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Is Atonality, For Many, A Mask To Hide His Tonal Disability?

is atonality, for many, a mask to hide his tonal disability?  

15 members have voted

  1. 1. choose option

    • Safely. There are many useless.
      0
    • For many not, for everyone.
      1
    • Of course not. Anything atonal is terminologically atonalist.
      0
    • No. My atonalism is refined
      7
    • I put random notes and I say that is the artistic pinnacle of XX and XXI century
      6
    • Not interested to know.
      1
    • N/A (as I do when I'm asked about my atonal works)
      0


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I guess it's easier to self-categorize something as a "masterpiece" when no one can object to anything because nobody understands the work.

 

Of course, I'm not referring to serious atonalists, but to those who classifies anything atonal music.

 

Now about the avant-garde rather not talk.

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hahaha I'm sure it is for some, but there are aaaallll kind of composers in this world.

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Maybe we should have a poll for those who write tonal music?

 

Poll: Those who write tonal music do so because they are copping out, lack imagination, and can only do style copies?

 

Yes of course you silly bird. Would you like to join me in selling those tonalists quill pens, lead mascara, and powdered wigs!

Ah only a few can truly get away with writing good tonal music since much of the possibilities of tonal music have  been exhausted!

Of course not, there are all sorts of tonality - pick one shall we? Indian ragas? Arabic maquams? Western major/minor scale - or octatonic as Schubert was the first to use it.

Ah, I write twelve tone music a la Mozart and can wrestle late Romantic harmony into the strictest counterpoint a la Bach - I am awesome, none shall threaten me.

Not applicable, I work with spatial music, sound design, and resonating the universe's aura, tonality is just one consequence of my music that meets the needs of ALL seeking enlightenment!

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If you are familiar with composers such as Lutoslawski, Duttileux, Berg, Tüür you will know that atonality can sound very gentle and pleasant.

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Ya know, writing really good atonal music is actually really hard. Just as hard as writing really good tonal music. Its just hard. In general.

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Why is this still a topic of debate?

Atonal music is literally almost 100 years old. In the professional music world this debate is pretty much only kept alive by jaded composers who feel slated somehow by the pluralistic society of styles that makes up the modern new music world. 

Additionally, to say atonal music is easy hasn't really taken the time to understand music of the 20th century. It is an uneducated observation and statement to claim that writing non-tonal music is as easy as letting your cat walk across the piano keys.

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Yes but this always crop up because we have new members who admire many composers of the past but a few might not have had wide exposure OR just prefer older music (just as some people prefer 1960's and 1950's pop music over anything else).  This will, as usual, fizzle out. I just put up an opposite poll to show the futility of such polls in providing anything but fuel for a flame war.

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Fortunately or unfortunately, it's so difficult to make a career as a composer, most people who make it writing atonal stuff have probably paid their dues and could write you a piece in a variety of historic styles if you asked them too.  They had to make it into music school with a body of work made, usually, without a lot of adult supervision, they had to pass all the counterpoint and harmony courses in music school, after graduation they had to impress some people the quality of their work early on to get a career going.  The chances of someone popping out of the woodwork with no knowledge of tonal theory ever being heard among the clamoring masses of excellent music major graduates is pretty slim.  

 

(She sheds a tear for her lack of early music education, and goes back to reviewing her theory book.)

 

I spend most of my time in the visual arts world, and there are a LOT of people out there who only do "abstract" work, because they can't actually draw.  But their work isn't very good, and their mothers' are usually the only people who appreciate it.  They may have some interesting ideas, but not the skills to back them up.  They usually don't have the dedication to get a career going, although they talk about their dream of a career as an artist a lot.  (If they are that interested in art, and couldn't be bothered to really learn to draw, that points to a lack of dedication as a part of the problem, don't you think?)

 

On the other hand, I know plenty of more classically trained artists who have made careers for themselves in the abstract/non-representation/modern art world.  They made interesting, thought-provoking work, which is also beautifully crafted.  They can talk to you intelligently about the choices that they have made in any particular piece.  Once you know your alphabet, you can write any words you want.  

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The perception of what is tonal/ atonal varies considerably. An understanding and control of harmony is important to a composer's craft regardless of how it will be catagorized.

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Considering the amount of music that is "atonal" vastly outnumbers "tonal" music in variety and stylistic diversity, this is a pretty stupid poll topic. But hey, the word "atonal" means nothing anyway, so why are people still using it?

