[Smt-talk] Heavy metal and set-class analysis

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Mon Dec 12 07:23:30 PST 2011

Dear Justin & All,
Yes, indeed; the overtone balance of a bare fifth, run through the various effects pedals and of course played at a volume that creates amazing resonance, impossible to duplicate at lower volumes, arguably creates not just differences of nuance but of harmonic substance. And the point that harmonic and timbral analysis are "the same thing acoustically/psychoacoustically" ultimately devolves as much on traditional repertoire as heavy metal. If it seems reasonable to call a triad in the keyboard music of Bach, Mozart, and Brahms the "same" thing, more or less regardless of harmonic context, it is difficult to sustain the same claim for a triad as orchestrated by Rameau, Berlioz, and Wagner. Again, the differences in overtone balance and composition are so spectacular that harmonic analysis cannot ignore them indefinitely. And of course many great analysts have taken up the challenge. But it remains..
MW MorseTrent UniversityPeterborough, Oshawa

Dear Scott & all,
Here's where, it seems to me, that typical music-theoretic labeling of "harmonic" structures falls short.  Power chords are harmonically just bare 5ths, but are often nuanced with varying degrees of distortion and other timbral inflections (such as those produced by different kinds of pickups and/or pickup settings).  What we really need, then, is not harmonic analysis but timbral analysis (though, acoustically/psychoacoustically, these are the same thing).
Rock guitarists, of course, have many discussions of amps, distortion pedals, pickups, and so forth.  But not much theory.  Psychoacoustic literature on timbre and distortion doesn't say much about distortion of amplified instruments.  But I'm betting there is a lot in the sound engineering literature--and I'd be curious to know if someone on the list has delved into it, and/or has a good idea where to look.

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