Re: regarding innovation

Subject: Re: regarding innovation
From: David Hirst (
Date: Tue Feb 15 2005 - 17:50:54 EST

Ola Ross,

Some literature to explore would be to find a good Architectural History
text since they seem to be less obscure than Art History texts in
elaborating the Modernism vs Postmodernism debate.

Critical theory texts make good reading for insomniacs too - they have all
the isms down pat & even come out in pocket guides too with pictures,
cartoons & everything!

Here is a (pseudo-) psychological, rather than a cultural or philosophic,
explanation which is my 2c's worth. I've extracted some bits & pieces from
some recent writings to try & make it short:

Dowling and Harwood (1986) quote Mandler's theory of emotion as a basis for
their own discussion:

Human cognition operates by means of perceptual-motor schemata through
which (largely unconscious) expectancies are generated for upcoming events
and by which future behaviors are planned. The interruption of an ongoing
schema or plan brings about biological arousal - a signal that something
has gone wrong. This reaction in turn triggers a search for a cognitive
interpretation of what happened - a search for meaning. The arousal and the
interpretation join together in producing an emotional experience of a
particular quality. (Dowling and Harwood, 1986:214)

Music involves several overlapping schemata (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic,
timbral) all operating simultaneously so that subconscious interruptions to
expectations are occurring on different levels. An interruption creates
arousal which in turn triggers cognitive activity aimed at interpretation
of the novel event.

According to Berlyne (1971), the listener seeks arousal, but only up to a
point. Beyond that point, the listener seeks to avoid further arousal. Thus
the listener's preference in relation to musical complexity will follow an
inverted U-shaped function. (Imagine a graph of "Preference" [Y-axis] vs
"Complexity" [X-axis] here!)

Vitz (1966) found that listeners with more musical training and interest
preferred higher levels of complexity (the inverted U-shape graph is skewed
more to the complex end of the complexity scale). He even found that
certain mid-range frequencies (400-750 Hz) and intensities were preferred
over lower and higher values, presumably because more and more extreme
values produce higher and higher levels of arousal. (Vitz, 1972)

There is also a relationship between a particular musical style and its
perceived complexity. "As listeners' schemata accommodate to a style - that
is, as they include more and more of its novelties, and subtle nuances -
the composer finds it more and more difficult to produce the schematic
interruptions necessary for emotional arousal. "The composer needs to go
outside the existing style for interruptions, and so the style changes."
(Dowling and Harwood, 1986:224)

So as listeners become more versed in the nuances of an existing style,
composers must extend the boundaries of that style in order to arouse the
listeners. Go too far outside the stylistic boundaries & there will be a
fracture between the listeners' expectations & the composer's music.
(Doesn't mean to say you can't find new listeners of course.)

This does point to the danger that composers can become too habituated to
their own music by being so totally immersed in the act of composition over
an extended period of time that they become detached from the audience.
(Not necessarily a bad thing. Just something to be aware of - e.g. it may
be healthy to take a break from composing activities from time to time.)

This also does point to an important question: How are stylistic schemata

I believe it's through immersion, but that's a question for another day.



At 12:16 PM 15/02/2005 +0100, Ross Bencina wrote:
>Hi All
>Greetings. I'm back after a few years out of this pond.. but something is
>bugging me, and i could think of no better place to discuss it, so here
>goes (apologies for the length)...
>I'm wondering about when interest in "innovation" or "the creation of new
>systems" and/or "originality" became an important focus for individual
>musical creation, and whether this is/was a historical phase, an artifact
>of the pedagogical tendency to use new innovations as milestones to
>describe history, an intrinsic element of my/our definition of "art", part
>of our culture's obsession with "the creator", all, or none of the above etc.
>What I learnt at school was a history of innovations:
>Diatonic harmony and it's other related predecessors were a stable systems
>basis for musical composition for a few hundred years (accepting slow or
>sometimes drastic excursions), then the vienna school decided the whole
>system could be dismantled and reorganised. Around the same time
>Stravinsky (I gues Webern too) derided the barline, some other guys
>(Varese, Grainger, Rusollo) decided tuned instruments weren't necessary
>anyway you could just use sounds, and the rest of the 20th century is a
>role call of new systems and approaches (tunings, stochastics, etc). These
>days it's not uncommon for composers to invent a totally new system for
>each composition.
>I know some of the facts, but I don't have a good enough grounding to say
>something like "Oh that's a manifestation of the general trajectory of
>Western thought in the late industrial period where people were mostly
>concerned with X,Y and Z due to A, B, and C, important themes were
>explored by I, II and III" -- not that that would necessarily satisfy me,
>but it might be a good place for me to start.
>Accepting that I probably need to go take a course in philosophy and art
>history, can anyone give me some hints or point me at something good to
>read about the above themes?
>...while i'm talking about systems, what do you (or others) think about
>different approaches to systems innovation in art and music:
>- Apply existing system (write a sonata in C Major)
>- Modify existing system (take Xenakis' stochastics and put a new spin on it)
>- Combine multiple systems in a new way (take a Partch tuning and compose
>with chance operations)
>then you can get trans-sensory:
>- Make a painting and turn it into sound
>or interdisciplinary:
>- Model the physics of a saxophone, then scale it up to the size of a
>skyscraper and play it with a virtual inteligent tornado bred to play like
>Ravi Shankar using evolutionary algorithms...
>... i think i know it's a risk to be so "systems" centric... but that's
>how i'm thinking this morning .. and i would think someone has written
>abou this.
>Actually what I'm really interested in is music software systems and some
>concrete reasons why some people make their own, why others use existing
>systems etc. I think digging into the above might provide some useful
>clues.., does anyone want to join in?
>Best wishes

David Hirst
Senior Lecturer, Educational Design
Information and Education Services
University of Melbourne
Victoria, 3010
ph +61 3 8344 7568
Fax +61 3 8344 4341

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