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Petrovsk Mizinski View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: On Musical Expression And Music As Art
    Posted: July 02 2008 at 21:23
On Musical Expression and Music as Art

If we are to use a common dictionary definition of the word music, it is usually defined as thus: The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.

While I can write this in a very broad and general way to discuss how I feel about expression and music as art, I shall do my best to keep it relevant enough to prog music and artists.

We listen to music for different reasons, and even those of us who think we listen to music for the same reasons, chances are it's the differences in our personalities that make the subtle or very obivous reasons why we listen to music.
For all of us here, we have come to Progarchives, because we share a love of prog music, an aspect often forgotten in between the debates and discussions we have. And I'm sure at least 95 per cent of us, if not all, just have a love of listening to music in general outside of prog genres.
For a smaller but still fairly significant portion of of us, we not only enjoy listening to music, but we play it on a musical instrument and/or write our own music as well, be it prog or whatever genre we want to play, and for some of us, it's not just playing as a hobby, but as a way of our own self expression and as a way of life.

Perhaps now that's out of the way, I can inject more of my own feelings into the subject.
When we hear music, it can speak to us, it may emote something to us. Feelings and emotions from sadness, anger, depression, happiness, melancholy thoughts, humor, sarcasm, optimism,
delight, and the list goes on, are expressed through music.
Just as a painting can evoke feelings, like if it's a picture of a battle field with blood and guts it can evoke feelings of horror, disgust and maybe even pain, a painting can show a field of flowers and happy peopleTongue which of course can evoke feelings of happiness, joy and cheerfulness.
Music just happens to be another art form through which the medium of expression is sound rather than a visual representation in the case of our painting.

One thing that is often talked about, is that certain aspects of music or whole genres themselves have little or no emotional impact on one's self.
Some of us may dislike and/or feeling nothing from techno, rap music (as I do, with a few exceptions for perhaps a very few instances of rap), prog metal, jazz fusion, neo-prog, or whatever it is.
And yet, sometimes we like to feel in our minds because we feel something is not emoting anything to us, we can try to think of it as objective fact that it's unemotional.

Speaking from my own view, I love a broad range of musical styles. I listen to a range of genres that are in the PA database, including The Canterbury (although perhaps not a genre in itself in some ways, as James once pointed out to me it's the subtleties that make it Canterbury scene), Jazz-Fusion, Heavy Prog, Experimental/Post Metal, Math/Post Rock, Symphonic Prog, Tech/Extreme Prog Metal, RIO/Avante-Prog (although really only the Avante stuff for now, not really familar with RIO yet), Eclectic Prog, Pyschedelic/Space Rock and of course I like many prog related bands as well.

Some of us here may not like Avante, perhaps because it's too quirky and noisy for some people.
Some of us here don't like Tech/Extreme Prog Metal because we may be averse to growls and screams, and may not find technical playing appealing. And the same for Math Rock, too technical for some ears.
Some of us here don't like Post Rock/Metal because of it's general minimalistic leanings and for some it's just too slow of a musical progression in the songs for them.
Some of us may not like Jazz-Fusion, because we might perceive some of the playing as just "random notes" and not melodic enough in the normal sense some people are used to.
And of course, for the other genres, the list will go on for reasons why it doesn't speak to you.
And whether is speaks to you or not, there is always one common link between it all: it's all art, whether it sounds beautiful, calming and happy, or whether it sounds dark, angry and ragged.

Self Expression

Now I would like to talk about self expression. Be it a solo artist or a band, usually in the prog domain they seek to express themselves (for the sake of want I want to say, I'll ignore the "selling out and playing for the fans instead of pure self expression" for now).
I'll use an analogy here. Let's say, well I'll use myself as an example. The only language I speak is English, having been born and raised in Melbourne, and having lived here all my life.
If say, an Italian for example (one of the most spoken languages other than English in Australia) came up and to me and spoke in Italian, it would just sound like they are probably talking too fast and wouldn't be words I could understand, and hence wouldn't express anything to me.
Now, what can I conclude from this? Even if it meant nothing to me, clearly this Italian person is expressing themselves, just not in a way that I can understand and relate too.
For those of your not in the know, I'm an avid electric guitar player and since it's the instrument I know best, it will help me to speak from that point of view.

