Friday, February 25, 2011

Colourmusic's "Yes" - The song that only needs 2 notes to be amazing, plus bonus "Tog"!

 Among Dr. Tymozcko's 5 principles of what makes music sound good to the typical western listener is this:  "In 30 seconds of a song, you will hear 5-8 different notes."  He forgot one extremely important Jimi Hendrix quote:  "With the power of soul, anything is possible."  My band, Via Audio played at Union hall about 4 years ago, and the band after us was Colourmusic.  I was an immediate believer.  They brought an amazing amount of energy to the stage.  Their whole set was excellent, but the most memorable song was the most simple.  That song was "Yes".  That song sounds great to the typical western listener - as evidenced at every Colourmusic show by the ecstatic masses of people.   From :32 to about 1:14 there are only 3 different notes.  (Take that, Dr. T!) From 1:50 to 2:14 there are only 2 notes! (no background vox)
Lead vocal is only on B (1) 
Background vocal on G# (6)
Guitar and Bass are on B(1) then E (4), so the implied chord progression is I, IV.

After every IV, we go back to I so we have the plagal (Amen) cadence happening constantly.  The feeling of the cadence mirrors the affirmative lyrics.

    Then at 2:14 there's a rainbow-like arpeggio that comes in containing the notes of a B7 add 9 chord.  Whenever you see a dominant 7th chord, you can watch out for the authentic cadence.  We western listeners are conditioned to expect 7th chords to resolve to the major chord a 5th down.  That is the case in this song, as the chords resolve from B7 to E.  Your western music conditioned brain is being given exactly what it wants over and over in this song.  It's brain candy!  This I7 to IV device is quite common, especially in blues influenced music but I've never heard it in such a pure form, and executed to the fullest as it is here.

 "Tog" from Colourmusic's album PINK is also worth checking out!
"Tog" is quite a rare type of song, tonally speaking, because it is neither in a minor key, nor a major key.  It just... exists.  The Key is A.  Most of the notes are A(1), B(2), D(4), and E(5).  By avoiding the 3rd note of the scale, they avoid minor (if there were a C played) or major (if there were a C# played) classification.  At a couple of points in the song, the bass hits the major 3rd, but then it's immediately followed by the minor 3rd.  Another element to note is the eerie IV chord played on the keyboard in the background.  It's happy in a displaced way. 

Here's another great track by Colourmusic... also from PINK!  This one might be my favorite!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Big Question Part 2: Dr. Tymoczko, "Smalin" and Chopin

Dr. Dmitri Tymoczko is a professor or music theory and composition at Princeton.  He asked the question:  "What makes music sound good to typical western listeners?"  

With much research and thought, he came up with 5 principles.  

1. Melody travels short distances most of the time
2. Chords are structurally similar in a piece
3.  Harmony is intrinsically pleasurable or consonant
4. 10-30 seconds in the music contains 5 to 8 different notes as opposed to all 12 notes in a chromatic scale
5. Some notes are more prominent than others, establishing a tonal center

On a demonstration on his website, (If you click on "What makes music sound good") he uses a computer to generate notes randomly.  Then he applies his principles one by one to the music.  The random notes get more and more musical and less random seeming as his principles are applied!  Check it out!

 Another really interesting thing Dr. Tymoczko did was create computer programs that map out music in geometric shapes.  He uses the shapes to demonstrate music following his principles.  Watch this whole video below if you have time, or at least check out some of these highlights:

4:29 - what makes music sound good?
7:30 - why have avant-garde 20th century composers have a hard time finding audiences
8:50 - Aleatoric Eatery
10:42 someone asks where those 5 principles came from
11:35 which are innate, which are culturally variable of the 5 principles?
12:50  how does geometry get into the picture
19:27  The ear has developed to care a lot about the distance between notes, but not at all about the position of the notes on the circle. (or keyboard)  "It probably has to do with our need to hear similarities in the contour patterns of male/female/adult/child speech."
21:45  Voice leading makes the circle dance
24:00  2 note chords represented on a Mobius strip
26:38 "That's Weird"- singular space.
33:00 Chopin Prelude in Em moves through a hypercube
36:00 Chopin Fm mazurka and his Tritone subbing. 
37:25 Chopin's "Feeling for advanced mathematics"


While searching on youtube, I found another interesting way to demonstrate harmony.  This person has a midi version of Chopin's Nocturne opus 27, #2 mapped out in dots.  The higher the dot is on the screen, the higher the note is in pitch.  The dots scroll across the screen as the music is played.  As each new note is played, it interacts with the other sounding notes in a certain way depending on what interval the new note is relative to the sounding notes.  "Smalin" (the name on the youtube account) shows the relation between Perfect 4ths, Perfect 5ths, Perfect Unisons and Perfect Octaves by drawing a blue line between a note and any note a perfect interval away sounding at the same time.  He then draws relation between minor 3rds, Major 3rds, minor 6ths, Major 6ths by illustrating those intervals with a green line.  Major 2nds and Minor 7ths are purple, Minor 2nds and Major 7ths are yellow, Augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths are in Red.  Here's all that in a short hand chart where "m" means minor and "M" means major, P means Perfect, A means Augmented and d means diminished.

Blue = P1, P4, P5
Green = m3, M3, m6, M6
Purple = M2, m7
Yellow = m2 M7
Red = A4, d5

I find his choice of color interestingly intuitive:  His blue intervals are the most consonant or easy on the ears, his yellow and red are the most dissonant.  Red is associated with aggression and blue is associated with peace.  Notice how much more common the peaceful blue and green intervals are.  Does that have something to do with life, the universe, and everything?  Let's question and comment.