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Ken320

Do You Have A Style As A Composer?

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Or do you feel that others feel that you have a style when you do not feel the same way? Is style just a necessary artifact of commercialism? And if so, does it enhance a composer's standing, or diminish it?

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14 hours ago, Ken320 said:

Or do you feel that others feel that you have a style when you do not feel the same way? Is style just a necessary artifact of commercialism? And if so, does it enhance a composer's standing, or diminish it?

 

Could you elaborate on the "necessary artifact of commercialism" bit, Ken.  I'm not quite sure what you mean, but it sounds interesting.

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Sure. I should have given the question a little more thought. But I'm not sure there is a way to ask it without sounding vague or naive. I wanted to know if you think you have a style that is particularly unique within your genre. Such that when people hear it they know it's yours. Or if not, is it a goal worth working towards - if that is even possible. Composers with very circumscribed styles can be very successful, if only because they are recognizable. Minimalism comes to mind. Having a schtick helps in the commercial sense because your product is dependable and proven, like anything else for sale. Make sense?

Now I was thinking about Hans Zimmer, who people have commented on right here. People seem to think that he has a style, a 'sound'. The Hans Zimmer sound. When film composers get hired the director might say, "I'd like to get that Hans Zimmer sound." But does he really have a sound? He did a couple of films like Inception and Batman and suddenly he's got a sound? But if you heard his score for "A League of Their Own" You'd say, that doesn't sound like Hans Zimmer at all. Now, when Hans himself gets hired for a film and plays his cues for the director, he might look disappointed and say, tactfully,  "This is quite good Hans ... but what I'd really like to get from you is that Hans Zimmer sound." Now he must parody himself! (We should be so lucky to have his problems, right?)

I am just wondering if people find the idea of being a totally original composer all important. Thoughts?

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Interesting...  It definitely does make sense to have a "sound."  No sense attracting someone to follow your work with one piece, and sending them packing again with the next one.  But it's possible to achieve the same commercial goal by specializing in music for a certain type of musical group, and still being able to play around musically with the sound from piece to piece.  

If you look at some of the big historic composers, they often carved out a stylistic niche based on the players who were consistently available to them.  If you had trumpets and the cathedral in other important cathedral town didn't, by gum you were going to show off your trumpets as prominently as possible, and to balance that, you would make other stylistic choices.  If the princess was studying harp, you would show a sudden interest in the instrument yourself, and that would lend itself to certain other decisions.  

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I hadn't thought of that, the value of pragmatism. I'd say it's only the form of it that changes throughout the years.

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On 11/24/2018 at 3:56 PM, Ken320 said:

I am just wondering if people find the idea of being a totally original composer all important. Thoughts?

I don't know how many younger people you hang around with but this is a big thing right now. Trying to "original"; the modernist period has come back from the dead.

There's this huge wave of emerging EDM artists and film scorers who are so hellbent on learning all of these techniques now. YouTube music theory and composition channels are way more influential than they used to be because people want to know everything they can and twist them to be as "new" as possible. I think this is the first step to the death of art as we know it. So many people are focused on knowing, that they forget that part of knowing is doing. They don't know how to control these techniques, and they plop in Adam Neely's triple polychord or 8-bit Music Theory's non-functional fifths voice leading without knowing how to retain the dramatic arc and it just sounds bad. In other words, the creation of art is being replaced by the creation of sounds.

The question of a composer's style is thus important to them only when it helps them advance their own agendas. If people want to write like John Williams, they'll overuse the lydian fourth over a dominant pedal with a shit ton of horns but don't actually know the history of its usage, and how we got here and why that matters. 

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I don't disagree with anything you said. But I want to add that Modernism can easily become a neurosis when it supercedes other concerns. Like when a composer, of any age, neglects dramatic arc as you say, or any of the many things that make music music. Then the music can become sterile and dull. And part of this neurosis is driven by politics, which I've suspected for a long time. I mean the broad, insidious kind, like political correctness - but only for music. It can affect anyone's judgment, young or old. Btw, did you read the article I posted on Modernism and Post Modernism? It's a good read.

