Decomposition: A Music Manifesto

By Andrew Durkin

Decomposition is a bracing, revisionary, and provocative inquiry into music—from Beethoven to Duke Ellington, from Conlon Nancarrow to Evelyn Glennie—as a private and cultural event: the way it consists, the way it is idiosyncratically perceived by means of critics and reviewers, and why we take heed to it the best way we do.

Andrew Durkin, most sensible often called the chief of the West Coast–based business Jazz team, is singular for his insistence on asking difficult questions on the complexity of our presumptions approximately song and approximately listening, specially within the electronic age. during this successful and lucid examine he explodes the age-old notion of musical composition because the paintings of person genius, arguing as a substitute that during either its composition and reception track is essentially a collaborative company that comes into being purely via mediation.
Drawing on a wealthy number of examples—Big Jay McNeely’s “Deacon’s Hop,” Biz Markie’s “Alone Again,” George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique, Frank Zappa’s “While You have been Art,” and Pauline Oliveros’s “Tuning Meditation,” to call just a few—Durkin makes transparent that our appreciation of any piece of song is usually knowledgeable by way of neuroscientific, mental, technological, and cultural components. How we hearken to tune, he continues, may need as a lot strength to alter it as song may have to alter how we hear.

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Song historians may write concerning the song’s unique context in Renaissance England. Neuroscientists may let us know how a few listeners are extra attuned to the tune’s pitches, and others its rhythm. “Ordinary,” nonexpert listeners might music their listening too, as Kivy notes, revealing that “I like that sort of archaic, ecclesiastical caliber it has” or just that “it sounds type of outdated. ” Affection for the paintings might be expressed much more vaguely, with out rationalization in any respect: “I similar to it; I don’t be aware of why. ” yet whether all of those responses might be thoroughly translated from the brain to the web page, they'd nonetheless let us know virtually not anything approximately what each one listener used to be really listening to. Verbally describing a section when it comes to its use of the Dorian mode easily tells us listener understands the right way to determine the Dorian mode. an identical factor is right of the technical jargon of the recording engineer, or the transcriptive powers of the listener with absolute pitch. Even the reticence of the noncommittal listener doesn’t let us know every thing it sort of feels to. Is that reticence facts of an absence of musical understanding, or, really, of an unwillingness to interact with a pushy interrogator? the purpose is that deciding upon the Dorian mode, or noting the EQ curve of a combination, or transcribing a functionality, or failing to articulate a reaction in any respect, brings us no toward realizing the philosophical, existential questions raised by way of the song. every one reaction is self-referential, or at most sensible referential to the group from which it's derived. what's song for? What does track suggest? what's track? The Dorian mode, or the way in which the song is recorded, or the most important it really is in, or a listener’s silence, says not anything approximately those higher matters. We therefore need to be cautious of complicated the impulse for definite sorts of serious articulation—born as they're out of the will for group, or out of alternative stable intentions—with the power to derive a extra significant influence from a bit, or to hook up with it extra successfully. certainly, no listener fails as a result of her perceptual idiosyncrasies to hook up with what she hears. all of us connect to tune, always. The very act of listening is by way of definition a connection—again, the listener is often at the different finish of a transductive transmission. It follows that if you happen to wish to hearken to track, you “know” approximately music—at least insofar as track might be identified through somebody. And what you could say approximately that wisdom doesn't in any case subject. eventually, the one truthfully “authentic” alternative as fanatics, critics, or practitioners is agnosticism approximately our personal adventure and generosity towards our fellow listeners. GOLDEN EARS, TIN EARS the matter with the cultural and mental assumptions attending “expertise” and “naïveté” is they are very demanding to override, and certainly usually look normative. reckoning on our historical past or biases, so much people think that many ways of listening are more true than others. whilst Robert Jourdain issues out that “many everyone is basically deaf to advanced harmony,” including that they “find just a spattering of tones the place a prepared ear could unearth stunning patterns,” he faucets into preconceptions tested through social buildings of listening, which in flip pertain to social structures of track.

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