So, explain to us; contemporary music?

This may be a completely retarded question, but what exactly is it what interests you guys in this music? I’m not against it, but sometimes I just really don’t get it. I’m usually it to more rhythmical music, or music that has a clear feeling to it (Ligeti’s Requiem and Vine’s piano music come to mind). But some of this is just noise to me. Boulez f.i. is pure mathematical music, I could never enjoy that.
Even though I might not understand it, it really intrigues me as something ‘mystical’. I’ve actually listened to some modern music, but mostly it comes to me as ‘all the same’. But then again, most classical music is all based around tonal harmony and a V-I cadence.
So if jre or jred or anyone else could pozz take a shot at this, please do so :slight_smile:

i assume youre talking about certain things such as 2nd viennese school, post war (total) serialism, 60s avantgarde, and shit like that. thats the stuff that people tend to notice first when it comes to contemporary/modern/20th/21st century music. now, a lot of that stuff truly is crap, but some stuff is genuinely good. a lot of it may seem like noise, but sometimes you can find a truly human element in it that allows the listener to connect with it in some sort of manner. there is also a lot of more recent music that conveys such emotions that arent found in common practice music. penderecki’s threnody for the victims of hiroshima is a great example. it is one of the most dissonant pieces in the standard repertoire (yes, i consider it part of orchestral standard rep now), but it also is one of the most emotional and deeply moving works of the 60s avant garde. lots of penderecki’s music is like that from that time. hes kinda gone soft in recent days, but thats beside the point. a lot of purely mathematical music really isnt all that good, aside for the purposes of studying, in my opinion. there are some gems of stochastic music that is actually musical and says something, but they are few and far inbetween, in my opinion.

what a lot of people seem to forget is that there is plenty of accessible music that people could more easily relate to. john adams is the best known living composer for this reason. his music is easy on the ear, very catchy, and leaves the audience something to remember afterward. i cant say hes one of my favorites, but he is part of the other side of modern music. the minimalists were basically a reaction to all of the “stereotypical” 20th century music composers, or the ones that stick out like sorethumbs to the naïve, which comprise the 60s avantgarde movement, post war serialism, and people of that sort.

so, my main point from this long rant is to not give up after hearing some of the “stereotypical” modern music. not to knock any of jredmond’s taste or anything, but that stuff isnt for everyone, and a lot of it will never be accepted by the public, and its maybe just for musicians and scholars. some of it truly is good music, sadly. my personal opinion is that he should have started off with a mix of both more accessible stuff and harder edged music. it wouldnt give people the wrong idea about this kind of music. id also be willing to post some of my favorites from the more acessible (yet not poppy or cheesy, but still intellectual and modern) side of contemporary music.

hopefully this made some sense. i know i probably left out some key points, but hey, its 2:30 am.

you also have to realize I’m coming at this with the perspective of having spent several years in higher education as a composer. this academic slant is unavoidable in my own education as most of the “progress” (i use that term lightly) in art has been maintained in the academy since WWII…

I really can’t get into explaining esthetics and why people tend to connect with certain things over others, that is a job for musicologists, psychoacousticians, and philosophers. What I can say however is that saying that contemporary music is “dissonant” or “twelve tone” or even “serial” is a little like saying that Bach is “tonal music”, palestrina “modal”, or Bach “contrapuntal”. The fact that the public at large, even music enthusiasts, tend to not have the historiographic and even listening resources built up over time to listen to this music, does not prove much about the music.

Babbitt would explain it this way: if one of us were to go to a philosophical talk by some philosopher at Harvard, we would sit in a room where 99% of the audience would be students of philosophy and other philosophers. Additionally, we might not understand the bulk of what is happening, but we’d notice the people who are used to this type of thought and lecture to be interested, whether approvingly or disapprovingly, and more or less “understanding” what is happening.

It is a little the same with contemporary music… I can vouch for this because when I was a young piano student I hated my first listen of Prokofiev. The fact that so many listeners gradually “warm up” to contemporary music vouches for the fact that at some level the feeling of “novelty” and strangeness must dissipate in favor of the same open-minded desire we feel when sitting down to listen to more Scarlatti sonatas we haven’t heard or a newly discovered Schubert fragment.

I’m not saying that all this music is great, just as there are thousands of forgotten composers from the past. Alot of this music lives on in music libraries and recordings now, which lends it an immortality that many of Mozart’s contemporaries largely didn’t have. But some of it is truly worthy of being pondered, connected with, or “felt” as you describe the Ligeti requiem.

Sorry that I reply this late, but I wanted to take the time to read this thoroughly so I had to wait for the weekend.

What jred said pretty much made me think it all over again; since contemporary music is… well, contemporary, all the crap hasn’t really been filtered out from the great music through the course of time. Or well, sortof what you said but more what I think of it.
Mozart lives forever, I’m thinking Ligeti will share the same fate.

In the past week I’ve gone to the library to get me some contemporary music, Xennakis is “cool” but I don’t understand shit. Boulez is simply mathematical music that I can’t enjoy at all, but if I’d analyze it it would just be “interesting”.

