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Quotation and "Structural Development"

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Doug Gibson, Oct 10, 2018.

  1. I am "wondering aloud" here over an issue I am persuaded by both sides on. Hopefully I can ask this is a way to open up a
    more philosophical discussion. What I mean is often , in my experience, talking about quotation can get weird and boring real fast. It's sort of like the compositional equivalent of discussing masturbation. Do you do it/ Is it ok,good,bad, right ,wrong/ are others secretly doing it etc.

    I want to avoid all of that. Probably then the clearest way to ask is

    How do you maintain "structural development" while using quotation *?

    ( * I am not talking musical derivative. For example: The opening of Tale of Two Cities
    "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

    A derivative would be "It was the highest of highs. It was the lowest of lows."
    Quotation is "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.")


    For anyone reading, do you feel there is a structural development to this piece ?




    I lean towards yes. As mentioned above I go back and forth. Often I simply feel teleported to another place....sort of like one of those bad "green scene" David Hasselhoff vidoes



    Then again composers like Stravinsky, or film makers like Tarantino use direct quotes in such a successful way.

    I'm trying to work out why it does or does not.

    Perhaps thinking about electronic DJ's sheds some insight.

    Like the "hooked on Classics" we can ask "How similar is it to what came before" in "Hooked" the tempo (drums) and underlying rhythmic pulse (bass) are staying constant. I bet that helps glue it more.

    "Duration" is probably another big factor. Quoting 9 seconds is going to be much different than quoting 30 -90 seconds like above. Or say quoting the Tutti hit of the Firebird is less of an issue than the entire theme to the Nutcracker

    Repetition - both in the short term, and formal aspects of the work.

    Synthesis: Like a DJ mixing two recordings, does it overlap another musical idea, or a self contained block?


    Does any of this make sense ?
     
  2. #2 Bradley Boone, Oct 10, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
    Throwing in this transcription (not my arrangement) I did for an Army chamber performance (see score below). The ensemble was really unorthodox, but (to misquote Rummy) you do the concert with the Army you have, not the Army you want. The piece is about 96% quotations for 6 minutes (some +40 composers and around 50 tunes or quotes). The purpose of the piece was to program a concert finale for educational outreach at public school music programs or use at chamber festivals.

    The performance is Noteperformer 3 playback (if I can track down a live recording of our group playing it, you'll hear how our interpretation differs from the cheesy Sibelius/Noteperformer articulations, phrasing, and balance).


    I don't know if this furthers your thread, or derails it.
     

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  3. Very interesting thread, I'm looking forward to see what other people think about this!

    I originally come from Pop\Rock, and there is a lot of lifting in the archives. Of course it depends on how it's handled but this doesn't bother me much. I do think It has to be done carefully anyway. Putting together a bunch of jazz licks doesn't make you Miles Davis.

    Didn't music evolve through a similar process though? People building on whatever other people said before them an so on. I guess it's slightly different in this case, because quotes are eventually morphed into something new leaving intact the original core of the idea. Still in popular music you hear a lot of the same thing repeated over and over in various shapes and forms and I think it's this constant repetition that legitimises the quotes. At some point they just stop being quotes and become idioms of that particular genre. That is the essence of music I believe.

    Even the whole process of practicing an instrument is done precisely that way. Copying other's work and trying to make it perfect through repetition. Whether it's done on purpose or not, of course this stuff eventually shows up in our writing. It's so ingrained in our brains we couldn't discard it if we wanted to. Not quotes, appropriation.
     
  4. Hey ! That's perfect, and exactly on point. What are your thoughts. I lean towards yes, but I am trying to work out why. (Already posted a few ideas above)

    Does it sound like a single piece (ie. montage/collage) or a bunch of separate works. I know both.... but what makes the 1812 lead to Fur Elise in a convincing fashion ?

    It's interesting too, at about 2:12 I felt the piece was over. And what followed was not so connected, and by the time we get to "Twinkle, Twinkle...." not the same piece. But it was NEVER the same piece !

    Maddening. What do you think ?
     
  5. Hey Mattia

    Thanks for chiming in. You make some nice points.

    It's hard for me to describe, but I am trying to talk about quotation in a less "meta" context.
    Let's say we put aside learning skill acquisition.
    Pretend you are just an audience member with no ambition towards music learning.

    Also, anything "inspired by" is off the table. You are absolutely right about things "morphing" into a feature of a genre.
    For example...... this is NOT what I mean with quotation




    I don't have to go far to know what and where things are derived from. It's all perfectly fine with me.
    That's the genre aspect you state.