Let's take this principle and apply it to music. For this example. I'll use Meshuggah.
I HATED, ABSOLUTELY HATED, their music for at least 2 years after I first heard them because it just didn't mean anything to me.
A few months ago, their music finally "clicked. The heavy guitars, the hypnotic rhythms just floored me and it was just this cold hard steel emotion, this certain aggression that I finally began to hear in their music, and now I love it. So clearly even if their music didn't mean anything to me once, they were clearly expressing themselves, but it was simply a case of me not understanding at the time what they were trying to get across.

Since I was on the subject, I'll talk about Allan Holdsworth, who influenced the lead guitar style of Fredrik Thordendal from Meshuggah.
For those unaware, Holdsworth is primarily a jazz-fusion guitarist, whom is also an innovative virtuoso, incredibly vell versed in warp speed legato playing, but also a very proficient user of of the tremolo arm and the right hand tapping technique.
For many people, his playing is "too cold, too technical, too many "random notes", too out there".
Myself being a technical guitarist who has some theory study under his belt, I can hear the passing tones and understand the techniques he is using. To my ears, his chording is brillliant, and his solos have a lot of effect on me, because I love the way he can really incorporate incredible fast tension and release lead lines into his playing and the passing tones are there to enhance the effect further.
Is he expressing something?
 Yes, because I hear all sorts of emotions in his playing and music. For some people, they may not understand the emotions he creates when he shreds and/or just not understand how the emotions can be felt for reasons like not understanding shred guitar, not understanding any or enough music theory, and of course not being able to really interpret a melody because of passing tones in between what are essentially just modes and scales.

Perhaps more examples, like other guitar techniques not being able to express something to one, like Sweep picking/Sweep picked arpeggios, blistering alternate picking.
Techniques like these, along with economy picking, two handed tapping and legato, are merely means for expression one's self, and bear in mind "one's self" because for many people fast playing like that can not always really mean anything, but for me nothing can generate feelings of franticness and tension and release in a guitar solo like fast legato lines or quick alternate picking and sometimes nothing can sound as melodic as an appropiately placed sweep picked or tapped arpeggio.
And of course two handed tapping, legato and sweep picking (although normally with the picking hand thumb instead of a pick) can be applied to bass guitar.

I can do this list with many other musical attributes/means of expression, like death growls, double bass drums, use of different instruments etc et al and describe why to some people it can mean something, but to other it's emotionless and/or just overly pretentious.
And for those of you non guitarists/non musicians, I apologise if some of what I said was impenetrable and if some of it didn't mean anything to youWink, but in itself, music has it's own language (theory, describing instrument techniques, musical gear etc), which you don't need to necessarily understand to love listening to music, but certainly as you can tell it can help you break down the elements in music and to understand and hear things in music non musicians.
And in this case, I may not have much understanding of the drums, piano etc, so in that case unless it's perhaps talking about general theory I wont understand much of what can be said about specific techniques applied to drums or piano.

Other things to consider

Something we sometimes don't think about, is that a different individual may interpret a song/a solo or whatever, differently from ourselves, or describe it differently. I might have a conversation with another shred guitarist, and he might say he feels a certain way during a solo, and I might say I feel vastly different, or very similar, but perhaps not the same. And even if we describe it in the same terms, we will most likely still in our own minds because we hear the self expression in our self in different ways.
Another thing I would like people to think about when they can, is to perhaps make more of an attempt to find out what differentiates ourselves from the person next to us in terms of how we feel about music and how it impacts us.
When you talk about the way you feel about music, don't just try to blatantly put it down as objective fact. Don't say "This is unemotional music" "The death growls don't emote anything". Tell us instead "this is unemotional music to me" "The death growls don't emote anything to me", because not only does it prevent silly arguments, but it always makes us more aware of the individual person we are talking to, that the individual indeed sees things in a different light due to different personal experiences with music and/or different personal emotions/lack thereof.

For other musicians


To be able to express yourself, you will have different goals on your instrument and composing ideas.
I encourage anyone to become as knowledgeable about music as possible, get a music teacher, ask questions (we even have our own "theory god" on PA, Trademark) become the best player you can be, because you never know that one day you could potentially start listening to more music/genres of you were once closed minded about because you couldn't understand it and maybe that time 2 years ago when John Petrucci's solo just sounded like a whirl of notes to you now suddenly brings you to tears every time.



Edited by HughesJB4 - July 30 2008 at 03:17
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 03 2008 at 10:21
Couldn't have put it better myself.

This provokes my argument also that one man's meat is another man's poison, it's what makes life interesting. Also, as far as art goes anyway, nothing is set in stone as good or bad, it is all an opinion, no matter what anyone tells you.

