Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some musical responses are innate.

Sudden LOUD!

. . . is startling.

Climbing pitch = climbing intensity. It would not surprise me if this were a global response.

We hear these musical values in everyday speech.

Music precedes speech. Babies respond to music before they learn words. They sing before they talk.

Short! Sharp! Notes! have a different feel than a smoothly flowing texture. Again, think of your response to the spoken word.

Has any composer besides Cage sought to circumvent these pre-conscious rhetorical musical values? (The music resulting from these attempts by Cage can be very beautiful.)

By and large, “vernacular” performers -- jazz, pop, etc. -- have a much more nuanced approach to the “vocal”-like subtleties of tone in the musical phrase than do classical performers. And if you consider that “vernacular” means the language as it is spoken, it should come as no surprise that “vernacular” musicians perform more closely to speech values.

I hear this in classical singing, especially when classical singers attempt popular or folk material: Rarely do they “act” the text or phrase well. Their concern is with the overall tone or mood of the piece, the river as a whole, not the twists and turns along the bank as the piece flows.

The recent spate of rock singers attempting the “standards” reveals rock to be closer to opera than to jazz in this regard. By and large, the rockers phrase with less nuanced attention to the connotations of individual words than the pre-rock pop singers.

The “tone of voice” is like the color spectrum, continuously and spectacularly subtle in its gradations. Great vernacular singers like great actors know this. Instrumentalists can know this too. The handsome classical violinist Joshua Bell plays with spectacular varieties of tone color and shading. The passions can be like swiftly moving skies. Tone color paints the intelligence of the passions.

* * * * * * *

Considering an image to accompany this post, I looked for a cymbal crash but gave up after a few unsatisfactory images, then thought of the Big Bang -- that macho name for a cosmological thesis about the un-apprehendable mystery of the origins of existence, and found the lovely uncredited image at the top of this post at a Bible-thumping site seeking to debunk the Big Bang, and while I have no attachment to the Big ol’ Bang other than its vivid and attractive and mildly comical name and my provisional faith in the good faith of scientists, the Bible thumpers remind me -- the Biblical Creation begins with Sound -- before even the Sound of God talking -- God granting permission to light, to be -- before that even, is the sound of wind on the water, the spirit of God hovering over the deep. Listen to that fluttering, the moment before God speaks.

The Hindus say, Om. The sound, the sound -- not a word -- a syllable, a music, a self-generating music of which all existence is an elaboration, a rhythmelodic unfolding.

Photo of Om graffiti taken by Jerry Whiting in West Seattle, (c) 2007.

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