Sunday, September 06, 2009

Forbidden Tones

I remember being a music student in college back in the 70's, studying musical composition. Our teacher was more the avant-garde type than most all of his students, particularly me with my Hindemithian quasi-tonality and for the most part early 20th c. musical aesthetic, but still offered musical counsel that we could use. He cited to me an example of a fellow student, who had in his lessons--music comp was taught on a private lesson basis as opposed to a classroom setting--asked the question "can I do this?"

"Never", my teacher said, "ask 'can I do this?'". The only valid question here is "will it work?".

Indeed. Music theory is itself merely an afterthought, a codification of what composers have come up with by asking themselves- will this work? And if it does, it becomes 'music theory'.

There have, of course, been forbidden tones in the past, and for all kindsa crazy religious/philosophical reasons- themselves perfectly logical and reasonable to their holders at the time. A music lesson in the 16th century in which that question had been asked- can I do this- , may well have been answered with a resounding NO(or perhaps nay). . But then in the 20th century--and, let's hope, even more so here in the 21st--we're past the decorum of harmonic "permissions". Anything goes, so long as it works.

Let's imagine though, for just a second, that there were tones, or perhaps a certain progression of notes, that was forbidden by the government. All recorded music and sheet music would be scanned of course to make sure none of the no-no notes were in there. And all electric guitars and keyboards would be programmed to set off an alarm if those notes were played. Within minutes, your house would be surrounded and you'd have at least 10 individuals pointing guns at you. But they'd let you live so you could stand trial..

And they'd have public executions of all the violators of Musical Law. The "forbidden" sounds would be played to accompany the hangings or shootings. In that way these criminals- these "sound-criminals" if you will, would die by the vile notes they played.

Of course you'd have your revolutionaries, and the "forbidden" sounds would be their anthem. They'd de-program the guitars and keyboards, and hopefully lead people out of musical tyranny.

You could take Musical Law another way as well, that being a more gradated system of lawfulness, of musical legality. Certain notes or intervals could be deemed merely misdemeanor offenses while others would be felonies, for instance a Perfect 4th vs a minor 9th. So you'd have your law-abiding musical citizens, your borderline troublemakers, and your musical incorrigibles. "Ahh the Music Prisons are full of guys like you!"

Anything goes. Music is the most abstract of the arts, and that fact itself gives it a headstart on expressive freedom, much less the perhaps-not-infinite-but-still-vast number of possible tonal variations. Some things may be harder on the ears than others(even if they're tonal!)but there are no crimes of noteage.

One closing item, one thing, and from this same period, that made me laugh just a little bit and is apropos here, is an old comic strip from the National Lampoon. A little girl, age 12 or so hears her folks huffing and puffing and her Mom moaning. She calls the cops, "help, my Father is killing my Mother!!" So the cops bust in to the parents' bedroom to find them screwing. They're doing it doggie-style, and the wife turns to the husband and says, angrily, " I told you this position was illegal!"

A Purse Made Out of Pus

Well you can't really say no muss, no fuss
But all the same, tell Mary! Tell Gus!
If you still don't know quite what it is,
It's a purse made out of pus!

Okay, not much marketability there: "Gee, Patty's quite the hit at the party with her new Pus Purse!" Then again, there's a market for everything, really. Disgusting human secretions/emissions? Sure, why not! Probably even Pus Purses, provided of course that you don't really get any onya--provided that you're protected by a patina of clear plastic.

So Patty's Pus Purse just might be the hit of the party. But then Sally just might take over the soiree with her new Snot Handbag.