Paradigms in music

Aspects of terra incognita for music

The universe of possibilities

A creative musician finds him- or herself situated within a universe of possibilities. The continuum of the spectrum of vibrations perceptible to the human ear offers practically unlimited possibilities for filtering out vibrations, combinations of vibrations, or patterns of vibrations found within this continuum, and enlisting them in the creation of music.

For musicians and composers, the continuum of the spectrum of vibrations is comparable to the untouched block of stone lying before a sculptor: at this juncture, it still contains potentially all of the forms there are. The process of artistic creation involves the gleaning from this ‘all’ of the form that is to be presented; all of the other possibilities are dismissed and for the moment are not made perceptible to the human ear.

Filter(s) in the universe of possibilities

A filtering of the acoustically possible takes place through:

  • Musical instruments
    • An instrument’s characteristic identity, its tone colour, its tonal range and the scope of possible playing techniques spell its limitations in the form of inaccessibility of certain kinds of sound and performance techniques inherent to the instrument itself.
  • Ensemble members
    • The players understood as human beings
      • Human abilities with their limitations
    • Mechanical players (e.g. computer
      • Mechanical capabilities
        • Indefatigable
  • Musical traditions
    • The characteristic aspect of a musical tradition contains a set of instruments typical to the tradition (cf. ‘Musical instruments’) and is based on the rules of musical performance typical for this musical culture. Inversely, the specificity of a particular musical tradition also points to the realm that does not belong to this tradition, the realm of the filtered-out.
  • Limits of musical understanding
    • Composer/performer and listener alike may perceive certain potential instantiations along the range of acoustic possibilities as ‘non-music’.

The hidden, the Argonauts and new paradigms

Traditional instrumentation, musical traditions and traditional approaches to music appreciation are pre-existing models (paradigms) in regard to the universe of possibilities for music-making. A sense for the surplus of the possible makes these models palpable as paradigms, directs attention to the realm of the hidden and paves the way for border crossings and the adventure of contemporary music.

Conceptual zooming-in’ on an approach to musical perception that is more principles-based helps foster openness toward the new: Flow for rhythm:

  • Flow for rhythm
  • Figure for melody
  • Field or mood for harmony
  • Patterns, musical situations for musical event
  • Interactionfor voice orchestration
  • Simultaneityfor polyphony
  • among others.

The artistic drive to articulate the fresh, the new and the hitherto undiscovered is linked to the search for transcendence of existing paradigms of a ‘distillation of music’.

Paths of transcendence:

  • New musical instruments
    • Innovative performance techniques
    • New combinations
      • Orchestra membership
    • Unconventional sound production
      • Sound sculptures
      • Among others
    • Innovative music software
    • Among others
  • Broadened musical awareness
    • Extending musicians’ creative imagination and broadening a sense for music among listeners
      • Cross-border musical philosophy
        • John Cage
      • Innovative composition techniques
        • Overlapping
          • Charles Ives
      • Musical understanding of nature
        • Soundscapes
          • Musique concrète
            • Pierre Schaeffer
        • Birdcalls
          • Olivier Messiaen
        • ‘Song’ of the whales
        • Among others

In the elaboration of new music, the traditional stations of the process of elaborating music remain for composers and musicians:

  • An inner sense for the things insisting on expression
  • Recognition of the possibilities at one’s disposal
  • Dismissal and omission of the non-identical
  • Decision in favour of that which comes closest to that which is to be expressed
  • Work on the clarity and distinctness of the presentation

Theory & Practice / Paradigms in music © Norbert Stein Pata Music