Jul 08

A definition of Music rooted in the Doctrine of Correspondences and brought to bear through principles of beauty-in-truth and scientific spirituality.

By Lars Rosager | Music

From Miranda Bruce-Mitford, The Illustrated Book of Signs & Symbols (New York: DK, 1996), p. 102.

Greetings, all. The title of this blog post is that of an essay I just finished writing. It addresses the connections between Renaissance Music Theory and nature-based spirituality, attempting to apply similar modes of thinking to contemporary possibilities of musical style. In essence, the proposition of the essay is that Rhythm, Sound, and Form (in that order) constitute both the most distilled, and concurrently the most universally applicable, definition of Music as performed and observed in real time.

Through comparisons to other three-part phenomena both mundane and divine, I advise that Rhythm be ground zero for music learning and teaching, with Sound and Form rounding out a definition of the art that is most suitable for communing with that which is immediate and accessible, and as such Divine.

The PDF of the essay is available for open-source download by clicking here.

Oct 01

Published with Sociedad de la Vihuela

By Lars Rosager | Music

Greetings:

I have published a brief article on a highly applicable and fertile component of strummed-style five-course guitar. Though the focus of the article may seem purely historical or pertinent only to Renaissance and Baroque music, guitarists and other plucked-string musicians (and beyond!) active today on more modern instruments will find the concepts useful. Wherever music may be conceived in terms of chords or chord progressions, the topic will appertain. It is largely an invitation to use your imagination and get creative.

The article (https://www.sociedaddelavihuela.com/motives-and-melody-in-the-strummed-style-by-lars-rosager/) contains links to videos of several notable guitarists active today on historical instruments. I hope you enjoy the content.

This work goes further with collective financial support. Please consider donating here: http://www.paypal.me/textualchordophonics

Thank you!

 

Lars C. M.-M. Rosager

Mar 24

The Philosophy of Modern Song, by Bob Dylan: A Completely Grounded, Completely Incomplete Response

By Lars Rosager | Music

The Philosophy of Modern Song, by Bob Dylan: A Completely Grounded, Completely Incomplete Response

 

Lars Rosager, MA

March 24, 2023

 

 

Let it be known: the present text is no derision. It’s not exactly a critique, but more accurately the seedlings toward an analysis of the content of Dylan’s book vis-à-vis its presentation. The result is instructive in that it points to a definition of what exactly holds value for a musician of Dylan’s fame and commercial stature, and to a notion of what musical artists today must navigate in terms of craft and reception.

 

First off, the title of the book. Philosophy in the sense of a theoretical foundation, as in the Philosophy of Science or the Philosophy of Economics? Philosophy as foundational knowledge, explained by true reasoning? Taken at his word, Dylan is offering concrete information on what goes/has gone into the genesis (or performance, or promotion) of popular songs, presumably since the advent of Rock and Roll or thereabouts. The reader is intrigued by learning more about the intentions of the artists, perhaps about what these well-known tunes have in common. To an MA in Music like me, this title was inviting in the sense that I predicted nuts and bolts on an artform known for its ability to evade uniformity and ignore the sort of top-down processes often associated with more traditional, Classical, or conservatively heritage-minded musics.

 

The inside front cover did not change my initial hope or expectation. Here we look forward to “a master class on the art and craft of songwriting.” It is a curious fact that these two brief paragraphs on the inside front cover, the only introduction offered to the reader before Dylan launches into his commentary, are notably altered in the description of the book on Amazon, where instead of offering a master class, Dylan shares “his extraordinary insight into the nature of popular music.” Perhaps someone else thought the other version a little misleading too.

 

So the reader begins to discover what this book really is. At this point, I was still looking for advice on the compositional process, so some sort of confirmation bias drew my attention to Dylan’s emphasis on the poetic image. In other words, the reader enjoys an elaboration by a celebrated songwriter on what a given track illustrates, on the words and the journey on which they take the listener. The first section of chapter 1 consists of a prose addendum to the poetic image of “Detroit City,” by Bobby Bare (written by Danny Dill and Mel Tillis). In a little over a page, Dylan digs beneath the surface of the lyrics and drives the sentiment home. Many other chapters begin in a similar fashion.

