evocative vs. rigorous music

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michael karmon

evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by michael karmon » Thu Jan 30, 2014 6:27 pm

One of the central challenges of composing for me is striking a balance between evocative and rigorous music. If it's too evocative you run the risk of writing something that is not really interesting enough for a concert situation. And if it's too rigorous you can end up with music that is claustrophobic and stingy. I'm still working on finding that balance. Any thoughts on this?

Jim Thompson

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Jim Thompson » Sat Feb 01, 2014 12:26 am

In college I had a cinema class where we were expected to classify film into two categories -- Rigorous vs. Sentimental. I failed, because I could never get a clear definition from the professor -- only examples.

So, I respect your question -- just don't quite understand it.

If you can express something *new* in the context of *old*, then go for it. Bring forth the 'old' in the context of 'today'. How radical do you want to be? Think Wagner (who won)? Think Charles Ives (who did not). Just my thoughts on the direction of music.

Daring a guess (I'm not a composer), to be successful combine the familiar with the unfamiliar. Invent just a little at a time to lure and grow your audience. Make them say, "Wow.", and let them whistle your tunes leaving the concert hall.

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Gruupi » Sun Feb 02, 2014 1:27 am

I don't know how to read what you mean by evocative or rigorous either. Does evocative mean it is personal and something you like, and rigorous mean more academic. I just write what I like, sometimes it is just because it feels good. Sometimes I may approach a section more from a structural perspective, but it still just has to feel right.

michael karmon

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by michael karmon » Fri Feb 07, 2014 12:39 am

In my mind evocative music aims to depict a specific mood or scene. Andrew York's "Sunburst" seems primarily evocative to me. Rigorous music is mostly about the manipulation of musical material by the composer, like in most pieces titled "Sonata." Takemitsu's "All in Twilight" is an example of piece that is both rigorous and evocative.

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Gruupi » Sat Feb 08, 2014 4:46 am

Ok Michael, thanks for clarifying. So in my mind, there is always this little voice saying " I like this, but is it too cheesy?", or the opposite "that was clever, but does anyone else get it, and does it have any meaning?". I guess anyone who does anything artistic is going to have these self doubts. I suppose we will never get past second guessing ourselves.

There is much to be said for gut feel.

I had many professors in architecture school criticize what they would call a preconception. It was their way of saying that every idea had to be thoroughly worked, that your first idea was not valid. You had to stay up all night and work hard or you didn't earn the right to say your design was good.

I later had a painting class where the teacher kept telling me to stop overworking my paintings. She would cheer when I had a brush in each hand just so I didn't take the time to stop between colors, mixing paints right on the brush. She wanted spontaneity.

I've finally learned that more often then not you are chasing that brilliant idea, and it comes when it wants. Sure you can get yourself in the frame of mind that lets these ideas flow, but it's really just something cosmic that just happens. After that brilliant idea, you can work and think, but you have to be careful not to lose the initial spark.

Maybe I am completely off topic from what you are trying to ask. But it sounds like you are trying to please an audience of some kind or another. I am trying to please myself, and I just hope that someone else gets it. Composing to me is like trying to take everything I have learned and loved in music and write pieces for myself that take advantage of my strengths in playing guitar.

Maybe you have more serious goals hehe.

michael karmon

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by michael karmon » Sat Feb 08, 2014 6:42 pm

I think we're pretty much on the same page here. It's interesting to me to try and mix gut feeling with technique in just the right way. I think you need to meld both approaches in order to write appealing music, and I don't think I'm particularly unique in trying to do this. But sometimes it is a bit of a challenge. Maybe it's just self doubt, as you say.

And by the way, I'm not writing for a particular audience, just trying to write the best music I can. :)

Jim Thompson

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Jim Thompson » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:16 am

Guess my issue is that I do not see the terms evocative and rigorous (or rigorous and sentimental) as polar opposites. I can think of many tunes that can be interpreted or analyzed from one POV or the other. But what's the point of it?

I'm listening to Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546 right now (is why this thread came to mind!). That's powerful stuff -- I've played it. It has all the academic rigor of a proper fugue, and I recall conversations after rehearsal -- we all agreed Mozart must have been in a really bad mood. Still don' get it, why such classifications?

Michael -- you say that "evocative music aims to depict ..." Cool, but focus on the word 'aims'. To me aiming and hitting the mark are different things. To me the most successful music is that which actually hits the mark -- that which successfully evokes the desired effect or mood in the audience.

Music needs to have something to say, but said in a way that folks can understand. Folks want to be moved by music. They don't wanna analyze (if that's what is meant by rigorous). And if a tune is nothing but manipulation of musical materials, the audience will soon be a-yawning.

So to that, if music does not 'evoke' something, it's not gonna be well received. And perhaps to achieve that you gotta have some rigor in your approach -- use common language -- references to well-known styles.

As an aside, John Cage is well known. But how large is his audience?

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by lagartija » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:29 am

As a listener and a player, I would prefer evocative. I don't want to see how clever you are being by tweaking this or that phrase structure just a tad, or wade through convoluted passages just so you can say you went through all possible modes or some such esoteric goal. I would prefer to play or listen to something that when I hear it, evokes images in my imagination, floats me on an emotional journey or touches me in some way. When I leave the hall, I want the melody to haunt me and play in my head and intrigue me. Something that will make its mark on the emotional landscape; that is the power of music to take you somewhere you hadn't thought to go.

To me, "rigorous" means form for form's sake; music meant to impress other musicians with overwrought cleverness.

:chaud:

I feel better now, thank you! :D
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Jim Thompson

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Jim Thompson » Tue Feb 11, 2014 4:40 am

Hey, Lagartija just said it in fewer words than mine.............