I’ve seen a John Adams 10cd box but I wasn’t sure to get it or not, I’ll go back for it next week.

Like jre pointed out, I was talking about the avant-garde weird ass crap out there when I talked abotu this topic, the contemporary music I do listen to, or ‘try to understand’, is pretty much music that I can connect to in a modern way of thinking. For me, that music reflects the world as it is today. Like Liszt or Chopin wrote about the Romanticism of their era, like all art back then, contemporary music is about the world today. Vine’s sonata (sorry to use this example again) really reflects the world of the 90s, computers, craze, whatnot. I’m thinking people wouldn’t have been able to really connect with it 50 yrs ago. I can’t exactly put it in to exact examples like computers or today’s momentum of living, but when I hear that music I know what it means and what it’s about on some level.

I love minimalism, not always, but because of what it is; a reaction to all the other music from its time. Which is the reason why I love Satie as a reaction to his contemporaries.

I’m thinking people that don’t like modern music can’t place it in it’s correct context, and just think of it as noise that stands by itself. As everything else in music’s history, there’s constant action and reaction. But the huge loads of crap that ARE written merely to shock and awe, or confuse people, are still too much out there. IMO they’re not much better than “feel good” pop music or movies, 2 yrs after they’ve been released, no one remembers them.

Just a stream of thoughts, I hope I have made any sense now :smiley:. Let me know what you guys think, even if you think I’m completely wrong, I just would like to know more about it :wink:

that is pretty much spot on. i was going to get to that in my long rant, but somehow didnt. in 100 years or so, i could see someone like ligeti sharing the same fate as mozart. i can see the composers that are known solely to academia, such as the post war serialists such as boulez etc sorta dying away, or only being known for what they did, instead of people knowing the actual music.

oh, and about that john adams 10 CD box. i suppose some of it would be good for someone just getting into his music. however, some great pieces are not included in there, and some others are just crap. and 10 CDs of john adams is far too much i think. it all sounds the same after a while. i think a great deal of his music is, as you put it, a parallel to “feel good pop music” or a cheap film score. he does have a few good pieces, but not a whole lot.

again, i promised another 20th/21st century identification thing, but ill also use it as a sort of “exposure thread” for new music. it would be of great use to this forum, seeing that new music in general seems to get shunned here. with school and shit going on, it might take a bit longer for me to get that thread up.

I have tried over and over to listen and understand contemporary music, and I still cannot understand anything aside from minimalism and electronic music.

I do have a guilty pleasure for Sorabji, but he supposedly uses underlying tonal elements for the building blocks of his music.

What you guys say has plenty of merit; everyone has their own aural level of dissonance that they can stand, and everyone can get used to a new level of dissonance. I remember my grandfather telling me that Green Day sounded like noise, and I remember Green Day sounding heavily distorted when I was young.

I also remember a time when I did not enjoy Prokofiev as well, but when music turns to all dissonance and no tonality, I do not understand how music can be coherent. These tonal systems were invented for a reason; they are what was most natural and pleasing to the ears. Times change, I suppose?

I am quite interested in the future of music. Basically every previous composer that I can think of had much better reception from audiences during the span of their lives then the contemporaries today, despite being so controvertial with a stricter audience. I don’t see many musicians listening to contemporary music, let alone people.

Seeing composers literally go back a step or two and try to compose (somewhat) tonal music seems proof enough of this for me.

IMO electronic music is the next step (I said this 10 years ago the whole soundscaping genre blew up). Hopefully (for me) it’ll become more popular within the classical genre. Possibly new hybrid instruments?

All of this contemporary music being performed on archaic instruments seems like such a paradox to me. I just don’t understand it.

That being said, to each his own.

i’ll just start from there. first of all, “atonal music”, which is a term that is inherently flawed, doesnt necessarily have more dissonance than music that is tonal. compare something by, say prokofiev, which is very tonal and has quite a bit of dissonance, to something by, say, contemporary australian composer peter sculthorpe, who doesnt use many tonal procedures (if any) in his music, and his music isnt very dissonant at all. or even some scriabin could qualify also. that being said, dont judge a piece just by the “amount of tonality”, however you measure that. that said, “more tonality” isnt always pleasing to the ears. youve just only heard the “stereotypical atonality” that is present in the works that are stereotypically thought of as “modern”, which includes post war serialism and 60s avant garde, so you really havent heard enough 20th century music toi just completely pigeon hole it or dismiss it as “too dissonant” or “not pleasing to the ear”.

its funny that you mention that instruments today are beginning to sound archaic. electronic or electroacoustic music is something that is very much thriving in the classical music world (as you probably didnt know), and people use it for many different purposes. people have used it along the various avant garde fads in the 60s and 70s, and others have used it to write some very accessible music. i dont think it will completely replace the “archaic instruments” we still use today, but they will certainly be a supplement. the “archaic instruments” we still have today more than fulfill their jobs.

