Sunday, July 15, 2007


I was thinking about the question in the meme that Red Queen sent around regarding favorite sounds. I don't know that I have favorite sounds in the same way that I have favorite smells, favorite colors, even favorite things to touch. There are sounds I enjoy, like the sound of a cello well played. I like the sound and timbre of my husband's voice. I like Hyde's singing voice when he sings more in a baritone range than in a tenor's, but I do enjoy a good Irish tenor, so it's not just the pitch.
I have theory, which may or may not be supported in musical theory, that certain combinations of notes--both cords and progressions--are more soothing to the average human ear. That's why Andrew Lloyd Weber does so well ripping off Puccini, and why Puccini is a more popular classical composer than Wagner. Of course, critics like to say that Puccini is opera lite, but I ignore them.

This is my all time favorite song:

Gymnopédies suite by Erik Satie is a close second and interestingly I have a recording of Sakamoto performing it but YouTube doesn't seem to have it. So I found this guy:

(I don't know how to link my own mp3's to the blog. Where would I upload them to hold them? Anybody know? )

I have just discovered via YouTube that Gary Numan performed this as well (try to ignore the space age girls--it was a thing at the time; Klaus Nomi had a similar look.)

I can't wait to tell my husband when he wakes up tomorrow.

Anyway. This version reminds me of the closing credits of one of my favorite films, Delicatessan (an early film by the director of Amelie, City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement). Cello and saw.

Through the board at IMDB I was finally able to download the soundtrack to this recently. See, sometimes good things do come from public boards, just rarely.

ANYWAY. To return to my first thought: why do certain pieces of music resonate within us and others don't? Why do songs which move me deeply leave many other people cold?

The opening notes of this song, for instance, by the Psychedelic Furs, breaks my heart each time I hear it, although it's not remotely my favorite song, or even my favorite song by the Furs. (the poster disallowed embedding). You Tube doesn't have my favorite songs by them, although I do discover that one of my new fav. bands, She Wants Revenge, covered the Psych Fur's song, Love My Way, live. Cool.

Does the song resonate because it was one of the first albums (yes, album) that I ever bought? Because of the time in my life when it came out? Or is there something more intrinsic in the arrangement of notes?

And while it is partially arrangement, contrast Hyde's Shallow Sleep with the arrangement for the Japanese album with the arrangement for the English album:

(and I do, unfortunately think he is lip-syncing here.)

it is more than just a better or worse arrangement--it is something in the very bones of the composition--the melody line plucked out on a piano.

It's not the language--because I prefer the English Angel's Tale, which is more jazzy than the Japanese.

And do I like Hyde at all simply because of his emulation of this man (with the lyric version of the piece I started with), David Sylvian:

Now, having put these up I feel that there's a leitmotif within each of these songs which I can hear, that connects them and makes me treasure them, and which explains to me why I like each of them. BUT, I know that I can play these for any group of people and not find anyone who hears or is moved in the way that I am, certainly not about all of them. And there is something emotional in music that is beyond the intellectual. As I've said before, music is probably my weakest subject (after sports) so I don't have the language to discuss whether these are "good" pieces, or even what would make a good piece. I know that Richard Butler's voice (lead singer of Psych. Furs) is not what my mother would consider good, but it has always moved me. I shudder to use it, but I feel like the infamous cliche--I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. But when the response is so emotional, the desire to share that (for me at least) is somewhat overwhelming. In the same way I would share a painting or a poem or a story.

Is there any new piece of music out there? After all, it's really just 8 little notes being moved about. Granted, chords (and I admit to not fully understanding this) can change the tone of a piece, with minor chords lending a more sinister sound, generally. Could a song I like be arranged or orchestrated in a way that would make me not like it? Is this something which is taught in music composition, in the same way that as a costumer I know that an empire waist line will make someone look taller and thinner? This is an ongoing question in my mind.


Musing said...

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is so achingly beautiful. And the violins (starting around the 1:50 mark before the end) remind me of the violins in Hyde’s White Song. :-)

About why certain pieces resonate with us and others don't--I went over to Cogitate to try and find an article I’d posted that addressed that very thing but it got deleted somehow. Fascinating question, though. And I have a feeling the answers are complicated.

Running out of melodies. I read an essay once about that, too, and can’t find it. Blah. I wish I had perfect recall. Anyway, the author gave an approximate date (not too far in the future, if I remember right) for when the last original melody would be written.

But, this guy disagrees with that. He writes (in '99):

"As a boy, John Stuart Mill was alarmed to deduce that the finite number of musical notes, together with the maximum practical length of a musical piece, meant that the world would soon run out of melodies. At the time he sank into this melancholy, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff had not yet been born, to say nothing of the entire genres of ragtime, jazz, Broadway musicals, blues, country and western, rock and roll, samba, reggae, and punk. We are unlikely to have a melody shortage anytime soon because music is a combinatorial system. If each note of a melody can be selected from, say, eight notes on average, there are 64 pairs of notes, 512 motifs of three notes, 4,096 phrases of four notes, and so on, multiplying out to trillions and trillions of musical pieces."


Matt said...

My friend Spip told me about "passive chords" during college. Spip produced my band's first two demo tapes, then joined the band as bass player and played on the final demo. Apparently, passive chords are basically the driving force behind 1-3-5 compositions, like most pop, punk, etc. These chords are easy to listen to, kind of like the way pale green is soothing and used in hospitals, etc.

RE: mp3's - those are such big files... You can post them, but you'd need web space. You might be better off joining MySpace or ,etc., and linking to the song online. Also, posting an mp3 would be a definite copyright violation. If you converted the mp3 to .rm and made it streaming, you might have a better argument...

Finally, some other cultures identify different break-downs of "notes" in their music systems. Since "notes" are really wavelengths of sound, where we break them into distinct sounds is arbitrary, so to say that we have only 8 notes to work with is really not accurate. This is just a limitation of our chosen notation system.

Novel said...

I remember hearing a quote about Morrisey, "He plays those three chords so well." :)

Ah, that whole copyright thing...

I figured if it were easy everyone would be doing it. I suppose I could link to the samples at Amazon, but that's hadly going to give an idea of the song.

I remember our section in music on the pentatonic scale (back when public schools had music programs), rather like breaking color down into the seven names of the rainbow, when we know that there are an enormous range of colors. I was actually thinking of a song I have on an album of Rowlf the Dog (yes, Rowlf the Muppet) where he sings a song called "8 Little Notes." Obviously even within those 8