Owen's recent analysis at Slate of Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" not only has us music theorists pleasantly titillated, but it reminded me that I did a term paper on Heartland a while back that I was super excited about. I used the score to Heartland and managed to blather on about cycles and arrows quite a bit, but for those of you who are into music theory and have the time to spare, it would really be incredible to get some feedback from people who know Owen Pallett's music so well. Here it is, with an appropriately long title: Humanity and Nature Collide: Linear and Cyclical Perspectives of Owen Pallett's Heartland
Post by Owen from Final Fantasy on Mar 27, 2014 11:02:08 GMT -5
Ben this is amazing, you are correct in everything, you've picked up on many of my conscious decisions, and explained many other intuitive ones. I am flattered and deeply moved. Your language is so readable, you're a great writer, I'm humbled to have read this. Could I save this and send it to a few people who'd enjoy reading it? Did you get an A?
Of course you can copy it! My professors thought it was one of my better papers, actually. I don't know what to say, it is a huge compliment to me that you like it! It was definitely a labor of love for me, and I'll be presenting on it in a few weeks, so if you noticed any glaring mistakes, please do let me know. I've already got my ticket for the Philly show in May! -Ben
Post by lerocketrolla on Mar 29, 2014 8:12:51 GMT -5
I'm really enjoying your paper, getting a lot of mental "clicks" - I also analyze a lot of pop and rock music, and there is some stuff that I understand intuitively but can't articulate, which you do incredibly well, like your explanation of getting the listener to "want" a loop to repeat.
This is really great writing! Do you have more stuff you wouldn't mind sharing? I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to read it.
Nothing complete right now, but I'm working on a paper on Arcade Fire's output, looking specifically at the importance of introductions as a sort of Grundgestalt from which the rest of the song organically emerges. If you're ever in need of a fantastic song to analyze, you should look at "Black Mirror," it's astounding.
Really? Would you mind terribly if I had a look at it? It's sort of silly, but the distinction between G-flat and F-sharp in that song is something that I wondered about; how you and the band approached it compositionally, since it ends up being quite an important pitch throughout the song. The string arrangement for that song is really an excellent example of expanding very beautifully and dramatically on a single idea, something I think Schoenberg would have been very proud of (hence the direction I'm taking with Grundgestalt). I know it may seem ridiculous to aim an investigative eye at popular music, but I have found that it often reveals decisions of style (whether conscious or unconscious), which are important to understand in a discussion of the emotional and cultural impact of a song.
I know it may seem ridiculous to aim an investigative eye at popular music, but I have found that it often reveals decisions of style (whether conscious or unconscious), which are important to understand in a discussion of the emotional and cultural impact of a song.
Hmm, could you say more about the relationship between style and a piece in popular music? Style and semiotics are two wonderful fields that popular music theory has to work with, if it feels it can rise to the challenge - and it sounds like you can. But I've seen style wielded in theory as a regulator - a canon of association and process that delimits what the music is capable of being. Which is fine until you start to give a piece a destiny.
Here's what I mean: I've been working on a historiography paper about Ruth Crawford Seeger's work, and one of the big texts to consider defines her compositional idiom / style, toward the end of allowing a coherent analysis of 'her tools.' But in doing so, a bunch of little demons rushed in, and the breadth of the text allowed its proscriptive, historiographically unacceptable conclusions about style to become canon. So now people get bored by Crawford Seeger, or enjoy her only as much as they want to play with Fortean analysis and label all the semitones + their inversions. This has become the auditory and scholarly life of much of her work. And she blatantly didn't even give a shit about ic1 in the way that everyone analyzes her so she does.
Certainly style always happens, always rises like a halo off of a piece, rises in our desire to relate it to other pieces in a coherent manner - but how best to frame style when it has a regulative, if not rightout policing, presence?
Watch out! It seems as though it is about to rush into the darkness where you are sitting and reduce you to a mangled sack of skin, full of crumpled flesh and splintered bones, and destroy this hall and this building, so full of wine, women, music and vice, and transform it into fragments and into dust. But this, too, is merely a train of shadows.
From the perspective of popular music analysis, I would say that's what makes style interesting! Especially now that music criticism is so readily available, it becomes an active voice in a composer's career, influencing how they approach every new album. Certainly, people can take it too seriously, and reduce Crawford-Seeger or Owen Pallett to certain stylistic markers, but people take BuzzFeed seriously. There's not much you can do about overreaction to claims of style (one need only examine the comments on OP's recent Slate articles to see proof of this). One of the reasons I love music theory is because it gives a lexicon of deeply historical and ever-improving terms to how we talk about music, instead of just saying it's pretty or exciting. This often gives rise to the notion that the ideas theorists are discussing are laws of music, or even laws of a certain composer's abilities, but putting a caveat before after claim is worse than saying nothing at all ("The verse builds up intensity before the arrival of the chorus, unless you don't hear it that way, which is cool too...").
So there's always a tradeoff when talking about style: you get to summarize a lot of a composer's work in a very concise and smarty-pants way, but you gloss over far more musical information, including things the composer might think are of paramount importance. And that's okay! One of the hardest but most crucial things to do as a theorist is to pick up on things that the composer is unconsciously doing in their music. This is probably more applicable in popular music, where lots of decisions happen in rehearsals or even recording sessions instead of on the page, but it does happen with all composers. So I find style to be the sum of conscious and unconscious decisions that go into creating a piece, and I believe both are important to understanding a piece's impact on the listener. Just as your body language may unconsciously influence words that you are communicating, unconscious stylistic decisions can influence the musical idea that the composer intends to communicate.
Let me know how your Crawford-Seeger paper works out!