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I have read it, but it was when you first posted it, so I don't much remember it. 
Modernism's creed isn't bad when it's used in conjunction with craft. It just oftentimes does not.
I'm not really sure how the argument about political correctness furthers postmodern idealism, which is itself actually rooted in the issue of politics - it just now has extended its scope and lost its original meaning. 

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I agree with you about the ideals of Modernism.They were clear enough. But I'm not sure that Postmodernism had an ideal to begin with. It's unclear whether Postmodernism is an extreme continuation of Modernism or a repudiation of it, so says the article. By politics we don't mean "parties" or platforms, right? But more of a pressure to conform to an external will. Because why would we compose music if, in the end, it didn't conform to something? Something already established. However, the question remians - who's will? And what for?

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I don't myself have a problem with modern art as long as there are processes to the craft. Schoenberg, Boulez, Xenakis, Stravinsky, Webern, and Prokofiev all had ideals that let the art actually emerge from process and the results can be very effective (emphasis on can). I don't want to sound as though pushing the envelope in art is a bad thing, as it's a natural progression. Schenkerian theory is, for example, a retroactive modern approach to tonal harmony. The piece you wrote for this last competition is an example of the progression of art and music into a modern setting, through evolved harmonic and sonic processes. 
I saw some of the other videos by this guy and he has some trouble articulating his arguments when he throws around words like "SJW" for no reason when his argument could be a lot more articulate. In this particular video, I think he pulls the correlation/causation argument fallacy and presents connections as evidence. Not all the time, obviously, but often enough to make me notice. He has a point though, I'll give him that.

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I agree. He could have stayed on the lazy/elitist/disigenuous points. But apparently he's other gripes. And also, he's a 'personality' selling content. Personally, it has taken me a long time to realize, without guidance, that experimentation is only as good as my ability to assure a coherent payoff. Still, with the odds being low, I champion experimentation, as you do.

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I honestly, am so influenced by earlier classical composers that I don't have like a style individual to me. Most of my style comes from 2 composers. Either the piece is more in the style of Mozart with like alberti bass and complexity within simplicity, or it is more in the style of Beethoven with sudden dynamic changes, lots of drama, and everything else I consider to be characteristic of Beethoven's style(which I think is middle period Beethoven, when he was definitely dramatic and pushing the borders, but not like pushing the borders so much that one of his sonatas is like a Mozart sonata in terms of time but the themes are way shorter than that of Mozart, and another has a fugue within it).

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Interesting. Do you see yourself growing out of this style someday? Is it part of a continuum or are you set, as it were, for life? Are Mozart and Beethoven the only thing you listen to from the repertoire?

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On 12/4/2018 at 9:14 PM, Monarcheon said:

There's this huge wave of emerging EDM artists and film scorers who are so hellbent on learning all of these techniques now. YouTube music theory and composition channels are way more influential than they used to be because people want to know everything they can and twist them to be as "new" as possible. I think this is the first step to the death of art as we know it. So many people are focused on knowing, that they forget that part of knowing is doing. They don't know how to control these techniques, and they plop in Adam Neely's triple polychord or 8-bit Music Theory's non-functional fifths voice leading without knowing how to retain the dramatic arc and it just sounds bad. In other words, the creation of art is being replaced by the creation of sounds.

Yes, experimentation is a horrible thing and should be avoided at all costs. God forbid people actually stumble onto something they enjoy by trying things they see others do! This must be stopped and we should do everything we can so that those accursed .... POLYCHORDS (barf) don't fall into the wrong hands and hurt someone! There are nights where I wake up in cold sweat just at the thought of what some random... kid, is going to do with their new found knowledge of CLUSTERS! Oh the humanity!

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8 hours ago, SSC said:

Yes, experimentation is a horrible thing and should be avoided at all costs. God forbid people actually stumble onto something they enjoy by trying things they see others do! This must be stopped and we should do everything we can so that those accursed .... POLYCHORDS (barf) don't fall into the wrong hands and hurt someone! There are nights where I wake up in cold sweat just at the thought of what some random... kid, is going to do with their new found knowledge of CLUSTERS! Oh the humanity!

Seems like a bit of a straw man, no?
My point is simply knowing the artistic concepts doesn't translate to good art inherently. That takes time, and yes, experimentation. 

