12 tone Music with Mark Gould: The Discussions Continue

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

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12 tone Music with Mark Gould: The Discussions Continue

Post by figaro » Fri Sep 14, 2007 6:55 am

12 Tone Music with Mark Gould: The Discussions Continue: A Composer’s Journal Entries: July 17 - September 6, 2007


Tuesday, July 17

Received an e-mail from Mark today:

“Sorry to hear that the heat is bad. In the UK we are all having far too much rain... wetness everywhere. At least I hope things cool off for a good spell so you can get music finished.

When I think that others are reading our conversations, I am aware that many readers will wonder about the cross-current with tonality. This gives me the idea of another strand maybe when we feel that we have exhausted our reader's minds with twelve-note music... We could introduce it under the banner - the tonal row - tonality and twelve-note music.”

I answered:

Hello again Mark!

It is getting wet here as well, and very humid. The gardens are grateful, even if the humans are not.

I think your idea a good one, and many people could benefit from such discussions. (i.e. tonality and twelve tone music.) However: Do you think we can ever exhaust the topic of twelve tone music?

For instance, we could discuss the problems of writing twelve tone music, such as the problems you are now facing: you have your row, your beautiful little mournful tune - but now what? I think people would be interested in the struggles a 12 tone composer faces. We could take them through it, step by step, blow by frustrating blow ... Perhaps you could keep a diary with short entries for a week or so, as you grapple with that mournful little row?

I suggest staying with these topics longer before moving on to your fine suggestion. Thank you for these discussions and for your friendship dear Mark

The rest of this Journal entry is built on our last discussion: i.e. Mark’s responses to my questions, & my new questions & comments to him.

LC: Are you saying that now harmonic and melodic notes alternate in the construction of your row? Or that now you are considering only the melodic aspect of the row ...

Mark: Not really an alternation of the row but rather to find sequences of notes in one transformation that correspond to other transformations. There is still a free flow between harmonic and melodic elements. Only that the above technique can be used to provide accompanimental material to thematic statements of the row.

LC: Another question: by "twelve-note scale" do you mean the chromatic scale? (I assume that you do.) Hmm ... If so, then are you calling the half steps of the chromatic scale microtones? Generally the term "microtonality" refers to intervals smaller than the half step, i.e. quarter tones and smaller. Are you saying here that the diatonic scale existed before the chromatic scale, and that the chromatic scale was only the result of the transpositions of the Greek modes and of the diatonic scales? I always assumed the chromatic scale grew out of the transpositions. This is a bit off-topic, but when was the chromatic scale "invented", first used, and by whom - do you know?

Mark: Here I don't like really to think of microtones but a 'tuning' or 'intonation', in the sense of which notes we choose to write music with. Microtones are smaller than semitones. Microtonality led me to this conclusion through analysis of many articles on tonality and microtonality - what I discovered was that there is a fundamental property of scales of whatever tuning that organises their notes into a formation that behaves like the diatonic heptatonic scale. Chromatic scale as an invention can be taken back to Pythagoras... but not equal temperament - the jury is out on who invented that. As for the relevance to twelve-note music, I find that what ends up being composed is music using the total chromatic - as if tonality saturates every element but thinly, in the form of a reminiscence, a memory of tonality. It is the evocation of these memories that I find interesting as a composer - their transience is what draws the ear.

LC: Well said, dear Mark. However, would you explain: “I find that what ends up being composed is music using the total chromatic”. I am not entirely sure what you mean.

Also, when you wrote, “Here I don't like really to think of microtones but a 'tuning' or 'intonation', in the sense of which notes we choose to write music with.”: Are you saying that you consider microtones true entities, true pitches, true intervals - & not merely an alteration of tuning, i.e. playing a “real” tone either sharp or flat ... ?

Thursday, September 6

LC: Sorry about the long delay, Mark. Here are some thoughts & questions on what you have so beautifully written:

Tonality does seem to be the clear manifestation of the physical laws of this universe. That “memory” that you speak of could be considered our deep connection to our physical universe. A sort of ‘glue’ all incarnate beings share, the very vibration of our physical bodies and of the earth, perhaps of the universe itself. The “Music of the Spheres”. This innate music of our universe does seem to be based on the overtone series, and therefore on tonality - but what do we do then with the higher partials, the chromatics of twelve tone music? Do we say they do not exist? Or are those higher partials the true Reality of our universe we inhabit? The problem for me has always been: how do we harness, or guide these chromatics that eventually appear in the overtone series, the chromatics of twelve tone music. If we merely look at the chromatics, we can be left in chaos. There must be a fundamental tone, physical law demands it. As I think you have written in the past, perhaps the fundamental tone of twelve tone music is so low that it is inaudible - just as the highest partials of the overtone series are inaudible. Or perhaps each note in the twelve tone series has its own fundamental tone; or groups of notes in the row have a fundamental tone. Or, as you suggest, is tonality inherent in all arrangements of tones; perhaps the ear demands it, perhaps the laws of the universe demand it, perhaps it is a memory we somehow superimpose on atonal music. Or are we dealing with a sort of extremely complicated polytonality in twelve tone music, each tonality or key with its own fundamental tone ...

Or: Are all the 12 tone chromatics really building one chord, or rather two possible 13th chords; i.e. two scales, two chords, a half step apart? Could this be the inherent tonality you speak of?

Here it is over ninety degrees today, and I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your last e-mail. It has been an interesting summer, with many various challenges and responsibilities. My physical health remains a problem, and M’s nephews visited us altogether for five weeks. Unfortunately, during their visits they inhabited the computer room.

I hope all goes well for you dear Mark, both personally and professionally. Thank you again for these discussions.


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