Abstract music, myth and Taoism and some ending thoughts on cultural appropriation| entry #2

Its been about 3 weeks since I last wrote anything on this. Well… I had the most fascinating lesson today (edit: two days ago). We segued between Catholicism/christianity… gnostic christianity… patriarchy… because we’d been talking about Debussy and the asiatic influence in his music and the world expo that exposed the sounds of the Gamelan to him, to which my tutor was certain that Debussy wouldn’t have produced the music he did, without the influence of the East. My comment was, ‘right time, right place’, and his reply involved ‘the hand of god’… to which I asked if he believed in god. To which his reply was incredibly interesting… and our conversation slipped away, but the impression left with me was that he didn’t and he did and he leaned towards the former whilst assimilating the latter.

We touched on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring… and again… its allusion to pre-christianity in Russia… It hadn’t occurred to me that Russia was like old Britain, pagan before christianity took over. More information over at wiki here. My tutor picked out the intervals in the opening melody and said Stravinsky’s aim with the opening melody was to evoke otherness because it was music harkening to pagan ritual meant to depict the sacrifice of the virgin – meaning she dances herself to death, as a way to celebrate? welcome? honour? Spring. Virgin in pre-christian traditions meant a woman powerful unto herself and for some reason I still feel like something is missing here.

His thoughts for me, after asking what I was doing modally in my piece, was to suggest I consider trying out an octatonic scale (diminished scale).

Two tutorials ago, we chatted about myth and one of the challenges he set forth was to bring the journey of departure and return, into my music, and this brought up a conversation on identity and personal/cultural histories. His and surprisingly, mine. Honestly I couldn’t figure out how to do it with the first piece and I liked it the way it was so I went away to think about it and came back with the assumption that he meant departure and return as in the often cited concept of tension and release in composition to which his comment was in short that I wasn’t thinking laterally enough about it, or perhaps just too literally. But it also led me to try and explore the mythologies of my culture, or rather the culture that belonged to my ancestors.

Nevertheless, when I draw on personal experience, I feel as though the myth most recently prominent to my life has been that of Persephone and Hades… but following that thread further back in history to the ancient Sumerians… there is the myth of Inanna entering the Underworld ruled by her sister Ereshkigal to retrieve her husband. These myths seem dualistic and are stories on the surface, yet hide the themes offered in plain sight by Taoism: integration, yin/yang, polarity, interdependence. Taoism encompasses more than what I have articulated but here I am picking out what I see that is similar. I don’t feel like the Way, cited in Taoism, offers integration as much as it is, the integrated whole. And that… the quality of being, is emphasised even when in action…

Well… I’ve definitely taken a left turn somewhere here. So… when I started writing my second piece… I listened to a bunch of Guqin recordings and remembered once upon a time in my childhood that I had wanted to learn one of these and presently discovered that I loved the meditative quality the instrument could bring. That the music could suggest a kind of stillness. But I also loved cultural appropriation when I saw it tastefully done… honestly… the more I get into this discussion… the more I realise, how much of my own youth was dominated by innocent cultural appropriation.

We see it as negative in light of ignorance… but outside of commercial exploitation, I think it suggests a desire to try out and try on different identities… and when cultural borders begin to dissolve… its inevitable this happens. I wonder if there is a link between this identity exploration and the hero’s journey suggested by Joseph Campbell in that many of us engage with the former to some extent during our adolescent years, whether haphazardly, innocently or offensively, because the initiatory quality of the latter has been lost in modern day societies.

Hmm. In any case, in my music journey, other elements are coming to the fore that are more personally important to me… such as an exploration of harmony, than specifically the sounds that belong to my cultural history… perhaps at this point in time, though I am very much enjoying the process of discovery.

On that note, I wrote most of this post listening to lighthearted piano jazz. 😀


Abstract music | entry. #1

It’s 7.48pm at the time of writing this. I’ve spent nearly the whole day working on a piece of music for my tutorial. I feel like it’s a quirky piece. Unusual for me. Learning it is going to be difficult, but fun. I love the polyrhythms and the syncopated feeling here.

