Procuring a reasonably good demo recording of the pieces I have written has always been a frustrating chore. Many good performances of my music have gone unrecorded, or badly recorded. The good recordings I have received I have treasured like gold, but many were obtained with strings attached that did not allow me to publish them online.
Composed music began moving to computer about thirty-plus years ago, and notation programs started including some sort of playback feature a few years later. It was a breakthrough to be able to hear what you wrote immediately, and it changed composing forever. But the actual sound of those playback tools has always been, in a word, atrocious!
This is no longer the case. Sibelius, Finale, and, now, Dorico have been improving the tolerability of their sounds for a decade or more, but the release of NotePerformer, an independent artificial-intelligence sample library designed to be used with written notation software, has finally crossed the line of believability. It is available for all three notation platforms. It is probably best suited for Sibelius, but I have been using it with Dorico which is the software I have come to prefer.
NotePerformer uses multiple iterations of solo sounds to create the sound of a section, instead of using a different sound. It randomly offsets the individual sounds to give the “halo” effect so characteristic of strings, for instance. The AI is built in to the interpretive/musicality aspect of the program, but if you don’t like what it does you can add instructions (i.e. – legato, detaché, etc.) to change its approach to the music. It reads articulations and most instructions (pizz, snap pizz, pont., marcato, etc.). Dorico does not read glissando/portamento indications as yet, though Sibelius does. Sibelius also maps several different brass mutes, while Dorico only offers straight mute.
As an example, I thought I would use a work I wrote for nine solo strings, (4 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli, and double bass). I wrote this piece in 1993 and I performed it with some of my colleagues from the Phoenix Symphony. But there was something wrong with the original recording and I couldn’t use it. None of the other performances have been recorded so I have had to present the work using a old MIDI recording. I hated it. MIDI recordings of strings have always been the most cringe-worthy. Strings have such a complicated sound with such richness and variety, reproducing them has been nearly hopeless. Not anymore. The NotePerformer performance below is maybe not equivalent to a live performance, but it is very realistic.
The piece, A Wake At Night, is derived from a long improvised melodic line. All of the other accompanying material is derived from that melodic line and surrounds the part of the melody it was derived from. The title has multiple meanings, but the primary one refers to this structure. The melodic line is the “boat” and the surrounding material is the “wake” which has been generated by the boat. At night the wake shimmers with phosphorescence, and thus it is a metaphor for the swirling material surrounding the melody, which is often more prominent than the original.
G. Stallcop: A Wake At Night (1993) – for nine strings
Though I grew up in the misty entropy of Seattle, I have spent nearly all of my adult life in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona. When I was growing up, water was taken for granted, abundant; in fact, there was too much of it most of the time. In the desert, I have come to love rainy days. When it rains, kids come out to play; in school they run to the windows.
Water in the desert is synonymous with life.
Water in the desert is synonymous with life. Rainy El Nino winters, like the one just past, turn rocky slopes into green pastures full of wildflowers. Normally dry streams and riverbeds are brimming with water, the banks teaming with life. I remember stopping on a dirt road to explore a dry riverbed north of Carefree, AZ. We walked about a half of a mile up the wash when we came upon a section with water in it. The little stream came out from under a rock and flowed for about 20 feet before diving back underground. I could step from one side to the other, but as I was watching the flowing water, I saw a fish slip out from one rock and scamper under another one. Then I saw another fish, and another. The wash had been dry for months! Did it get stuck here when the river dried up, or was it always here and stayed through the rushes of water that roared down the wash after it rained? Unanswered questions.
Some frogs and toads in Arizona (such as the Couch’s Spadefoot Toad) have evolved to dig into the mud as it dries up, and lie dormant for eleven months. During the first significant summer monsoon rain, usually in mid-July, they dig themselves out with a cacophonous roar, mate, lay eggs and then proceed to eat enough bugs to last them another 11 months before they dig another home in the mud and go back to sleep. The frogs’ awakening is something we wait for every year. What is it like to live such a life?
So this album is loosely organized around water and its role in life. Each track covers a significant amount of diverse musical territory. My music is exploratory but thoughtful. It is not meant to be calming, or exciting, or physically stimulating, it is an emotional journey. It is meant to be listened to, and not a background for visuals, dance, or daily life.
Lighthouse. The opening track derives its name from a repeated A-Ab passage in the center of the piece that seems to be a guiding light throughout the stormy surrounding music. The track also describes the loneliness of isolation and the beautiful serenity of a peaceful sea. For me it is all a metaphor for the creative life; peaceful at times, stormy at times, but always guided by the muse.