I, being a fan of Opeth, approach death growls the same way i approach dissonance. It acts as an intense noise before it resolves into a cadence or diatonic melody, or in Opeth's case, Mikael's clear vocal lines and guitar melodies. I consider dissonance very important in all genres, same way that Opeth wouldn't be remotely the same without the growling.

At the end of the day, you like what you like. I just find it important to appreciate other people's tastes, not necessarily enjoy them, but respect them nonetheless. I apologise for my comments on shredding and Yngwie Malmsteen
"Market value is irrelevant to intrinsic value."

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 04 2008 at 04:36
Ah, don't worry about the Malmsteen thing. I managed to clear up what I thought was originally implied, and you understood what I meant after that, so for both of us it's all cool now, so I'm not fussed about it.

But more on topic now. You raised some good points that added to what I said, thank youThumbs%20Up
Talking about dissonance, I think it's a very important musical aspect of the more extreme metal genres, but here it will make it better to talk about it in terms of Tech/Extreme Prog Metal.
Not only do death growls/dissonance create tension within a song, they help to provide a certain "balance" that can make a song more interesting.
 By which I mean, there is a balance between melodic, more diatonic (although I realise Locrian is technically a diatonic modeTongue, it sounds very tense and dark due to the intervals within the mode, for example the flat 5 so try to think of what I'm saying perhaps in more of a Ionian and Aeolian context for now to keep it a bit simpler) and more heavy/darker dissonant moments.
To me, what this can do, is to create more power within the melodic and dissonant moments.
Has anyone ever listened to say, Melodic Power Metal and sometimes thought the songs are just non stop melodic to the point where the impact of the melody throughout the song/album just diminishes?
It has happpened to me a lot, which is partly why I get bored of the very melodic power metal very easily.

But a band like Opeth for example, has it's heavy dissonant moments, and when the melodic parts kick in to contrast the dissonance, it has a greater beauty to it and power to it that it might not have had if it had just been super melodic non stop.



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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 10 2008 at 13:36
Extremelly good thread. i'm surprised there arn't more responces.
 
 anyway I had a similar discussion the other day with my friend. We were jamming and showing off new licks/riffs/solos/leads whatever (we both play guitar and bass) He pointed out how our stiles are different. He likes to play lots of spidery longwinded riffs (think Stairway to Heaven) and always keeps his guitar "properly" tuned and uses "showy techniques" sparingly (though he is proficiant at them).  On the other hand I tend to play in a more random fasion, changing key in the middle of a solo, constantly retuning my guitar to open chords or tuning it modaly and playing harsh minor second dissonance in the middle of a pentatonic blues solo, and always showing off with odd harmonics or tapping or slap guitar or whatever odd posibly stupid techniqe I feel like that day. In the end we both enjoy each others playing, because it can express different things, and it wouldn't be as exciting if we played similarly.
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 12 2008 at 14:34
interesting post(s) .. i'll have to revisit this.

+


as the late master once said (through Dale B) :

"Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music and music is the best"
-FZ


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 12 2008 at 14:40
Nice topic, Hamish.

The only thing I have a sort of problem with is:

Quote When you talk about the way you feel about music, don't just try to blatantly put it down as objective fact. Don't say "This is unemotional music" "The death growls don't emote anything". Tell us instead "this is unemotional music to me" "The death growls don't emote anything to me", because not only does it prevent silly arguments, but it always makes us more aware of the individual person we are talking to, that the individual indeed sees things in a different light due to different personal experiences with music and/or different personal emotions/lack thereof.


If we're discussing an entirely subjective thing (aka, Music), I expect people to take my opinion as subjective, not as a fact, whether or not I throw in 'IMO' or 'to me'. I usually do, but I don't think it's entirely necessary as a clarifying step.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 13 2008 at 02:32
Rob, call me Harry outside the SR pleaseWink
I understand what you mean Rob, but as I pointed out before sometimes people forgot that sometimes we may be talking subjectively, so I believe it can help to to state IMO/IMHO, but of course as you said, that is usually/always implied anyway.
And for the record, no, not all aspects of music are subjective.
If I were to say Allan Holdsworth used the legato technique in his playing, that wouldn't be a subjective opinion would it? It's pure solid objective fact.



PS to all- I've occasionally fixed up some errors in the original post, mainly slight errors I overlooked the first time around.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 13 2008 at 08:32
Well said and I agree completely, even if I didnt understand the theory parts.


