Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-05-10 - 7:30 a.m.
(NEW STUFF AT THE END)
Someone has given me some feedback that suggests that I ought to do a bit of a recap.
There s a lot of evidence that ‘identity’ is an important concept - say for the last 35 years (maybe longer) in explaining both what artists put in and audiences get out of art in various media.
Gender and ethnicity have become important aspects of why artists do the art they do. Artists see themselves as doing gender or ethnicity based art. They feel the need to do this because the immediately preceding ‘big ideas’ about what art is were secretly biased along gender and ethnicity lines. The art pretended to be universal and wasn’t - so it had to be exposed.
You can find a lot of evidence that there was an explosion in this way of thinking at the end of the 60s - the protest against the Vietnam War and in favour of black civil rights in the USA in the 60s built up the pressure that resolved itself in this way.
Can we see any of this in songwriting? Yes - its easily visible in the work of songwriters like Tori Amos and Courtney Love.
And what are the antecedents - was anything going on in the formation of songs between 1960 and 1970?
Yes - a lot. Old song forms were collapsing and new ones emerging. The Miles Davis 5tet of 64-70 did a lot stretch the existing Broadway song form to the limit - some of the recordings which charted this - in live performance - are considered to be the greatest live jazz recordings ever.
Not only that - some others - in the same recording company - Columbia - in the same city - NYC - are considered to shape how song unfolds from that point - cf Marcus in the Observer this weekend on Like A Rolling Stone.
Where did BD get a revised idea of what a song can be ? Well Weil was an important influence. Did Miles tangle with Weil at all ? Yes with Gil Evans on Miles Ahead. (Remember the Doors and Weil on their first album).
Can we find a general theory of how to link identity into art? Yes - I have found one such and I have made it into a theory of songwriting - whereas in fact it is theory of how to write poetry.
How does that theory work? One way of looking at it is in terms of the ‘interaction theory of metaphor.’ This is a theory of how metaphors work to restructure our thinking by positing an identity between entities or an entity and an activity.
The ship ploughed through the waves.
In this model an identity is asserted which is literally false but makes sense through associations.
This model can be extended - where an identity is posited between systems - and the implications worked out to create new insights.
You can carry aspects of one system over into another (eg song structure) and get more powerful songs.
This kind of system-metaphor appeared in an important way in the thinking of one of the founding fathers of sociology - Durkheim . One of his big ideas was that the way that people think about all sorts of issues reflects a basic model they carry around in their minds about how society works. This is particularly true in primitive societies although you can find aspects in modern society too. For example he thought that people were much more likely to commit suicide when they became disconnected from society - effectively the disconnection meant that the flow of meaning into their lives atrophied - to such an extent that life lost meaning.
More recently Nicholas Gerhardt (who I think teaches Kultur at Lancaster University) has published ‘Going For Jazz’ where he analyses the most innovative jazz groups - those led by Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman - in social terms. The way that leading edge jazz groups ‘go for jazz’ - commit themselves to making music in new ways - reflects new aspects in the way society is evolving.
So in the manifesto of songwriting I constructed - by changing ‘poem’ to ‘song’ in the original, I also changed ‘university’ to ‘jazz’. But of course by simply switching terms in a text the basic form remains unchanged.
We should also remember that the innovative songs of Kurt Weill in the 20s were also about the state of society - particularly the contrast between the superficial aspects and the characters’ deeper motives.
So - system metaphors. A long time ago I exchanged a few thoughts with Ms Deidre Gentner. She has now a powerful body of work on which she calls structure mapping. SM applies when thee are two domains which have structured conceptual representations. Then the mapping is the process where you try to reduce the differences between the two and maximise the similarities - or even achieve identity. One domain could be structural ideas about pieces of music or songs - possibly the writer’s structural ideas. The other domain could be - ideas about how the composer feels he fits into society - or into certain other human relationships. In structure mapping you would try to find similarity or even better identity between those two domains.
So you could have as domain one a piece of music with three equidistant tonal centres and certain harmonic transitions between those centres. Another apparently different structure might be the lyric.
But you might be able to show that there was a deep identity between the structures which illuminated the meaning of both.
Of course I think that’s exactly what is going on side one of 5LL.
You have a set of structural relations about the tension in oddness - 3 tonal centres, 5-4 rhythm, 5 bar phrase lengths - and a set I worked on at the weekend about binary ending which are developed in Day is Done.
If you look up some grand theory of rock structure framed by the Prof of Pop at Surrey U - whose name I have lost for a moment - you will see that its about assembling pieces in typically four bar chunks.
DiD utterly disrupts these structural expectations in two ways:
- by throwing in an extra 2 bar phrase every so often. So instead of going 4-4 it goes 4-2-2-1.
- by appearing to recover the fourness by throwing away a turnaround. Normally after songs have reached they have a turnaround to start again - which is exactly what DiD doesn’t do because it turns directly back to the beginning.
Its fun to see how covers like Elton John and Norah Jones cope with this disruption.
The direction of DiD is down in every sense - as De Leuze points out down is the primary of the three dimensions.
And so you would expect a song with this theme to go down and stop - which is exactly what this one doesn’t do - it equivocates. It equivocates about the binary relation of harmonic pressure - chord 1 presses into chord 2.
You might want to think about this in the context of the 2nd of the 3 Piano Pieces Op11 by Schoenberg which bangs on with a minor third in a related fashion - happens to be the same minor third f-d.
So structurally at a very high level 5LL side 1 looks at the lack of balance in odd numbers in musical structures from different angles.
You could say that this is the first structural system.
The other structural system - well I say ‘the’ - there might be several - could be found in the deeper meaning of the lyric content - which arguably has something to do with feeling odd.
To develop this idea would be to do structure mapping in Gentner’s sense. I happen to thinking that system metaphor is another way of describing the same activity - finding the deeper wholeness that underlies the power of the work.