Music and Vision homepage

Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


The Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Erno Rubik invented his ingenious coloured cube in 1974, and although it was (and still is) a confounding test for me, it only took my sons a matter of a few hours to master the puzzle and be challenging each other and their school friends to the fastest time in which to produce the required result -- twisting the coloured segments to achieve uniform colours on each face. Particularly over the last forty years or so we have experienced the emergence of an amazing rapport between youth and technologies of all kinds, and an impatience that has left many teachers far behind their students, languidly trying to keep pace by demanding simplified user-friendly versions of what even their children have fully mastered.

Now musical software has provided the youngest students with the means to produce in the space of a couple of tutorials the kind of complex thematic manipulation that took Bach and Brahms, Schoenberg and Webern weeks if not months. Transpositions and inversions, arrangements and orchestrations, expositions and developments can be achieved in moments. Technology will patch up and mend an attempted melodic line, harmonize it and score it for brass band without the student needing to know anything of the traditional techniques or instrumental ranges. Tame keyboard improvisation can be turned into a choral and orchestral score and dubbed to video in an afternoon with only the wizardry of the operator to admire, though many film producers, ignorant of music, will be overwhelmed by the superficial magnificence of the meaningless sounds produced. (It is well said that to those who don't know the difference, you can sell a pig for a donkey.)

And superficiality is both the word and the problem. Because young operators can achieve impressive superficial results with the assistance of computer programmes that they can understand and operate so swiftly, there is now no reason to attempt any deeper investigation. Indeed, those operators have moved so quickly into the so-called creative arena that they have little idea of what it is that distinguishes a Bach fugue, a Brahms symphony, a Ravel orchestration or Messiaen's fabulous breadth of vision from their own feeble sonic meanderings. They have little time in their feverishly paced living to find out either. It all takes so long, and that means the threat of boredom is not far away. But sadly they don't see that it matters.

Music is a noise through headphones from their iPods that helps to obliterate the world outside, and it can be made on a relatively cheap programme by anyone. Like the great artistry of country crafts, of the wheelwright, the blacksmith, weaving and shoemaking, the craft of music is disappearing. But why not? It's all so old fashioned and therefore redundant now. What is the big deal about a fugue or a symphony? Anyone can do it.

Copyright © 24 May 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


From: Simon, Sheffield, UK

Oddly enough I've heard Howard Goodall express similar sentiments about the physical writing of music -- sentiments I would echo were it not for the fact that Mr Goodall's musical output seems to consist mainly of crappy jingles for BBC TV.


From: Richard Crowley

'Provocative'? Seems rather reserved to me.


From: Robson Cozendey

I think the best way to learn composition is writing music. It doesn't matter if your way to achieve this is your ear, often with the aid of an good ol' piano or a score editing app.

I believe the need to know the techniques and styles of the past arises naturally, as the composer wants to learn new devices and connect with fellow composers, sometimes from a distant age, but sometimes what is needed is not just knowledge, but 'musical maturity'. Today I picked up a book from my shelf that I bought eleven years ago. At the time I read it, understood it, but could not get why all those things were necessary. I think one has to get to the point of needing it.

As far as the composer is satisfied in knowing nothing about, say, the baroque, let it be. I think the move to it cannot be imposed, 'cause if so, like me, he will understand it, but not get it. I believe it must come, in his own time, as natural and necessary, or he will copy it out of formalism.




 << Music & Vision home                 Intervals >>