(CONSIDER: It's gonna rain by Steve Reich occupies the same category as Atmospheres by Ligeti and Pierrot Lunaire by Schoenberg, all are "Atonal" pieces. Pieces that couldn't be further apart from each other, yet are bunched together for no reason other than the lack of certain things. That's like categorizing cars solely on the basis of them not being painted red. Rather pointless!)

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Considering the amount of music that is "atonal" vastly outnumbers "tonal" music in variety and stylistic diversity, this is a pretty stupid poll topic. But hey, the word "atonal" means nothing anyway, so why are people still using it?

(CONSIDER: It's gonna rain by Steve Reich occupies the same category as Atmospheres by Ligeti and Pierrot Lunaire by Schoenberg, all are "Atonal" pieces. Pieces that couldn't be further apart from each other, yet are bunched together for no reason other than the lack of certain things. That's like categorizing cars solely on the basis of them not being painted red. Rather pointless!)

 

That's not exactly true is it? Atonality refers to a specific concept in music, including but not limited to the 12 tone method. It makes no difference whether the physics of sound are inescapable, that one cannot ignore the harmonic series, or that atonal music is heard by the ear as an elaborate string of modulations (I suppose it is theoretically possible to create a fully atonal piece by emphasizing absolutely nothing.) I think all of us here know what is meant by the word "atonality," therefore it means something. Now, whether the term is misleading is an entirely different matter and a more reasonable debate to have. I personally think the term omnitonality has some merits - It describes what serialist music sounds like more accurately to me though even this term is not exactly perfect.

 

Atonal music does not vastly outnumber tonal music, in fact it is a negligible enclave in the mass of tonal music hitherto composed. If you meant to say that atonal music as a movement contains more variety and stylistic diversity, that's also not true. Atonal music has had a hundred-odd years of development so far as opposed to the potentially hundreds of thousands of years of tonal music. Let's be reasonable and take only into account the Western classical tradition from ca. the Reformation (ignoring indigenous tonal musics and the modal tradition of the Greeks etc.) We still have around 350 years of musical development, from Palestrina to Mahler! To say that all of the intervening music is not as rich in diversity as 20th century idioms would be absurd, and factually incorrect.

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Atonality refers to a specific concept in music, including but not limited to the 12 tone method.

...

I think all of us here know what is meant by the word "atonality," therefore it means something. Now, whether the term is misleading is an entirely different matter and a more reasonable debate to have.

Oh, a "specific concept" huh? Which would be? And no, I don't know what you're talking about when you say "atonality," nor should anyone unless you're specifically citing pieces. In fact, that's the whole problem. The term doesn't describe what the music is, but what the music is not and that's rather pointless with the amount of variation there is that ends up in that category like the example I gave. That the term is misleading means it's worthless, since you are not sure what it's actually talking about, hence my problem with it. It's a waste of time since you'll need to describe the music ANYWAY and that label does not help in the least.

 

If you meant to say that atonal music as a movement contains more variety and stylistic diversity, that's also not true. Atonal music has had a hundred-odd years of development so far as opposed to the potentially hundreds of thousands of years of tonal music. Let's be reasonable and take only into account the Western classical tradition from ca. the Reformation (ignoring indigenous tonal musics and the modal tradition of the Greeks etc.) We still have around 350 years of musical development, from Palestrina to Mahler! To say that all of the intervening music is not as rich in diversity as 20th century idioms would be absurd, and factually incorrect.

See, that's the problem isn't it? Do you count Debussy as "tonal?" Antheil? Bartok? Hindemith? It depends how you're willing to stretch what is "Tonal" to start including things that aren't cadence-based. We can right then just cross 400 years of "music development" as "D -> T" and forget about it, and only start really considering the actual variation that comes with the late romantic composers and, in fact, the lead up to Schoenberg's free atonal phase. Everything else before that is relatively tame in terms of diversity until you get to the 5th generation of renaissance composers and the adoption of cyphered bass. I think it's not a secret that western music took a long, long, time to change even simple things like being able to write more than two voices in other parts of the mass that were not the alleluia!