Edited by sleeper - July 13 2008 at 08:33
Spending more than I should on Prog since 2005

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 13 2008 at 09:49
Originally posted by HughesJB4 HughesJB4 wrote:

Rob, call me Harry outside the SR pleaseWink
I understand what you mean Rob, but as I pointed out before sometimes people forgot that sometimes we may be talking subjectively, so I believe it can help to to state IMO/IMHO, but of course as you said, that is usually/always implied anyway.
And for the record, no, not all aspects of music are subjective.
If I were to say Allan Holdsworth used the legato technique in his playing, that wouldn't be a subjective opinion would it? It's pure solid objective fact.



PS to all- I've occasionally fixed up some errors in the original post, mainly slight errors I overlooked the first time around.


Apologies, Harry, overly generalising on my part. I forget that other people know musical stuff so can actually add objective facts. I agree that not all aspects are subjective, but judgements on quality in most cases is. Playing/musicianship standard is a bit more of a grey area.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 13 2008 at 11:45
One thing worth mentioning here from a debate with one of my friends:

There is absolutely NO excuse to be closed-minded. I think that is related to this thread, in that you should give everything a bloody good go before knocking it.
"Market value is irrelevant to intrinsic value."

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 28 2008 at 03:58
Originally posted by Proletariat Proletariat wrote:

Extremelly good thread. i'm surprised there arn't more responces.
 
 anyway I had a similar discussion the other day with my friend. We were jamming and showing off new licks/riffs/solos/leads whatever (we both play guitar and bass) He pointed out how our stiles are different. He likes to play lots of spidery longwinded riffs (think Stairway to Heaven) and always keeps his guitar "properly" tuned and uses "showy techniques" sparingly (though he is proficiant at them).  On the other hand I tend to play in a more random fasion, changing key in the middle of a solo, constantly retuning my guitar to open chords or tuning it modaly and playing harsh minor second dissonance in the middle of a pentatonic blues solo, and always showing off with odd harmonics or tapping or slap guitar or whatever odd posibly stupid techniqe I feel like that day. In the end we both enjoy each others playing, because it can express different things, and it wouldn't be as exciting if we played similarly.


Very good post.
I always really like to listen to and/or watch musicians with complementary styles play together, because what one may not be able to express, the other can fill that hole.
At school. my group would jam out this song, based around a 3 chord progression for the soloing, and I always loved it when this other dude came into jam with us.
I was always sticking more to the diatonic scale stuff, sticking into shreddy stuff like big legato runs, two handed tapping, sweep picking etc, but he would come in and he had this real bluesy style, which is something I couldn't do as well as he could, just the same as he didn't quite have shredding down as well as I did. Even while I was keeping the rhythm behind his solo, I always just had to watch him as he played, to see what kind of licks he would pull out next, and I guess for both of us we would end up thinking as we watched each other play "Why didn't I think of that lick?".

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 28 2008 at 05:37
Hughes, I think your initial post is sending a bit of a mixed message - on one hand, you seem to say that quality is something completely subjective depending mostly on target audiences...

Quote When you talk about the way you feel about music, don't just try to blatantly put it down as objective fact. Don't say "This is unemotional music" "The death growls don't emote anything"


... and later on, your choice of words suggests that prog is objectively better than (some) other genres:

Quote And while we're here, always remember how grateful you are to have received the gift of the incredible art form that is prog music and how this site has brought together prog lovers the world over to help in their enjoyment of prog.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 29 2008 at 12:05

aspects of music are subjective. no not thing)))

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 30 2008 at 03:16
Originally posted by Toaster Mantis Toaster Mantis wrote:

Hughes, I think your initial post is sending a bit of a mixed message - on one hand, you seem to say that quality is something completely subjective depending mostly on target audiences...

Quote When you talk about the way you feel about music, don't just try to blatantly put it down as objective fact. Don't say "This is unemotional music" "The death growls don't emote anything"


... and later on, your choice of words suggests that prog is objectively better than (some) other genres:

Quote And while we're here, always remember how grateful you are to have received the gift of the incredible art form that is prog music and how this site has brought together prog lovers the world over to help in their enjoyment of prog.



Oh lol, I didn't mean that second statement that way at allEmbarrassedConfused
Hell, look at my last Fm list in my sig, as of time of writing this post, the last band I was listening to was Megadeth, and they aren't prog, just good music IMO. I spend probably half/just under or over perhaps my listening time listening to stuff that isn't here on PA.
Well, just to make things a bit easier, I might as well scrap that last bit of my blog, because I didn't realise at the time that it was open to any misinterpretation.Embarrassed

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 30 2008 at 03:41
Originally posted by kibble_alex kibble_alex wrote:

One thing worth mentioning here from a debate with one of my friends:

There is absolutely NO excuse to be closed-minded. I think that is related to this thread, in that you should give everything a bloody good go before knocking it.


