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Adorno on Political Pop Music

Discussion in 'theory, philosophy & history' started by phildwyer, Feb 1, 2009.

  1. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    And that is why the tritone was considered Satanic, right? Because it systematically disrupts harmony, and harmony was held to reflect the divine ordering of the universe. So Schoenberg's use of the tritone as the central principle of composition is, in musical terms, the triumph of Satan. Hence Mann's connection between Schoenberg and the Nazis, among other things.
  2. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Well, partly that but going back further it was an interval that had to be avoided as a leap within a single part in a counterpoint because it is the most difficult for singers to pitch accurately.
  3. Knotted

    Knotted Too much dancing on the fight floor

    The verse of Wannabe is actually pretty non-standard in Adorno's sense by my reconning. Probably less standard in Adorno's sense than anything Lee Perry or the Sex Pistols have ever done. I doubt that they have ever improvised around it, its pretty rigid, it would be confusing if they mucked about with it as the basic standard (in Adorno's sense) song structure is somewhat obscured by a weird melody. It is precisely because Lee Perry produces standised music in Adorno's sense that allows him to be so creative with it. Weirdly that makes the Spice Girls more 'serious', in Adorno's sense. But that just shows how worthless Adorno's critique of popular music is.
  4. Knotted

    Knotted Too much dancing on the fight floor

    Isn't western music strictly speaking atonal anyway? That is any chord except for the octave is atonal. I thought it was this fact that Schoenberg was embracing.

    The reason they play western music so fast is that it is out of tune. (Terry Riley I think)
  5. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    That would be confusing dissonance with atonality I think. Tonal harmony allows dissonance but it is constrained in fairly specific ways. To simplify things pretty savagely: tonal harmony grows out of the contrapunctal tradition (where the compositional ideal is to have each part as independent as possible while preserving the overall consonance of the whole), as firstly the lyric and bass come to predominate in a less contrapunctally ornate structure with the seconda prattica or stile moderno of Monterverdi and Caccini, which paves the way for figured bass and then Rameau's theory of chord inversions (the identity of triads regardless of the way they are arranged), which leads on to the notion of the essential unity of harmonic modulation within a particular piece of music that reaches its height in the theory of Heinrich Schenker. As harmonic form becomes more and more the vehicle of composition and an expressive principle in its own right it starts to break apart the recognisable modulatory patterns which had given form to the music of the classical and early romantic eras, and as it passes from late Brahms and Wagner to Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Richard Strauss, and from there to Schoenberg, Webern etc the idea of tonal modulation as a structuring principle comes to an end.
  6. Knotted

    Knotted Too much dancing on the fight floor

    I think I am confusing atonality with dissonance. But isn't something non-contrapunctal - such as Gamelan I guess - tonal?

    (I am just trying to wring tid-bits out of you btw :D. Its very interesting.)
  7. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Cool! :)

    I'm not sure that ultimately it makes sense to describe non-western music as tonal - there are similarities to a greater or lesser extent in the ways that most cultures perceive music at the most basic level - octaves are almost universal, and there tends to be some agreement about what are the consonant intervals, but other musical cultures are using different scales, aesthetics and tuning systems, so there is a fair bit of variety behind the apparent similarity.

    Fundamentally though when you are talking about tonal music as an aesthetic principle in the way that is relevant for Schoenberg, Adorno etc you are talking about an extensional structure (i.e. a musical structure that is essentially one piece like a cathedral or something) that is specifically an extensional structure both of motivic development and of harmony. Schenkerian Analysis works by progressively eliminating the foreground layers until you arrive at a fundamental harmonic progression that moves away from the tonic usually to the dominant and then back again - the interesting thing being not the very background layer which is similar for all tonal music, but what the mid-level reductions tell you about the way the piece is structured.

    Western popular music tends to be intensionally developed in the sense that it involves the repetition of a section or sections an arbitrary number of times with the development taking place in the non-structural variations between each repetition, whereas gamelan uses something called colotomic structure where there is repetition on various scales - usually the large gong marks the longest periodicity and the high gamelans (the kotekan, if memory serves) the shortest of the patterns.