    What about what happens ONLY within a single song ?

    Do you feel the "Hooked on Classics" song develops as a single piece ?

    I'll try and think of other examples. I would say in "pop" music the closest issue would be sampling, and without and vocals
    over it. In a way the lyrics make the song develop, and is not based on quotes.
     
    Mattia Chiappa likes this.
  6. #6 Bradley Boone, Oct 11, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
    I think the "structure" is determined by the overall montage/collage sense of the piece - which was its intent programmatically. Plus the "cleverness" of layering 2 to 4 themes simultaneously with a handful of key/tempo changes to maintain interest. This plays well for people a broad exposure to classical literature, but there's a handful of pop-symphonic quotes too for the high school musician to appreciate.

    I think to the extent that there's any glue holding it together, it is the subtle JS Bach, CPE Bach, and Handel licks running in the background for the accompanying lines (Solfeggietto, Cello Suite in G, etc.). Sometimes those Baroque licks are highlighted, but often they're the base of the cake while the more notable operatic and symphonic themes are the decorative melodies in the soprano voices. Plus, the snippets are between 8-16 bars (at most) of the main themes (other than the Canon in D type layering before the finale).

    My biggest challenge creating this was orchestrating for the particular musicians (I knew them personally so could write to their strengths) and making sure the lines were idiomatic for the instruments without too much rehearsal time. Professional technique can overcome a lot of (orchestrational) obstacles, but when it lies well on the instrument it makes all the difference. It was also a challenge to write for 4 brass and 4 winds in this atypical setup with enough rests (finale selection of a 50 minute wind instrument set) to keep the chops. It also helps that the transposition from the original keys (necessary for the contrapuntal layering) maintains the character of the themes. Lastly, choreography in live performance, plus real-life timbre and phrasing, clears up some of the muddiness of the Noteperformer balance.

    ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
    Thoughts away from the piece I linked above:
    The old timers (JS Bach) had weekly deadlines to crank out music for church services, so they quoted their own (and borrowed) material liberally. There was no fear of copyright issues and it was an honor that your material was getting wider circulation in a new format. Even further back (Catholic Masses of the Renaissance) had TONS of quoted material for the cantus - I had too many classes in music history to let it slip. These well known themes would serve as the harmonic underpinning of entire masses (the L'homme armé theme is one of the most well known). These were "pre-functional" harmonies, but there's no mistaking the treatment of the themes.

    Moving closer to present day, Theme & Variations, late-Romantic symphonies, and Wagner-influenced operas are all about quotes. Some quote famous themes from lieder and contemporary pop songs. Mahler's 5th quoted lines from Beethoven's 5th. Wagner quotes his own themes throughout his operatic cycles (the whole point of the leitmotif). Also, check out Brahm's "Variations on a Theme of Paganini." Some of these uses are derivative (like the Theme & Var), and some are direct quotes.

    As for what makes it work....if the quoted material is too obscure, then you're telling inside jokes that the audience can't share in. "Hey remember that time at the beach house...with PJ and Squee...?" If the quote is too on the nose, then it is cliche and trite. Somewhere along that continuum is the happy medium. Quotations in jazz (Dexter Gordon & Sonny Rollins come immediately to mind) are like you're sharing the lingua franca/influences/repertoire with the listener. There's more to this, which is the point of the thread, but that's my initial blurb.

    /End ramble
     
  7. Thanks for your replies ! Also for bearing with me..... I have never tried to grapple with the idea I am pondering, so I am (hopefully) learning how to get clearer for myself. It's something outside of the points above. (which are good points btw !) Law, and Syntax are something else.

    (This question is specifically for Bradley as I know he has a strong theory background)

    Let me ask this: Did you ever do any Schenkerian analysis ? There was a book I worked thru called "Structural Hearing"
    and it was by Felix Salzer. The underlying idea was that there was a "Thru line" always in a piece of music.

    Let's say you received orders to do a Schenkerian analysis of your arrangement.
    How would you analyze your piece of quotations ?

    Is the material not as important as the gestures ? Meaning are there certain gestures that feel like an opening (who cares where from: Bach Dmin Organ, or Beethoven 5th) that lead to another "gesture" smoothly (Flight of B. Bee, or Mozart) to say a strong ending (how about the 007 Bond ending)
     
  8. Yes
    I'm not familiar with that text (dated 1960's), but get the idea.
    I'm about to head down for the night, but I'll look into this Schenker-style tomorrow.
    I think I'm latching onto your idea of the thread and will give it more thought. Those are pretty disparate tunes/genres/periods to put into one piece.
    It's like....mustard on ice cream. Mustard on a hot dog...works. Ice cream after hotdog...works. Put them in the same bite and it is kind of a jumble. You can do anything (in cuisine or music), but some things work better. Hard to say if it is cultural tradition, a fact of human biology (taste buds and sensation), or something else. I'll sleep on it.
     
