.). Scale degrees move toward the tonic, often through the third and/or fifth. Chromatics move through the diatonic scale degrees. The circle of fifths is really a linear arrangement, as F# and Gb are on different sides of the arrangement. [To hear the difference between F# and Gb, play the two chords C-G-E-A-D-F# and C-G-E-Bb-Eb-Gb. The F#/Gb sounds completely different because of the context.] Chords can use all three forms of relationship. Debussy understands well the circle-of-fifths relationship and uses it to organize some of his pieces (especially the modal ones) into waves of color, flowing from flats to sharps and back again.

    The function in functional harmony is a structural concept and includes three main components - Primary, Secondary, and Cadential. They are logical organizational tools, like the parts of a sentence. They can have sub-categories (like modifiers), and will necessarily combine to make larger structural levels. They can apply to chords, but can also apply to other musical ideas like rhythmic ideas, accompaniments, other arrangements of chords, or notes themselves. Using different ideas in functional relationships have always been a good source of compositional creativity. The Hawaiians will sometimes have only a two-note melody and end the phrase by going to or through a third note - functional simplicity at its best. On a small scale, this can be understood very nicely, but when composers start to create higher levels by combining material, it gets very complicated, very quickly. A some point, composers or improvisers have to rely completely upon intuition. It becomes like the millipede trying to figure out which leg comes before which - you end up lying in a ditch.

    S'a'right! I love jazz, too.
     
  19. Terez

    Terez New Member

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    Hey Glenn,

    I'm going to pick apart your post, but I'm not really nitpicking your ideas, here (which I think are pretty cogent), but just trying to start a conversation off of them.
    Your last sentence is, I think, a statement of a true fact about functional harmony (I like to use the term functional as opposed to tonal, since 'tonal vs atonal' is so disputed). But I think the language of the statement, particularly the words 'more important', has been a source of some very needless controversy in the world of academic music (much like the tonal vs atonal dispute). The language leads to the argument that we should not discriminate against one tone over another, as if we have done the poor tone an injustice, overlooking it somehow by relegating it to a (supposedly) less-than-honorable place in the functional hierarchy.

    I prefer to say that, in the functional system, each and every tone takes on greater implications by virtue of its association with the system. And those implications derive from two main things: melody (mode) and harmony, the warp and woof of the system. In systematic counterpoint, the weave can be quite intricate, where each harmonic implication is a result of individually clear melodies. And of course, I find functional improvisation to be especially fascinating, and consider the best of the improv artists to be also counterpoint artists. It's never quite Bach, but I agree with you that composition and improvisation can have equal value, at the very least, and I believe that it's certainly no accident that the greatest composers of all time have been well known for their improv skills (well....my favorites at least definitely were: Chopin and Bach...and while I don't love Mozart, Chopin did, and Mozart was well-known for his improv talent).

    Are you familiar with George Russell's lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization? I am not, beyond knowing somewhat vaguely that he argues for a lydian tonic rather than an ionian or aeolian/dorian tonic, and I find the concept rather fascinating, as he seems to be saying that it generally applies across the board in bebop, if not so much in the charts, then definitely in the improvisations of the masters. I find lydian mode to be an often enigmatic part of functional harmony, and Chopin at least has been known to use it as a tonic.

    Yes, but on the example that I gave, from Naima, I find that either spelling works. Both ways of spelling the chords do a good job of representing the harmonic progression: one does it from a parallel perspective, the other from a functional perspective. Also, I tend to see the circle of fifths as a spiral, sort of. As both linear and circular, at the same time, made possible by tempering, but of course implied even without tempering.

    Indeed, the notion of parallel as opposed to contrary is I think not Debussy's notion, but a notion of theorists and musicologists. :lol: And I'm not saying that these theorists and musicologists are unaware of the function in Debussy's music at all, but the treatment of this harmony as a fundamentally different thing is still somewhat prevalent, especially as it pertains to later music, where the voicing of chords in fourths becomes dominant, and parallel motion is held up as some sort of escape from the trappings of functional harmony. I see the differences as being more cosmetic than fundamental.

