October 18, 2010
Cruise Elroy is a self-proclaimed “blog about video games and, especially, video game music.” It combines a spartan page design, solid insights, and embedded musical examples to give the reader a stronger appreciation of the artistic merit of video games.
Of all the blogs I subscribe to, this one gives the biggest return in terms of content. Take this particular insight from a post on “Irregular meter in video games”:
“Remember the race results screen in Mario Kart 64? Most likely you skipped past it with barely a glance at the scoreboard, but if you stuck around for a moment you’d have heard this gem from composer Kenta Nagata… Despite being in 11/8, I think this rhythm feels pretty natural. Kudos to Nagata for smoothing over the strange time signature.”
The skill required to take an unusual time signature and make it sound altogether natural should not be underestimated. (Dave Brubeck’s classic jazz album Time Out is one of the most famous explorations of this concept). We are conditioned to “hear” things in 4/4 or 3/4 time. It’s the rhythmic basis for most popular music, and the easiest rhythm to learn (at least to my Western ears). Irregular meter feels unnatural at first, which leads me to believe that composers writing in an odd time signature are simply not thinking about the time signature. It’s akin to writing a novel without thinking about the conventions of punctuation and paragraph structure, or painting with complete disregard for the nature of the paint and brushes.
Here’s another great insight regarding one of my favorite tunes from Sonic the Hedgehog, in the post “Spring Yard Zone”:
“Why does this work? I suspect that years of jazz and pop harmony have trained our ears to accept all kinds of modifications to
ii-V-I chords: sevenths, tritone substitutions, altered chords, and so on. Given that context, using m9 in place of m7♭5 doesn’t seem like such a big deal. The Spring Yard Zone theme does push its luck, as it were, by prominently featuring the F♯ in the melody, but I found that to be a pleasant dissonance and not an ugly one.”
Here’s to filling our lives with pleasant dissonances and not ugly ones.
August 4, 2010
The TED Conferences (self-described as “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”) are a highly acclaimed series of presentations from the world’s most influential thinkers, innovators, and artists. Brilliant minds speaking about important topics in an approachable way.
I wanted to draw attention to one music-focused talk that I found particularly interesting. Watching the video would probably be one of the better uses of 20 minutes you ever spend in your life, but I wanted to point out some highlights and insights:
Benjamin Zander on music and passion
- Zander, in a compellingly funny and animated way, attempts to prove that A.) no one is tone deaf, and B.) that classical music is not dead. Both lofty ideas that are convincingly explained.
- “I’m not gonna go on until every single person in this room, downstairs, and in Aspen, and everybody else looking, will come to love and understand classical music.” You may be skeptical at this point, but aside from that: why does this statement matter? He goes on: “You’ll notice there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this is gonna work… it’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream!…. of course I’m not sure they’ll be up to it…’ “
- He proceeds to play a Chopin prelude and, with some explanation (“This is a B, and this is a C. And the job of the C is to make the B sound sad.”) and one simple seed of an idea, transforms the listener into fully appreciating the piece on an emotional level. He includes comparisons to Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela, birds, Irish street kids, and an Auschwitz survivor along the way.
- “The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound… he depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful. My job was to awaken possibility in other people.”
While music is one of the best ways to tap into emotions and creativity, I also argue that music is another form of philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I chose to study music at a university level, and why I continue to apply musical theory to almost every endeavor I take on. It’s a facet that Zander seems to appreciate as well. Studying and listening to music can unlock and refine a whole array of skills that are as useful in the music world as they are in other disciplines.
- The sheer art of listening (which is a learned skill, mind you, and requires lots of practice…) is probably the most essential ability one can possess when working with colleagues or holding a leadership position. Studying music teaches you to listen differently, more carefully, and to be perceptive of nuance and subtlety.
- Playing music with other people makes apparent the necessity for generosity, trust, cooperation, and teamwork. None of these things are ever mentioned when playing a 12-bar blues with some friends, but the best musicians (and leaders) practice all of them at all times.
- Music theory blends mathematical concepts with imagination, emotion, and creativity. This delicate balance of structural integrity and freedom is a struggle faced by most entrepreneurs and CEO’s the world over. Building an organization, whether it’s a church or school or community or business, requires a successful balance of Policy and Ideas. Procedure and Dreaming. This is something musicians practice daily.
Music-as-Philosophy is a topic best saved for a separate post, but the point is: music appreciation leads to the appreciation of other facets of life. Music is simply a means to an insightful end.
July 9, 2010
Courtesy Jay Kennedy
“Looking at Plato’s works in their original scroll form, he noticed that every 12 lines there was a passage that discussed music.” – excerpt from NPR.org: “A Musical Message Discovered In Plato’s Works“
This article is fascinating to me, not because of the DaVinci Code-like revelation, but rather the emphasis on the number 12. It is a story that, yet again, links mathematics and music. It also dovetails nicely with a post of mine from January 2009 (“Twelve“), while referencing Pythagoras and the importance placed on ratio and proportion (also detailed here, “The Golden Page“)
There is no real conclusion drawn from the NPR feature, so we are left wondering why the preeminent thinker of 300 B.C. felt strongly enough about music to encode its defining principles into an otherwise non-musical work. The real takeaway here, and this is irrefutable: Plato felt compelled to draw connections between various arts and disciplines. Perhaps by conceptually linking disparate ideas, Plato believed he could reconcile the conflict and strife that always seem to arise when concepts appear at odds. (Science vs. religion, math vs. art, sculpture vs. painting, etc…)
These links and connections, as expressed through music, are what BlogSounds is all about.
June 18, 2010
This is brilliant. Paul Simon sits down with Dick Cavett to discuss music, and he uses his then-unfinished song, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” to demonstrate his take on songwriting and music theory. His bridge begins with a D9 chord, which he introduces for the sole purpose of introducing C and C-sharp—two notes that haven’t been used in the song yet. He even gives a great breakdown of a guitar’s standard tuning and the fact that all of those open strings actually do form a legitimate chord… two actually: E minor 7th and G6: Both chords are identical in the notes they include.
Aside from the sad fact that you would never see this type of discussion on a talk show these days, I find remarkable the topics that get introduced along the way:
“It’s one of those lines that has the right inflection… it swings.” – Paul Simon drops this offhanded remark after Dick Cavett playfully interjects, “Have you ever reached for your C-sharp and gotten your C-natural?” Paul picks up on the cadence and rhythm of Cavett’s sentence, not its meaning.
“You’re Theatre People. Theatre People come at music from another direction.” – Paul notes that your relationship with music affects your knowledge of it. Paul, being a musical architect of sorts, knows the engineering of it, naming chords and resolving cadences. Cavett, ever the entertainer, adores music (enough to have a conversation like this on television) but through a different lens. It’s an astute observation by Paul: music means different things to different people.
“I imagine the same principle would hold true in comedy…” – Comedy?! Yes. Right in line with his comments about the timing and inflection of Cavett’s “joke,” Paul compares music theory to comedy, and rightfully so. Timing, delivery, freshness, variety… all adjectives at home in both worlds.
The point here is that a topic like music invariably opens up conversation into the rest of the humanities. I truly believe that the arts are somehow linked on a primal, atavistic level and that all artists are using the same creative fuel.
December 26, 2009
Music Thoughts. A great source for a little wisdom from the waves…