Structured and Non Structured music?

edited March 13 in Off-topic

My friend @McD is regularly chiding me to present more structured music. Clearly structured material is more acceptable in our culture and there are also ears for non structured music.

I am not asking which you might like better, but rather what is it about being able to predict what is coming musically (with smaller surprises) that makes it generally more appealing than music arising from a different concept or state of mind?

I use “non structured” as opposed to “unstructured” because, for me, “non structured” means something not structured in the usual sense, as differentiated from “unstructured” meaning without structure or chaotic. This is my own, made up, distinction.

Why is structured music so fulfilling and what is it about linear development that makes it appealing to some but frustrating/unfollowable/uninteresting to many?

Comments

  • I would consider “sound with structure” to be a pretty comprehensive definition for music.

  • My suspicion is that it is immediacy (ruling out "the same loop for 5 minutes" type unstructured music sort of thing most of us made as newbies) - most unstructured music has some kind of internal logic but you more often than not need to dig deeper: I've got Autechre live in portland on as I type. This has a structure but it's not of the "here comes the break" kind, for latter day Autechre you really need to be immersed in it, the casual listener has nothing to hold on to. This becomes even more obvious if you dig further into unstructured music (I'd argue if you grew up with rave culture autechre at least have one or two 'clues' lurking): AMM , Supersilent , Wolf Eyes to pick some random examples that come to mind, or even modern classical music, Xenaxis , Boulez etc. Unless you spend time you aren't going to get it

  • edited March 13

    I always assumed it I was a participatory aspect. A more predictable beat or melody, the listeners can dance, bop their head, hum or sing along with. It is communal. In books I've read on archaeology and anthropology and music, music being played by those specially trained is a relative new thing, though there are of course, exceptions of less structured ancient traditions.

    While I personally can enjoy much less structured music, I think that is more a musician or at least a music connoisseur thing to be that way.

    I think it is a great question. I've personally always had this tension. While I never was as totally free flowing as some of the stuff of yours @LinearLineman, I recall with my first serious band, in high school - we were doing very well by high school standards. Playing in clubs we were not old enough to be in. At some point I began to notice our audience was very skewed toward other musicians. Positive comments I'd get after a show were always on the angle of 'dude, never seen anyone use tapped artificial harmonics so fluidly,' Or 'man, wtf was that second song in 11/8?'

    These were essentially hardcore songs but I was simultaneously playing European classical, other guy was way into middle eastern classical. And neither of us, the main song writers, were just instinctively wired to 4/4.

    So I've long struggled to just play some more simple, verse, chorus, rock, which is kinda the scene I enjoy participating in. Second to last full album, we instead threw some of the less structured off shoot would-be parts as interludes between the more regularly structured songs.

    Here is also just a funny total tangent about music structure and predictability.
    A friend asked me to play a few jazz pieces, hollow-body guitar type thing, at his wedding. I was nice and prepared. Got there an hour early just to see if I could help with anything really.
    Up comes some lady, 'Oh you must be the guitar player. Do you want to run through our piece?'

    ummm...wth. No one told me I was playing with anyone else. But okay, you have sheet music. Ugg, it is just the piano, so I'm improvising simply on the chord structure. Sounding okay. But there is one spot, we keep getting off a short ways in. Twice and I'm like, "something is off here, I'm going to Amaj, right here" [points].

    She says, "Oh that's when the singing starts, we go back to the top."
    "There is no da capo, etc." I dramatically write one on my copy and it all goes fine during the ceremony.

    We are joking about it after with the groom and she's like, complimenting my reading/improv with the communication breakdown, but laughing about that. Groom is like, 'Oh ya we always do that in church' points at me 'Hindu.'

  • the human ear likes a delicate balance of structure and surprise
    Repetition gives comfort

  • edited March 13

    I think what you are used to is a big part of it. If I had grown up listening to Ragas things would be quite different, I imagine. Why i skewed to something less organized.... well, I spent decades dedicated to western forms and I am moved by them, but for self expression it is just freer to go where the muse takes me. I couldn’t listen to nonstructured music all the time, but I could play it.