But hey whatever. I've had this argument a thousand times before, it's always the same thing. There is more to music than "tonal" and "atonal" music. Hell, more to the point, calling something like Gregorian chants "tonal" is doing it a disservice since it's so entirely alien to what comes after that it might as well be its own category. Well, same with calling both Debussy and Mozart "tonal," they have almost nothing to do with each other. Using those two labels is a mistake since there's much better terms to use when describing or categorizing music.

Oh yeah, here's a thread where same topic came up from 2009:

http://www.youngcomposers.com/forum/t21262/a-discussion-about-tonal-and-atonal-music/page-2

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Atonality is nothing more than a rejection of tonality. If it is one of the chief objectives of a particular piece, it qualifies as atonal music. Although it can be an objective descriptor of the music it isn't necessarily so, and I contest the idea that it even needs to be. Let's consider a somewhat similar semantic issue: Iran's relationship to the Arab world - Iranians by all rights look and act Arabic and they share the common cultural heritage of Islam which is perhaps the most defining characteristic of an Arab country. To simplify the issue quite a bit, really the only thing that prevents Iranians from being considered Arabs is the fact that they do not speak the Arabic tongue and do not consider themselves Arabs. By the same token Bartok and Debussy, who might have written music that could on occasion be described as atonal, are not atonal composers because they say that their music is tonal and there is a quantifiable difference between their music and music that self-identifies as being atonal, for example music written in the 12-tone serialist tradition. It's not as complex as you make it out to be.

 

EDIT: I'm not saying you should listen to the composer's say-so and regard it as absolute truth on the matter, but just because there is not a foolproof scientific way to say for certain doesn't mean that it is impossible to assess pieces on an individual level. I haven't yet heard a piece composed inadvertently within the parameters of serialism. That would be an extraordinary coincidence, so unlikely that one can regard it as negligible. The bottom line is that 12-tone music sounds only like itself and there definitely is no ambiguity. Bear in mind, serialism is only one way one can achieve atonality but chances are any other method which seeks to guarantee it is going to be pretty similar to it.

 

P.S. Well, by all means ignore this discussion if you are so inclined - no skin off my back. I don't agree with your pettifogging over what constitutes tonality in the other thread anyway. If that's what I have in store for me I am not terribly interested in continuing either.

Edited by Bridge

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P.S. Well, by all means ignore this discussion if you are so inclined - no skin off my back. I don't agree with your pettifogging over what constitutes tonality in the other thread anyway. If that's what I have in store for me I am not terribly interested in continuing either.

Would be cute to see you attempt to argue the same points and fail just like the others, but honestly I don't have nearly as much time for this type of nonsense as I had years ago.

...And then you go and say this:

EDIT: I'm not saying you should listen to the composer's say-so and regard it as absolute truth on the matter, but just because there is not a foolproof scientific way to say for certain doesn't mean that it is impossible to assess pieces on an individual level. I haven't yet heard a piece composed inadvertently within the parameters of serialism. That would be an extraordinary coincidence, so unlikely that one can regard it as negligible. The bottom line is that 12-tone music sounds only like itself and there definitely is no ambiguity. Bear in mind, serialism is only one way one can achieve atonality but chances are any other method which seeks to guarantee it is going to be pretty similar to it.

...What? Do you even know what the terms you're throwing around even mean? You can write entirely tonal music using serialism! Hell even with cadences, right? I mean if anything that's what Berg played with in his violin concerto... though it was a subversion of 12 tone technique to be more precise. That you say that "12-tone music sounds only like itself" means that you have literally no idea what 12-tone technique actually even is. Come on now, seriously. I thought we were at least on the same level of understanding of such basic composition techniques here.

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Would be cute to see you attempt to argue the same points and fail just like the others, but honestly I don't have nearly as much time for this type of nonsense as I had years ago.

 

OK.

 

...What? Do you even know what the terms you're throwing around even mean? You can write entirely tonal music using serialism! Hell even with cadences, right? I mean if anything that's what Berg played with in his violin concerto... though it was a subversion of 12 tone technique to be more precise. That you say that "12-tone music sounds only like itself" means that you have literally no idea what 12-tone technique actually even is. Come on now, seriously. I thought we were at least on the same level of understanding of such basic composition techniques here.

 

Temporarily, but once a key is established the music doesn't exactly decide to stick around, eh?

 

Serialism is a texture - I haven't heard any non-serialist music that approximates it. You can subvert it however you wish but it will always sound serialist.

 

EDIT: I doubt you will listen to me, but if you really want to convince people your position is correct it would serve you well to adopt some modesty and tact.

