Perennial Dissonance

A podcast by Dave "Blogthoven" Bowers and Ryan DeNardis featuring discussions on "classical" music, its impact on society, and society's impact on it.
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 - 18 May 1911)

“Ich weiß für mich, dass ich, solang ich mein Erlebnis in Worten zusammenfassen kann, gewiss keine Musik hierüber machen würde.”
(“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”)

Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 - 18 May 1911)

“Ich weiß für mich, dass ich, solang ich mein Erlebnis in Worten zusammenfassen kann, gewiss keine Musik hierüber machen würde.”

(If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”)

(Source: blogthoven, via blogthoven)

Perennial Dissonance - Episode 14: Counterpoint

There is a word among many aspiring young composers and music academics that is often fraught with much cringing and clenching of teeth: counterpoint.  But what exactly is counterpoint, and what’s all the fuss about?  This week, we explore these questions and reminisce about the glory and frustration of studying contrapuntal techniques.

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1 Giant Leap - Bombardment, Part 1

1 Giant Leap is an audio/video project developed by two UK-based producers who travel accross the globe and interview and jam with people from all walks of life.  The final product of these journeys is always a two-fold release: a DVD/TV series accompanied by an audio album.  As with any attempt at world music, there’s always a risk of compromising something significant experientially or in terms of the Bemjaminian “aura.”  Here, the these considerations are even more justified as music and viewpoints are reconstituted to fit a new - and constantly evolving - diagetic and conceptual execution.  Of course, this is also where the project finds its strength and character: by combining music and audio from people of all walks of life, the producers create a mosaic unified by humanism, which was their goal in the first place.  As such, attempts to avoid “too much damage” or even a lack of “immediacy” are quickly swept beneath the rug in favor of a more significant artistic vision.

That being said, 1 Giant Leap manages to create a melting pot of different socio-cultural images and creations without noticeably “damaging” anything in the process; their ability to turn captured events back toward the cultures which lead to their creation is, to say the least, commendable.

Mondo Cane - Deep Deep Down

Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane set out to down one of the strangest things: cover English-language pop songs written by Italian-American musicians in the 1950’s and ‘60’s in Italian.  In essence, this could be seen as returning a culturally-derivative artifact to the homeland, but what exactly is lost or changed in the process?  It’s a curious - and strangely effective - project to say the least.

Deep Forest - Deep Forest

As mentioned in Steven Feld’s article “PygmyPOP,” this is one of Deep Forest’s tracks that obtained the audio of a tune by a native South American musician from an ethnographic sampler CD and recast it in the light of African ‘tribal’ culture.  The beginning of the video itself, as well as the imagery, presents a horribly trite - and obviously false - pastiche of African culture.  It’s immediacy and integrity almost call themselves into question upon first viewing, yet Deep Forest maintains they’ve done nothing wrong, and the group had quite a following through the 90’s.

Feld’s article also goes into detail about the distribution of donation money, which was entirely allocated to a group that did work in Africa, but to his knowledge, Deep Forest never lined up donations for people of South America, a simple but effective metaphor for the socio-cultural damage the track had done.  And yet, by all other considerations, Deep Forest is completely in the clear, right?

McDonald’s Is Your Kind of Place

Though a recasting of “Down By the Riverside” in the Dixieland style is understandable and defensible, the re-adaptation of the lyrics and context in McDonald’s ad campaign is a little disturbing.  Instead of solemn cultural understanding of Rosetta Tharp and Mohalia Jackson, the video (and audio) depict white middle-class American children running around with their parents.  On the one hand, yes, McDonald’s didn’t intend any harm with the video; they were just trying to sell a product.  However, for a lot of people in later generations, this commercial was the only exposure they’ve ever had for the tune, and rather than hearing it in the more solemn light of the African-American spiritual, they recognize it as part of the McDonald’s image, and this does serious damage to the tune’s original, highly specific socio-cultural connotations.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Down By The Riverside (Ain’t Gon’ Study War No Mo’)

As mentioned in this week’s podcast, this is an example of a more immediate context for the spiritual “Down By the Riverside.”  Here, it’s religious and socio-cultural are kept intact throughout it’s readaptation into the Gospel style.  It’s also presented as part of the performers’ culture, shared with the television audience.  This is evidenced by Mahalia Jackson’s performance of the tune on the Nat King Cole Show’s Christmas Special of 1957, which was proceed by the words, “And then, of course, there are, by all means, our spirituals.”

Perennial Dissonance - Episode 13: Doing Damage

When does music do socio-culture damage?  It isn’t a concept we’re typically aware of, but the modern advent of newer technology and forms of media combined with its speed of distribution creates a situation where, with a mere roll of the dice, distributed media could actually do socio-cultural harm.  What really happened when McDonald’s spun out an ad campaign using “Down by the Riverside?”  We discuss specific examples of how harm is done both on a socio-cultural basis and on an individual basis, and we also examine the opposite phenomenon: when music can actually fortify a preexisting concept or ideal.  Should we be more aware of the implications of our actions with art, or should we work with the understanding that misinterpretations will be better solved down the road?

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Can music be perceived beyond its extramusical associations? This week, we explore the dichotomy between “Absolute” and “Program” music, and their varying degrees of applicability depending on composer intention, performer agency, and audience reception. And believe it or not, the two of us disagree…

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Songify This: “Winning” by Charlie Sheen

uploaded by schmoyoho

Probably the best example of audio blatantly being adapted into a musical setting is the Auto Tune the News crew.  Their work samples people who would (generally) never think their words would be transformed into music, and then re-interprets the material (through autotune, filters, and audio editting) to creating musical material accessible to a radio-friendly audience.  It’s amazing they’ve been met with so much respect and praise, as transforming someone’s words into music potentially introduces a brand new meaning, but seeing as news services tend to only elicity the material they see as relevant and these videos routinely pull in over tens of millions of hits, the general pubic doesn’t seem to mind the tension.