Atonal/Dissonant Theory

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by ryandude713, Jan 13, 2009.

  1. ryandude713

    ryandude713 Guest

    Aug 15, 2003
    This is a strange question I'm about to ask, so let me preface it with this:
    I'm a trained studio bassist, I understand some musical theory, and my roots come from ****** 90's pop-punk, and some alternative rock. I've recently become infatuated with noisecore and noise-rock, but despite my best efforts I can't seem to compose any of that music well, an that is because I only know how to think inside of very basic chord structures.
    I want to force myself to learn how to play atonal/dissonant music, but I have no idea how to start doing that. So I guess what I'm asking is; is there a theory to creating this type of music? Is there a suggested method to getting started with this?
  2. Gawd

    Gawd Guest

    I find it hard to think theory wise when I make atonal stuff.
    Personally, when I make atonal and dissonant music, I don't listen for tones or intervals as much as I listen to the texture of the sound. When I say texture I mean the way that the notes clash together, to control how rough or smooth the texture is. I find that playing around with feedback is a great way to understand this.
  3. Ganky

    Ganky Guest

    Nov 29, 2008
    Cambridge, England
    Try playing serialism.
  4. Brent's Groove

    Brent's Groove

    Mar 14, 2007
    Check out how to make a 12-tone matrix; I'd try to explain it, but I got a feeling I'd screw up. Basically, it's a theoretical way to write atonal melodies, and it gives you alternatives to the prime melody. It allows you to write a melody that includes every pitch of the chromatic scale, but no pitch is allowed to be repeated until all other pitches have been sounded. Completely atonal, and pretty cool.

    Reference Arnold Schoenberg, he's the guy who invented that method.
  5. 12 Tone Row is a pretty simple concept.

    You pick a note (any note) and then play any note you want after that. And another, and another. The only rule here is you can't repeat a note until you've played all twelve.

    This makes for some pretty atonal and bizarre music. If you've ever seen Picnic at Hanging Rock, the end scene where the girls go missing and everything is really weird, there's music using the twelve tone row concept as a sonic backdrop.
  6. As far as dissonance goes, a lot of it is to do with intervals. A perfect 5th for example, is a 'pure' sound, whilst a tritone is a dissonant sound. Similar thing applies if you play notes that are too close together (like G# on the D string and G open simultaneously) or where there soundwaves take many cycles before they coincide (like open E and F one octave higher).

    As far as acoustic theory is concerned, why the interval of an octave sounds pure is to do with the meeting up of the cyles. A440 and A880 will always match up at a 2:2 ratio (two cycles of A880 to every one cycle of A440) as 880:440 = 2:1

    With fifths the ratio is 3:2. This can be seen (and heard) by playing A440 with E660 (the correct piano pitch is 659.255, but the variance is so small as to be only perceived via very sensitive equipment - the human ear definitely isn't this sensitive) as 440 x 3 = 1320 and 660 x 2 = 1320 - thus a 3:2 ratio.

    What this means in layman's terms is that A880 will complete one cycle at the same time A440 completes one. A440 will complete two cycles in the same time E660 will complete three. The ear perceives these simultaneously matching of soundwaves as a pleasant sound. Dissonant intervals won't match up or will take many, many more cycles before they match up, thus the ear perceives these differences as being tense - there is little uniformity, making it sound more chaotic.
  7. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    A couple of points.
    Any 'theory' for any kind of music will be defined only after the style of that music is pretty much finished in artistic development. Sure there are some examples otherwise, but to define a theory and have some workable rules, most of the options have been explored. So to compose by theory is to cover old territory.

    Dissonance is a relative term. Basically it means that you are presented with something other than what you are expecting. In most music that we deal with the half step is as close as you can get with intervals. Using them will sound dissonant to most people. If you use them all the time.... the listener comes to expect them and the power of the dissonance is lost. The art is in the contrast.

    Wendy Carlos has an interesting quote on her website... I don't know if it is original to her. "Doing the same thing over and over is boring... having no sense of order is boring, the art is finding the balance point". (I may not have that word for word, but the idea is there)

    Contact the TBer "Benjamin Strange" he has a couple of things on his website that are very much worth listening to. He is a very interesting musician and composer.
  8. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Getting "outside"?
    Something to try (from Wooten's Groove Workshop DVD)-

    Wooten had someone playing a chord progression in Gmin.
    The notes in Gmin...

    That's 7 of our 12 tones, right? That leaves 5.
    Wooten then played a solo using only those 5 "wrong" notes.
    I tried this concept by playing a groove with the 5 "wrong" notes. Still working on it...being confident enough to pull it off is part of the puzzle.

    He also had a chromatic scale exercise on the DVD that was pretty cool.
  9. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...and something else I just remembered (& should be doing more of)-

    Once upon a time, I asked a horn player about getting 'outside' of the norm.
    His suggestion: Take one of my Aebersold walking bass books...and read it from RIGHT-to-Left...if that was enough, then turn the book upside down.

