|HOW TO LISTEN
|What a heading! This guy has to tell me HOW to
listen to his music? Well, no, I'd like it to speak for
itself, but as with any musical form, there are
ways of listening that may help to get the most
out of what's there.
An example may help: Western classical music is
traditionally complex harmonically (vertically), and
relatively simpler melodically and rhythmically
(horizontally). Much of the musical message is in
the harmony, and the ear trained to listen to that
music grows very sophisticated harmonically.
The classical music of (let's say) Northern India
tends to find its complexity, and hence to convey
much of its message, in melody, rhythm, and
indeed, delicate nuances of scale and pitch, as
evidenced by (e.g.) the introductory statements of
scale and meter that begin a raga. The ear
trained to that music grows correspondingly
sophisticated in detecting the message conveyed
in the rhythms and pitches it hears.
Featured piece: Milkweed (27)
|Two sets of ears, belonging to the same human species, and yet to the Western ear
unfamiliar with Eastern music, the relative lack of harmonic complexity will perhaps make
it sound like a pointless droning... The message in the intricate rhythms and precise
shadings of pitch and ornament will elude it as much as any dog whistle or bat cry out of
human range may do.
Conversely, to the Eastern musician, the classical music of the West may sound like the
artless banging of a child on a toy drum... The shades of meaning and emotion which
may induce in the Western listener every kind of emotion will be mostly lost on the ear
not trained to decode the message.
Even within a genre like jazz, the "moldy fig" traditionalists literally could not hear what
was happening in bebop when it first emerged. There were masterful musicians, and
there were those who just "ran the changes" on the chords, but to the moldy figs, they all
sounded alike, the transcendental and the mediocre. What our ears may now easily hear
was not accessible.
Coming to the point, there are things to listen for in fractal music, in generative music in
general, and in this music in particular. By and large, I like to let the music be what it is...
I like to let the underlying structure show itself, and work itself out. (I'll explain more about
One point in particular about fractals, including fractal art and fractal music, is that
fractals are defined by being "self-similar." That means that at any scale they appear to
have the same structure. Think of an ocean coastline viewed from space, then the
detailed shoreline as we zoom down, and finally the little irregularities, the ins and outs,
we see as we walk along the water's edge. Or again of a tree branching and
re-branching, and the veins in the leaves doing the same down to the microscopic scale.
As music is played out in the medium of time, what this means, at least in the case of
music composed with the aid of the MusiNum program, is that the differences between,
let's say, fifteen seconds and one minute from the point of origin of a fractal piece will be
roughly the same as the differences between fifteen minutes and one hour.
If the pitch of various voices is rising, for instance, it will tend to rise as much in the last
three quarters of an hour as it did in the last three quarters of the first minute. In the
intervening time, many structures will tend to be, not repeated, but restated, at many
scales of time. Patience may be required to accustom oneself to this form, but patience
will often be rewarded.
The best way to listen to many of these pieces is not to bring prior expectations to them,
but to simply let them be, as you might simply let the flora and fauna be on a nature walk,
and observe them as they truly are. The gradual unfolding of qualities inherent in the
structure is what is known as a "logarithmic spiral," and such a spiral can be observed in
the growth of shelled animals such as the nautilus.
I will talk about more things later, including the "hinged" pieces in which the peak of
excitement and change is in the middle of the piece. Enough for now.