    But I think about the origins of music... imitating nature, telling a story, evoking a feeling... the solo line, the repetition, how sounds cause emotional reactions... we like to hear our favorite pieces of music again and again. It feels good. No surprises. In fact, we listen to hear our favorite parts.

    If you listen to recorded free playing over and over you learn it and the familiarity turns it into structured music!

  • @LinearLineman said:

    Why is structured music so fulfilling and what is it about linear development that makes it appealing to some but frustrating/unfollowable/uninteresting to many?

    Structure is a way to vary intensity with buildup and release. Without this variety droning and noodling very quickly become boring.
    Basically every dynamic art form - cinema, even books, tend to have some kind of structure. Otherwise you just following some random events and there may not even be a story.
    Story is interesting, mundane is boring.

    My 2c.

  • edited March 13

    I think meandering away without a point or structure, ends up being like lift music. Nothing to cling to, inoffensive and quite frankly boring.
    I’m not a fan of a lot of jazz for this reason. I like some jazz though...
    The best ambient albums still have a structure, even if it’s a long one. KLF chill out album, Jimmy Cauty - ‘Space’, the Orb, for example. Just my 2c.

  • edited March 13

    nothing to add from my side. It appears to me that everything has already been said by you fine folks. I just wanted to say that every single post in this thread I find very valuable, and true. Which also means that I’m impressed about the deep knowledge you guys have.

  • @LinearLineman said:
    I think what you are used to is a big part of it. If I had grown up listening to Ragas things would be quite different, I imagine. Why i skewed to something less organized.... well, I spent decades dedicated to western forms and I am moved by them, but for self expression it is just freer to go where the muse takes me. I couldn’t listen to nonstructured music all the time, but I could play it.

    But I think about the origins of music... imitating nature, telling a story, evoking a feeling... the solo line, the repetition, how sounds cause emotional reactions... we like to hear our favorite pieces of music again and again. It feels good. No surprises. In fact, we listen to hear our favorite parts.

    If you listen to recorded free playing over and over you learn it and the familiarity turns it into structured music!

    Another tangent

    ....I have often wondered, if there is an innate tendency of people toward either interest in new music v. familiar music. I remember and feel exposed to a lot of polarized examples, but I'm sure it is more of a continuum. But more yes, captivated by whether it is innate. Like temperament v. personality.

    My father is one of these guys who bought a collection of records in his teens and twenties and never again. My mother is far on the other side, always hunting for new music. I'm more like her. My 5 year old is also way more interested in something new compared to a lot of kids I've known. He is always saying, 'we just heard this', about a song maybe we'd heard earlier in the week.

  • edited March 13

    Ok, so after a bit of research I found this article re repetition, habituation and musical form. It covers one aspect of why we prefer structured music. By turns fascinating and hilarious you can read it through, or begin on page 17 to get the 8 musical strategies, or scroll to page 30 for the author’s conclusions.

    It leads me to consider this question from a more specific POV... just considering structured music, what are the parameters that make it desirable? The author presents the first, repetition and its enemy habituation, but what are the others? Loudness, melody, rhythm... you tell me.

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8b87/e725f6bf9eed41ff324970dc023f3cdf652e.pdf

  • edited March 13

    @LinearLineman said:
    Ok, so after a bit of research I found this article re repetition, habituation and musical form. It covers one aspect of why we prefer structured music. By turns fascinating and hilarious you can read it through, or begin on page 17 to get the 8 musical strategies, or scroll to page 30 for the author’s conclusions.

    It leads me to consider this question from a more specific POV... just considering structured music, what are the parameters that make it desirable? The author presents the first, repetition and its enemy habituation, but what are the others? Loudness, melody, rhythm... you tell me.

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8b87/e725f6bf9eed41ff324970dc023f3cdf652e.pdf

    Very interesting.

    I definitely like a “variation strategy" in my music.

    Promise it is my last tangent.

    When it comes up this way or that that I have sound>sight synesthesia. People often ask me if it is distracting. On one hand, I am not sure I know. You are born with it. I honestly struggle to imagine seeing, like you're in a dead quiet room all the time. Unnerving to think about.

    But I usually explain that it is like, 'yes I see sounds constantly, but I don't think my attention span is any different. Like if you are driving, if I asked you what the grass looked like beside the road, you could see it even in peripheral vision, but you don't consciously see it.'