    Yes, I agree.

    That is what I love about it. I feel like there is nearly unlimited potential for complexity within the functional system.

    Yes, I've noticed that. As a music student, I rely almost entirely upon intuition. I memorize music without even trying, and though I'm slow at it, I can transcribe pretty much anything. I was a lazy student in my first years of college, and I never went to my music theory classes, which were early in the morning. I showed up for tests and made As. Dictation was never a problem, nor was sight-singing, and I never understood why it was hard for people (I mean, I understood why it was hard for some people, but I didn't understand why those people were music majors). I dropped out of school, and returned years later and had no problem with advanced theory courses, with the exception of having an enormous complex about writing a fugue. I don't want to write a crap one, and it seems inevitable that anything I write will be crap in comparison to Bach but they expect me to write one. So I had As in everything in my counterpoint class but then failed it because I couldn't write a crap fugue. I think I have some intuition for it....but it intimidates me, so I keep putting it off (I can still turn in the fugue and have my grade for the course changed, and I will have to if I want to graduate). But I can't improv, and I have no intuition for piano technique whatsoever. :lol:

    Anyway, I am not so sure that composers rely on intuition any more, in general. I think it has become rather fashionable to write counterintuitive music. And I suppose that things that are counterintuitive for most can be intuitive for some, and of course, most things can be learned, including intuition for fundamentally different musical languages. But my years as a music student have done nothing to help me understand why music academics tend to see functional harmony as a relic. It's not that they don't appreciate it - most of them do, anyway - they just tend to think it's outdated.
     
  20. glenn

    glenn New Member

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    Hi Terez! You have written a lot. Your views are interesting on many levels.

    "More important" in this sense of tonality refers to "attracts" as in has more mass. The sun is the "most important" item in the solar system.
    The sea is more important than rivers because they flow toward it.

    I am not quite sure what you are getting at here, but it is not the "important" tones which are interesting. The sun is big and bright, but it is the planets, moons, comets, and asteroids that are interesting. Music education focuses on the common denominators, but its the specifics that make music what it is. We learn the chords, but it is the dissonances that give them life.

    This is true, but you seem to be saying something else. This, along with your objection to "more important", are very interesting. Later on, you complain about about music academics thinking functional harmony is a dusty relic. Aside from the "been there, done that" syndrome, what people object to with functional harmony is that it is the creation of a culture that has soured. It is the same paradigm of thinking that brought us monarchy, the catholic church, bureaucracy, patriarchy, the social class system, racism, and a Cartesian/mechanistic/anthropocentric view of nature. "More important" rubs you the wrong way, but that was exactly what it was supposed to mean. The modern paradigm for thought is the system, the network, ecology. It is that an item, person, etc. is defined by its connection to others. It does not have function, it has organization, which is usually self-generated. Functional harmony is not a system (of relationships), it is a hierarchy of gravitational importance. It has PURPOSE. A system lacks hierarchy; it is a web of relationships without rank. It just works, not for the benefit of anything except itself. This is one of the primary draws of improvisation for me, the spontaneous structural self-organization.

    My guess is that you have lots of intuition, but have an idea of how you want to sound and can't stop criticizing yourself. Nothing inhibits improvisation like preconception and judgment. You can only improvise with a desire for discovery.

    Composers rely on almost nothing BUT intuition, if even only to calculate some methodical process. The use of notation programs and MIDI allow composers to use their instincts like never before. They need to, because MIDI has also made it so that composers are not allowed to fail or even miscalculate anymore! If by "counterintuitive" you mean unexpected and original, that has always been fashionable; but if you mean bad, then try to imagine wanting to PLAY badly. Functional harmony is a very successful, expressive, and sensitive answer to the problem of structural integrity, but it is, indeed, a relic. By cringing at its implications, I think you show that you probably agree.

    Best wishes - Glenn
     

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