    ETA; I'm banging on about Schenkerian analysis not because it's the only kind of musical analysis or even necessarily because it's a good one, but more because it's the one that is specifically tailored to tonal music in the modern sense, and so it's a helpful illustration of what tonal music actually is.
  8. Knotted

    Knotted Too much dancing on the fight floor

    What I meant by 'tonal' was a combination of the piece of music being based on a particular tone (the tonic I suppose) and also that the other predominant harmonies have frequencies that are exact fractions of the tonic. Western tuning has the fifth and the fourth being very close to 2/3 and 3/4 frequencies respectively so they sound harmonious with the tonic. Its just that they're not quite right.

    I think you mean Kanong (sp?) and Kempul (sp?). They mark the shorter sections - at least in Javanese gamelan. I think the only structure that is repeated is the large scale section marked by the gong, though. Obviously gamelan has a different tuning. I remember reading something about Steve Reich (or possibly Terry Riley or possibly both) being into gamelan because its a 'tonal' tradition. That could be just my faulty memory or a faulty article, though...
  9. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    You don't need sound, it's got subtitles. Great posts btw, I'll try and get back here tomorrow if time permits...
  10. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Oh cool, I'll take a look.

    I was thinking last night that there's a substantial gap between what Adorno thought of Schoenberg and what Schoenberg thought of Schoenberg; some of Schoenberg's expressed views on serialism ("I have made a discovery which will ensure the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years") are seriously out of whack with the Adornian view of him. Adorno's position is vastly superior IMO.
  11. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Re: gamelan - I studied mostly the balinese stuff and only javanese opera, so I probably learnt a different terminology. Also that was a long time ago so I could be just plain wrong!

    I'll try to be a bit clearer on the question of tonality: there are fundamentally two aspects that are interrelated, scale or mode and tonal centre. Scales are universal as they're a result of our categorical perception of pitch, in much the same way as we categorically perceive colour, but the constituents of them are culturally determined since as you point out the pure consonances don’t add up properly, leaving the various commas – Pythagorean, syntonic etc. Older western keyboard instruments had levers to alter the pitch of strings by fractions of a tone to allow things to be played with just temperament in different keys, and there are similar systems in middle-eastern strummed instruments. The scale system of tonal harmony is based around a select number of modes in even temperament (i.e. with subtle adjustments made to stretch the pure consonances to the point where they add up), the most important being the Ionian, which is the same as our major scale, and I would guess that this is what Reich would be referring to when he talks about gamelan being tonal. Unfortunately, western modal theory is made unnecessarily complicated by the fact that the medievals were wrong about the Greek modes, and so used the same names for different sequences of intervals.

    The other aspect of tonality is functional harmony, which is where modern western tonality distinguishes itself from more or less everything else. Whereas the modes of medieval monophony (like Hildegard of Bingen) had a ‘tenor’ or ‘reciting’ note, modern tonal music is based on the idea of the cadence, which is essentially a set of chords that outline a particular tonic, usually by way of the dominant which is taken from the fifth note of the scale which was the tenor of the Ionian mode. The modern idea of functional harmony combines Schenker’s idea that harmonic structure outlined cadential movements at various scales from the foreground to the background, plus Schoenberg’s idea that every note serves to either reinforce or undermine the centrality of a particular harmonic triad. In this sense ‘tonality’ can be identified as belonging to a particular period in western musical history, and it was the end of this great arc of tonality that Schoenberg, Adorno and others saw as having such important cultural ramifications.

    Lots of recent western music uses the foreground language of western tonality, but because it doesn’t outline a single cadential progression that is coterminous with the distinct parts of the work (like a symphonic movement), it’s not strictly speaking tonal in the way that Mozart of Beethoven is.
  12. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    Only just seen this thread and :rolleyes::mad::mad:

    Particularly, gratuitously, offensive is the idea linking Adorno to the banning of socialist parties - he was clearly supportive of the German revolution as a young man (he was young once!) and was in sympathy with the SDS in the Sixties too, despite the impression often given.

