10.20.2011

Music Structure, Music Taste

I posit that there are deep structures that determine musical taste.  These structures are organized into three levels:

1) Sound spectrum.  Any given individual sound.
2) Phrase.  Within the song, there are phrases, or bars that are repeated, like a backbeat.
3) Song.  The most macro level of the song.

1) Sound spectrumSound spectrum can be represented by any given individual sound in the song.  Is the sound spectrum highly distorted or very "clean".  For example, this is the difference between a trumpet holding a clean crisp brassy tone and rock guitar holding a highly distorted, reverbed, fuzzy note.  This difference between distorted and clean sounds can be quantified by looking at the sound's spectrograph.

2) Phrase
Between the instantaneous sound spectrum and the song itself, the song has a series of subdivisions.  For instance, the break in this song repeats every two bars:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IoPeNC4k_0
Compare that to this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDDIrsVBfXI

The tune by J Dilla is no less funky than that by DJ Premier (one half of the group Gangstarr), but where Premier's beat is regularly repeating, Dilla's phrases are chopped up, repeating sometimes over as little as two beats.  Dilla's song is less regular, less easy to predict where it's going from measure to measure.  In the Premier beat, the repeated phrase has an "open" and "close" to it.  The Dilla beat, more unpredictable, seems continuously "open" and driving forward.

3) Song
This strata relates to the simplicity or complexity of the song structure.  For instance, listen to Elvis' "Hound Dog":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJsQSb9RFo0
Given the first couple of bars, you can almost sing the the entire song to yourself, even if you have only heard it once or twice.
Compare that with Charles Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song".  This song has a theme, but like all Mingus tunes, its arrangement is more complex, more intricate.  You might sing along, but it has not the predictability of the Elvis tune:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIf3a9FUJj4
"Blue Moon" would be another example of a "predictable" tune.  Anything from Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew" era would be on the other end of the spectrum.

Genre
One can see the dichotomy I am drawing through each of these three strata: complexity vs. clarity; repetition of the same vs. repetition of the not-same; distortion vs. purity.  I argue that music genres are marked by certain traits generally conforming to the criteria outlined above.

As a shorthand, I will use "A" as the symbol for complexity/distortion, and "O" for simplicity/regularity.




Sound spectrum

Phrase

Song







Country

O

A

O
Indie Rock
A

A

O
Classic Rock
A

O

O
Metal

A

A

A
Reggae

A

O

O
Blues

A

O

A
Broadway
O

O

O

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