Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Madness for texture

Somehow my recent Internet activity led me to this:



As I watched this video for the first time, I found myself re-enacting what has become a familiar pattern for me. For the first 10-20 seconds, as I came to grasp the conceit, I was very, very entertained. I may even have laughed out loud. The whole thing seemed terribly clever, and I settled down in preparation for a fully enjoyable three minutes or so.

And yet my enjoyment dropped precipitously as I realized that my understanding of the conceit was really all I needed to know about this particular piece. Everything else was just an expression of that conceit, and the resulting work was something I could just as easily have daydreamed, with the same level of enjoyment. Of course Gomer Pyle was going to be voiced by Mickey Mouse. I understood that instantly, and in the wake of that understanding, actually viewing it was a disappointment.

I'm not presenting this experience as evidence that I am some sort of uber-sophisticated audience member. I'm not proud of what I have just written, actually. I was a bit frustrated with myself for not being more willing to enjoy the craft of the piece for its own sake, for not marveling at the technical execution that made it possible. (It's easy to forget that this sort of creative dubbing exercise is in fact marvelous, at least compared with what was possible for amateur filmmakers, say, twenty years ago.)



But, FSM help me, this is where I'm at with art these days. I'm always looking for the underlying idea, with the hope that it is not only good enough to grab my interest, but good enough to sustain some sort of development. The textures that are layered on top of that idea are almost irrelevant to me. They are just the vehicle by which the idea is presented. (Thus, in terms of writing for a big band, I consider my own tunes "successful" only if they can survive translation to a substantially reduced ensemble, or even a single piano rendition. If they can, I know the underlying ideas are sound.)

On the other hand, most of digital culture seems driven by a madness for texture. And sometimes I wish I could just get with that particular program.

[Photo credit: dog ma]

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

maybe it's not the texture but 'the sound' that they're searching for.

Andrew Durkin... said...

I would classify "sound" as a species of texture.

ian! said...

I didn't find the video all that entertaining--it was kinda boring.

Anonymous said...

"Thus, in terms of writing for a big band, I consider my own tunes "successful" only if they can survive translation to a substantially reduced ensemble, or even a single piano rendition."

Would the ideas still survive if there was only a single melodic line? or just the drums? another band covering the tunes?

Andrew Durkin... said...

Sorry -- Anonymous left a comment that I accidentally deleted because the "Publish" button is right next to the "Delete" button, and when I'm monitoring these things from my iPhone, my thumb sometimes hits the wrong one.

Here is Anonymous's comment:

"when you're talking about texture, when is it about the testure of concepts and ideas and the texture as it relates to the auditory bits?"

Again, sorry for the accidental deletion! I may turn off the spam filter for a while...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Ian -- that's probably a much more efficient way to make the point I was trying to make in the post.

Anon #1 -- "Would the ideas still survive if there was only a single melodic line? or just the drums? another band covering the tunes?"

I can't say whether any of my pieces would definitely survive such drastic reductions, but yes, this is the sort of thing I aspire to.

I was rehearsing the show with our Portland contingent (bass, tenor sax, and piano) a few weeks ago, in prep for our recent tour, and some of the tunes actually sounded kind of cool in that pared down form.

Anon #2 --

"when you're talking about texture, when is it about the testure of concepts and ideas and the texture as it relates to the auditory bits?"

Personally, I think of it as the auditory bits. Can you explain what you mean by the texture of an idea or concept?

Thanks for the comments, all.

Anonymous said...

you were speaking of textures layered on top of the idea. what exactly are these "textures?" are these the auditory bits you mean?

when i'm talking about music--the music part;)--i tend to use "the sound" to describe the big circular thing that contains everything else, i.e. harmony, timbre, texture, tempo, instruments, etc. i'm aware that sound can be a species of texture but in what context? "In music, texture is the way the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition (Benward & Saker 2003, 131), thus determining the overall quality of sound of a piece."

you explain that you consider a successful tune one that can survive a translation. exactly, what kind of translation? instrumental? personnel?

also, is this a pun or a freudian slip?: "If they can, I know the underlying ideas are sound." do you mean your underlying ideas ARE sound in the physical sense or logical?

Andrew Durkin... said...

In part I think of texture as a synonym for "timbre," or "color." And in part I think of it in the way you describe, as the "sound" of a piece -- maybe, in a way, the gestalt of a piece, the overall impression it makes as it hits your ear. Maybe too it has to do with the sort of attention a listener brings to bear with a particular type of listening -- listening for an experience of overall enjoyment, as opposed to listening analytically. And of course the material aspects of the performance -- recording medium and playback equipment (if it's a recording), the acoustic characteristics of the venue (if it's a live performance) -- are all part of texture in this sense too. All this, to me, is the residue of the piece, the way the piece is realized, and it can be distinguished from the underlying compositional concept or concepts.

So, for instance, if I perform "Frere Jacques" on a flute, and then perform it in a very dense arrangement for an orchestra, those are instances of two very different musical textures (in both senses of the term). And yet there is something that links them, that makes me realize them as both instances of the same underlying idea, or concept, or basic "Frere Jacques-ness."

In my own work, the sort of writing I shoot for (I'm not saying that I always achieve it) is something that could survive the translation from big to small (e.g., big band to solo piano, or maybe piano four hands). This is because I happen to think that one of the pitfalls of writing for big band is getting caught up in the pyrotechnics that are suddenly available in that format, even when you don't have a particularly compelling idea to express. I'm always worried about the quality of my own ideas.

And in that last quote, I meant "sound" as in "worth listening to," or "solid." I wish I had been clever enough to deliberately insert it as a pun!

Thanks for your comments.