Thursday, December 20, 2012

That Was a Long Break!

I think that is the longest hiatus since I started this blog! Six days without a post. There were several reasons for it, the main being that I moved houses and that always takes a lot of energy and leaves you in chaos for a few days because you can't find anything. I think that creative work--and this blog really is creative work because I am always seeking to find something new to say--demands tranquility and isolation. Just look at those places composers find to compose in that I talked about a bit in this post.

A couple of other reasons were that I didn't see anything that inspired a post. I could have written about Ravi Shankar, who just passed away. I saw him and Alla Rakha in a concert in 1967 or 68 in Vancouver. Lovely music, but I don't have much to say about it! Here is a clip where Ravi Shankar talks about the rhythmic talas of Indian music.

And here is another one where they are playing together.

Actually, there are a couple of things I could say about this music. It is unquestionably subtle and interesting. Musical categories always tend to inspire a lot of debate, but I would call this music 'classical' in that it deserves close listening attention and has stood the test of time. It is not 'folk' music, however we define that, in that it demands a great deal of musical training and ability to perform--and probably to understand. The complexities lie in the areas of melody and rhythm. Imagine trying to keep a 108 beat rhythmic cycle clear in your mind! While improvising! I would love to see how that is grouped. There was an article the other day about Dave Brubeck's (another musician who passed away this week) famous piece "Take 5" which is in the irregular time signature of 5/4. That is grouped 3 + 2 and is not so hard to get used to.

Melodically, classical Indian music is very complex because it uses scales with microtones and a lot of 'bent' notes, meaning notes you bend upwards or slide down into. The complexities in these two areas lead to an interesting consequence: this music has no harmony! Notice the 'third man' in the above clip, the tamboura player. He plays the same few open strings over and over again throughout the whole piece. This is the "tonic harmony" and it never varies. The drones underlie the whole of the music. Therefore no 'harmony' in the Western sense, because harmony for us is about changing from one chord to another. When Western composers got really interested in harmony, in the 17th and 18th centuries, they simplified both the melodic and rhythmic aspects of music. Time signatures became mostly either duple or triple and melodies were often closely related to harmonic triads. This enabled the exploration of harmonic complexity. Of course, in the 20th century, composers maximized every aspect of music with the ironic consequence that from the listener's point of view, it started sounding like an unchanging carpet of sound! In the Symphony of Three Orchestras, long sections sound as if there is an unchanging harmony throughout:

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the Symphony of Three Orchestras is by Elliot Carter, who also recently passed away and was one of the most 'maximal' of the maximalist composers.

No comments: