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Author Topic: Suspicions Confirmed? (Music)  (Read 7637 times)
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Tabun
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« on: 2007-10-20, 11:52 »


Before you read this, be aware that --even with my many years of metalhead lovin' in my teens-- I absolutely loathe what is nowadays released as "nu-metal" (or the "present-day alternative metal". So if you disagree with me there, it may be better to just stop reading and spare working yourself up over my ranting. (Although, my critique may not even offend, since some people like what I dislike, both of us for one and the very same reason.)

You see, I've always had nagging suspicions concerning the given meme that all music you're not into sounds the same. It does make a lot of sense, and I still believe it's very much true. Just like stamp collecting seems no different from tea-bag-wrapper collecting until you've tried one or the other, or rather both. And after you do, you will probably swear that there's a world of difference between the two (probably, because I must admit never having done either). Likewise for music; there's just kinds of music that give that bland baker's dozen appearance when you know little about it, haven't closely listened or explored the genres. There are a few exceptions in my book: Jazz (which is so varied that the only way you can consider it bland is by knowing only the lamest of its kind); extremely experimental music (which is so freaked out that it's impossible to say that "it's all the same" in anything but being unenjoyable) and perhaps heavily orchestrated music (classical, prog. rock, etc).

So anyway, I had this idea that it really, actually, was the case that music that sounded "all the same", indifferent, bland, heard-one-heard-them-all was just like how you hear people unaccustomed to Asian culture say things like "I can't tell all those japs/chinks/other pejorative apart! They all look so much alike!". I mean, the latter is obviously, simply, not true: they don't. It's just that these people have grown into a habit of very selective differentiation in dealing with people's appearances. After they make an effort to, say, watch a whole batch of Asian movies or go to live there for even half a month, each and every one of them is bound to admit that it was an illusion -- "these people are as varied and distinguishable(-ed? Slipgate - Smile) as we are!"

But then, there's signs that there are perhaps some exceptions to this phenomenon..

This, I expected (but doubted due to the above effect):
http://www.hometracked.com/2007/05/29/all-linkin-park-songs-look-the-same/
http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu.nyud.net:808...in_park_songs_sound_exactly_the_same.mp3

This, I hadn't expected (it being rather more blatant than I'd expected them to have the balls for)
http://www.leenks.com/link488.htm
( http://www.nintendorks.com/brandon/archives/000475.php )

Another fun observation (read the various comments) is that everyone who likes the music, will deny the similarity of the songs, whereas anyone who dislikes the music ("inherently" if you will; already finding it "dull" or whatever based on one song), will stress its similarity. It is obvious that one who likes X, will get to know X from up close, and one who doesn't is much less likely to (although there are certainly always a few of those who've tried music to the fullest, then got sick and tired of it afterwards). Yet, for me there's still the nagging suspicion that the similarity and conformism is really strong in a quasi-objective sense (i.e. compared in a more technical sense to other types of music, and music productions), and that those who like the type of music from the outset are just denying it, because of the negative connotations (blandness, dull, boring, same-old-same-old) of a lack of differentiation.

I mean, I know some types of music I listen to have their own, vast display of technically dull and far-from-original material. In some cases, I'm (blissfully?) ignorant of similarities because of a lack of knowledge (I'm not a musician or a componist (well, aside from being the author of Allegro, ofcourse). In other cases, I know it, but just don't care, and pick the scraps that I like -- but then I'd admit to it being much-the-same and therefore easily dull/bland/boring to others.

Hmm.
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« Reply #1 on: 2007-10-20, 18:55 »

There's been a lot of formula music groups floating around in the media for a while, which is probably where the generalization that "all (specific genre) sounds alike" comes from. The reason that I speculate why it tends to be accepted as a fact is because there is some truth to that statement when looking at mainstream music.

The real mystery is this: Why does formula music work?

On a side note: There's a lot of Jazz that's relatively bland. It doesn't get recognized very often though, since it mostly gets turned into elevator music.
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Phoenix
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« Reply #2 on: 2007-10-20, 19:56 »

The "it all looks/sounds the same" phenomenon is no surprise, nor should it be.  It's like peripheral vs central vision.  Peripheral vision picks up general environmental information - that tree is there, that patch of grass is there, there's a bit of movement over there.  It's not until you focus your eyes directly on something that you can see detail, but while focusing you lose your sense of periphery to some degree.  This varies for different creatures, but it's kind of like Heisenberg done at the neurological level - either you can focus in on details, or you get an overall impression.  You can't do both at the same time, or at least, you can't do either one very well that way.

Now when it comes to this phenomenon with music, consider that the ears process information like the eyes.  You hear general environment, or you focus in on one specific thing.  When presented with a musical piece, you may focus in on one specific part of it, say, the melody, or some bit of harmony, or rhythm, a specific instrument, or vocalist - whatever.  If you hear that piece over and over, you become familiar with the patterns and process new details (the "I've seen this movie a dozen times and I'm still seeing new stuff in it" effect).  So naturally if you're given to preferring a specific genre, band, or instrument you'll focus in on that and learn the minute details.  This differs from one individual to another.  For example, I tend to remember melody precisely, and harmony to a great degree, and I will forget rhythm.  I almost never remember the drum piece when listening to metal (though I know precisely when the cannon go off in the Overture of 1812).  Sometimes I will remember bits of drum, but very rarely.  I don't lose the cadence of the piece - that I can reproduce in my mind precisely, but not the drum score.  It's why I prefer operatic singers like Dickinson or Halford to gutteral growlers, and why I cannot stand rap whatsoever.  Now compare that to someone who prefers rhythm to melody or harmony.  They'll remember other things from what they listen to, and they'll prefer different music for different reasons.  With rap... well, I'll have to let someone else speak as to why they like it because I cannot understand how anyone can, and I do not consider it music, not in the classical definition at least since it lacks melody and harmony.

Now consider that genres all have differing sound "textures".  Rock bands usually have a single lead vocalist, a lead guitar for the "fast notes" and solos, a rhythm guitar (technically this should be a harmony guitar since it's playing chords) which sometimes is the same as the lead, a bass guitar, and a drummer.  Some variations might include a second (or even third) guitarist, or a keyboard player, or the use of some odd instruments like tambourines or harmonicas, extra vocals, etc.  So rock music will all have a certain texture to the sound of the music.  This will differ drastically from an orchestra, which will differ drastically from a jazz or blues band, which will differ from pop or country.

This is a general tonal mix that can usually very quickly identify how the music sounds.  If you look at a waveform of an orchestra playing a symphony it will have specific characteristics.  A rock band will have different characteristics.  If you want to break this down to its simplest state, look at FM waveform synthesis.  You have three general kinds of waveforms - pointy, round, and square.  Pointy can be sawtooth, inverse sawtooth, or triangular, round can be a sine, parabolic, or hyperbolic, and square is a stepped wave.  The quality of different waves makes different kinds of tone.  Square is a deep mellow tone, sine is an even tone, and pointy is a harsh buzzing tone.  These produce different kinds of tones, and when combined and generated at varying frequencies you get every kind of sound.  In addition, there's volume, and "suddenness" to the sound - is it smoothly transitioning or does it suddenly change volume, or pitch, or type of tone?  Then there's cadence - how fast it repeats, and all music involves repetition so there is always cadence.  Since it is easy for the brain to pick up these characteristics, the overall qualities of the music instantly spring out, so it's very easy to say "this is pop" or "this is rap" or "this is an orchestra" because the tonal waveforms for all music of a specific genre will share specific characteristics.  What one considers pleasant is up to the individual of course, but the nature of sound itself is what does not change and thus why music has a specific mathematical basis, just as color and light do.

Now, when you get into formulation, this is where it gets interesting.  When it comes to modern music (by modern I mean anything written and sold in the late 20th to 21st century to Western audiences, irrespective of genre) I pretty much lump things into two main categories - creative, and crap.  Creative means "The artists write the songs themselves and understand music theory".  Crap means "The record company writes the songs for them and the "artist" just does what they're told."  Popular music, I'm afraid, tends to fall into the latter category quite often.  This can be pop, rap, hip-hop, country, and even some that calls itself alternative.  This bit about Linkin Park and Nickelback is interesting because it illustrates that record companies do indeed follow a formula, and there is a science behind it.  Consider this.  Why does Coca-Cola or Pepsi sell better than alternative drinks?  The formulas for those two produce a more favorable reaction in the brain to more people.  Law of averages.  Same with music.  A certain pattern in the song will produce a certain reaction in people.  If you know how to manipulate that, you can sell it over and over again to every generation and thus you make profit with minimal creative effort.  They target a specific age category - teenagers - because they're not "burned out" on the formula, are actually less selective and discriminating listeners (despite the objections I'll receive to that comment, I guarantee that the older you get the more picky you'll get, I'm quite the fussy feather duster myself), listen to music more frequently and have greater access to disposable income than working stiffs or young children do.  This is why, in my opinion, popular music sucks and creative bands are suppressed and have gone underground or "indie" as they call it now.  The record companies promote and target specific music, play the same things repeatedly on the radio, and try to sell it at an outrageously high price.  Is it any wonder why the RIAA is so peeved by the internet?  Their profit formula doesn't work if you actually give people a choice.

Now format-wise, the concept of a soft lead in, full orchestra, mellow middle, and crescendo ending is nothing new.  Literature, movies, classical music - this pattern is there in just about everything.  If you know anything about literature, you'll understand the concept of narrative hook and climax.  Here's a good example of what should be a familiar visual reference.  Take the intro video to Quake 2.  Let's see how that works:

1)  [Slow lead in to build anticipation and tension]  Q2 logo slowly moves into the scene as news reports are heard in the background in increasing volume and frequency.  This builds until...

2)  [Full action, visual "hook"]  Explosion of the Q2 logo, and the scene becomes visually very active.  Bomber flies across the scene, planet sweeps into view, and assault carrier comes across the view as the music becomes more intense.  Drop sequence follows.

3)  [Moderate middle and exposition]  Drop ships makes a slow sweep over the planet with audio naration.  Music is tense, but the tension is more even, and the movement and action is more consistent.

4)  [Intense finale ending]  Music crescendos, voice becomes strained and stressed, visual spins out of control and BOOM!  Crash landing.

Afterward, you follow the same pattern in the game.  You build up tension through the installation, warehouse, and mine levels, you hit full action in the jail and (especially) power plant levels, crescendoing with the destruction of the Big Gun, you back off a bit for more steady play during the hangar and outland levels, and crescendo with the Palace levels and final confrontation with the Makron.  While it's not as easy to see as it is in the waveform for something like a Nickelback song, it's there none the less.

Not everything follows this pattern, but if you look carefully you'll find it's a very common formula used in a lot of things.  There's good reason for this.  This pattern of tension, action, relaxed tension, and action keeps the brain interested.  Constant action, constant tension, or constant anything can be boring.  Putting action and tension and relaxation of either in the wrong order is confusing, but balancing it out gives a satisfying result.  This is why music - real music - is such an art form is the musician not only has to get the science of melody, harmony, and rhythm correct, they also have to keep the piece interesting.

Going back to variation... yes, if you listen to different artists in different genres, and different songs from the same artist, you will notice variation.  You will also notice similarity.  I think that it's just easier to notice similarity because that's how the brain is trained to work when it's working in a passive mode.  Consider a herd of harmless plant eating animals.  They all look the same, and you ignore the differences between each animal.  Why?  You REALLY need to notice the lion that's sneaking up and is about to eat you, so a drastic difference is what your brain is designed to notice.  All functions of sight, and sound, and touch, and this slow to fast switching behavior is primarily geared toward keeping you alive, after all.  This is why if you play one kind of music and suddenly change it, you'll get stares or "WTF?" behavior.  It's the same reason you'll notice one white man in a mostly black crowd, or one black man in a mostly white crowd, and why either man will feel uneasy in their respective crowd unless they personally know the people around them.  It's instinctive and hardwired into the brain to notice drastic differences and to treat them as a potential threat.  This is why soft changes in sound will not alarm, but a sudden sound like a discharge of a firearm or similar percussive noise such as a snapping of a twig will startle and gain your attention.

Try this at your next get together with friends.  Mix a CD with pretty much all the same kind of music.  About 25 minutes in, put something very, very different.  Let's say, if you're listening to metal, or rock, throw in Johnny Cash or Pavorati.  Watch everyone's reactions.  They'll probably ignore everything else, but (unless they're inebriated or generally unobservant) I guarantee they'll notice the song that stands out more than they notice what else is playing.
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Tabun
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« Reply #3 on: 2007-10-20, 22:18 »

Quote
... you'll find it's a very common formula used in a lot of things.

I totally agree. It reminds me of humor and jokes too, and this brings something to the foreground that I've often noticed: I'm a fan of subtlety in most cases. The more obvious the joke (the harder it is to miss a joke's basic structure, the "magic formula" of the joke), and the more outwardly apparant and basic the formula/structure of music, the less I tend to like either.

In part I'm sure this is pickiness that results from my aging, as I concur with your points in regards to that. On the other hand, my "non-conformist" nature (or very early nurture, or both, if you will) plays a role here too, I guess. My liking for experimental, instrumental music that flirts with crossover, basic and downright weird elements, for Philip Glass's oddly styled minimalism, to name two, make sense in this light -- I wouldn't deny their being basic on fairly basic formulae, but they certainly manage to mask their presence, and perhaps find their limits.
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« Reply #4 on: 2007-10-21, 08:47 »

Thankfully, there are bands who still try to innovate, although it's getting harder and harder to do that. However, nu-metal isn't exactly a type of music where bands try to do this, since all they try to do is to sell whatever they record in the studios of the recording company. A shame, really. Why won't record companies set the artists free from their clutch? Let them express however they want!

Quote
On a side note: There's a lot of Jazz that's relatively bland. It doesn't get recognized very often though, since it mostly gets turned into elevator music.

That's because you haven't been listening to the right stuff! Charles Mingus' work is awesome, you should really check this guy's discography.
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« Reply #5 on: 2007-10-22, 01:21 »

I can't say that I'm a big fan of nu-metal but it isn't half as bad as that "hardcore metal" that seems to be such a popular alternative to emo. It comes out sounding like some half-assed lovechild ofnu-metal and death metal. Nothing but a bunch of yelling, growling, poorly tuned guitars, and overly present drummers. Add in the Neo Nazi-like fans and it's almost vomit inducing. Slipgate - Tongue
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« Reply #6 on: 2007-10-22, 02:29 »

Can you give a few examples of what you're meaning when you say "hardcore metal"?  Hardcore is a very subjective term, at least, to me anyway.
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« Reply #7 on: 2007-10-22, 17:11 »

I don't think that it is as subjective as it could have once been, as "hardcore" is a bona fide genre nowadays. I don't see a lot of difference in most of it when compared to death and doom metal personally, save for maybe the little bits of speed/thrash melody here and there. Examples, off the top of my head, would include acts such as Lamb of God and Shadows Fall.
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Tabun
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« Reply #8 on: 2007-10-22, 18:34 »

I've always considered "hardcore" to be more of a sub-genre/offshoot of Punk, than of anything I like to call metal. Then again, I don't much mind whatever categorisation people like (or like to dislike), as long as I can still find the few artists whose work I enjoy. :]
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« Reply #9 on: 2007-10-22, 18:37 »

