Composers Forum is a daily web log that allows invited contemporary composers to share their thoughts and ideas on any topic that interests them--from the ethereal, like how new music gets created, music history, theory, performance, other composers, alive or dead, to the mundane, like getting works played and recorded and the joys of teaching. If you're a professional composer and would like to participate, send us an e-mail.
Recently I’ve been beginning to think dynamics are a pretty big deal. While dynamics don’t have the formal possibilities of pitches, they are nonetheless one of the tools composers have to articulate development and contrast.
I’ve been noticing recently as well there’s a lot of music in which dynamic contrast does not factor. This was brought home to me by a (great) big band concert I went to Tuesday night; while the music was harmonically and rhythmically very sophisticated, it was pretty much all the same dynamic. This goes for loads of pop music as well. Minimalism, too. And, of course, Bach.
A lack of dynamic contrast signals for me a lack of musical contrast in general. After all, dynamic contrasts work most effectively in concert with textural, rhythmic, and formal changes. While I can’t quite bring myself to castigate composers for not writing enough dynamics – that seems a little arbitrary – I’m wondering: who’s got dynamics these days? Who do you turn to for great crescendi and diminuendi and sforzandi?
posted by David Salvage
Monday, January 16, 2006
The Typology of the Creative Process
I'm fascinated by the synopsis of some key points of David W. Galenson's new book _Old Masters and Young Geniuses_ that Kyle Gann presented several days ago -- in particular with his description of the two categories "Experimental Artist" and "Conceptual Innovator." I haven't read the book, so I'm going on Kyle's description, and I'm not going to do a synopsis of Kyle's synopsis -- that would be silly -- so I suggest you go check that out before you continue here.
All set? Okay. I am inclined to believe that Galenson's categories are valid -- they apparently come straight out of the data, and they sound plausible -- but it's probably not a binary system. Most likely there's a continuum, and "Experimental Artist" and "Conceptual Innovator" are at either end. The next question, then, is what underlying dynamics create this continuum? I'm going to propose that the difference is between an artist's relative philosophical, aesthetic, or strategic focus on Innovation and Mastery. “Innovation” as I am defining it here is the drive for "progress," for finding new ways of doing things; “Mastery” is the drive for perfection, fine-tuning, maximizing the effect of some technique or style. These two drives are fundamentally opposed, in that the Innovation process of searching for new things detracts from the quantity of time and focus that can be applied to perfecting the existing methods, whereas the Mastery process of detail-work and exploration of the innate possibilities of the existing system detract from the amount of time and focus available for finding new things. This model of focusing on Mastery or Innovation is a continuum as well; or perhaps a better way to think about it is in terms of proportions. Any given artist has, say, 10 units of focus to allocate between the two categories -- some allocate 5 and 5, some allocate 1 and 9, and some are in between. (I doubt 10 and 0 is possible, since finding new ideas requres enough Mastery to figure out which ideas are good, and exploring the possibilities of the existing system requires enough Innovation to find the parts of the system that have't been fully exploited.) The advantage of thinking in terms of Innovation and Mastery is that while Experimental Artist and Conceptual Innovator tell you _how_ things are, an artist’s attitudes and resultant creative focus tell us _why_ they are that way.
If you go through each of the bullet points Kyle provides to illustrate the qualities of the Experimental Artist and the Conceptual Innovator you will find that each point can be explained in terms of the Mastery or Innovation focus. (To check my work, I went through each one and confirmed it.) For example, the Conceptual Innovator tends to have one or two major works that revolutionize the field, whereas the Experimental Artist tends to have a long series of solid works, none of which dominates his or her output. Of course if your main goal is innovation, you are going to fail many times before you finally have your breakthrough, but then once you’ve had that breakthrough and revolutionized the field, the Masters are going to move in. The Masters, having spent their time learning how to achieve mastery over a system, are going to be better than the Innovator at working out the details of the new style or technique.
Of course now we have a whole new set of questions. This continuum seems conceptually similar to various personality typing tools such as the Myers-Briggs system. Does the Innovation/Mastery axis map in any convenient way against the MBTI’s axes? And speaking of axes, should we expect the Creativity Typing system to have multiple axes as well? For instance, might the Everett Rogers Diffusion of Innovations theory apply? Might a second axis of the Creativity Type be the Innovator – Early Adopter – Early Majority – Late Majority – Laggard axis? It’s hard to imagine an Innovator (my version) who is also a Laggard, but there are certainly Masters at every point along the Everett Rogers spectrum. And finally, what causes an artist to be a Master or an Innovator or somewhere inbetween? How much of it is genetic, and how much cultural indoctrination? And how does the cultural indoctrination work?
There’s a lot of fascinating ground to cover. I hope more economists follow in Galenson’s footsteps in using the tools of economics to develop these sorts of models of artistic behavior.
posted by Galen H. Brown
Nobody's mentioned the BBC's weekend-long Get Carter festival which just happened. The review of the first concert in the Guardian, quoted on On an Overgrown Path today, opens with the report of the audience reaction to the performance by Nicholas Hodges and Oliver Knussen of the Piano Concerto--a standing ovation. Another incident that gives the lie to the notion that Carter's music was "constructed" with no concern for any public communication and always leaves an audience cold.
posted by Rodney Lister
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Although I didn't study with Nadia Boulanger, I understand that she taught the concept of "la grande ligne" or the grand line, where the melody creates a scaffolding from which the architecture of the music hangs. Being a hopeless melodicist myself, I have always worked this way. For me, the melody is what the music is "about." Momentum and cohesion work for me using this technique.
As a teacher, I have no interest in creating clones of myself. I'll refer to throwing out a line of foreground as an analogous technique, but even that sounds like the grand line. I'd like to hear what other composers do to set music in motion. I'm referring here to music that is notated, and not computer music or improvisation. (I should point out, I'm directing my students to this blog for your advice. I'm not having an aesthetic meltdown or searching for a new voice.)
Thanks for your help.
posted by Roger Bourland