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Playing with "negative harmony"


Luis Hernández
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Lately, there has been a proliferation of tutorials and videos on you tube about "negative harmony" or "mirror harmony", most of them say nothing.

Because..., yes, it's easy to understand the concept, but how the hell to use it?

Given a melody and harmony we can obtain their mirror versions... What can we do with them? I haven't found anything about it.

I have some experience developing harmonic and melodic systems from any given scale, and I wanted to try with an example. I'm not going to explain anything about this kind of harmonies, only saying it is based on mirrored notes (that can build melody or chords) using an  tonic-dominant axis (not mirroring everything from a single -tonic-note; that's other type of harmony).

So let's begin:

01 - I wrote a simple thing in A major with a melody and a counter melody, the raw material called 01. A track with strings as background and a bass line.

02 - In this version, the first part is the same than in 01, but the second part (page) is the negative version changing melodies, chords and bass line. Interesting! This could be use as the repetition of a phrase or section...

03 - In this case, there is some blending. In the first part the guitar an the strings are in "positive" A maj, and the flute and the bass in "negative". In the second part the guitar and strings are in"negative" and the flute and the bass in "positive".

04 - A step further... An additional track for strings is added and the harmony plays "positive" and "negative" all the piece long. This creates a cluster effect. In the first part (m. 1-16) guitar in positive, flute and bass in negative. In the second part (m. 17-32) guitar in negative and flute and bass in positive.

 

There are many more possible combinations. The more harmonies are mixed, the "opener" our ears should be. I think it's also possible to make this mix and change some clashing chords here and there, depending on the desired effect.

I like the results and I think there is a lot of potential here. Surely many people won't like it...

I hope you enjoy it. It's just an exercise, not a composition.

01 - Score.pdf

02 - Score.pdf

03 - Score.pdf

04- Score.pdf

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Although you say that this is a teaching piece, perhaps you and I compose in different paradigms. I always - mostly - write by ear and instinct rather than formula. I trust myself that a sense of rightness will emerge out of necessity, and when it's crunch time, I use the same tools everyone else uses: mirroring, transposition and all the myriad forms of variation. You know, the art part. Conversely, if I choose an arbitrary conceit, like in this exercise, I would invariably violate it because it would not satisfy my sense of rightness, my ego, which I cannot help but to place above all other concerns, if my concern is to assure repeated listenings. But your variations here are interesting and pleasant and they provide a very useful teaching concept.

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  • 3 years later...

I am not entirely sure if I am correct in saying this but from my perusal of youtube videos on the topic (in the past not right now) negative harmony simply refers to inverted harmony - specifically inverting the traditional tonic - dominant relationships.  I think it's just inverting the perfect cadence which of course ends up sounding like a plagal cadence.  Negative harmony can also invert the traditional ii - V - I progression into a vii - IV - I or a bVII - IV - I like in "Hey Jude" by the Beatles.  I could me mistaken though.  I don't know why it would be called 'negative harmony' though if all it really is is inversion.  It doesn't seem like a totally new concept or anything.

For an exercise this was quite enjoyable to listen to though.  I like your instrumentation and coloration by the inclusion of major 7ths into the chords.

Edited by PaperComposer
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42 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

I am not entirely sure if I am correct in saying this but from my perusal of youtube videos on the topic (in the past not right now) negative harmony simply refers to inverted harmony - specifically inverting the traditional tonic - dominant relationships.  I think it's just inverting the perfect cadence which of course ends up sounding like a plagal cadence.  Negative harmony can also invert the traditional ii - V - I progression into a vii - IV - I or a bVII - IV - I like in "Hey Jude" by the Beatles.  I could me mistaken though.  I don't know why it would be called 'negative harmony' though if all it really is is inversion.  It doesn't seem like a totally new concept or anything.

For an exercise this was quite enjoyable to listen to though.  I like your instrumentation and coloration by the inclusion of major 7ths into the chords.

 

Negative harmony is just a name for this specific technique. What you are talking about is not negative harmony. If you invert the chords of an inversion, you don't get negative harmony. A V7 - I becomes IIm6 - I in negative harmony. To work with neg. harmony you have to take the axis tonic-dominant and change (reflect) every pitch with the opposite. 

There are many other techniques that use harmonies in mirror, different from negative harmony.

This concept was developed in the 80's. Surely it was applied earlier...

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12 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

Negative harmony is just a name for this specific technique. What you are talking about is not negative harmony. If you invert the chords of an inversion, you don't get negative harmony. A V7 - I becomes IIm6 - I in negative harmony. To work with neg. harmony you have to take the axis tonic-dominant and change (reflect) every pitch with the opposite. 

There are many other techniques that use harmonies in mirror, different from negative harmony.

Ok - I just watched another youtube video explaining negative harmony and I don't understand around which pitch is the mirror inversion executed?  Usually you have to pick one pitch around which to do an inversion but I keep hearing that the axis of inversion is the tonic-dominant which doesn't make sense to me.  How can you invert around two pitches at once?

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15 minutes ago, PaperComposer said:

Ok - I just watched another youtube video explaining negative harmony and I don't understand around which pitch is the mirror inversion executed?  Usually you have to pick one pitch around which to do an inversion but I keep hearing that the axis of inversion is the tonic-dominant which doesn't make sense to me.  How can you invert around two pitches at once?

 

The tonic mirrors in the tonic C --- G.

the res of the pitches mirror as you see in the picture:

Captura de pantalla 2020-08-21 a las 21.15.27.png

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