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by simonm » Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:06 am

Muddying the waters a bit... Some music is bound to place. I am not sure if evocative is the right word though. I am thinking of specific "folk" music I have heard in specific locations. For example, O'Carolan's music while driving through certain parts of Ireland, or canti of Sardinia (Tenors di Biti or their antecedants) when there. The music "fits" the landscape.

How did such music arise? No one sat down and said, hmm lets look at the landscape and see how we can evoke this. It happened over time. It happened through interpretation over the years. While everybody does things differently I cannot imagine that many pieces of really good much are written where someone sit down and says, "lets see, today I am going to write a piece of rigorous music...".

The only music I can think of where this approach might be used is in cliche-ridden melodramatic film music. You could probably work out the whole story by hearing the music. I didn't want to say "listening to" the music because that particular kind of film music is not something anyone would actually "listen" to as it is just a sequence of familiar cliches.

I think classifying music while writing it, or polishing it, is counterproductive. Over thinking it way too much. By all means pigeon hole it after it is done, but as far as I can see putting it in a box during the writing process must inevitably result in a stilted academic exercise rather than a good piece of music.

I have never composed anything in my life so I could well be totally wrong.

Max Karios

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Max Karios » Tue Feb 11, 2014 10:33 am

I still do not understand the difference between "evocative" and "rigorous", because I think these are ways of perception, i.e. they describe the attitude of the listener but not the properties of music. To me music is completely separated from visual representations. I had music teachers during my childhood that wanted to force mental images on me when playing a piece, and I always felt that this was fundamentally wrong. There was no way for me at that time to express my resistance towards it, but it was so strong that I completely stopped making music for several years. With a bit more experience of life I have gradually come to the conclusion that to me music is exclusively about acoustic patterns, and understanding music is pattern recognition. I prefer when composers just number their pieces and leave the rest to me (that is what the majority of them did anyway). Particular names of compositions like with Debussy or Grieg's "Lyric Pieces" were always meaningless labels to me that had nothing to do with the music itself.

Demanding that a piece should have a melody that "haunts" you, means that you are basically asking for immediate gratification. "Don't dare write a fugue -- this is above my head and therefore evil. I am the audience and the only legitimate judge of all things!" That is the domain of entertainment, not of art. Many pieces we consider classics today were rejected by contemporary audiences. Art comes into existence because an artist thinks that it is necessary to be created that way, not because it can sell copies. Artistic expression and commercial success don't have to exclude one another. If they did, this would mean that they are related, just inversely. They are not, neither directly nor inversely.

Looks like I went off-topic a bit. That is because the subject line of this thread is incomprehensible to me. "Evocative vs. rigorous perception" would be a different thing, but then this would only be about personal preferences.

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by lagartija » Tue Feb 11, 2014 4:58 pm

Max Karios wrote:Demanding that a piece should have a melody that "haunts" you, means that you are basically asking for immediate gratification. "Don't dare write a fugue -- this is above my head and therefore evil. I am the audience and the only legitimate judge of all things!" That is the domain of entertainment, not of art.
Not at all! If a melody "haunts" you, it has a depth to it that your mind savors. All of the flavors are not immediately apparent; it takes time for the complete weight of the piece to be felt. That is not immediate gratification.

Never would I say "Don't dare write a fugue-- this is above my head and therefore evil", so I hope that quote was not attributed to me in your mind, as I never said anything of the sort. Never did I say that the "audience was the only legitimate judge of all things", either. If the OP writes for his own creative outlet and does not care whether the audience likes it or not, no problem.... write whatever floats your boat. If the OP writes for both creative outlet and to reach an audience and communicate something to them, then I provide only my humble opinion as to what I appreciate in music when going to a live performance.
When the sun shines, bask.
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Classical Guitar forever!

michael karmon

Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by michael karmon » Tue Feb 11, 2014 6:37 pm

Taking a short break from composing, so I don't have time for a long post at the moment...But I'm thinking here about approaches to *writing* music, not listening to it. About striking a balance between re-working and re-using the ideas you already have (rigorous) vs. coming up with new ideas to compliment what you already have (evocative.) I'll try to write more when I have some free time.

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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by lagartija » Wed Feb 12, 2014 3:18 am

michael karmon wrote:Taking a short break from composing, so I don't have time for a long post at the moment...But I'm thinking here about approaches to *writing* music, not listening to it. About striking a balance between re-working and re-using the ideas you already have (rigorous) vs. coming up with new ideas to compliment what you already have (evocative.) I'll try to write more when I have some free time.
:desole: Obviously, I've totally misunderstood the nature of your question.

I've never come across the word "evocative" used as you have just used it. If you had used the word "derivative", I would have had a better sense of what you intended.

Sorry to have missed the mark. :?
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Gruupi
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Re: evocative vs. rigorous music

Post by Gruupi » Wed Feb 12, 2014 4:17 am

To me, the "rigorous" part is mostly editing. The evocative is improvising and recognizing the parts that are worth exploring further. I assume most of us have a snippet or two of music that sits on the back burner, maybe for years, then all of the sudden you find a way to develop it, or better yet fit it into another piece you are working on.

The rigorous parts for me are not really laborious, I take a more zen approach. If I force myself, it always sounds forced, even if it works. It's nice not having any deadlines like in most other aspects of life. I may "work" on a piece while out walking, that's when I can think about more structural aspects of a piece. That way I am not distracted about actual notes and phrases, but can sit back and objectively think about what the piece needs.

But back to that little voice in my head, and responding some to what lagartija about cleverness. It's really hard as a musician who is largely playing to other musicians to divorce yourself from this fact. I feel like I need an explanation for my choices even if never asked. Maybe that stems back to my architecture school days.

For me at least, this is turning into an interesting discussion. There aren't many avenues to discuss composition without getting bogged down in either pedagogic theory related topics or stylistic arguments.

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