Dissonance and the modern world

“ Of course I have used dissonance in my time, but there has been too much dissonance. Bach used dissonance as good salt for his music. Others applied pepper, seasoned the dishes more and more highly, till all healthy appetites were sick and until the music was nothing but pepper.”                                                                                                               – Prokofiev



Dissonance by definition is:

[n] disagreeable sounds
[n] the auditory experience of sound that lacks musical quality; sound that is a disagreeable auditory experience; “modern music is just noise to me”
[n] a conflict of people’s opinions or actions or characters

Dissonance then…may be regarded as a prerequisite to indeed hearing.  At the posit, it may sound like noise to some; but the more one distances themselves from the apparent “noise”…precisely then is when they may hear the undeniable sound.

Truth is likened to dissonance in the same tone.  One may harken it, one may behold it, one may “know” it and devour it.  But it is not until they separate themselves from the “noise” does the actual truth reveal itself.

What one hears is not in the least what is close to actuality.

To listen is not to hear.  To know truth and to live truth are two very separate entities.

Discerning the disquietude from the veracity yields more than one can easily devise.



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Author: mmartel

"If he's honest, he'll steal; if he's human, he'll murder; if he's faithful, he'll deceive. Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution." I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing."

9 thoughts on “Dissonance and the modern world”

    1. I have actually heard that piece and didn’t really know what to think of it. Strangely enough, I’m still kind of undecided. Why might that be you ask(or maybe you don’t ask 😉 )? I don’t pretend to know what was going on in Glenn’s head. I have mad respect for the man as an artist, technician and I identify a lot with his soul. Therefore, it is hard for me to take a stance on the piece. In actuality, my post was speaking of dissonance as a societal issue. Though I’m sure you noticed of course the Glenn picture(one of my favorites). I am forever in awe of most of Bach’s music but in the same tone I feel in a different sense the same way towards Glenn. I insert little things(such as Glenn and Bach) into posts just to sort of pop a thought or two towards them. It is a shame how little people know of either, what’s worse is that they may know and don’t appreciate. Anyhow, I’ve gone off on a tangent…(I tend to do that with subjects I’m interested in hehehe)

      1. I thought the Prokofiev quote is so spot on. Music for me is a direct parallel of reality, so I thought it related to what you said about societal dissonance. So I was showing an example of good dissonance (the Bach piece) and one of bad dissonance (the “modern” style of Schoenberg with random note chaos), as I think there are different types. Society with no dissonance provides no chances for improvement and challenge. Society with good dissonance provides opportunities to test yourself and grow. Society with bad dissonance is just a bad experience, and can be detrimental entirely.

        I think Glenn was a really smart guy and definitely knew what he was talking about. He was obviously really great piano player too. (Though a lot of his recordings have his humming over it, which I find annoying/distracting.) By the way, the performer in the Bach video is Friedrich Gulda. I had never heard of him, but it was the first video that came up for the piece. Gould–Gulda… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        How about some perfect harmony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v62-kA6OXeE

  1. Lovely…oh lovely be Bach. I can never get enough and even if I would never hear him again, I would still know his music in my heart. Yes, Prokofiev is one of my favorites as well. I saw a wondrous concert a long while ago of his violin concerto and was so awestruck. That kind of music Live is really the best way to appreciate it (in my humble opinion). Glenn’s humming never bothered me, I learned to tune it out. Haha. People and their idiosyncrasies…

    Yes, I had never heard of Gulda either. ARGHH, the more things I listen to…the more I realize I haven’t touched the surface. Sigh…and in the same breath its so magnificent. So many things to explore. Ahhhh, music is so amazing.

  2. Sorry to come on hear and be a little bit of music nerd, but this what I have studied perhaps the most, so I might as well bring some of what I have to the table(sorry if I repeat things you already know)….

    Definitely dissonance and consonance are sort of grey areas in music. First you can go back to where we were even using completely different tuning systems. Part of the argument for favouring the new(and current) tuning system was that it obtained less dissonance. Yes, the old tuning system obtained noises like a wolf howling to some; and this was undesirable, especially from the church. So when your man Bach gets a hold of this simplifed tuning system, he just masters the whole thing right out of the box; it’s from 43 notes per octave(known as pure or just intonation) to 12(equal temperament). This new octave barely obtains any dissonances, and the “octave” is now repeatable in all registers. Actually, all of the most harmonious intervals are made less consonant in order for the whole system to be equalled out. Perhaps here the relationship of Paganism to Christianty to Cultural Marxism is well related.

    One thing to clear up is that from a mathematical point of view, dissonance and consonance are best described(in my opinion) as the relationship between two notes and how many vibrations are produced before they meet up again(resolve); the more vibrations which aren’t lining up in the interim, the greater the perceived dissonance. Even in the modern system the church deemed certain notes unnacceptable; for example the tritone was considered the “devil’s note.”