that all being said, tonality is not something that is considered archaic. many many composers still use it. they just use progressive tonality, some sort of free toanlity without the usual harmonic rules, etc. you really wont hear something like chopin, alkan, beethoven, etc ever again, because those are times that have passed. tell me, can you find any music from, say, liszt’s time that sounds like mozart? i think not. why not? because that time has passed. the same rules apply here. music today isnt more “radical” than contemporary music was back then. it only seems like it because the test of time hasnt filtered away the music today that wont last. so, dont give up on 20th/21st century music. judging from your opinions, you have heard far too little of it, and all the wrong works (applies to many other people here as well). also, get rid of your preconceived notions and just listen to it with open ears and a clear mind. and move away from the “stereotypical modernism” and listen to something else. i suppose the nancarrow that anima posted is a good start. and liking sorabji is more of a feat than you realize. his music is less tonal than some composers that are still alive and composing, and less acessible at times. you just havent heard any of these living composers. do some exploring. youll find some good stuff (among some crap, of course).

Sometimes I just feel that I really want to listen to Boulez or Stockhausen. I don’t know why, but sometimes it just feels right.


btw “electronic music is the next step” has been being said by people since Russolo and Varese, a LONG time ago. 8)

I actually don’t think that will ever happen, you don’t have that bond with electronic instruments since you don’t make the sound yourself. It’ll always give you this feeling of not being able to completely do what you want, since it produces the sound through a button, and not through the plucking of a string, f.i.

juzz ma ² zentz

I don’t think acoustic instruments will be totally replaced, but electronics are on the rise. At the moment it’s quite pop to combine electronics with acoustic instruments. Either as tapes accompanying instrumentalists, or using live electronics (applying effects to the sounds produced by instrumentalists). I’ve been to a couple of concerts where live electronics combined with an orchestra has produced really astonishing surround effects.

Works consisting only of a tape make their own genre. I’ve been to few concerts with only such works and it sure does feel a bit strange to go to a concert where you don’t see any performers… If there is nothing to see, then you could just as well listen to the piece at home, the whole idea of a live concert is lost when nothing happens live. This is why I don’t think live musicians will ever be replaced by electronics.

Of course I know of the electronic/electroacoustic stuff out there; and I am not trying to “pidgeonhole” modern music. It is not unreasonable to say that over 90 percent of the more popular contemporary music (music that has come across my ears on cd, in concerts, classes, etc) tends to be extremely dissonant in comparison to music prior to 20th century/end of romantic era or completely textural (which I strongly prefer). If your definition of dissonance is different than mine, then let me clarify my use. Use of tonality which is clearly different from that which a listener is accustomed to hearing.

I listen with an open mind; If you heard the bizarre selection of music that I listen to within the electronic medium or in general, you would understand this. I just have so far heard barely anything contemporary that I enjoy. I listen to strange (and dissonant) music but it is typically more textural/atmospheric than anything.

I do believe that there was an era of tonality which has so many possibilities for the voice of composers (The level of dissonance found in scriabin, prokofiev, some barber, etc). I know that you may want to bash me for listing those three completely different composers together, but try to understand that I am talking about tonality which surpasses the romantic period but surely has moderately conventional and tonal qualities. Each of those composers had such a unique voice, and I sure wouldn’t mind hearing, hell, another 2,000 composers that share that (vague, actually undefined) level of dissonance. If not dissonance, what word do you want me to use to describe this? I hope that you can understand the notion/opinion that I am getting at rather than trying to correct terms. I do not know how else to explain this.

Now, if you have particular composers who you wouldn’t consider strongly dissonant, please give me some suggestions, because I DO have a certain level of dissonance that I can’t stand and a certain level of tonality that does not have nearly enough dissonance for me … this is a qualiy that many people have. I know that there is contemporary music out there for a vast array of genres/tonalities/instrumentation, but I still have yet to hear some which appeals to me, so any suggestions are greatly appreciated. About electronic/acoustic instruments; I actually respect electroacoustic music very much, and several of my friends have composed it at my attended festivals/conservatories etc. What I don’t understand is the use of older instruments (especially clarinets, flutes, winds in general) for bizarre textures which weren’t originally intented for the instruments. For more textural music, electronic makes acoustic sound silly to my ears. With electronic instruments, the composer can create the exact sounds he wants rather than having to limit himself to the sounds a flute can make, the possibilities of prepared piano, etc. This is why I listen to many groups within the post rock genre; it may not contemporary classical but IMO makes much more sense in that context. Actually, I am really enjoying the Nancarrow Anima posted, despite a strong opposition to the first few tracks as well as a few others. A few selections of Nancarrow even remind me of a more brilliant type of post rock.

That being said, I know that acoustic instruments have their own unique sound which electronic instruments cannot replicate. I just don’t understand it, that’s all. I also know that I need to hear more,

so if you have suggestions for composers/compositions, please shoot. I want to weed out the music I do not enjoy, but I find it particularly difficult and time consuming these days (for any genre of music).

You don’t consider the use of math in music for the first time(s) radical? Or the use of prepared piano?

What do you consider some previous innovations that surpassed these for the time periods?

PS I am actually enjoying this discussion so I hope that you don’t take this personally.