Notes on Notes
Secret Bonus Crazy Fun Clarification Article
A Few “Quick” Things to Backtrack and Discuss
First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for reading and giving feedback here and there on my original post (that you can read here at this link here by clicking on these words I’m typing). This really is a tactic for me to trick others into talking about music with me, so feel free to bombard me with thoughts, criticisms, funny pictures of dogs, or anything you want.
ALSO, this is just something that occurred to me. Please, please, please, do not feel like you are not qualified to talk about this kind of stuff. As a listener of music, and a person that has gotten this far reading, you are worthy of starting a discussion with your thoughts. When you get down to it, music is a personal experience, and no matter how much or how little you think you know about the subject, your thoughts count. This is all about how we think about, discuss, and listen to music, so if you do one or more of those things, hop into the comments section. You are more than welcome.
I sort of breezed over the main idea of music analysis and themes in my past article, not realizing a few things might not be clear. Okay. First off, by using Film Crit Hulk’s quote about art being all about artistic control, and discussing how each piece of music can be analyzed as a whole, I didn’t think to talk about where improvisational music and how “accidental” sounds fit into this big picture.
Music is full of decisions made by the artist. By saying art is about “THE CONSTANT CONTROL” of the theme, I think Hulk’s quote makes it seem like the artist needs to be fully aware of what he is doing at all times. That’s not necessarily how I see it. A lot of great music comes from a gut feeling. A musician will play something that feels “right,” and chase that feeling until down the road there’s a new brand new, finished song that the kids are all going bananas for. The artist doesn’t have a moral or a message in mind, and he’s definitely not in complete control of it.
Where I think music analysis will work there, is the artist’s chasing of what feels “right.” An emotional tone can still be a theme. A song might not make you walk away from it with a moral, but a song sure as hell can do a good job of making you walk away with a feeling. A song can have a much more abstract central theme, and the creator of that theme might not have any clue how or why his music is evoking that theme, in my opinion, it doesn’t make it any less valid. Music can use only vibrations to elicit an emotional response, be it negative or positive. It’s worth it to look into this phenomenon, and better educate ourselves on how this happens through analysis. Only a better understanding and possibly even better music could be the result.
Improvisational music is really just musicians chasing that theme in real time. If they’re skilled enough to accomplish this, it can be a really special thing for the musicians and audience. But when they’re all on different pages it can be a real mess. Even if they are playing “correct” notes, if they aren’t all aiming towards the same thematic goal, improvisational music can be aimless.
Also, happy accidents in the music world fit right into this, too. For example, “Creep,” Radiohead’s breakout single. The crashing sound Johnny Greenwood’s guitar makes leading into the chorus became a defining characteristic for the song. Those loud noises are actually a result of Johnny attempting to sabotage the song, which he disliked. Though not technically an “accident,” the members of Radiohead didn’t tell him to cut the shit and play the song right. They realized that his sabotage actually worked in the context of the song. It coincided with the emotional theme already established. The fact that the artist left in the accident is what makes it important.
So yeah. I’m not necessarily talking about a theme or lesson you might take away from reading a novel or seeing a movie. Music often works on a more emotional level. I’m also not trying to say that a piece of music has only one “true” theme, and it’s up to me to discover what that is. All music is made up of choices that can either help strengthen the theme or take away from it. The theme being the emotional core of the song. The artist’s “vision” if you will. The tone of the piece. A successful, emotionally moving song is one that can stay true to its theme. And that’s what I hope to be explore more here by using examples from the song to prove my point. Analysis and discussion of something as potentially abstract as music is possible by focusing on how the song expresses and conveys emotions to the audience.
Music theory was another topic that I hoped to clarify here. I didn’t word my thoughts very clearly in this portion, and it definitely felt like I tacked on a dismissal of music theory as a whole. I wanted to separate myself from music analysis that is based solely in theory. Not to deride music theory analysis in any way. It really is fascinating to read an author going through a piece of music and showing how each chord, melody, and rhythm fits into the bigger picture, but that’s not the goal of this column.
It’s tough to say how much music theory analysis will play into what I hope to do with my form of musical analysis, because it will vary wildly. I don’t want to disregard theory, but I don’t want to make it a focal point either. Music theory sets music apart from other forms of artistic expression because it is by no means necessary to learn it in order to be able to create or appreciate music. The same cannot be said of something similar such as poetry. You have to learn to read before you can appreciate a poem, but for music, all you have to be able to do is listen.
I’ve heard someone compare a musician that can’t read music to a painter that doesn’t know the names of the colors on his palette. Although that sounds sort of derogatory, I think it might be apt. You don’t need to know the names of colors in order to paint an emotionally resonant picture, and you don’t need to know the names of colors in order to appreciate a painting. Similarly, you don’t need to know about notes and time signatures, and other such theory to appreciate or create a song.
Basically, music is about artistic expression, and I want to talk about the ways artists express themselves. Music theory is more about transcription of the sounds we’re hearing. I don’t want to dismiss it, because breaking down a piece’s theory is one valid way to analyze and discuss a song. But what I hope to do is look at why a song is effective on an emotional level. Why it is successful or unsuccessful as a listening experience. Theory is not necessarily connected with the artistic expression of a piece. With this in mind, it could prove extremely helpful in some cases, or it could be not relevant to the point I am making. Hopefully, in that way, I can expand the discussion and understanding of music appreciators of all kinds.
I want to see what makes music as a medium really tick. Let’s do it together, shall we? Cool! Sounds good 🙂
Get ready for a new article verrererrrrrry soon that will hopefully demonstrate what I’m talking about better and will be bursting at the seams with fun animal clip art.