Floating Spheres. The title here refers to the balls of glass used by fisherman to float their nets. When I am improvising, I often visualize myself as floating in a glass ball on a sea of emotion, so these balls have extra meaning. The glass balls used by Japanese fishermen used to occasionally wash up on the shore when I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest. They were a prized possession and you could find them homes (or seafood restaurants). When I went to the beach I would always look for them, but I have never found one.
Fragile. This is about water in the philosophical sense. Water is fragile to the touch and gives way to almost everything, but can wear down the hardest stone. Its fragility is its strength. It is perfectly transparent and reflects beauty and ugliness equally, without judgment.
Slippery Slope. In a conditional world of transmogrified values and transient truths, we are all on a slippery slope. Do we find a handhold and grab on for dear life or do we cast our fate to the wind? Maybe we should learn to ski or skate.
Soggy Breadcrumbs. Sometimes we stumble onto a clear and inviting path of another and are inspired to follow. But any path, no matter how fresh and well defined, eventually peters out, becomes soggy, or is eaten by hungry birds. All paths are eventually solitary.
Sequenza No.2. When I am in a stretch of improvisational recording, which can last for several weeks, I don’t listen to any of the recordings until much later. This is so I can listen to them with fresh ears, without memory or intent to cloud my judgment. In the case of this last track, I actually play a track with the same material and general format as another track I had recorded about a week earlier – “Sequenza” from the album Hold That Thought. I was unaware of the relationship when I recorded it and only when putting the two albums together did I notice the similarity. I liked the first version, but I think this version is better.
These tracks were recorded at my home in Phoenix, Arizona.
Many of my albums have been organized around a specific idea, such as time, innocence, worry, recovery, or loss of self. This particular album focuses more on the ideas themselves. There are many different methods of composing spontaneously, even when not starting with any preconceived musical material or purpose. Aesthetic quality in spontaneity is achieved through depth of experience, and, as a rule, that is achieved through focused attention. It is similar to meditation, and just as there are many different ways to meditate, there are many different ways to proceed with an improvisation.
Focused attention seems to be often mistaken for trance. Trance is where listening or some other experience occupies space in your mind but doesn’t demand your attention. If you are playing a repeated pattern, for instance, your attention can become detached from the process (mental auto-pilot) and your mind will actually wander sometimes. This is almost the antithesis of focused attention. I have had students, for instance, who have thought that the point of practicing is to reach a point where you are just listening to what you are doing and not thinking about it. Actually, the point of practice is to allow you think in ever-greater detail. Practice allows you to think about how you are going to play every single note!
When you are focusing, you must focus on something. When you are improvising, you are focusing on what you are playing, of course, but you are also creating and managing the direction of the music. This means that you are using the music you are hearing to create new music. You can repeat the “old” music, vary it in some way, or react to it with something either complementary or contrasting. With the piano, there is also the element of musical space and texture so that you have the option of moving things around from one hand to the other or varying the accompaniment, harmony, or context of the original idea.
This sort of spontaneous compositional methodology tends to result in musical pieces with certain characteristics, some of which occur on this album. The most commonly occurring structure is what I like to call the “Spring” and is related to the Linked Verse technique used in Japanese (group) oral poetry. It is where older material is always being varied and reacted to so that the music moves forward while referring back at the same time. Since the older material is being continually revised, the whole structure moves forward. The circling back is like a spiral, but because the whole thing moves forward it is more like a Spring. The first, third, and fifth track of Hold That Thought conform to this sort of structure while being completely different types of pieces.
Prelude is also focused on melody, and is akin to a soliloquy or opera recitative with a minimal accompaniment. The melody emotes plaintively or with flourish but always refers back in linked verse fashion.
Intermezzo is a complicated and varied track whose references to older material are interspersed with impetuous flourishes and extreme shifts of register. Older material does not mean vanilla.
Rhapsody is also somewhat impetuous but is more like a sung epic poem with an ending more like Ulysses returning home rather than Caesar returning from Gaul.
Sequenza developed a little differently. The material I begin with just happens to be simple, distinctive, and easily remembered. Its chromatic nature lends itself easily to variation and transposition, hence it becomes like a huge sequence. I use the term “sequenza” with apologies to Luciano Berio who used the title for a whole series of virtuosic solo works for different instruments. Instead of moving like a spring or spiral, the piece seems to move like a rogue planet that keeps swinging next to the sun and getting thrown off in a completely different direction.