  9. I think "Hooked On Classics" only has structural development in a nostalgic sense. If the listener doesn't know any of the "classics", then they will probably get lost because the tune is constantly changing and the piece as a whole may seem chaotic. But as a listener who recognizes all the tunes, I can engage with the piece as I wait to see what quote will come next and how it will transition/connect to the next tune. It's essentially a string of quotes glued together with a never-changing drum loop (which makes me want to shoot myself after 2 minutes or so), but quotes aren't generally used this way. When Tarantino quotes a scene from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in Django Unchained, he is 1. paying homage to another piece of art that he admires and 2. putting the quote in a new context, giving it a different meaning, retelling the story, etc. I think that is essentially what makes a quote work or not: its context within the rest of the piece.
     
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  10. #10 Mattia Chiappa, Oct 11, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
    It's tricky we are talking about examples based entirely on the quote bringing almost nothing new to the table.

    In my opinion, sampling in pop can feel very wrong for a couple reasons. First of all, point above. Second, it's how it's done. They're not re-using samples to pay homage to whatever artist, or expand on it with something new. Often times they just brute force take it with no regards where it came from and how it's going to be used next. I think it feels out of place because it literally is. The "quote" it's been decontextualised and given a new home that has nothing to do with the previous. The only thing they tend to share is being both music, that's not nearly enough...

    I mentioned Jazz earlier. The collage thing feels less like a mashup because at least all the elements share the same ground rules and they're headed in the same direction. Licks and cliches are not only public domain but they're welcome, just like entire sentences in a language. Once upon a time, break a leg, you can't judge a book by its cover, I feel under the weather, speak of the devil, etc. You can't possibly make an entire speech out of these phrases only, neither can you randomly throw it in there but if used correctly can be powerful story telling tools everybody can instantly connect to.
     
    Doug Gibson likes this.
  11. It's an interesting one, and I like where the chat is going. Where is the line between the two ?
    I want to avoid judging the validity, and really ponder the technique, and how to measure the difference between the two.

    I might make another post here, about what I was just thinking of....... that's the old piano books they used to sell when they had really pianist and sometimes even orchestra. There would be a book, like a "fake book" and it would say "Spooky" and then Grieg "In the hall of the mountain king" ..... then they would build a sound track out of that.



    Ok this if off topic (I'll try not to do that too much)
    Just to play devil's advocate..... I don't know if that is true. Some songs just throw out random phrase and the idea is people find their own meanings. We are pattern seekers. For example Beck was popular in my day. There is no deep meaning to this song. But it's groovy.

     
  12. In the strictest Schenkerian sense, there isn't a fundamental line or Urlinie. There are too many disparate elements due to the medley nature of the piece. Four key changes and a handful of relative key changes (mainly to maintain listener interest and move the themes into more idiomatic registers) also frustrate that kind of analysis. Also, the large scale form is more through composed sounding with some background call-backs to earlier supporting motives - so each successive section is only loosely related to the previous sections.

    You can certainly reduce large sections of the piece. I could be convinced that I'm wrong on the Schenkerian front, as I spent only 10-15 minutes blazing through it, but I don't see it.

    Back to the three crazy charts you mentioned above. See the score below and Soundcloud for playback.


    I chopped up some gestures, transposed them to Em, and juxtaposed them to see how they fit together. This can be expanded and developed (diminution, augmentation, whatever), but it was a jumping off point to see how suitable they would be from a dissonance or harmonic standpoint. There's nothing clever here, just 10 minutes with Sibelius, but it works because the gestures are short and the harmony is pretty forgiving. With orchestration the parts would be even more apparent.

    If the goal were to somehow evaluate these quotes for an "opening", "main", or "closing" thematic idea - then I just skipped over that. For me, it would come down to preserving the character of the quote (the rhythmic and intervallic nature of the Beethoven fate theme). Something I would consider, can you move the quote around to change the agogic accent or move a consonance to a dissonance in a way that is novel? Lastly, the Bond harmonies are more forgiving of extentions to the 7th/9th/etc., but I don't know if it is as easy with different harmonic expectations.
     

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