 

Next in chapter 1 comes some historical context and biographical information on the performer, within which passages appears one technical detail: “What is it about lapsing into narration in a song that makes you think the singer is suddenly revealing the truth?” Then the chapter closes, but not before an assumption on what the listener is perceiving. Philosophy aside, I would say one could be forgiven for asking, “Is this really about art as such? Or about some paisley internal musing on a playlist of favorites?” It’s hard to describe. All things considered, the title of the book is perhaps not so much deceiving as it is ironic or intentionally misworded. Perhaps the point is that modern song is incompatible with philosophy, or is somehow inherently resistant to the methodical thinking upon which philosophy depends.

 

Chapter 2 advises, “It’s what a song makes you feel about your own life that’s important.” And then we have, “Torture her and talk to her, bought for her, temperature, was a rhyming scheme long before Biggie Smalls or Jay Z. Submission and transmission, pressure pin and other sin, just rattled through this song. It’s relentless, as all of his songs from this period are.” This is instructive. We get some sense of cause and effect, from the words and their organization to the impact on an audience.

 

In chapter 3, we learn tangentially that stretching one syllable over too many notes carries the risk of sounding forced. The syllable may “spread itself thin.” And we learn, “Few songs become popular but the ones that do we can’t seem to do without.” It is a short chapter.

 

Another question presents itself, that of modernity and who defines it. The previous generation was like this, the current one is like that, or an apparent innovation was actually invented by so-and-so fifty years ago … but I don’t think Dylan is saying his list of modern songs—in large part from the mid twentieth century—are juicier or more real than what is being released today. In fact, he seems to approach pretty fairly and justly certain questions of generational mindset and intergenerational exchange. Nonetheless, I must submit that the book perpetuates an interesting strain of ignorance.

 

For more than a few people, music today is not just a sonic phenomenon. Along with sound—but not necessarily illustrated by it—exists a web of social endeavor, sex, pop-culture gossip, inspiring life stories, politics and protest, awards, sales numbers, festival fun, party fun … which I have no problem with really. And yet, I can’t help but take issue with the proposition that an applicable creative command of music—not just in a commercial sense but also/rather in terms of substance and authenticity—stems precisely from avoiding the examination of real devices.

 

The Philosophy of Modern Song is almost anti-technical. Without taking away from what the book attempts to illustrate, the mentions of creative devices strike me as vague, or just indicated but not unpacked. I am willing to stand corrected, especially as I will admit not having read the book in its entirety. A reading of the first seven of sixty-six chapters informs my assessment, plus some less A-to-Z examination of later sections, where I continued to encounter a similar ratio of ethos to concrete technique.

 

One of these fast-forwards landed me in Dylan’s chapter on “Black Magic Woman,” by Santana. From what my experience with the book had taught me so far, the passage at hand was entirely representative of the text as a whole. It states unequivocally that “one place where additional learning does not disentangle the mystery of the subject is music.” I respect that. Later, ones reads, “E. B. White had a saying about humor that seems applicable to music: Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.” The fear is that the “joy of discovery” is diminished by study of technical elements. Discussing the art of joining words to music, Dylan has posited as a primary goal the ability to transcend craft. He expressly brushes aside hammer-ons (although this refers to a particular fretting-hand technique, one assumes this term here encompasses almost any detail of guitar playing), and likewise all but dismisses transposition, mode, and categorization of rhythmic styling, calling them “folderol,” meaning trivial and nonsensical fuss.

 

I reiterate my willingness to be wrong about this, but am concurrently tempted to conclude that the core lesson of The Philosophy of Modern Song is that the alchemical, miraculous nature of popular musical stylings remains basically at odds with any analytical or how-to summarization. I appreciate the book as a liberated and inclusive portrait of popular music in U.S. society, and am confident it includes a lot of instructive material for songwriters, should one drill down on the brief allusions. Nonetheless, those musicians serious about the creative process need to avoid the trap of an exalted spirit that lacks explicable form. Soul, vibe, feel—these are all just words if not for an understanding of, and command over, that by which they may be brought into a sensory space.

Jan 07

New Composition

By Lars Rosager | Music

Textual Chordophonics

01/06/2021

The new original composition “Truth Turned Dream (In Color)” is available in the Textual Chordophonics store (score is free with purchase of MP3). It is a work for voice and guitar inspired by a 360-degree modulatory process around the circle of fifths, and by color as prompt for poetic and musical affect. Other aspects of the piece are presented in the videos below, the second of which is detailed by a brief blog post.