Edited by Bridge

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Serialism is a texture - I haven't heard any non-serialist music that approximates it. You can subvert it however you wish but it will always sound serialist.

Are you sure about that? Can you please elaborate? Give some examples perhaps? Also explain to me how serialism is a "texture," please. I thought it was a system to arrange musical material, with no actual say on the content or way the system is itself organized.

I hope you aren't saying that if I presented two pieces to you, you would be able to tell which one was written using serialism and which one wasn't. Though, if it is as you claim, a texture implies an audible quality, so it should be possible? Is this what you mean?

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Unlike you I make no pretense of authority. My knowledge is meager and I am only an unlearned admirer of serialism, but it is my experience that there is a noticeable difference simply by virtue of the relative constraints placed on the music by the 12-tone method. This manifests itself among other things in rhythmic asymmetry and disjointedness, a more vertical approach to melody (klangferbenmelodie etc.) and a lack of central harmony. This is not necessarily something unique to strictly serial music, the free atonality of early Schoenberg and Webern for example gets pretty close to 12-tone music but one can if one is paying attention tell with relative ease which of their works are written in using the method. Conspicuous emphasis on certain notes either via repetition or strong rhythmic concepts etc. - admittedly sometimes a bit ambiguous if no restriction is made on repeats of adjacent tones. I may or may not be able to identify whether a piece is 12-tone depending on how closely it follows the stylistic traditions of the philosophy, but if a piece is composed in this style and with similar techniques to serialism but not intentionally 12-tone one might still even be justified in calling it 12-tone music - certainly atonal music which is at the heart of the issue here and not specifically serialism.

 

I don't really know what sort of examples would satisfy you, my statement is fairly unfalsifiable, based only on my subjective experiences - intended only to illustrate that to me there is a very obvious difference between tonal and atonal music. Whether you agree or not is not my responsibility, I cannot make you listen to any examples I could potentially give the way I listen to them.

 

Two examples:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPyas8hhKHM

^ Pretty tellingly 12-tone for the reasons stated above.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsd2OtqEIqM

^ Pretty tellingly not 12-tone for the opposite reasons.

Edited by Bridge

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Unlike you I make no pretense of authority. My knowledge is meager and I am only an unlearned admirer of serialism, but it is my experience that there is a noticeable difference simply by virtue of the relative constraints placed on the music by the 12-tone method.

Alright, so let me help you understand it better. The fact of the matter is, there is no actual rule as to how 12-tone music needs to be written, how the system must be used or how the end result must sound like. Also the same can be said of serialism. Of course, the main principle is that you use numbers assigned to musical elements and then organize them in any given way. Again, there are no rules as to how you organize, what numbers are assigned to what, or what elements are even serialized.

I'll give you a clear example:

Imagine I write a piece that contains only one measure with two notes. 4/4, a middle C and then a D in half notes. Yeah pretty minimal. OK, now how do I make that same piece serial? I write underneath the two notes, "1" and "2" respectively. Now suddenly it's a serial composition.

Are you starting to see what I mean? There's literally no way to "hear" that organization, since I could've just as well felt like writing those two notes rather than having a system determine them for me. Likewise, maybe those two notes are the result of a complex mathematical formula I ran! We don't know, but more importantly, we can't hear the difference.

I get what you're saying, but you can shape a serial piece to sound rather tonal if you want and if you don't believe me, just do what I did above and work "backwards" by serializing something from, say, Mozart. Sure it may be a little difficult, but honestly you can quantify it and the end result is going to be just as big a mess of numbers as anything Stockhausen wrote, lol.

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Alright, so let me help you understand it better. The fact of the matter is, there is no actual rule as to how 12-tone music needs to be written

 

There is never any rule for anything when it comes to music, but 12-tone serialism has one widely adhered to tenet, which is the employment of tone rows which must be completed in one way or another before they are repeated. If there was any ambiguity as regards this I'm sorry, but this is what I've been referring to by the term "12-tone" this entire time. Music that uses the 12 tones of the chromatic scale in a more or less democratic fashion but isn't based on the 12-tone method I've called "atonal."

 

 

 

Imagine I write a piece that contains only one measure with two notes. 4/4, a middle C and then a D in half notes. Yeah pretty minimal. OK, now how do I make that same piece serial? I write underneath the two notes, "1" and "2" respectively. Now suddenly it's a serial composition.

