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atonal music

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Howard K, Jun 28, 2004.


  1. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    I was just reading a post from a member of metal band on another board, who said that some of their material was atonal. It just intersted me...

    I'm struggling to imagine how music that had no tonal centre would be created? Any insights, just for interest sake really?! :)
     
  2. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    There's a ton of avant garde composers out there making what could be described as atonal. Harry Partch, Frank Tichelli, Charles Ives, etc. Alot of ambient artists use the atonal aproach; Robert Fripp, Death Cube K, Benjamin Strange ( :smug: ), etc.

    The trick to making music like this is to throw away any preconcieved notions as to what music "should" sound like. Dissonance can be a beautiful thing, and being in tune all time time can be pretty overrated. Atonal musicians find beauty in the clash of notes and the color that it imparts.
     
  3. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Some additional aspects to what Benjamin has mentioned - It is like tonal music, in that, it uses the same intervals/chords as other musical styles. However, the chords don't typically follow a harmonic progression. Concepts such as dissonance and/or chordal stability are thrown out the window.

    Schoenberg, Bartok and Copland are 3 composers I know of who were leading the way with atonalism. Some may think Korn is atonal but it's really just a band who exploits dissonance.

    Maybe I did learn something in college! :eek:
     
  4. Partch is definately not atonal. Atonal and odd are not the same thing at all. I suppose he may have done some atonal songs, but I haven't heard them.

    In atonal music, the composer tries not to create any tonal frame of reference, especially by avoiding repetition. Amusingly, I was just about to read a paper called "Zipf’s law and the creation of musical context". It discusses extending Zipf's law to music. See here for an article that's easier to understand. Basically, repetition creates context, and atonal music doesn't do that, not with pitches any way. Rhythmically, repetition is fine..
     
  5. Benjamin Strange

    Benjamin Strange Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    New Orleans, LA
    Owner / Tech: Strange Guitarworks
    Partch does alot of atonal stuff, as well microtonal stuff. Perhaps you've just missed those.

    I haven't heard any of his stuff that has a definite pitch center, but I may have missed that.
     
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    The easy thing to remember is that tonal music gives preference to certain notes - i.e. a 7 note scale - whereas atonal music gives equal weight to all the notes of the chromatic scale.
     
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Hmm...well - Schoenberg is commonly credited with this - but he really developed "serialism" and the 12 tone row - in fact he hated the term "atonal" and refused to use it for his music - he preferrred the term "pantonal".

    Along with Berg and Webern though, he did pioneer what is now known as atonal music - in the "Viennese school".

    Copland was no pioneer of atonality- but was a fan of Schoenberg when he was young - he is definitely most famous for his works which are very melodic and searching for an Amercian music - inlcuding elements of Jazz, the old West etc.

    Bartok, as far as I know wasn't influenced by atonality at all - and is most famous for his systematic exploration of Hungarian folk music and its inclusion in his own music - his most famous pieces were composed, liek Copland's, about 20-30 years after the Viennese School's development of serialism.
     
  8. Mudfuzz

    Mudfuzz

    Apr 3, 2004
    WA...
    +1

    I play/write pieces that are Atonal and ones that switch back and forth, every now and then [a good reason to ALWAYS have a recorder handy], I don't plan them they just happen. It's like my brain unloading. I'm always amazed afterward that they actually make musical sense. I think it is also therapy, just making it up as I go, that and I tend to do this at deafening volumes.
     
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    All good chaps, cheers.

    I think this makes most sense to me. I guess (?) that the ear wants to create a frame of reference for everything it hears, and repetition is most likely to allow it to do that??

    Anyway, I was talking with this guy a little more about it this morning, he gave me an example of some repeating riff, in tab, that he considered atonal. It was F "power-chord minor" with chromatic passing tones that fell conveniently on the weaker beats assuming it was 8ths notes in 4? So, enough of that...

    This is a very intersting topic, I shall read the articles posted above.

    ? I imagine atonal music could be very soothing if created using smooth sounds played at a slow tempo, or horrifically tense if created using harsh abrupt sounds at a fast tempo?

    ? I also imagine that much jazz sounds a tonal to many people?

    ? Does atonal music bear some resemblence to 'sounds of nature', I mean nice sounds of nature have no tonal centre, but they are nice, relaxing etc, and nasty sounds are the exact opposite

    cheers again guys, v intersting, many questions. I may post again if I can/cant make sense of those articles!
     
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yes - some of Olivier Messiaen's atonal music is fairly soothing.
    Technically - Free Jazz should be atonal - but of course, players have a bias towards tonality, when improvising - so probably only the very best Free Jazz is actually atonal. ;)
    It can indeed - so Messiaen transcribed birdsongs, which can be very beautiful - but are effectively atonal, as birds have no bias towards a tonal "system" !!

    They don't know theory!! ;)
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    What?? Who decided that free jazz "should" be atonal? My impression is that it is supposed to be "free" to become whatever the players performing it in the moment are hearing at that particular moment.

    Schoenberg actually despised the label "atonal", preferring the term "pantonal" instead. The way I understand his meaning, the difference in his use of the two terms is similar to the difference between the terms "atheist" and "pantheist".
     
  12. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    The idea of free jazz being atonal is interesting too... I imagine it would be like a musical game of scissors paper stone, but with 'a few' more variables :D
     
  13. In evidence you honour, I offer '77 Shades of Lipstick' Andy Shepherd and Keith Tippet - totally free - totally tuneful. they toured and it was superb. Doubt it got released in the states though.

    Atheist - no god, pantheist - god and the universe are the same thing. However, can I reccomend read of this - breifly atonal has been a pejoritive term and implied to some 'without music' so pantonal was meant to imply use of all musical resources rather than just a fixed tonal centre.
     
  14. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    4-5 hours later.......

    :D
     
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well that comment was "tongue in cheek" - a little joke for Howard - but I was thinking of the defintion of atonal, as favouring no particular key centre, when I said that! ;)
     
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Sorry, I saw only your preceeding post when responding. However, given that you are aware of the term as well, I think it's a better descriptive for free jazz than the "atonal" moniker you applied to it in your last post. BTW, I am an agnostic pantheist in both religion and music. :)
     
  17. sixontimber

    sixontimber

    Aug 2, 2003
    scotland
    I know this was only a joke, but I just want to point out that nature is full of natural harmony. The resonance of fundamental note will have natural overtones that quickly create the notes of a major scale (except a concave bell, which creates minor overtones!). I am of the feeling that the term atonal is a misnomer as the human ear hears thing tonally.

    Also, and I know what you were saying was only a quip, birdsong is very tonal. It was more to do with the way that Messiaen layered the transcriptions that made them sound atonal.

    Just my geeky input! :rolleyes:

    Douglas.
     
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member


    I agree that's the best way to be - I remember writing a paper at University on Eclectic Gnosticism in latterday cults, which could be seen as the exact opposite of this position - and best avoided!! ;)
     
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    But have you ever transcribed a swift or swallow - they are incredible - far out stuff, man!! ;)
     
  20. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Just a little update, I got some more info from this guy this arvo... his posts weren't at all clear this morning - his explantion of how the tabbed riff was used to create atonal music was spread across several posts...

    His (probably pretty scary) metal band take a simple 8th note riff, then repeat the same pattern of intervals starting on a random note each time. So, effectively playing a melody that doesnt have a tonal centre (unless repeated?) and then shifting it to written random start points each bar, to create a long, complex series of notes with no tonal centre and virtually no repetition.
    They use "the riff" to create atonal music. Quite smart I thought, but then I'm only a bass player ;)

    I cant imagine it sounds very nice, but then that's the point in metal I guess!!