    Adorno's core concern is still very relevant - what is it in the structure of Western modernity, and capitalist modernity in particular, that was capable of giving rise to the barbarity of fascism?

    Old question for old times? Hardly.
  13. Knotted

    Knotted Too much dancing on the fight floor

    Thanks for that Fruitloop. Interesting stuff. I'm trying to gauge what serialism is about, they all seemed to have very strong beliefs about music. Obviously I should just go away and read what they were saying.
  14. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    My stuff from the UK arrived yesterday, so didn't have the time... Very briefly and rather quickly, stealing a bit of time from sorting it all out, to see and try to contribute to this interesting thread...

    Correct me if I'm wrong but [a series of Q's/propositions for a debate]:

    -hasn't Bach standardised Western musical patterns in scales of 13 notes made of tones and semi-tones only

    -many Oriental scales are at variance with this, as for instance Arabs use quarters, not just tones and semi-tones, not to mention other elements fairly underdeveloped or at least very rarely used in modern Western music [various scales like the Byzantine scale etc., odd rhythms like 7/8 or 9/8 etc.] - but of course, only some, as not every culture outside the West uses these developments, as some are simple pentatonic-based, i.e. strictly tonal [Indian tradition has a great number of various scales developed, including the blues-pentatonic scale etc., not to mention the usage of quarters etc.]

    -hasn't the development of tonal music been connected with either major or minor scales since Bach, with loads of rules, developed bit by bit by subsequent contributors to Western music, thereby creating the most impressive development on Earth - regarding at least harmony {here I must insist on Istrian folk music as the exception to the "Western" rule, as they don't recognise the tonal rule}

    -hasn't Wagner in his Intro to Tristan und Isolde broken the "major or minor pattern" for quite a while, leaving the audience quite uneasy, if not a gasp, as they couldn't "root themselves" [although some connect the very beginning of it with some Beethoven cracks at it], as he hadn't "declared" the third, either major or minor determinant, during the opening

    -hasn't the atonal development been introduced to the Western music together with other "decomposition" of tons of rules hitherto established and with the rise of individualism and the accent on an individuum as a Subject we see developments in music reflecting this change

    -haven't we seen the decomposition of Art as an "appendix to life", broadly speaking, as a "decorative" addition to it for one's enjoyment and simple pleasure, by bringing the "unsettling" notion of Truth into it, traceable to at least the Renaissance [say Da Vinci] and Goya's depictions of the Franco-Spanish war etc. etc.

    -do we not see various subsequent similar developments putting various accents on only elements of-, rather than the Whole itself, which has also been connected with the breakdown of "systems" in Philosophy [no one constructs one after Hegel, with a sole exception of Ernst Bloch, strangely...]

    -similarly, do we not see the insistence on "late Modernity" expressing itself in short stories or essays, to grasp the spirit of times, i.e. be truthful to its time, that is a true expression of one's time {so, if one lives in rather mechanical times [Fordian production, for instance] no wonder one can "experiment" with mathematical rules to music "writing" etc.}

    -hasn't the "decomposition" ended up in 7.13 or whatever the exact title of a piece, whereby the composer sits at the piano and does fook all, then stands up and leaves

    -what next?!?

    Btw, A8: I raised the issue of Fascism as an option within Capitalism earlier, too. So, both Fascism/Nazism and Stalinism/Bolshevism as the extreme answers to extreme questions/dilemmas/times were and are more or less active options in Modernity [together with other possibilities, of course] and will not leave for as long as domination and exploitation as principles of societal structural organisation are alive!!! Hence Marx and likewise Adorno are very lively participants in our debates, notwithstanding all the bigger or smaller changes since "their time", as it were...
  15. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    Can you argue that there is a clear link - albeit dialectical and heavily mediated - in Adorno's work between dissonance and the rise of atonality with the historical "problem" that the Jew poses for bourgeois/capitalist modernity?

    ie - non-identity, inability to be fitted into established structures etc.etc.
  16. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    Explain, please, how either Jews themselves can not fit themselves into Modernity [which Modernity?] or can not be fitted into it by others [which "other"] and why?!?
  17. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    I'm talking about the view that the nation state is the bedrock of historical progress and modernity, which leaves the Jews as the never-fully-assimilated element that is always experienced as superfluous, the excess that can't be totally accommodated.
  18. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    It depends: Jews were seriously well assimilated in, for instance, German society prior to Hitler. Fabulous contribution to Germany and the world. Philosophy, Science, Art, economy etc. etc. etc.

