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February 2010
Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 02:53 pm
The Music Genome Project on Coming in a Girl's Mouth


Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 05:25 pm (UTC)
Re: fucking brilliant

I would suggest that the idea that language sings in any but most elementary fashion is untenable. I do not doubt that your musical ideas are suggested to you by the words; rather, I would argue that the words would only suggest "a" music to you and and not "the" music. This is somewhat like the fact that while every language has onomatopœic elements, one language's onomatopoeias are often quite different than another's, and the similar elements of various languages tend to cluster into what is the most universal, and hence, boring. Even in the production of melody there is something like interpretation, albeit non-signifying interpretation.

Good melodies (and other material bits of music: timbre, rhythm, etc,) are dynamic, non-semantic fields which can interact in any number of ways with the text and texture of language. From a theoretical point of view, I cannot think of any good reason to privilege the text as meaning rather than the text as one other field of materiality. One of the least useful cliches of romanticism is that there is some natural and organic relationship between meaning and matter and that the poet or songwriter or whoever's task is but to unearth the latent but already present potential of this ideal relationship. Once made present, the work can then be judged by how aptly the meaning is conveyed, reflected, embodied, etc. In the particular tradition of European art and pop song, this way of achieving, or at least explaining, affects is very common. But it is also reductive and mystifying. If we inverted the relationship between sound and meaning--making the former the reason and the latter the means--, the exact same explanation could be made: look how perfectly "Coming in a Girl's Mouth" reflects the sonorities of the through-composition and texture of the synthesized harpsichord! That this sounds ridiculous to most people is a sign that the romantics still hold their sway. There are better ways of talking about music and its relationships with words.

It is an odd feature of your otherwise quite non-standard model of aesthetics that meaning, even when reflected through melody, controls the relationships between "content" and "form." Even when the latter seems to be dominant, the former sneaks in through the back door. That is, unless I have misunderstood you. What could be more tedious than stumbling on a lurker's hobbyhorse?

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Tue, Jan. 20th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Re: fucking brilliant

I would argue that the words would only suggest "a" music to you and and not "the" music.

Oh, sure, that's a given. It would be strange indeed if a sentence brought forth an obligatory melody! What's more, you sing a phrase over a chord change and then you change both the phrase and the melody, and then possibly the chords too. At a certain moment everything is fluid, and everything is capable of effecting changes on everything else.

As far as the through composition in Coming in A Girl's Mouth is concerned (and I love how that title keeps thumbing its nose at the academic tone of our discussion of it!), that particular style was really evolved to convey literary texts; it subordinates itself to the flow of their meanings, emotions and inherent (though not obligatory) melodies. I don't think this is a "Romantic" explantion; it's a historical consequence of the evolution of the through composition style, which is a sort of discreet butler or valet to the literary text it serves.

The sense in which "meaning controls the relationship between content and form" in my work is made a bit more complex when you take into account the things I'm talking about in this dialogue, which basically says that if you cut deep enough into content you find form, and if you cut deep enough into form you find content. Even humanism, in this essay, becomes something you might be able to see on a spectrograph; a particular shape of sound. This, too, is something I'm hopeful machines will be able to tell us about in the future. I think they'll make great music critics!

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