    After WWII there were of course many dramatic changes. After all, the Europeans died in absolutely enormous numbers and had their countries destroyed. I know it changed the course of things for my family. Some people felt like portraying the experience of this massive war in their music; this meant dissonance. Edgard Varese, Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen, are a few which come to mind. Of course people tried to portray the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima with extreme dissonance as well. Another thing that took shape was the wish to destroy European conventions. In modern pop music, dissonance is rather difficult to come by. I don’t think that this is a good thing. This goes to show that music wishes to portray culture as being being something consonant. Take the song “Happy” by Pharrell as a perfect example of the attitude they wish to maintain in the masses.

    In my own experience I can say that things that are called dissonant in various idioms(it does vary) can be very pleasing. How much one is “inside” the music is very important, and of course the occassion. Personally, for all that I know about music theory, and ear-training, I always try to ignore it all from the theoretical perspective, and do so fairly well. At the same, it does form some pathways, but a balance can still be struck.

    I’ll leave you with this example of a paradox through music:


    Good practical visualisation. http://www.uwec.edu/walkerjs/PicturesOfMusic/Audio/Pitch_Perception_examples/Shepard__tones.avi

    1. Wow, yes I completely concur with what you say here. Oh and by the vay…this is a “nerd’s paradise” and you are welcome to all the “nerdy” comments you wish. Seriously! I love hearing people’s different opinions(even if they differ from mine and especially if they differ) because it gives me something to reflect on and sometimes you tend to get stuck in your own “little world”.

      As you I most definitely think it is the imperfections (dissonance) that makes beauty in form. Otherwise, how would you know if everything was beautiful(consonant)? It has a parallel with society and its pull towards equality and multiculturalism. As you say…modern society gravitates toward consonant sounds which I find infinitely boring. I hate to use the cliché but it is very applicable here, “variety is the spice of life”. I mean…even in nature you find beauty is not uniform and that is why you find beauty. It is the differences that make things unique and give it its originality. I can liken this to a quest have been on since a child and hope to never find an end to. My quest is to find truth in form…originality if you will. That is what I find infinitely beautiful and naturally gravitate towards. I remember being a very young child and experiencing that very unique feeling of finding that truth in form(that “beauty”). It is an overwhelming feeling that is indescribable. I can safely say it has gone nowhere, that is the desire to explore and find that same truth. Sometimes this leads us off the path, but then you find your way and it is more incredible than ever. Just when I think I’ve tapped into whatever “well of wisdom” there is left…I am suddenly hyper-aware that I have not even touched the surface. This can be applied to so many life situations. Anyhow…I feel myself going on a tangent(as I often do when speaking on subjects I love).

      Back to your point of WWII changes. I understand what you say. The change brought on a different form of dissonance, if you will. By the way, it affected my family as well…both in Europe and the US. I believe at any given point in time, to be human means to express what you feel and try to replicate that in some form. This is why I am so attracted to music. I find it so fascinating how people interpret things and really…I don’t even pretend to understand where they come from. But that part, is also what makes it so beautiful. Finding the meaning in it for yourself…through yourself. This is also why I don’t think people should just limit themselves to “one genre” of dissonance or even consonance. Just like with the comment you made towards them both being a gray area in music. Well, that can kind of be likened to life. Too many people take things in the “black” and “white” as it is where their comfort lies. However, the grey area is where the possibility lies. Naturally this makes many people nervous as it is not one or the other and cannot be defined so easily. It is very easy to retreat to dissonance or consonance. But it is in trying to find the balance or lack thereof(realizing with experience that it IS indeed “black” or “white”) where the true test of self comes in. Getting onto the point in your other comment…it takes deep courage and strength to realize something may be “black”, “white”, or intentionally “grey”. Then, one must decide where this dissonance or lack thereof will lead. That is where the true test of self comes, following through with what you believe and sticking to it.

      As far as the tritone example. That is truly interesting. As someone who has never formally studied music( as in school-wise) I have observed this phenomenon in music pieces which I have played for others. Them hearing something distinctly and me hearing an entirely different (and many times opposite) sound. In fact…I have found that music that is on the in between scale and at the same time “up and down” (I know this sounds in improbable but I have actually heard some pieces that can be described as such…just maybe not from such a technical level) can be described by others as “disturbing”. I believe this is a perfect example of what I was saying before, about people being uncomfortable about the “grey area”. That is why so many people love modern music. It is so, well “black” and “white”. That equals so boring to me. Haha. However, enter the paradox of pieces that are simple but can actually be very complex. An example of this would be someone who I admire, Roy Orbison. He had this innate ability( what I find to be originality in form) to look like one thing on the surface and actually be “multi-layered” at the same time. These kinds of things I find very intriguing, because they appeal to the masses, yet they are complex. I suppose a good piece is just a good piece at the end of the day. 🙂

      Anyhow…Thank you kindly for your great comment!

  3. Oh and by the way…here is a “modern” example of what I deem to be music with complex “emotional form”. Its hard to understand where this music is going, and I like that. Its actually really hard to create music as such (“grey area”). Just like it is extremely hard to write without bias (if not impossible).

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