    Hitler got in by a historical accident, almost... Not won at the ballot box! Had he not - who knows... Always other possibilities...

    Besides, nowadays I do not see them as particularly outside, say, US society...

    Quite the opposite...

    Some parts of Jewish community themselves, however, were and are particularly vociferous [as in not exactly accommodating] towards those Jews who do not conform... See Spinoza, for instance and onwards... So, the story is a mixed one... and not exactly clear-cut in any direction!
  19. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    Not much time today, but just wanted to say that this is exactly right. Schoenberg didn't understand Schoenberg. That's why he objected so forcefully to Mann's reading of him in "Dr. Faustus," and actually threatened to sue. To this day every edition of "Dr. F" carries a prefaratory disclaimer announcing that it is not about Schoenberg (which of course serves only to remind everybody that it is).

    There is a school of thought that says artists are in fact the people least able to understand their own art. Makes sense to me. Anyway, I'll try to get back to your more substantive posts later on...
  20. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    Huh? He did win at the ballot box.
  21. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    Not to mention the Christian understanding of Judaism as superceded, or the socialist identification of Judaism with capitalism. Neither of which is without historical justification, but that is the problem with ideologies, they rarely are *completely* false. Anyway, mustn't get drawn in today, later....
  22. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    the Nazis never had the support of a majority of voters - it was because stupid conservatives thought they could buy off the far right by bringing Hitler on board as a junior partner that they got into power.
  23. phildwyer

    phildwyer Gorau arf arf dysg

    I know, but the fact remains that the Nazis were democratically elected, and they received the largest vote of any single party.
  24. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    particularly bad example. They thought they had assimilated successfully. But then look what happened?

    Something playing the role of "excess" the inevitable consequence of national imaginaries if not Jews, then asylum seekers)- either way, Adorno seeks to recognise the lost, the hurt, the victimised of history, the interest in atonality is a gesture of solidarity with a world where every particular isn't completely sumsumed by a universal.
  25. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    But how they got into power? Never at the ballot box. And once in power... Oh, well..:hmm:
  26. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    A particularly good example of just how successful a case we have in it - and how the society in Q benefited from it!.

    Just one of the possibilities. It was not predetermined at the inception of the Milky Way, as it were...

    Even under the Nazis things didn't really have to go the way they did. There were many other modes of resistance - not only of Jews - and the whole thing could have been seriously minimalised if not thwarted...

    That's all cool. The whole has no absolute truth, as such a thing depends on the social substratum - and that very ground for any truth differs widely... So, all fine and dandy. Nowadays built into the very foundations of our societies. Protection of the minorities - institutions, processes, procedures... Not to be easily forgotten and dismissed out of hand as superficial and unimportant!!!

    But... One particular ideology got no resistance it merited in a given society, at a particular moment. Why? Many reasons. However, to equate that with Modernity as such... Hmmm...

    One more thing: Nazism was defeated... To be taken into consideration, I think...
  27. Fruitloop

    Fruitloop communism will win

    Some interesting points here. I'll try to respond to them in one go, as endless interpolated quoting makes it heavy going for other readers.

