Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Music's beautiful technology

Music dishes out joy, tears and, occasionally, the sensation of stepping on a stair that wasn’t there. Take the first two sung lines of this Everly Brothers song:

Bye bye, love.
Bye bye, happiness

Both get the same guitar accompaniment but the first line is two syllables shorter than the second. To me, a musical ignoramus, the effect is strange. When I sing those lines an impulse deep within tries to force me me to complete the first line verbally – with a “di-dah” or by stretching out “lo-o-ove”.

I wanted to know: how the absence of those two syllables is represented on the score, and what effect the brothers were hoping for. A case for The Prague Polymath. Because I phrased my email so clumsily PP answered a different question, raising a much more interesting musical matter which I hope to return to. However, she also provided a link to the score.

For me musical notation could be Choctaw. But finally I traced the “missing” words to two symbols: a scribble and a backwards-way-round lower case r. Googling “music symbols” brought the answer: a quaver rest and a crotchet rest. Hurray for the ignoramus. As to my other question PP has a theory which I’m still studying.

But my point is one of simple revelation: the precision with which music is set down. Having made my infantile discovery I became aware – not for the first time – of how inexact words are compared with this other language. The technology of music. Briefly I played The Tin Ear’s Lament – oh, how I’d love to speak that language. Then I went away and mangled a poem.


Plutarch said...

Yes. Music and mathematics.

Sir Hugh said...

Well I think you deserve more response for this erudite post. Perhaps you have taken your apostles beyond their comfort zone?

Unfortunately I have no technical knowledge of music whatsoever, but all I can say is that I do not get the same uncomfortable feeling with the lines of the song that you obviously do which is probably some indication of why I have not previously furthered my studies in this area.

The language of law is supposed to be an attempt at precision in meaning, but what a woeful attempt – it is like building a new grand prix car with twice as many bits as the old one thus rendering it totally uncompetitive and totally undriveable.

Well done music, although I would still argue that classical music is widely “interpreted” by conductors. If the notation says “fast” the interpretation is obviously going to be subjective, but I do not know enough to say whether this can be accurately defined in the language of music.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: Two subtle but resolved worlds.

Sir Hugh: Alternatively, I may not yet have reached their comfort zones.

Julia said...

Ducking out from under work to enter the conversational fray again!

Just visited Prague's music museum this weekend, and saw something even more precise than what we're used to in typical tonal notation - microtonal notation! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accidental_(music)#Microtonal_notation

Pretty nifty. I wonder what the Everly Brothers would have made of quarter tones?

The Crow said...