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Well this is an interesting discussion, @Ken320. I'm sorry to have missed it when it was new. When I started writing 'concert music' or whatever a few years ago, I was writing in what I now understand to be a terrible perversion of the Classical style. This is mainly because I had just fallen in love with that style (cuz that's what they play on classical radio stations). Since then, most of my scraggy has taken on a more Romantic or Impressionist style (though still pretty mangled), with wider-ranging techniques. It's kind of ludicrous for me to say my music has a distinct voice, since there's so little of it altogether and my grasp of theory and orchestration is still ... in development. My audience is so miniscule that I doubt any of this matters (yet, I hope). 

To the point made by @Monarcheon, I'm certainly guilty of stealing techniques from things I hear and read about online. I suspect most of us are, whether that's from a website or a classroom. I think the challenge is using these techniques well and responsibly. Polychords, secundal clusters and stacks of fifths all play into my latest piece because I read about them on one website or another. I do try to fit them into places where they make sense aesthetically or dramatically.

To be fair, though, the entire history of music is full of people making subtle adaptations or innovations to the existing body of music theory, and borrowing the rest from those who've come before. I think the current conception of artists and composers as solitary geniuses who must offer radically original works (or be considered worthless) is a relatively new concept in the history of art and music. I think in the past, there was a lot more admiration of technical mastery over pure originality. I'm interested to hear others' takes on this, though. 

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1 hour ago, Monarcheon said:

Seems like a bit of a straw man, no?
My point is simply knowing the artistic concepts doesn't translate to good art inherently. That takes time, and yes, experimentation. 

 

Ah yes! Exactly as Chapter 5, paragraph 3 line 4 of the sacred book of "Rules for Good Art" clearly states!

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1 hour ago, Noah Brode said:

To be fair, though, the entire history of music is full of people making subtle adaptations or innovations to the existing body of music theory, and borrowing the rest from those who've come before. I think the current conception of artists and composers as solitary geniuses who must offer radically original works (or be considered worthless) is a relatively new concept in the history of art and music. I think in the past, there was a lot more admiration of technical mastery over pure originality. I'm interested to hear others' takes on this, though. 

 

Not so sure it's so new a concept. It turns up all over the place in musical history. Of several examples that come to mind, Schoenberg decided he'd had enough pushing romanticism to its limits so he came up with a new system - original indeed even if it failed on semiotic grounds. Same with people like Pierre Schaeffer with musique concrète and Stockhausen with electronic music. But you could also include Debussy, perhaps even Beethoven who expanded the language of Symphony hugely beyond Mozart - and many others. 

This determination to produce the truly original is chasing a holy grail. It does happen but extremely rare. Most times someone's already done something to lay the foundations of one's own work. As for conventionally notated music even with specialised symbolism (e.g. microtonal accidentals, pitch-bending brackets and on) it's almost impossible to come up with radically original works.   

 

 

 

 

 

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@Quinn - Sure, but I'm including those 20th Century guys as part of my "relatively recent" statement. I'm thinking about Western music stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years. At any point on that arc of musical history, the composers of the time could only innovate to a certain extent beyond what had already been done. Schoenberg is a great exception and a game-changer, though, however successful he was in his output. 

I think now, we are not only limited by the musical conventions of our time, but also by the fact that we can't change the way humans experience acoustics. As in, the Common Practice system evolved because those are the physical manifestations of sound that sound good to humans. Fifths sound nice, thirds sound nice, major chords sound nice. I think you can only stray from that so far before things get too messy and unrelatable to the average person's ear. I think now its more about finding ones own voice with the resources we have. That's just my take, though, and I'm massively unqualified. 

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Agreed more or less. CPP and counterpoint probably developed as "pleasing" to the ear because the human is attuned to the harmonic series. Minor keys sound sad or angry because the 3rd of the minor scale clashes with the natural 5th harmonic of any fundamental - and things. I believe a certain level of semiotics comes into music in that unless I'm wildly out, its performance seeks to communicate something to a listener so there must be elements understood by both performer and listener. It involves expectation: resolution of contrived tensions. Stray too far from the diatonic and problems arise. 