Emergence also focuses on a single melodic idea, and though the idea can be heard in the early portions of the piece, it doesn’t become prominent until about halfway through the piece. At that point, it is repeated and sequenced in a manner reminiscent of Richard Strauss. Hence, it is as though the musical idea was discovered in the middle of the piece, much like all of a sudden becoming attracted to someone you’ve been working with for quite a while.
All of these different approaches require focus and, of course, imagination to be effective. An improviser learns that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But you try to choose the ones that work for an album.
This is my 22nd solo piano album and was recorded at my home in Phoenix, Arizona.
Grind is an album of piano tracks loosely organized around the concept of work. There are many different attitudes toward work, and many different types of work, as well. Personally, my attitude towards work is rather complex, as much of it is creative and totally absorbing, and all of it is artistic. For much of my life I have been a “workaholic,” but a lot of the time my work has been self-motivated.
For my entire career, my “employment” has been playing double bass for a major symphony orchestra. For some musicians, this constitutes a pinnacle position; some non-musicians do not consider this to be work at all. Actually a symphony orchestra job can be quite demanding, though the rewards can be great as well, and it is more physically taxing than one might expect. Even so, I’ve never worked more than about 25 hours per week on the job. This, however, does not take into account all the practicing I’ve done at home. You start to add everything up – rehearsals, concerts, practicing, six days per week, working mornings and nights, driving, travel – and it starts to sound a lot more like work. Most musicians also teach lessons, which can take up most of their remaining time. I have never done much teaching because I have filled my extra time with creating and performing my own music. As I said, it’s complicated.
Music and the concept of a steady pulse are one of the great inventions in human history. It allows people to work TOGETHER. Working together involves synchronization and without music and dance, that would have never happened. My album, however, is about our personal relationship to work, rather than the work itself, and is more emotional than physical.
Work Song. My music tends to not be very rhythmically steady, however, repetition and sequence are often major components. Then again, so is variation, and this usually doesn’t let me repeat an idea intact more than twice. I explained to a friend once that I tended to continually vary my ostinatos (repeated patterns), and he told me a varied ostinato was an oxymoron. The upshot is that I don’t often get into a “groove,” as the first thing I vary is often the rhythm. This track, however, does try hard to get “groovy” at times, and is about as close as I ever get to a work song. Just the same, “John Henry” it’s not.
Outburst. Of course, one of the common associations with work is stress. Even a workaholic does not like to have more to do than he or she can finish in the time available. The stress can mount and explode occasionally. That is what happens in this track. Of course, blowing up doesn’t help, and after the pressure is released, the work continues.
Chorale. A chorale is like a hymn, and is meant to be sung by the congregation. To me, hymn singing is a little like everybody doing the same work. Together. It doesn’t help that I’m such a bad singer. It is not something I am usually very thrilled about doing, but I often do it anyway. After all it’s short.
Daydream. Sometimes your mind wonders. This is especially true when I am doing creative work, as letting my mind wonder is part of the gig. I fall asleep at my desk more often than I care to admit. (My chair is pretty comfortable.) I’ve also occasionally fallen asleep at my piano. (Despite the fact it is really uncomfortable.) I even once nearly fell asleep while I was recording. (Check out “Drifting Off” from my album Night Drift.) I don’t recommend drifting off when somebody is paying you, however.
Dew Point. Because this is the point (temperature) at which water condenses out of the air, I like to use it as a metaphor for creative inspiration. Sometimes ideas seem to appear out of nowhere. At other times, they don’t. I guess, sometimes, it is just not humid enough.
Hard Knocks. The School of Hard Knocks can be an effective teacher, and usually involves as much work or more than any other form of education. That said, what inspired the title of this track was the series of repeated notes that take over the music about half way through. It sounds like somebody knocking, hard.
Hunting For Faeries. I’ve always been intrigued by the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fascination with spiritualism, psychic research, and magical phenomena. How could the creator of Sherlock Holmes get sucked in by this stuff? But he spent a great deal of effort trying to prove their existence, and he is not the only person to work hard at something preposterous.
Nocturne. I have often worked deep into the night, though as I have aged I have gradually shifted to morning. But the nighttime can be magically quiet and full of imaginative promise. The swirling of ideas and myriad of possible relationships can keep me awake even when I need to be asleep. The magic does not always make it into the harsh light of day, but sometimes it does.
Intermezzo. We all have to take breaks. We all need to rest, if only for a bit. That doesn’t mean we can shut our mind off completely. Sometimes a distraction will allow our subconscious to work out the details of something important. Then we end up working through our break anyway.