Accompanying blog post here.

#casamontalvoguitars

#thomastikinfeldstrings

Dec 15

Guitar Jhalla

By Lars Rosager | Music

(Scroll down for link to video!)

Textual Chordophonics

December 15, 2020

 

Greetings everyone, just sharing some current practice on three primary jhalla styles: siddha, thok (or ulta), and ladi. What is the strummed guitar doing in an Indian Classical setting? Well, the connection is not as misplaced as one might think.

Many official histories place the origins of the strummed-style guitar music at about mid-sixteenth century in Spain. Nonetheless, the guitar was known to previous centuries on the Iberian Peninsula. It is particularly important to acknowledge the whirling generality of instrument-naming conventions in those earlier years. Denominations crossed from bowed to plectrum-driven to hand-plucked instruments, and performance applications of these were also shared. Ian Woodfield cites the probable employment of Moorish bowed rababs as drone accompaniments to vocal music, as well as the aptness of the ghiterne or ghiterra to accompany early Catalonian love poetry. Later, Juan Bermudo recalled that the strummed guitar was the accompaniment of choice for old romance poetry, a quintessential manifestation of popular Spanish verse with strong cultural overlap with the Moors. Many indications point to strumming or related techniques on early drone-based instruments.

The eastern regions of Central Asia mostly associate the rabab mostly with plectrum technique. Nonetheless, a similarly generic approach to linguistic classification clouds most delineations of organological history in Indo-Persia and the Arabian Peninsula as well. The veena and rud root words can be applied to a long list of instruments throughout the ages—harps, lutes, bowed-strings, etc. The Baloch tamburag is an interesting example of the persistence of ostinato drone accompaniment, even more so in light of the strumming technique identical to that of the rasgueado Spanish guitar. Moreover, the definitive North Indian tanpura (note the linguistic similarity to tamburag) features some constructional aspects in common with the rabab. Today, many plucked rabab and sarod jhalla renderings present a resonance broader than the delicate melodic styles that define the alaap the jor. The Rampur court and its fondness for the plucked rabab was a direct precursor to the Seni-Maihar school of sarod playing, the latter of which constitutes the present source for these approaches to jhalla.

 

 

Nov 30

A Bit on Music Education in the Age of Distance Learning

By Lars Rosager | Music , News

Textual Chordophonics

11/29/2020

 

In light of the extensive degree to which history has demonstrated music’s potential for interdisciplinary and cultural enrichment, music education in schools today does not find itself in as central a position as one might hope; so it is important that distance learning not result in more intensely marginalized music programs. The primary setback is technological; most video-conferencing applications are not conducive to music as a synchronized and collectively performative activity. But let us not succumb to this obstacle, instead remembering that students’ progress in Music is still very much a reality. Below I reference a few local examples and offer my brief two cents on the matter.

Before COVID-19, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s educational outreach program Simply Strings was a bowed-string–instrument ensemble program that met two hours a day, five days a week. It is now a half-hour music-appreciation class once a week for third-grade students only. While this is objectively disappointing, it is certainly good news to hear that the same Symphony’s in-school performance program offers videos of each instrument family of the orchestra in action. Other examples of audio and instructional outlines being distributed to local schools is, relative to an ensemble class, quite easy to continue unhindered.

Petaluma High School has converted ensembles into private-lesson sessions over video call. In terms of an effort to preserve the participatory aspect, this seems like a good thing. However, the problem of asynchronicity remains. It is not hopeless though. Let us celebrate the fact that the synchronized, interactive side of music is not an altogether lost cause in this day and age. Some have been able to play live to a certain degree of success. In terms of the educational process and how performance can help it along, recordings may be more help than meets the eye.

Recordings alone are not the answer, but they do play a central role in keeping performative musical skills progressing. The instructor must be crystal clear with regard to the purpose of the recording. Is it a play-along track? An accompaniment part or lead part, to one of which the student provides the other? A call and response? The practicality of the recording must be explained and exemplified with the lesson during which the coming week’s practice is assigned.

