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  Multiphonics  MartinY at 10:24 on 07 March 2011

I was thinking about the New Complexity and the Brian Ferneyhough blog. One the features of new complexity is multiphonics. I realised there is a philosophical problem with multiphonics in that the wind instruments have been evolved to try and produce an even tone over the whole range of semitones. The multiphonics are the un-optimised bits left over from this process.

An analogy is if you solve a 100x100 matrix problem for 50 eigenvalues that you are interested in the eigenfunctions for the bottom 50 which are optimised. The eigenfunctions for the top 50 are what is left over and though they have the property of being mutually orthogonal with the optimised ones and can still represent waves they are basically meaningless without further mathematical processing. (This does make sense if you understand that eigenfunctions and orthogonal are precise technical terms.)

A more musical example is suppose an early cylindrical bore recorder had really desirable multiphonics because it was a cylinder. When you evolve it to a baroque recorder you have made the main notes 'better' but the multiphonics will be all over the place. Now the point I am making is that do we worry about the multiphonics being the left over debris from the instrument design and are they just a curiousity for fanatics to play with. There is the possibility alluded to in the blog of there being a lot of willy-waving about the technology which only a few cult members understand.... (Of course it is all in books so anyone can read it if they want to...)

Again with new complexity, you can make things as complicated as you like but at the end of the day it is only a piece of music, (can we say only a piece of music on a composing website), not a space shuttle to get you to mars and back alive. And unlike the space shuttle, which will kill people if you get it wrong, there is no real test for music other than is it still being played in 50 years time?

One of the problems with contempory music was that the test of goodness / badness was whether it could get the composer a tenured academic job or not! This problem has been solved in the UK by nobody getting a job for next few years!

I wonder also if the phenomenon of incomprehensible writings about music is due to people having read more stuff than they can digest and they just regurgitate reordered fragments of what they have read. (A paper written by a computer program which did just this was accepted and printed by an acdemic journal to the great embarrassment of the editors a few years ago... I think the referees were very thankful for their anonymity on this occaison especially.) Surely if you understand what you are talking about you can put it in a form where someone else can understand it too.

(You do not really understand something until you have written a program to do it, as the computer is stupider than any human on earth, and has to be told everything.... I think Donald Knuth said more or less that....)

  Re: Multiphonics  MartinY at 12:07 on 08 March 2011

One of my ways of coming to terms with modernism this year has been when I am writing for a given ensemble I write a fairly conventional piece, in a mid 20th century style, probably with traditional forms, and not stretching tonality any further than say late Bartok. I simultaneously write a more wayout piece, often using theoretical methods to generate the notes.

What I am finding is that the more conventional piece is much harder to write, because it is immediately obvious when you have written rubbish in a way which for the more wayout piece is not obvious. This means there is much more discarded work in the conventional piece. I remember a correspondent not agreeing with me that it was impossible really to assess more conventional modern music against models for a composition exercise because the difference between good and bad was how you felt about the music, and was not obvious from any seemingly objective criteria. A piece might look really interesting on paper but just be a load of twaddle even after you have played it 20 times, wheras a piece which looks like nothing on paper can be wonderful.....

Once again I do not know what this means. Maybe I lack objectivity because my brain is full of half digested memories of pieces I have not appreciated fully.

Maybe you do not know a piece properly until you have played it so much that you hate it. I hope that is not true.