Musical Dissonance or Purposeful Chaos?

Photo of a child wearing headphones - "Jammin" by flattop341

On May 25, 2010 I posted this on my social media channels:

“If the bass doesn’t match the key of your melody, what you have is DISCORDANT, DISSONANT, CHAOTIC. And frankly, amateurish. Sorry art rockers.”

I had been listening to some amateurish Middle Eastern electronic music borrowed from the public library which set some bellydancing rhythms to breakbeats and drum patterns. The results were far from stellar, prompting me to post my disdain for a lot of dissonant music which strikes me as lazy rather than artistic. A chat conversation soon followed with fellow musician and music producer Mark Redito (aka Spazzkid) of MyParasol who reminded me that some of it is done on purpose and we ought not to judge.

Here is the edited transcript of our discussion:

Musical Laziness or Purposeful Chaos?

Mark:  Funny status you got there

Lionel: LOL! I was listening to an album of bellydancing breakbeats which irritated me because it was dissonant! And not in any exotic eastern way… just in the “lazy composer who copy-pastes” way. Musical laziness irritates me.

Mark:  Wow, that is a touchy subject right there coz to me it’s all subjective.

Lionel:  I know it’s touchy for some. Personally, I can’t take too much art rock/noise /textural sound art — outside of an audiovisual exhibit. Audio alone? Intolerable most of the time. Unless it’s got a great concept behind it that I can latch onto. But that’s me.

Mark: Ah. That’s cool and you’re entitled to that. I guess I just embrace the fact that like any artform, there are things I cannot wrap my mind around. But I still consider it music — as an expression. It may be bad to my ears, but I respect the art behind it.

Lionel: True it’s an expression and a valid statement — one I’d rather stay away from. LOL.  Here’s the thing though: there’s too much “expression” out there that doesn’t have MUCH thought behind it.  And is simply copy-pasted together in randomness.

Mark:  Maybe so.

Lionel: … Which would be great if the concept behind the music is random copy-paste. But often there IS no concept.

Mark:  But aren’t there things that were brought up by randomness? Like probably… glitch? Or IDM? I agree on the concept  but maybe, there is no concept? And that is their concept. Hahah!

Lionel: Glitch and IDM  – I like the samples.  I can’t listen to too much of the music at any one time though. LOL

Maybe My Ears Aren’t Ready for it?

Mark:  For me, a lot of the music I listen to lately can be categorized as such: “lazy,” “discordant,” with  elements that don’t fit. And having been schooled in music theory and recording there are certain elements which I know are “wrong” in theory, but somehow work. And like any artform, it’s good to have the basics, but then again, for our artform to move forward, we bend the rules don’t we?  I guess that’s how I think. And if there’s something I don’t understand I’ll tell myself, “Maybe my ears aren’t ready for it.”Hahaha!

Lionel:  Bend the rules and become the next Miles Davis?

Mark:  Yeah man, for sure.

Lionel:  That’s a good viewpoint there. You could chance upon a new genre.

Mark:   A new genre sprouts out every week.  Currently they have “chillwave,” ” glo-fi,” all these genres I’m not really sure what describes what. It’s all just electronic music to me.

Lionel:  Hopefully, the genre lasts a few seconds more than “handbag house.” Hmm…. “Glo-fi” …  I need to Google this!

Mark:  Handbag house! hahaa

Lionel: Handbag house — shallow house for shallow people

Mark:  LOL.

Lionel:  I’m doing a lot of generalizations today, hahaha!  I guess another reason I think of it as laziness is I’ve been listening to some of the music I grew up with — melodic new age stuff by Suzanne Ciani. And origins aside, what stood out for me was: Ciani’s music is obviously assembled with loving care — each element fits into a unified whole. Meanwhile the producer of this middle eastern breakbeats album probably assembled most of it using Acid Pro and random loops which weren’t always interlocking nicely.

Mark:  What was the artist really thinking? We don’t really know, do we? Maybe it was a conscious decision for him/her for his stuff to sound chaotic, don’t you think?

Lionel:  True, we don’t know what they were thinking. But judging from the work I guess he was thinking: ” I have one week to get this material ready. Hurry , so I can get my paycheck.” Heheheh.  Maybe it was a conscious decision. I’m hoping it wasn’t.

Photo credits: “Jammin‘” by Flattop341 on Flickr.

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