Chanson. A chanson is a rather lyric-driven French art song dealing often with more serious subjects like conditions of the working class, and is usually rather free as it follows the rhythms of the French language. Of course, my chanson has no lyrics and isn’t about anything, but it is rather free anyway.
Toccata. This is a “touch piece” as opposed to a sonata or “sound piece.” It is usually distinguished by a technical display of some sort. In other words, it has lots of fast notes. I was tempted to call this track Prelude and Toccata because, though it starts with a splash, it slows down before really taking off. I didn’t start the piece thinking “toccata,” I discovered it along the way. The toccata section continues until I get tired. After all, it was a lot of work.
This album is my twenty-first solo piano album and was recorded at my home in Phoenix, Arizona. It was released on September 7, 2018 by SMS Recordings.
An album examining impermanence and the process of healing
This album is about healing, it’s not intended to be able to heal. Music can be soothing, and many aspects of music can be therapeutic. I participated in a music therapy project a couple of years ago with Alzheimer’s patients, and learned first hand the kinds of effects music can bring to those suffering and struggling to maintain their basic humanity. But that is a different subject and not what this album is about.
By comparison, my musical intention is more mundane. It deals with everyday recovery from everyday loss by everyday people. Impermanence is a fact, but it is the fuel upon which life (and nonlife) sustains itself and moves on. Being attuned to the impermanence of beauty, happiness, and peace is a gift, and it teaches valuable lessons for dealing with ugliness, sorrow, and conflict.
Song of Longing. Loss is difficult; it always leaves a hole that takes time to fill. Though it brings emptiness, it also brings a flood of memories that are often beautiful. Loss does not bring happiness, but the sorrow it brings is the result of happiness.
3am, Wide Awake. Recovery can make sleep difficult, even frightening. When I am awake in the middle of the night, it is more often from anticipation than reflection. But this is not the case with everyone, and for some, sleep brings no peace. That doesn’t mean they don’t get tired.
Underwater. Recovering often seems like you can’t breathe.
Death of a Bumblebee. (Apologies to Rimsky-Korsakov.) Living in the desert, most of my homes have had either a pool or, in one case, a fishpond. Bees come to the water for moisture, and sometimes they end up going for a swim. Not a good idea. I save them if I can.
Just Not The Same. A friend told me this once after a terrifying event with one of their children. What we miss was sometimes not there to begin with. That doesn’t make it any easier.
Just Suppose. Guilt.
Sleeping Dragon. Sometimes the best we can do for a while is to put the dragon to sleep. We tiptoe around and try not to wake him up. Woe to those who wake him up for you.
Sleeping Princess. Where there is a sleeping dragon, there is also usually a sleeping princess. We may try to ignore everything for a while, but closing up to sorrow and ugliness is also to ignore happiness and beauty. She can awaken too, and she is not always happy about being ignored.
Confession. More guilt.
Bounce. The lessons of impermanence are patience and timing. Peaks and valleys are part of everything. On the way down, knowledge offers resilience, and we bounce instead of crash, usually.
The album was recorded at my home in Phoenix AZ in November 2010. It is Album #20 and was released on June 25, 2018 by SMS Recordings SMS021.
For the most part, I feel that the ascension of recorded music has been positive. It preserves performances and non-written music, and gives everyone access to music from everywhere. But one of the main downsides is that it has turned most of the world into listeners instead of participants. Whereas most people used to sing or play if they felt the need for music in their lives, now they just push a button, turn a dial, or swipe. Some people now listen to music for a large majority of their life – at work, at home, driving, shopping, walking, everywhere, but they never actually participate in any of it.
This easy accessibility comes with a price. Aside from the missed social opportunity, there is just a lack of any sort of first-hand musical experience. A lack of any understanding of what it actually feels like to make music. Though there are probably more people who consider themselves musicians now than ever before, the actual consumption of music has become completely passive. Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, composer and new music advocate, once said that he thought that because nobody sings anymore, people have been losing contact with the emotional significance of the notes. As a result, he thought that many people now heard music as a collection of sounds, turning all music into percussion music. This doesn’t mean that the music is devoid of expression or nuance, but it does mean there is a general apathy toward tonal nuance.