    But I think the conception in the article better explains it. It is really these two things. But novel sounds, I'll consciously see them (part of why I love synthesized sounds so much) and loud sounds, I mean, they are literally more opaque for me too, but perhaps it is in part a conscious thing too. I suppose there are some loud sounds, like my car engine, I'm better at looking past.

    "Mental mechanisms that block low–priority stimuli from commanding conscious awareness. When something is novel, it makes sense that an organism should direct its attention towards it."

    "In general, high–intensity or high–energy stimuli are more resistant to habituation than low–intensity stimuli (e.g., Harris 1943). Bright lights, intense smells, forceful contact, extreme temperatures, and loud sounds require more exposures to induce habituation than dim lights, dilute smells, light contact, moderate temperatures, and quiet sounds."

  • @LinearLineman: You have trained your musical mind to eschew the subjunctive mode: meaning you silence the internal critic and follow your internal impulse or muse without a roadmap.

    Any request to follow some chord progression or align perfectly with a MIDI Drum Track at some BPM also endangers your ability to let the music out as a spontaneous act. It makes you listen to things you can't control or choose notes to follow a roadmap.

    But then you have this catalog of spontaneous efforts and want to please an audience.

    I'm sure every serious artist has wrestled with the issues of being true to art as a journey and art as a social contract that involves the exchange of values with an audience or consumer.

    I do think you push yourself to right up to the limits of your abilities as most technically proficient players do. That's where the body chemistry kicks in with the brain getting bursts of endorphins or maybe even adrenalin. Perhaps you are completely relaxed when you play due to your training and it's more like a blissful meditation that releases all stress from you body even tho' your playing a lot of notes that less capable players would find exhausting.

    I think your music is a reflection of a life pursuing a way of making music that feeds a very specific audience that lives inside your mind. That is the audience you should put above all others.

    But I can hear your "Django" with a frame of reference that the other projects don't extend to my listener's mind and that gives me something to listen for that makes me an active participant in the experience.

    I haven't been trained to listen to music without a critical mode. My critic wants to suggest changes. As a friend I should remember that it never helps to share these thoughts unless advice is solicited. It just pulls the artist out of the moment.

    It helps me recognize genius and I hear genius in your playing. It's like watching a tightrope walker or better yet... like watching Spiderman navigate a street of skyscrapers without ever touching the ground. Magic.

  • edited March 14

    I watched a video about entropy - bare with me as I will get to how this relates - and the take away was organized “things” live at a gradient of two larger bodies of homogeneity. In other words you have hot on one side and colder on the other, as the temperatures seek homeostasis chaos reigns in little flows and vortices. The place of energy exchange is where life - organized things exist. In the midst of the chaos we feed and grow off the differential.

    For music you have many variables temperaments, voicing, rythm, etc. all living, breathing, moving like us. We would not exist except for the chaos BUT at the same time we need and seek patterns and certainties. To my mind this is reflected in nature and ourselves and the arts we produce. We want to find patterns and derive great pleasure from finding them. Hide a pattern, stretch it out, turn it upside down or backwards, play it against itself... hmmm that sounds like a fugue... throw in Jazz with improvising and more atonalness and spontaneity... stare at ink blots and find faces in tree bark.

    In the chaos we seek find and impose sometimes organization. We go wild but always bring it back. It’s our nature spontaneous organization.

    @LinearLineman
    http://www.stsci.edu/~lbradley/seminar/attractors.html

  • Well, I think age, appreciation and understanding comes into this. As I grow older, I appreciate and derive as much pleasure from both structured and non-structured music. At a basic level I hated “modern “ jazz in my youth in favour of trad jazz. Now, I appreciate , listen and enjoy modern jazz for its spontaneity and improvisation. It is the same with modern art.

    Now, I enjoy a much wider range of music appreciation and find myself much more critical and bored with heavily structured and formulaic music ( albeit in awe of the technical and creative ability involved).

    At my pay grade, I judge how I like and respond to music more from appreciating the creative energy and emotion involved. And I find myself getting more satisfaction from an unstructured offering as this is much closer to the musician’s emotions at the time.

    I just wish I could improvise in my attempts at music. But I was brought up in the i..ii..iv..v generation.