As far as I can understand, "hardcore" was/still is a subgenre of punk. But corporate tagging and MTV changes a lot. I mean, "emo" started out as a subgenre of punk as well. I very well may be out of date as far as the categories go however, considering the last thing I even considered buying (and did) was Nine Inch Nails...
« Last Edit: 2007-10-22, 18:40 by ~Va^^pyrA~ » Logged
Phoenix
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« Reply #10 on: 2007-10-23, 08:14 »

I'm not fond of NiN myself.  I'm also not too familiar with Lamb of God or Shadows Fall, though I've heard the names I can't recall any of their music off hand though I'm sure I've probably heard it at one point.  Actually I think someone sent me a sample of Lamb of God at one point and I did not like it.  I also wasn't aware that hardcore was a specific subgenre of anything, being such a widely overused term.  Now I know.

I do remember the death metal craze when it started up in Tampa.  There used to be a late night radio show one one station that played metal, and they went from playing Metallica, Maiden, Priest, Ozzy, Sabbath, etc, to playing Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, and stuff like that, then they started playing a lot of really strange local bands from Ybor City.  I pretty much gave up on radio at that point as I can't really tolerate death metal.  To me it's to metal is what gangsta is to rap.
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Tabun
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« Reply #11 on: 2007-10-23, 12:08 »

I guess it's mostly confusing that "hardcore" is more or less used as a noun (the subgenre), and as an adjective (for pornography, some kinds of rap, et cetera).
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« Reply #12 on: 2007-10-23, 21:37 »

I do remember the death metal craze when it started up in Tampa.  There used to be a late night radio show one one station that played metal, and they went from playing Metallica, Maiden, Priest, Ozzy, Sabbath, etc, to playing Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, and stuff like that, then they started playing a lot of really strange local bands from Ybor City.  I pretty much gave up on radio at that point as I can't really tolerate death metal.  To me it's to metal is what gangsta is to rap.

Most radio stations play crappy music nowadays: pop, Nickleback and a few more crappy bands. Hey, at least they don't play Genesis anymore... Instead, they play Phil Collins :(. Ofcourse, there's always a couple of good stations, that is, the ones dedicated to Classical music. I hate to say this, but those are the only ones who still have variety (what with the whole 300-years worth of material).
Anyway, Death Metal is anything but fun. In fact, the only thing funny in this genre are the drum lines. However, Heavy and Progressive are a different story, as well as THRASH, THRASH & THRASH!
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« Reply #13 on: 2007-10-24, 01:19 »

Yeah... My favorite is David Allan Coe.
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« Reply #14 on: 2007-10-24, 01:25 »

There's also motion picture sound tracks.  I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but there are some pretty good ones, and I'm speaking of the orchestral stuff like John Williams, Howard Shore, Trevor Jones, etc.  The only thing I dislike about the classical stations is that the one local to here plays a LOT of piano concertos, and not enough symphonies.  I don't mind a little piano, but it has never been my favorite instrument as a solo piece, and especially not when it's allegro in the style of Chopin.  I find that style of play annoying.  If I'm listening to a classical piece I prefer a full orchestra, not just piano with violin accompaniment.  I like bold, passionate pieces, though I am partial to the occasional waltz.
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« Reply #15 on: 2007-10-24, 16:51 »

I'm not fond of NiN myself.

I was never fond of them myself until I saw them in concert with David Bowie. As odd of a pairing as that was, I really began to appreciate them. I think a lot of industrial metal is difficult to get into at first, and the majority of it is even just generally bad, but NiN definitely has a more approachable sound. There's quite a bit of depth and range to their stuff as well, surprisingly enough.

Just my opinion though. They're one of the few industrial acts that I enjoy precisely because they're not just repetitive, synthetic beats. I'm more of a psychedelic girl overall anyway, hehe.
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« Reply #16 on: 2007-10-24, 17:36 »

Nothing wrong with psychedelic. 
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« Reply #17 on: 2007-10-29, 00:46 »

What separates Nails from other industrial acts is funk. You can't listen to the likes of Into The Void and say it ain't funky. Doom - Thumbs Up!
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