[Smt-talk] Geno- and phenotype musical structures

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Fri Jan 18 09:02:43 PST 2013

At 05:35 PM 1/17/2013, Nicolas Meeùs wrote:
>Linear continuity and goal directedness ain't at 
>all the same thing! I would consider goal 
>directedness (teleology) as a defining 
>characteristic of "modality". Linear continuity 
>may well be a much wider phenomenon.

But goal directedness is surely an important 
element in Schenkerian analysis, no?

>Medieval hocket (and your own examples in your 
>figures 12.5-12.8) appear to me a game of 
>apparently destroying an inherent continuity, by 
>a disruptive distribution among the voices; the 
>overall effect remains highly continuous 
>("fluent"), only the singers themselve can 
>easily become aware of the disruption. This is 
>very much the case with Amor potest: you are 
>careful enough to quote only mes 16 sqq., when 
>the hocket begins, but the mes. before clearly 
>consisted in "lines between the voices", making 
>it clear that there were two pitch strands (say, 
>one around F and the other aroung C a 4th below) 
>to be distributed among the singers.

I reproduced the opening of Amor Potest in my 
older blog Music 000001 (from which much in my 
book has been drawn): 
While the two upper lines are each in themselves 
conjunct (i.e., continuous) and to some extent 
goal directed, the continual stimmtauch 
obliterates, for the listener at least, these 
lines as linear continuities, producing a 
resultant not unlike the African examples I 
discuss elsewhere. This in turn produces a static 
effect dominated by the continual repetition of 
the simultaneity F-C, which makes it very 
difficult for the listener to hear the work 
linearly and produces, due also to the 
"maddening" repetition, a confusing and somewhat 
trancelike effect not unlike that of certain 
minimalist works today. I don't know what 
Schenker would make of this, but I don't think he'd approve.

>  You claim that Pygmies and Bushmen sing 
> "highly disjunct motives"; but how can you be 
> sure that they do not realize how highly 
> conjunct the overall result is?  Are you so 
> certain that counterpoint in the West, 
> especially in "free writing", "involves 
> continuous melodic lines", rather than continuous overall situations?

I'm not sure what you mean by "continuous overall situations."

>It seems rather difficult to ascertain whether 
>melodic fluency, in these case, is not merely 
>trivial. A succession of disjunct intervals, 
>fanfare-like, appears almost bound to produce 
>apparent linear melodies. This is inherent to 
>the restricted number of degrees in any 
>diatonic-like (or inherently consonant) system. 
>How can you be sure that these highly disjunct 
>counterpoints that you describe are not a game 
>to hide or disguise an overall, resulting linear continuity?

You raise a very interesting point. And in fact a 
great many of these Pygmy and Bushmen 
performances are in fact based on what I've 
described as "A basic 'theme,' sometimes heard, 
more often implied, that serves, along with the 
rhythmic cycle, as an underlying organizational 
element." One might speculate that this sort of 
thing could be the historical prototype of the 
Schenkerian "urlinie." (I'm tempted to place a 
"smiley" emoticon after that statement, but 
perhaps it's not so funny after all.)

For example, in the Aka Pygmy song Makala, as 
presented in summary form in Michelle Kisliuk's 
book, Seize the Dance 
the "theme" is presented in the uppermost vocal 
part, with some possible elaborations beneath it 
(the vertical lines and brackets were added by 
me). This theme is in fact essentially linear 
(though not all such themes necessarily are). (It 
would be interesting to learn whether a 
Schenkerian analysis of an extended portion of a 
performance of this song could recreate this 
underlying theme.) But most of the elaborations are clearly disjunct.

While such performances can be based on themes 
exhibiting linear continuity, it's very difficult 
to hear the overall effect as an interplay of 
independent lines, each with its own continuous 
flow. What we tend to hear is a resultant, which 
is very different from Western counterpoint, 
where what is heard, ideally, is an interplay of 
independently continuous lines. Whether as you 
suggest the resultant effect could be "boiled 
down" into something continuous, is certainly 
worth exploring, but I must say I doubt it. 
Certainly the texture is continuous, but I find 
it difficult to hear anything linear in such 
performances, when taken as a whole. But since I 
don't understand what you mean by a "continuous 
overall situation" I could be misunderstanding you.

Nevertheless, my principal point was that this 
type of musical organization seems fundamentally 
anti-Schenkerian, both in its tendency to 
substitute a resultant for an interplay of 
independent lines and its lack of goal-oriented 
motion, which gives the impression of tonal 
staticism rather than movement, as assumed by Schenker.

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA

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