The Emancipation of Sound
|This is a personally authored article.
This article may be attributed to a specific author; making edits or additions may not necessarily be appropriate.
Forward: This is a (surreal) piece dedicated to discussing the consequences of things such as Musique Concrete and derivatives. Keep in mind that for the sake of simplicity I kind of narrowed it down to western music's POV, otherwise it'd would've been a headache! Also, I don't particularly think noise as female, it was just fun to write. — SSC
Know thy Noise! - A brief history of noise
Once upon a time, people made noise. This noise was found pleasant, and in the process of expanding the proverbial repertoire of this noise, systems were created to explore the varied faces of noise. Frequencies were divided in steps, creating scales. The process continued until a point where a system dominated over all the others. The Major/Minor tonality came to be the main and only system of noise-organization in western music, all alone by itself.
But noise was feeling a little belittled and bored. There came a point where the intricacies of the major/minor system were being pushed to their absolute limits until they simply began to break from all this pushing and pulling. So, noise thought to itself, "Why not create new systems? Since the old one isn't holding up anymore." Schoenberg listened, as did other composers.
Some other composers thought, however, the answer was in searching for new sources of noise. After all, noise is not just a frequency of resonance, there are many other qualities. What if we play on the piano's Harp rather than using the keyboard as intended? Why not just tap on a string-instrument's resonance box to get some funk going?
Why not use a typewriter's click-click-clack, just for the effect.
While Schoenberg was also going, conscious or not, into the same direction, composers were split in how to solve this seemingly complicated enigma. Can there really be a "new" system to replace the major/minor system? Or are we going to have to worry about every single sound in a composition, with no hope of having a system tell us what is acceptable, nice and done?
The new organization systems that came out of Schoenberg's attempt went on to move an entire generation of composers, in effect producing music that was quite different. However, somewhere else, a different bunch of composers, inspired by likes of Cowell, Cage, Satie and Varese stopped trying to organize the same'ol frequencies on the same ol' instruments.
The result? Variations for a Door and a Sigh (Pierre Henry), and many other such pieces. Other techniques were introduced as well, such as aleatory elements.
Noise was pretty happy that finally things were changing. The old system of major/minor was perhaps dead as fashion but its corpse has never looked so brilliant in contrast to all these new things. These new things perhaps lacked the development or the polish of the old system, noise thought and wasn't all that pleased. All these new clothes composers were dressing noise in were fun, but was it really a solution?
As the 20th century came to a close, noise was exhausted. So much work, but finally it could be said things now looked clear. There really was no solution to the dilemma of a system, as there was never a dilemma! Noise came to the realization that having more clothes is an asset, and that people seriously thought of noise in all these new clothes as something that can move them and inspire them. Noise couldn't have been more flattered. Finally noise could be free and beautiful at the same time, without the ever-conditional love composers had always given her.
No more waking up on the wrong side of bed and being scolded for having messy hair, thought noise! No more wearing the same old clothes, again and again. No more acting in this, or that way, in fear of rejection thought noise. Noise began to feel powerful, but before any thoughts of grandeur got to her head she remembered that not EVERYONE loved her equally. Some composers liked some clothes more than others, and some appreciated her in different ways than others.
But she didn't concern herself with that. It was natural to expect everyone to have different views of her, and different opinions and she was OK with it. After all, it was BECAUSE of all these different opinions that she was able set herself free and show all sorts of different colors and possibilities.
The question for composers now was not whether or not they accepted her freedom, but what to do with it all?
Interview with Noise. - What now?
Glad to have you here, Noise. I'm sure it was difficult for you taking the time out of your busy schedule to grant us this opportunity. Thank you for that.
No problem, it's a pleasure to be here.
So, that was one rough century, with them wars and all the stuff that happened in between, I think we can all agree we're glad it's over in one way or another. But the question on everyone's mind is: What do you think comes now? What sort of things can we expect from this relatively new century?
No wasting time with you, I see! Well, I personally predict that composers of this generation are going to be even more varied than before when it comes to world view. A prediction I can attribute to the increasingly ease of communication across the world, and things such as the internet. The landscape is probably going to look a lot different the further we venture into the 21st century, but the trend is communication being a factor in music.
Would you say that we'll be seeing new advancements, or just the rehashing of old things in new ways? Perhaps with all the multi-media buzz, we'll be seeing music in a different way further ahead?
Hard to say, but definitely multi-media is something to consider. The blending of arts one into another is nothing particularly new, but who knows what the constant development of technology will bring. Things like interactive music, centered on the individual listener rather than a concert audience may be on the horizon this century. In fact, it could be said that a lot of music nowadays is written for the individual's experience rather than the traditional concert-going audience. Take for example movies, and further more video games. Interactive art in general like I said before. But who knows, perhaps there are also new techniques and such awaiting to be discovered, but I feel that maybe the biggest thing would be just taking all what we have today and putting it to new and ingenious uses than try to shoot for innovation and invention like we did in the 20th.
What would you personally like to see when it comes to the future of music, sound, etc?
That's a loaded question (laughs.) Safe to say, I'd like that people learned more about all what has happened more actively. I'm aware that a lot of the bias is gone, but I can't help feel that maybe more can be done to show people that there are many more things than what is popular or easily available. I don't mean making electronic-atonal lullabies for children, but that's the feelin' I get.
What are your thoughts on musical education presently?
I think today it's possible to really go and study anything you'd like to study, and I think that's wonderful. There are institutions that specialize on things from Jazz to Palestrina historical recreations, so things do look a lot better in terms of variety. It pains me however that this isn't the case everywhere though it would be unrealistic to expect so, it's still sad that some countries don't got a lot of possibilities open to musicians and otherwise artists. Today it's a lot easier to be a self-taught artist too, and that is a good thing. There is a wealth of information today that most people (hopefully) can access.
You think that music is something that can be learned or is it something that just "comes out"? Or how do you think it works? You talked of being an autodidact, is this something better or worse than receiving formal or otherwise academic education?
I personally think that music should be something that one does because it's fun, so the desire to have fun may be something that simply "comes out" or is there always present in some form or another. But certainly, having a desire to have fun doesn't mean you can gain skill at playing an instrument to a certain style, and so on. Certainly the definition of "playing an instrument" these days is pretty loose, but you know what I mean. It's not about playing scales really fast, it's about controlling what you're outputting as sound while you play. That's a skill that has to be learned in some way or another, in my opinion, through practice and if someone can guide you even better (though not a necessity).
That's why I support the stance that being an autodidact is not something bad, and it should be an option to everyone if they really have the drive to learn everything by themselves. Why not, really, a lot of awesome people were autodidacts.
Thank you for your time, once again. It was a pleasure, and hopefully we'll see for ourselves what comes out of all of this.
Definitely, glad to be of service.