 

Not really, because your little two note phrase there has no semantic connotations whatsoever. Just interpreting it through the lens of musical set theory doesn't change its nature. You can't for example isolate a single note in a 12-tone composition and say: "Well this Ab here might as well be the tonic of Ab major - what do we know?" and pronounce it tonal. It's the bigger picture that must be examined - does the piece have a strong tonal basis? That doesn't necessarily mean it has to be fully diatonic and based around the basic tonic-dominant connection, but if the answer is no then it is atonal. Whether it is strictly atonal or even 12-tone is unimportant, at least not something I am willing to discuss. That bit of Bartok I posted has an obvious drive toward certain tones, and not only in the folk themes.

 

EDIT: To use another analogy because I love those so much, consider the word "amar." To love, pretty basic and found in many Romance languages in variations. However, it is spelled the exact same way in both Spanish and Portuguese (possibly more, those are the only languages I am familiar with), like that: amar, though pronounced differently. It is impossible for me to tell you what language it is from without having a complete grammatically correct sentence with a definite meaning. It can just as well belong to either.

 

EDIT II: There is also the fact that atonality is by default an uphill battle. The fundamental principle of every pitch - the harmonic series - and the way our hearing is designed plus the cultural conditioning basically forces us to hear it tonally, even though of course tonality itself is in some ways arbitrary. There's also the fact that the C is on a downbeat and the first tone that is heard in the phrase which pretty much guarantees that we will hear it in C major if there is nothing else to refer to.

Edited by Bridge

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Not really, because your little two note phrase there has no semantic connotations whatsoever.

"Semantic connotation"? That's great. Elaborate exactly on what that is, and how my example does not have it. Do not disqualify my example because it does not fit your parameters, rather adjust your parameters to fit the actual definitions of the words you are using.

You seriously miss the point by not realizing how simple the matter actually is. Serial music is just music that has serialized parameters. That's it. Seriously, that's it. 12 tone music is music that uses 12 tone rows... but how they are used? That's not specified unless you want to copy a specific composer, but then who do you copy determines how you write it anyway so that's the same as a recreation at that point rather than an abstract composition technique.

Learn to abstract.

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"Semantic connotation"? That's great. Elaborate exactly on what that is, and how my example does not have it. Do not disqualify my example because it does not fit your parameters, rather adjust your parameters to fit the actual definitions of the words you are using.

 

One, two.

 

^ That's one of many possible ways your example can be construed because there is of course no 1:1 relationship between music and language. But "one, two" what? What are you trying to say? Perhaps you meant to say "I had one fish and now I have two," which expresses something - meaning, also known as semantics. Your two notes can be a part of a 12-tone composition, but they could also not be. There is not enough information to say for certain. Again, the nature of the music does not change depending on how you view it - it remains constant. You might also be tempted to say a single quarter note struck by a gong is in an elaborate mixed meter of alternating 15/16 and 7/8, but that is pure conjecture. Even if somebody decides to notate it that way, that doesn't actually mean that the note itself changes. Add a woodblock laying out the pulses of the respective meters and then you have a case because then, and only then, is the context established. I don't need to tell you that the semantic meaning of things depend on context.

 

 

You seriously miss the point by not realizing how simple the matter actually is. Serial music is just music that has serialized parameters. That's it. Seriously, that's it. 12 tone music is music that uses 12 tone rows... but how they are used? That's not specified unless you want to copy a specific composer, but then who do you copy determines how you write it anyway so that's the same as a recreation at that point rather than an abstract composition technique.

 

And you also miss the point because I am referring exclusively to music composed in the style of the Second Viennese School when I say "12-tone", which is the majority of serialist music. You might as well say that "tonal music is only music that has tonalized parameters based in some way on 7 notes but how are they used?" Well, there are some pretty clear traditions about how they are used that I don't need to mention. Yeah, there might be people who use the bare minimum of the 12-tone method in mysterious ways to write music that doesn't remotely resemble conventional serialism, just as there might be composers (bad composers) that use the 7 tones of the diatonic scale in arbitrary ways to create malformed music that has no meaning, but I'm not interested in discussing such fringe cases. When I say "tonality" do you immediately throw your arms up in objection because technically tonal music doesn't have any inherent instructions for its creation?

Edited by Bridge

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