Many composers over the past hundred years have devoted their lives to demonstrating that music doesn’t have to be tonal in order to be attractive, engaging, satisfying, lovely – pick your own adjective.
I was reminded of this fact by a recent review in American Record Guide of my recording Insects and Paper Airplanes, which the critic praised for reminding us that accessible music needn’t be overtly tonal.
Made me realize that I’ve spent maybe fifteen minutes of my life trying to prove that nontonal music can be beautiful.
After those fifteen minutes, it occurred to me that the music that was in the air when I was growing up proved something just as interesting: that tonal music could be abrasive, brutal, angst-ridden, vicious – pick your own adjective.
Popular music in my youth featured more wailing than crooning, more crunchy rhythm than melody, more aggression than solace. And yet much of this music was as straightforwardly diatonic as anything in history.
So it should be no surprise that some of the most clearly tonal passages in my music have a harsher edge to them than some of the music that evades, or confuses, a tonal center. My least dissonant music is often my ugliest.
It’s a nice example of the way rhythm can trump tonality when it comes to dictating musical character. Certainly the rhythms introduced by 20th-century popular music gave the world a broader expressive pallet than had been known before.
Including some rather nifty, nasty crunches.