This, I think, is most apparent in pop music, dance music, hip-hop, rock, and most commercial genres, but it is also apparent in Classical music. Minimalism, though no doubt chemically inspired initially, quickly became a serious discourse. Its popularity was also derived from its urban roots. John Cage talks about all the (urban) sounds around him, with a special love for the sound of traffic. This background hum of electrical, mechanical and other activity seems to be the very essence of Minimalism. Not much tonal nuance in traffic though. In fact, the numbing trance-like sameness of Minimalism is almost the antithesis of emotional nuance, though there is a cumulative aspect to the music that can be quite powerful. The pan-diatonicism and pan-metricism with which the style began quickly became highly structured multi-leveled hierarchies. Composers quickly saw the potential in the style for the organization of pure sound. Multiple layers of minimally changing sound ideas allowed composers to organize on several metric hierarchical levels at once. John Adams, for instance, has used Minimalism to create huge, intricate, almost “maximal” compositional structures. Composers essentially turned meter and texture into the new tonality. Specific sounds became structurally significant simply by when, where, and how prominently they were used.
But this kind of use of sounds, both musical and nonmusical, has a drawback; it demands meaning. A musical representation of an urban milieu is not enough reason to group random sounds together. There has to be a reason to choose which sounds are played together, and which ones aren’t. Why start here? Why end there? Do the sounds clash? Do they blend? Composers can’t really write what used to be called “pure music” with sound. It demands justification, otherwise, it just “is.”
Because of this, many composers started to use certain sounds for their cultural significance. This included using styles or direct quotes from other composers. One of the first (and still one of the best) uses of this technique appeared in the “Scherzo” movement of Berio’s Sinfonia (1968-9), which is a masterpiece. But recording artists have been using “samples,” “mash-ups,” and “remixes” now for over thirty years. This may solve the problem of meaning (and can be really interesting), but it doesn’t provide the same kind of direct emotional involvement that people are used to enjoying from the music they listen to.
This quandary of meaning and expression is not a problem facing only Minimalism and other sound-based music; it is a problem with all music constructed in “layers.” Composers have always composed in layers to a certain extent, but I am talking about independent layers. Today, composing with layers of music has become the norm. It started with multi-track tape recorders. That methodology was brought wholesale into computer sequencing and digital recording, and has worked its way into written music as well. Composers have toyed with the idea of juxtaposing unrelated musical materials for hundreds of years. Take the offstage band in Mozart’s DonJuan, the converging marching bands in Ives’ Decoration Day, or the unrelated layers of his Unanswered Question. Of course, Mozart’s layers are perfectly integrated harmonically, even if they are in different meters, but the Ives’ layers are unrelated in every way except meaning.
Stravinsky is another composer who explored the idea of compositional layers early in his career. The opening of the Rite of Spring and in fact, the entire Part One, is a textbook example of compositional layers. (Part Two is much more linear.) It is also very effective and some of my favorite music! I have always felt, however, that the reason Stravinsky abandoned this approach was not because he had to escape through a back window, and not because of World War I and the fact he was broke, but because he saw the limitations of this approach both structurally and expressively.
One of the most interesting parts of this phenomenon deals with popular music. Popular music has always been rhythmic, but since the emergence of rock and the infusion of blues and other African influences, the music has adopted a more ethnic cultural outlook. Music in Western countries generally tends to be well integrated, with melody, harmony, and rhythm working together as a whole. Music in much of the rest of the world tends to be set up as a vehicle for individual expression set against a rather static and unchanging background. This could be a drone, a repeating rhythm or pattern, or a combination of the two. Popular music genres seem to be adopting this modal more and more. Vocal lines and solos are where all the expression is; the instrumental parts are the big bad unchanging world. This is a huge exaggeration, of course, but it seems to be one of the common and most successful answers to the problem of creating music with sound and not notes. And the music is even more rhythmic today. Hip-hop has become an art of sound collage. Of course, pop music always has words. There is never any doubt what it is about.
The drawback is that instrumental music is increasingly being pushed into the background. On one hand this has led to some very imaginative music for TV and Film, but on the other, it has led to some less than thrilling attempts at Classical music. New sound-based Classical music does well when it has an exciting soloist grabbing the audience’s attention, and has had success with new opera, dance, and video, but it is struggling getting its audience to pay attention to sound-based instrumental music in its own right. I don’t have an answer for this. But it would be a good idea for a composer to remember that a sound collage is exactly what the audience hears everyday when they step outside. In order to get an audience’s attention these days, composers must have something in the foreground. If not a soloist, or even a melody, then at least something front and center – electronics, whale songs, video, dance or some other “hook!” Otherwise, to the audience, the music sounds just like their real world and there is no reason to listen.
