Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Only in it for the money

It seems that the sounds of spoken numerals affects the perception of price. (Read here.)  Morton Feldman talked about using instruments in a similar way, getting really expensive sounds out of really expensive instruments, by starting a vibrato on a cello, for example, before beginning to bow, or having a certain touch at the piano, and only on a certain class of piano.  The other side of the coin — as it were — was Feldman's disdain for instruments he considered "cheaper" in quality, the recorder for instance (a judgment I don't share).   I think it will be interesting to hear how well Feldman's instrumental value judgments hold up, if some of his preferences — for that vibrato, or the use of tuba, glockenspiel, or vibraphone with the motor on — acquire a dated quality.  In any case, this research is certainly compositionally suggestive for the composer who wants to lend her or his music a certain aura of value.   

8 comments:

Office of the Cultural Liaisons said...

Unfortunately for many, the use of any western orchestral instrument regardless of how it is used gives music a dated quality.
As for Morty, he just wasn't right all of the time except for what worked in his music.

Elaine Fine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine Fine said...

Blogger Elaine Fine said...

Value, shmalue: I have it on excellent authority that Morton Feldman wrote exceptionally slow music with long note values when he was getting paid by the minute for it.

Daniel Wolf said...

Elaine:

I believe your authority was not so excellent; indeed many of his late commissioners probably would have paid more if Feldman had composed pieces of less length. AFAIC, sticking to his guns about the scale of his work was a real value in his music, my concern here is more one of style.

Part of Feldman's discourse on quality had to do with trying to establish a certain lineage for himself, as a musician inheriting a particular European tradition (his piano teacher studied with Skryabin, he studied with Wolpe etc.)

Dan said...

I don't think Feldman ever needed to establish such a lineage, the lineage is clear. The same lineage is obvious even within the most petulant post-classic american minimalists. But that's basically irrelevant...

"Quality of sound" is a very late 20th C concept. Musicians began to pay attention to the phenomenon itself and study sonic perception at a basic level. Apart from Cage (obviously), there was the recording industry, synthesis, computers, all bringing a new awareness to timbre as a subject for thematic development in and of itself.

Since Feldman limited himself to acoustic instruments, it seems inevitable that he'd choose carefully. (And sometimes make insulting remarks about xylophones.)

It could be argued that a composer who thinks only about pitch is living in the past. And god knows, some classically trained musicians have a dreaful ear for timbre. It's a strange dichotomy.

Peter T. said...

Well, it seems to me that thinking mostly of the pitch is now becoming pretty much the matter of the future. With Feldman it´s rather simple: unlike so many of his contemporaries, he knew (really knew) what to do with pitches. Maybe that´s why he enjoyed nice instrumental sounds and felt little attraction to prepared pianos, xylophones, recorders and similar etno gadgets.

Peter T. said...

...and similar etno gadgets, of which the "interesting" sound wears out so easily.

Elaine Fine said...

Just for the record, my authority comes from a person who knew Feldman and played his music quite often. My friend asked Feldman why the notes values were so long in a particular piece, and Feldman's answer was the substance of the comment above.

Perhaps Feldman was kidding. Who knows?