    There's definitely a lot to what you say in the first three paragraphs; the way I would phrase it is that the development of even temperament in western music is what first of all allows Bach to write a couple of preludes and fugues in every key of the diatonic (i.e. 12-note) scale in the 48 preludes and fugues of the appropriately-named well-tempered clavier, and the adoption of a limited number of scales which really dates from renaissance counterpoint is what allows harmonic structure over a larger and larger scale, and this leads to a complexity in terms of the organisation of pitch that is unparalleled anywhere else. You’re also correct to identify the philosophical influences that invest this tonal complexity with social significance, which are mostly a product of the nineteenth century and which ultimately lead to the dissolution of tonal organisation as it becomes the expressive and rhetorical medium itself rather than a way of extending the musical material whilst providing it with an overall structural coherence. This is also reflected as you point out in the change in the status of music from being merely a decorative art, to membership of the ‘fine arts’ and eventually in the view of some as the supreme art due to its non-discursive nature – hence the resistance of traditionalists like Eduard Hanslick to the programmatic and the merely pictorial in music.

    The nineteenth century is when the question of musical aesthetics enters the bourgeois public sphere in a big way, with Hanslick’s polemics and particularly the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik which was fairly even-handed under its founder Schumann, but moved in a radical direction under Franz Brendel. Previously aesthetics had largely followed the whims of aristocratic taste (usually for something new, exotic and foreign) and the dictates of the church which were often more a reflection of religious schism than the product of a concern for church music in itself. Because of the proliferation of debates at this time and their often rather personal, almost celebrity-oriented nature, you have to view it with a certain critical distance; they tended to see things in terms of oppositions of particular composers (Brahms vs Wagner, Brahms vs Liszt, Wagner vs Meyerbeer) and the composers themselves were certainly not above this sort of thing, but in general I think you can see a general tendency that is common to all of them and which becomes more explicit as time goes on; the late piano works of Brahms are just as much ‘New German Music’ as is Liszt or Wagner.

    There’s no doubt that the concept of the individuum as a Subject is a key aspect of all of this, in fact it is personified in the ‘Beethoven myth’ that towered over all the composers of this age. There’s a tendency to construct historical triples of composers supposedly evincing some important lineage: Bach-Beethoven-Brahms, Bach-Beethoven Wagner (Wagner himself was very fond of this one :D). It’s interesting to note that Bach had to be updated a fair bit in order that his round peg cuold be bashed into this square hole; the picture of Bach as a master musical craftsman whose principal philosophical influence was his lutheran Pietism is pretty much nowhere to be seen, as is his fondness for entertaining ladies in the organ-loft and drawing his sword in the street in the course of arguments with musicians who had incurred his displeasure – instead we get Bach the visionary, as almost some kind of musical saint.

    In terms of the systematisation of music analysis, there are two factors; firstly that music theory tends to lag a bit behind both theorising in other fields and behind the developments in the compositional process itself, and also the difficulty of saying anything concrete and contendible about music at all – a lot of early music criticism is really quite garbage, consisting as it does of the impressions of some supposedly refined musical listener in the course of attending to some piece, it often tells you plenty about the autobiography of the critic but precious little about the music in question. Interestingly though there is more of what you would expect from late modernism in the music than in the criticism: a proliferation of fragments, absences (there’s a bit in Schumann that Charles Rosen points out where a group of notes are played as part of a chord, and then a particular motive is outlined by the order in which the fingers are removed from the piano keys – a motive of absence!) and so on.

    Sorry for the huge length – got carried away!
  28. articul8

    articul8 Guilty of Idealism

    debates on music criticism above very interesting but lacking time...

    (except to add - doesn't Mahler play an absolutely critical role in Adorno's narrative of later European music?)

    but where is the affective commitment to norms that are formally inscribed in charters, conventions, etc.etc?

    I can't help thinking the all the words count for jack shit when push comes to shove - look at the way the Israeli Arabs are having their rights stripped away, or Berlusconi's attacks on the Roma...

    And yes, as Butchers says, human beings are always creating things. But trouble is, some of the things they create are death camps, instruments of torture, weapons of mass destruction etc.etc. :(
  29. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    Sure, and there's a lot to be carefully thought through on those subjects...

    However, how easy would it happen now in Germany, do you think?

    FL, carry on, it's very cool and great to read!;):cool:
  30. gorski

    gorski customised free radical

    Ahem.... FLllllllllllllllllll.............:D

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