I used to listen to BBC3 Hear and Now. So often the works were neither pleasing nor did they make any sense, tonal or structurally. Occasionally they did but I got the feeling that much was just thrown together by people in musical education who really didn't know what they were up to or what their "composition" should sound like. I felt someone's embarrassment once at a summer school where one of these "composers" presented a score that looked good on paper, all very complicated but... the ensemble's conductor played a section then asked what the composer thought. The composer thought it was fine. Then, said the conductor, let me tell you... and he listed a whole lot of instances where things hadn't gone as per the score. Oh dear. That's why I think re Hear and Now and elsewhere, so many of those premières were also their dernières!

Such music clicks with some listeners, others not and I suspect fashion comes into this more than a little!  

 

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CPP and counterpoint probably developed as "pleasing" to the ear because the human is attuned to the harmonic series. Minor keys sound sad or angry because the 3rd of the minor scale clashes with the natural 5th harmonic of any fundamental - and things. I believe a certain level of semiotics comes into music in that unless I'm wildly out, its performance seeks to communicate something to a listener so there must be elements understood by both performer and listener. It involves expectation: resolution of contrived tensions. Stray too far from the diatonic and problems arise.

and

Quote

I think now, we are not only limited by the musical conventions of our time, but also by the fact that we can't change the way humans experience acoustics. As in, the Common Practice system evolved because those are the physical manifestations of sound that sound good to humans. Fifths sound nice, thirds sound nice, major chords sound nice. I think you can only stray from that so far before things get too messy and unrelatable to the average person's ear.

 

Oh boy, my favorite discussion: Psychoacoustics!

 

Before we get started, I must ask anyone wanting to debate this with me to read up on the scientific literature on the topic! An acquaintance of mine actually did us a solid and put a rather extensive list of peer-reviewed papers published on this exact topic, most of which are ground-breaking and first to document such things. Here you go:

http://www.stefan-koelsch.de/papers.html

That's a lot of reading, so start with the 10 most cited papers he suggests at the start.

Have fun!

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Crikey! Read up the scientific literature - psychoacoustics? I haven't even the maths for that! 
I was interested in the neurophysiology - but wonder in the value to a composer concerned more for "music appreciation" and cultural implications.  

It seemed easier to look at the soft science of semiotics because it accounts for cultural and musical context, and applies to my attempts at composition. Re music, semiotics is limited beyond the broad concept of music as communication (as far as I can see. Its fans try to push the boundaries but they're far more complex than the initial foray into (verbal) linguistics). One relevance I mentioned earlier  re information theory, common elements must be understood by both composer/performer and listener for communication to occur. In live performance, body language is an additional communicative factor.  It doesn't lay claim to hard and fast linguistic rules but like every transmission the components need to be there. The lack of a common language is why the serial school failed to achieve popularity. Understandable because it failed to recognise the part played by social conditioning, the symbols signified nothing useable in the ears/brains/minds of listeners. And yet some people do derive a positive experience from it. So what's different about them? So it isn't just about social conditioning. Perhaps a rebellion against it? Is it about adventure, a love of surprise and the unfamiliar? How come some music works deep under psychedelic influence?  

Point is, how it guides a composer moving beyond the conventional with the hope of a degree of acceptance.  The vague "language" of music does seem to work for most people if it can provide various anchors on which listeners can latch. I could be wildly out but without too much contrivance it's possible. It could always be that it reflects the preferences of composers when it works. 

An interesting subject and one that will engage academia more than composers I reckon. Too much tinkering with magic spells can break creativity. I'm ill-qualified to discuss psychoacoustics. Am happier with semiotics and meanings production but appreciate at least some applications of psychoacoustics. 

Edited by Quinn

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20 hours ago, Monarcheon said:

Seems like a bit of a straw man, no?
My point is simply knowing the artistic concepts doesn't translate to good art inherently. That takes time, and yes, experimentation. 

 

Right. Conversely, and ironically, ignoring or rejecting artistic concepts don't necessarily make a work original either. But time and experimentation still applies, because in the end it will take artistry to reject such artistry, which is hard to get your head around.

Unless you are being willfully unskilled, perhaps a growing trend these days if you follow the path of deconstruction in an effort to out-extreme one another. But come to think of it, it's not that different from when I was going to school. So maybe it has more to do with maturity.

 

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