Why "notes", duples?

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Metrophage
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Why "notes", duples?

Postby Metrophage » Fri May 27, 2016 11:28 pm

It seems like such a simple thing which most people take for granted! Most of what I know about music (not much) has been using computers to sculpt and modify raw sound. I have mucked about with MIDI and DAWs for sequencing events and assembling finished tracks, but it has always seemed so severely conceptually limited in really fundamental ways. And when I have talked with "real musicians" about this, they have tended to have no real answers why, apart from "tradition".

Contrary to what "western music theory" tends to teach, the most basic elements of sound are not harmonies, scales, intervals, etc - but rather simply duration and placement in time. Basically, rhythm is the most basic framework, which melody, harmony etc are layered on top of. But in most western theory, rhythm, the actual progression through time is mostly glossed over entirely, and presumed to be a static thing.

Where this comes to be a huge obstacle in computer music software is in pervasive notions such as a single master tempo, and regular bar-beat structure. Does anybody make a DAW where one can independently vary the tempo and time signature of each track discretely? The bar-beat conundrum seems to derive from the insistence upon "notes" which are entirely duple in nature - always divisible by two. People tell me that it is "easier" somehow to crowbar everything into 4/4, and that notes which are themselves odd divisions are somehow impossible/unthinkable! There is obviously no artistic or practical reason why a note could not be divided by three or five equal durations of time. Yet most musicians protest the idea as if their brains are going to break. Things do not need to be divisible by two to be rational, pretty much anything can be expressed as a ratio.

I can appreciate that many people are deeply invested in the structures and sounds of traditional European musics, and the notations used to realize them. But not everybody is! The old adage rings false to me that "one should learn the systems of these musics rules before they break them". Should I really need to become an expert in western musical theory, learn staff notation, and then translate the math so that I can simply tell a sequencer to play pulses in 5/9 and 7/11 at the same time to hear how they sound? It seems that what people are really saying by this is that I should dedicate myself for years of work towards mastering a huge pseudo-system which is ultimately ill-suited to expressing many kinds of even simple musical ideas.

So, what do you think? Is the inability of western music theory to parse most of the world's music something best glossed over? Is it unthinkable to devise a new symbol to notate a 1/3 note? Or do away with master clock?

Lyberta
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Re: Why "notes", duples?

Postby Lyberta » Sat May 28, 2016 8:39 pm

I think you forgot or don't know about tuplets.

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davephillips
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Re: Why "notes", duples?

Postby davephillips » Sat May 28, 2016 8:56 pm

Greetings,

Henry Cowell addressed similar issues in the 1920s :

http://zztt.org/lmc2_files/Cowell_New_M ... ources.pdf

Also check the music by Elliott Carter and Conlon Nancarrow, both were particularly interested in the matters of time in music.

And check out environments such as Csound or SuperCollider, they're much better tools for the job you're asking about.

Best,

dp

witchspace
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Re: Why "notes", duples?

Postby witchspace » Tue May 31, 2016 7:41 am

Metrophage wrote:And when I have talked with "real musicians" about this, they have tended to have no real answers why, apart from "tradition".

Absolutely. Music theory is basically a language. It makes it easier to talk about what you are doing to other musicians. Like in other human languages a lot of things are just tradition, why is a word written in one way or not another, why is grammar a certain way etc. Also listeners have come to expect certain patterns and may be confused by others, but that is very (sub)culture specific.

With the computer (or before, with modular synthesizers) there's no need to do anything in the traditional way. There's no need to write scores for concert performers so you don't need to write your music in note symbols. You can do arbitrary rhythms, arbitrary song speed changes, arbitrary musical scales (why stick to twelve-tone chromatic scale?), or even just filter recorded sounds in creative ways and hope something nice-sounding comes out. That's a lot of freedom and also easy to abuse :D

Should I really need to become an expert in western musical theory, learn staff notation, and then translate the math so that I can simply tell a sequencer to play pulses in 5/9 and 7/11 at the same time to hear how they sound?

That depends on what you want to do? Learning theory can broaden your scope, but so does listening to other culture's music as well as just experimenting. You certainly don't need to be an expert in western music theory to make good music. On the contrary, a lot of people may find that kind of formulaic classical music boring (music theory is mostly used to describe things after the fact - it is not generative). But it depends on who your audience is.

rghvdberg
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Re: Why "notes", duples?

Postby rghvdberg » Tue May 31, 2016 8:04 am

Agreed, music theory doesn't dictate what to do. It isn't a set of rules. It just describes what and how it is commonly done in (western) music.

Btw, tracks in a DAW don't have to follow the tempo or 'grid', just record like you would on an old fashion tape recorder.


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