    You can still hear the 'harmony' of the walking bass against the chord progression...will sound a little 'strange', though.
    Also helps in reading because it will force you to READ & not fall back on your ears & your fingers' muscle memory.
  10. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    It's not that simple. There are rules described for creating the tone row so that it will not imply any tonal center, eg you may not play more than 2 whole steps ascending or descending in a row, no intervals that could imply any kind of triad and things like that. Once the row is created it is considered "Prime". The prime row may be transposed chromatically and is knows as P1, P2, P3, etc. It may be "flipped over" where all of the intervallic relationships are the same just Inverted and that may be transposed chromatically to and is identified as I1, I2, I3 etc. Then the Prime and Inverted rows may be played backwards and transposed which become known as Retrograde and Retrograde Inversion.

    It's not as simple as picking 12 chromatic notes at random.
  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
  12. Sarbecue Boss

    Sarbecue Boss Guest

    Jul 9, 2006
    A couple places to start

    diminished scales/chords
    Basically all these are are stacked minor thirds, they bring a lot of tension to the table when used effectively

    so a basic diminished scale in G would contain G, Bb, C#, E
    and the most basic chord you could make out of this would be G, C#, G

    from there you can add either a 2nd or a flat 2nd
    example of 2nd G, A, Bb, C#, D#, E
    Example of flat 2nd G, Ab, Bb, C#, D, E

    Augmented scales/chord - to me , they add more of a strange dissonance even more straining that diminished stuff
    instead of stacked minor 3rds, use stacked major thirds
    basic chord G, B, Eb

    One thing I try to keep in mind when thinking about these things is not to write a -diminished- song or an -augmented- song, but during the writing process to understand how these tolls function in music and create tension and release
  13. debasser!

    debasser! Guest

    Sep 21, 2008
    I've been checking this out but can't claim to have taken any of it in yet. It did however remind me to go and practice everything that's not in the book! He states that a player should have a strong grasp of everything that comes before, so I'm working on that!

    David Liebman's A Chromatic Approcah to Jazz Harmony and Melody

    From Downbeat

    (Advance Music, Rottenburg, Germany; 173 pp.; paper) is a major treatise for the contempory improviser. In a day and age when new sounds quickly become old, when yesterday's dissonance becomes today's consonance, players are continually searching for a new and more personal means of expression. Here Liebman presents an overview of chromatic ideas over conventional diatonic situations by way of chord substitution, superimposition, and pedal points. He discusses melodic devlopment and variation along with principles of tension and release, tonal and non-tonal chromaticism, and the development of harmony from simple diatonic progressions through complex upper structure triads and beyond. The books is divided into two sections:

    The first contains the theoretical explanations with examples; the second contains miscellaneous examples of chromaticism from jazz and classical repertoire, transcriptions, complex reharmonizations of various standards, original compositions, voicings and more. The most exciting thing about the material and presentation is that everyone who works through it will come out with their own personal language. Depending on your background, personal taste, and sense of adventure, it could simply add a little spice to your playing, or catapult you into a whole new world.

    This is material for the advanced player. DB
  14. Yeah, I thought I was being a bit simplistic.

    Can you outline the concepts or 'rules' in a more structured fashion, for the benefit of the thread? Maybe give us an example of how to construct one?
  15. thombo


    Aug 25, 2006
    Denver, CO
    hmmm.... it sounds like there are 3 different concepts going here.
    1- 12 tone, which typically adheres to a strict set of rules (schoenberg, stockhousen)
    2- out-jazz based music (john zorn, william parker, jim black)
    3- post/experimental/noise-rock based music (deerhoof, sonic youth)
    i haven't seen it yet, but i will throw minimalism (reich, riley) in and ambient (fripp/eno) in there.
    the purpose of this is not to compartmentalize music, but, imo, it helps the conversation.

    ryandude, in your case, it sounds like you are more of a post-rock, ambient kind of guy w/ some other stuff mixed in (out-jazz?), approaching this thing in your head from more knowledgeable musician than notater/composer stance. if so i can relate.

    for starters, you are diving into left-of-center, less traditional music... as such, i suggest being open to less traditional ideas/theories. i have had success setting up some rules for me (i will only play doublestops, i cannot repeat any notes, isolate a section of an instrument, aligator clips on strings, no counting, only play in a single unfamiliar scale like a phrygian #3), band members (no snare drum, no pentatonics,), and the entire band (forms, times, lack there of). transcribing this kind of stuff can be exact (notation) or words (when i do this, try that "crouching tiger" thing on guitar).

    i have had some success recording improvisations (solo and w/ a band), and playing around w/ effects (loops, delay, sustain, etc), then listening back, picking out things i/we like, and figuring out what i/we did. from there, we may make note of it (give it a name, notate it, etc).

    learning some extended theory (names for breaking the rules) can be helpful, but is necessary for everyone.