I feel like I need a stronger grasp of harmony… but it was fun, writing this. It was like, a culmination of things I’ve learned.

The teacher at the composition seminar said that harmony was key to emotion. That really got me thinking… and halfway through writing, all the voice-leading exercises I once had to do for music theory came back. It was so strange, to combine this analytical way of going about it… and it worked. To some degree.

After falling down the rabbit hole, I came across this book on Harmony by Walter Piston. The introduction brought on a fresh perspective for me, that that I never considered,

But if we reflect that theory must follow practice, rarely preceding it except by chance, we must realise that musical theory is not a set of directions for composing music. It is rather the collected and systematised deductions gathered by observing the practice of composers over a long time, and it attempts to set forth what is or has been their common practice. It tells not how music will be written in the future, but how music has been written in the past.

Mastery of the technical or theoretical aspects of music should be carried out by him/her as a life’s work, running parallel to his/her creative activity but quite separate from it. In the one he/she is following common practice, while in the other he/she is responsible solely to the dictates of his/her own personal tastes and urge for expression.

Walter Piston

I added the pronouns there. I also wish… I could pick up any old book where the writer had miraculously decided they wanted to solely use the female gender, and instead of that being sexist, we’d all think it’s normal.


That blew my mind a little. I wish it didn’t, I wish I’d been better equipped. But I love how empirical, truthful and honest it is. Simply, in that quote, Piston talks of music purely from the perspective of the craft of understanding music… and the art of creating it.

Yet, in the deep end where music meets academia… the books did once, feel stuffy.

Life is funny like that. Presently though, I am neither here or there. I’m in a liminal space.

It’s as though… all the smog and the fog has cleared… and my own desires and priorities have crystallised into clarity. The truth, is there, without needing anyone’s permission to be there.

Yesterday, we went over synthesisers… and for the first time in my student life, I was interested. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time getting used to the DAW LogicX, that I’m now finally more curious about what’s under the hood because I could understand it. It was good. The possibility of being able to create ambient soundscapes using only synths, intrigues me. But also, just the very idea of being able to control sound on such a minute level. Even Ableton-Live, no longer feels counter-intuitive to me. How interesting. I went away, thinking about Nils Frahm’s music, Says, and it struck me, that I suddenly had an inkling of how his music worked and that the buildup towards the end had something to do with opening the filter on the synth. Maybe? I could be wrong.

My teacher asked me to bring in a brief.

I thought… that I’d really like to explore the realm of electro-acoustic music in a performance setting.

To be honest, that scares me.

Originally my desire was to write music I could perform, period.

It often feels like, learning never stops. And I am the slowest learner I know. It’s kind of comical. I finally realised, writing a piece of music was not the same as improvising, in fact, the two couldn’t be more different. It makes me feel wistful, because I also realised, the process of writing is never linear. Much like writing a story, it also feels like putting a puzzle together. And yet, I had this assumption that… creating music was somehow linear. Because… it is an artform that unfolds over time?

Writing in LogicX was like working with bits and pieces of data… midi information. But it meant that, in a way I was less connected to the music because it’s one thing… to manipulate data… and another thing to work with notes. But it also felt like… the music was more internal, having so much control over the sound and sense of space, made the music different. It was more of an experience, but writing in Sibelius… puts the focus on the music and its relationship to all the other elements in the work itself… there is no sense of space to manipulate and work with. At some points I was intensely aware of myself, listening for the patterns, following what intuitively felt right to me, but also asking, I wonder what this will sound like if I do this. And several hours flew by and I felt like no time had passed at all.

Still… I feel like a fresh new beginner. A little childish excitement. I am a beginner. I probably always will be. I like this mentality.

This piece, also, reminds me of a recent dream I had. I dreamed someone I knew, was playing a piece of dissonant jazz and I loved it and I envied their skill and talent.

I don’t think my piece is dissonant or at all jazz, but I know I probably have a stronger taste for dissonance than the average listener.

I’m thinking that I’d like to present my work in class at the end of week 11 or 12.

In the meantime… these posts on abstract music will be a good way to note down my thoughts for my final report.