The follow-up to the previous week’s instruction must consist of a check-in on how the student has been employing the recording. This module is quite useful in situations where in-person instruction is a reality as well. With a guiding recording particular to the current projects in hand, the student is able to create music in a quite authentic sense, and instructors have a way of holding their pupils to account on exactly what they expect them work on. There is much more to be said about how one might steer music education toward or away from current trends and limitations, but harnessing the power of a useful practice recording can make a significant difference in filling the performance void that, these days, opens all too easily.

 

 

Sep 12

Live Clip: “Summertime” (and some musicological musings on Jazz culture)

By Lars Rosager | Moral Philosophy , Music

Textual Chordophonics

September 11, 2020

 

Greetings! Just taking a second to share a brief clip (below) of a recent rendition of the standard “Summertime.” Apart from offering this bit of music for your listening pleasure and as a way to share some current developments with regard to my skills and knowledge, I thought I might tie in a little cultural context from the era of this tune’s publication with current events. So often one takes a seemingly American classic such as “Summertime” for granted as a representative and wholesome example of popular culture, but this music’s history, as in many other cases, may just change the course of its performers.

I have alluded to this idea in the past (“My Man’s Gone Now”), though now it finds special relevance given a strengthened movement for real racial justice in BLM—strengthened by force and under outrageous duress, a critical and urgent civil-rights issue: George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (lyrics by DuBose Heyward) is an important reminder of how history has time and again witnessed Black and/or African music [Edited 10/20/2020 from “Black African music.” Thank you, Ayden Isam Bradley for your comments.] brought into a more mainstream and White space (related article from Smithsonian Magazine.) [The intentions behind the original phrasing Black African was to bring awareness to how native African musical stylings might be represented within a Black American musical context. For further reading see The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions, p. 201. Also, as I understand it, Dr. Anthony Brown wrote his dissertation on the transmission of native African drum stylings into Jazz music. I have not gained access to the text, but its author would be a great source for further inquiry.]

The at-times obscured Black and/or African centrality to American Folk Music as a general topic must be brought to the fore. Southern fiddle-tune stylings so often associated with the more politically dominant White cultures owe much to Black musicians. It has been proposed that so quintessentially American an instrument as the steel-string guitar is, at its roots, a cross between the Spanish guitar and the African banjo. Prevalent are the indelible and indispensable contributions of Black and/or African rhythmic sensibility to the regional musics of North and South America, particularly in the US and in Brazil. Should this and other non-Anglo traditions really be treated as such Others? How independent of non-Anglo traditions can American popular music really be, and which are the commonalities with regard to other phases in Western music?

One hopes the popularization (commodification?) of Black and/or African music has not in all cases been malevolent or otherwise an instance of plagiaristic opportunism. The potential inquiries into this topic are many and varied, though one thing is certain: today’s global moral climate invites a more prevalent awareness of the sociology behind Black and/or African music in so far as the latter has shaped the musical tastes of White-European America(s). [I invite you all to contribute discussion on the topic of sociological diversity in Music to the SF State Music Majors Facebook Group.]

Aug 26

Two Compositions in Raga Bhimpalasi

By Lars Rosager | Music

Textual Chordophonics

August 26, 2020

This is another example of a concept discussed previously here on the Textual Chordophonics blog. The slow Dhrupad-style composition links to the fast piece (inspired by campanella guitar technique) through an alignment of each composition’s sam, or downbeat. Thanks!

#textualchordophonics

 

May 22

Linking Slow and Fast Compositions in Indian Classical Music

By Lars Rosager | Music

While the general framework Alaap-Jor-Jhala guides most styles of Indian Classical Music, and other typical formal devices shape these three sections as well as shaping the development of fixed compositions, the Indian tradition is quite spacious in terms of room for personalization and innovation. This music thrives on spontaneity, but also enjoys the effects of close attention to detail and careful planning.

Here I present some original thinking on how one might move from a slow (vilambit) gat composition into a fast (drut) gat. The crux of the matter is preserving sam, the equivalent of the down beat in Western music. I have exemplified the idea with two compositions in Raga Yaman, and compared the treatment to a rendition of Raga Brindavani Sarang and one of Raga Sindhu Bhairavi. I have explored the concept in Ragas other than Yaman, and would be happy to share my findings.

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