  • edited March 14

    @audiblevideo, eloquent. So many facets to this question. I have been thinking about this discussion a lot. I hope more folks will comment as I know there is a wealth of knowledge contained in this virtual room.

    The article I posted stressed the concept of repetition. I have to believe the aftereffects of almost nine months listening to a heartbeat has great impact on the newborn's consciousness. Regular ( usually), uninterrupted. It must give a feeling of security.... and when we leave the warm, comfy, safe womb.... aaargh! Do we seek a beat to feel we are home again?

    Then there was the idea that loudness delayed getting used to the repetition. What does that extra volume really do to us? Excitement, uncertainty, as compared to the tranquilizing heartbeat? @audiblevideo's comments about the fine line and fluctuation between order and chaos.... Ma'at would be proud of you AV!

    Then there is my favorite... melody. The singing of the soul. The longing of the heart. The melodies that are etched into our very beings, whether it is Eleanor Rigby, It's a Wonderful World, Amazing Grace or Ave Maria. Melodies can be long and complex or a brief hook. How much melody can we take? What is it, really, that can work such magic?

    Music is an amazing gift and we made it all up. A totally human invention based on birdsong, rushing rivers, thunder claps and our heartbeat.

    I would like to address what @McD said.... firstly, thanks for the undeserved compliment, though I am sure my dear departed mom would be the only one who would wholeheartedly agree with you that her son is a genius.

    My own self evaluation is far from that. However, there have been two qualities I have striven for that work equally well in both structured and non structured music, and, I believe are present in the work of geniuses. The first is presence. To be with the note as it is played. Completely. Lately I have been noticing that when I am eating something I enjoy I always seem to be contemplating the next bite, thinking how much is left before it is gone, calories, etc. This is the opposite of presence! So I have been taking the time to focus on what is happening right now. Instead of chewing up a piece of chocolate so I can get to the next chunk, I let it melt in my mouth, stretching the present deliciously out.

    Fortunately I have become better at focusing on the individual note(s) than on each individual bite of baclava. Even tho my music is produced on an electronic instrument (though an acoustic piano is strongly a mechanism as compared to a flute, say), I can feel, sense, hear that I am consciously present a lot when I strike a note and it can be heard and appreciated, though the listener might not appreciate why. There is something ineffable occurring that was not there in my early days. It seems a profundity made moreso because it is often not ego driven. It is without emotional attachment but is solely feeling driven. And that feeling is coming from a different power source than my mind ( though my mind still acts as the receiver, I think). This is a quality even non geniuses, such as myself, can develop, but it takes time, work and willpower. I really feel anyone can get to this place if they really want to and have the good fortune of a great teacher OR the initial spark of consciousness that can be built into a blazing fire. The teachers can be found in books, on YouTube or in flesh and blood. It doesn't matter. What matters is the initial taste and drive for something deeper that gives music an otherworldly dimension, but is grounded in the nuts wnd bolts of moment to moment existence and perception.

    The second quality, which is open to everyone who is not necessarily a genius, is originality. My teacher emphasized this and it was in tune with my own predilection. It's value is subjective. The ancient Egyptians, I believe, did not value originality so much as making a great copy of what went before. Of course they must have thought differently (from their gut) as when embalming they threw the brain in the garbage cause they believed it had no function.

    Many here may not be interested in originality. There is plenty of fun to be had without it. But, when McD makes the hyperbolic claim (thank you, McD) that my music borders on genius, I think he is affected by something somewhat original in my playing and approach. And, in order to keep evolving in this quest, I had to move out of structured forms into self expression. This, I must add, is particular to me. It is just as easy (or difficult) to be original within a form. Michael Jackson is a perfect example of this to my mind.

    Finding and bringing out one's originality is too lengthy a discussion and non tangential to this thread, but I do believe originality plays a role in what attracts folks to structured as well as non structured art forms. However, an artist may open a new road but may not be the one to truly exploit it. Just as an inventor may have an original idea, but it takes a different vision to give it practical functionality. It is up to you to notice if originality is something necessary for your own musical satisfaction and development. If it is, and you deny it, you will never be satisfied, IMO, with the music you make. Caveat Emptor!

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