Atonality, as a replacement for tonality, I consider to be a failed experiment for the most part. Today for someone to criticize music as atonal seems rather archaic. It’s not that composers are writing more music that is tonal or atonal (though some indeed are doing so), but it is more that composers are just no longer very interested in that sort of organizational manipulation. Composers organize their music, of course, but not in the same way as composers writing in the great age of tonal music, or atonal music for that matter. In general, music today seems less linear and more environmental. Composers still tell stories, but it is usually done more as background music rather than with an interaction of musical characters.
Tonality developed at the beginning of the Baroque Period in response to the need for a way to organize instrumental music. Until then, written music was primarily vocal and was organized around the text. Though Renaissance music was tonal “sounding,” its sense of key (and musical structure) was entirely based on the emotional (and sometimes literal) impact of the text. Baroque composers writing instrumental music decided, with no words to fall back on, to make the music about the key and gradually developed a large interrelated structure of key relationships. Then they also borrowed from Classical Rhetoric and created “musical subjects” upon which they could expound.
Though the Rhetorical characteristic has remained nearly to the present day, the tonal aspect was challenged early in the 1900’s and remained a source of contention among not just composers, but all musicians. Though composers were at first interested in finding a replacement for the system of tonality, gradually the approach to pitch became just another original aspect of how an individual composer would organize his or her music. Often the approach would vary from piece to piece by the same composer.
But still, the way we listen to notes and their relationship to each other has not changed much, even if composers are using and organizing them in different ways. I believe it is possible to treat pitches as sounds, in the same way you would write for a percussion ensemble, for instance. But the composer must be careful to keep the pitches identified as individual units, which is not easy. The (pitched) music of Edgard Varése is probably the best example of this that I can think of, but still, you hear a (tonal) relationship between the pitches he uses, even if they are treated as static sounds. I don’t think you can change the way people hear the relationship between the notes themselves.
Serialism, music using the twelve-tone method, tried to organize music in a different way. It tried to replace a tonal relationship with one based on order. I have no problem with the effort; I just don’t think it worked. It was a very versatile technique, and fed directly into the creative imagination of several composers, but it now seems rather dated. Its problem was that it was, at best, only barely detectible in the music. Because you couldn’t hear the ordered relationships of twelve-tone rows, you tried to hear the music the way you normally would. Listeners still try to hear tonal relationships. If the method was more obvious that might not be the case, but it just isn’t. You can take tonality out of the music, however, you can’t take it out of the listener.
In many pieces, serialism seems to neutralize tonal relationships with speed. The composer seems to circulate through the twelve tones so quickly as to cause the listener to experience tonal vertigo. I think it is this overloaded tonal dizziness that most listeners associate with atonality. It is like a cat in a speeding car; he is born to detect motion, but the whole world is moving!
An interesting and somewhat quaint description of tonality and serialism appears in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by the Czech author Milan Kundera. A character in the story, who happens to be a pianist, relates how his father had taught him tonality. The tonic was the king, and the dominant and subdominant are his right-hand men. All the other notes were members of the court, and each had its own relationship to the king. But each note also had its own court, with its own relationships. A composition, therefore, was a drama played out among all these players with intrigue and romance, and even occasionally the threat of treason. He then goes on to criticize twelve-tone music as being like Socialism by trying, and not succeeding, to make everybody the same. Kundera was not a big fan of Socialism.
It’s my opinion that one of serialism’s fatal flaws is its blind acceptance of enharmonic equal temperament as truth. Declaring all F#’s and Gb’s as identical severely restricts the variety and scope of tonal possibilities available. It also clearly ignores how Western ears hear tonal color.
Even on an equal-tempered piano, we hear pitches as being a sharp or flat based on the context in which they appear. This is often demonstrated melodically (C# moves to D, Db moves to C, etc.), but is also true harmonically. If you play the two chords below, alternating back and forth, the F# and the Gb are clearly different notes, even though they are exactly the same frequency!
The first chord opens outward as the resonance and surrounding notes create a clear F#. In the second chord, however, the Bb and Eb clearly redefine the target note as a Gb, which seems to contract back toward the same C major chord in the left hand, creating a completely different effect.
Even though the pitch is the same, how we perceive the pitch is different because of the surrounding environment. Most atonal writing either ignores this, or tries to neutralize it by making the music so dissonant that the relationships are of little consequence. Making tonal relationships moot can be very effective, in, for instance, the early music of György Ligeti or Krzysztof Penderecki. But writing tonal relationships and then ignoring them is a questionable compositional practice that promotes listener confusion and frustration. It is a practice that a composer uses at his own peril.