Indeed Alex, very good point.
It wasn't something I was entirely consciously thinking of when I wrote my blog, but indeed it fits in well to the topic.
Over the years, I've become so much more open minded, and you've got nothing to lost being more open minded.
There was a time when I couldn't listen to stuff like Opeth or anything death metal or with death metal elements, but after a while I learn to feel that tense emotion which that sort of music could convey.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 30 2008 at 03:51
I, however, find that the entire term "open-mindedness" has kinda lost its meaning because too many use it as a lazy way to defend music they like against criticism. For example, take Opeth - you often get tagged as close-minded if you don't like them - but I have never found them very interesting and not out of closemindedness or anything. I do quite understand and appreciate what they're trying to do, but I don't think they are good at it. I find their music too "nerdy" (for lack of a better term) to work as death metal, and their songwriting too clumsy to work as prog.


Edited by Toaster Mantis - July 30 2008 at 03:53
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 30 2008 at 04:03
^I see what you mean, yeah.
I'm still very picky about what I like, but that isn't necessarily the same as being closed minded.
I meant more in terms of being open to more genres, but that doesn't mean I will like everything in a genre.
I mean, I like thrash metal as a genre, but I'm not a big Sepultura fan, don't like Anthrax much at all, don't like Artillery what so ever. So yes, I am a fan of thrash metal, but I'm picky about which bands within the genre I like.
I think it's more than reasonable someone says they are a Tech/Extreme Prog metal fan, and like band like Canvas Solaris, Death, Atheist for eg., but don't like Opeth, because I think it's very important to not just like everything for the sake of openmindedness and instead really decide i.e be picky and decisive about what you like.


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: July 30 2008 at 04:34
Originally posted by HughesJB4 HughesJB4 wrote:

I meant more in terms of being open to more genres, but that doesn't mean I will like everything in a genre.


Do you think there can be any objective reason to dislike a genre?

For example, take grunge. I understand what grunge is, as a "Platonic ideal" if you wanna get all academic: Bleak, depressive rock about existential anxiety and disillusionment with society. I don't mind such music, but I find that most grunge - even the genre's classics - is rather nondescript and bland in its approach to exploring such subject matter. It certainly is when compared to the best prog-rock or metal bands with similar themes, who generally have more depth and substance. Pink Floyd's Animals or Type O Negative's World Coming Down certainly aren't just kinda "there" in the same way Nirvana's Nevermind is. The only grunge band I like enough to spend money on their albums, the Melvins, are also pretty much the least classifiable band in rock and conceptually very far from most of their imitators; Nirvana and Soundgarden don't really have anywhere as surrealistic an atmosphere.

Does this make me close-minded? Confused
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 02 2008 at 06:09
Honestly, I just think Alex meant open mindedness in terms of just being open to new genres you haven't heard before or normally wouldn't listen to, because it's certainly what I meant. No one is telling you to like grunge or Opeth, and anyone that does is probably a close minded person themselves.

But anyway, on your point about grunge. I'm not a big fan of the genre at all really. I got a hold of all of Soundgarden's discography from my sister, and to be honest, as much as I wanted to like it a lot, I couldn't, more than half the songs didn't do it for me at all.
Nirvana I cannot stand at all. Alice In Chains is really one of the few Seattle grunge bands I could really like, I even found the Melvins to get boring after about 1 or 2 songs.
Pearl Jam, I liked the album Ten, but honestly think a lot of their other stuff they put out after that album is really bland.
And yes I agree that in terms of expressing "existential anxiety and disillusionment with society", many other genres do it better than grunge. Although AIC are a Seattle band, their lyrics are typically more personal than many of the other Seattle grunge bands, but it tends to be the musical features behind AIC more so than lyrics as to why I like their music.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: August 03 2008 at 07:33
Originally posted by HughesJB4 HughesJB4 wrote:

Honestly, I just think Alex meant open mindedness in terms of just being open to new genres you haven't heard before or normally wouldn't listen to, because it's certainly what I meant. No one is telling you to like grunge or Opeth, and anyone that does is probably a close minded person themselves.


I'm a bit confused here about what you are trying to say. First you say that in order to be openminded you have to be open to all genres, then in the next sentence you say that it's not closeminded to not care about a particular genre. (in my case, grunge) Confused
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