The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Saturday, September 13, 2003
Opera: The IDM of the Past?

I am by far no scholar of musical aesthetics, and I've only done about five minutes of research into it (yet it has sparked enough interest that I think I shall be reading a lot more on it in the near future), but I thought I'd share a fairly recent rant of mine regarding what makes makes music enjoyable, somewhat centered around my distaste for opera. I'll even avoid mentioning memes.

Elements that make music enjoyable include tension (followed by release) and repetition of self-familiar elements (Certainly there are more, but these are what seem most important to me). Tension is achieved in many ways, such as dissonance, "rough" sounds (localized insertion of noise), and vocals. Repetition is ALWAYS achieved, but varies according to scale. For instance, a piece can repeat on a scale of notes, measures, or other, larger blocks of time.

Pop music capitalizes (no pun intended) on this by creating repetitive, short tunes dominated by vocals and familiar instruments, perhaps accented with a few unfamiliar attributes (like a "cool sound"), and common 4-4 time.

I hate vocals. No, wait. I don't. I hate lyrics. Words in song. They create TOO MUCH tension, and if there is ever any release, it's only in the bridge section (another standard of pop music) of the song--never enough. They often do not fit well with the beat. They are only aesthetically pleasing to me if the effect they produce is centered solely around the sound the words make, rather than their meaning. (This is NEVER the case with popular music, which always tries to have some point to it, like how someone lost their girl. Like I want to hear about someone else's stupid problems (especially when they make more money than me). I have my own. I don't need some faceless, base musician to "relate" to. Everyone has the same problems, so shut up already.) Rap sometimes achieves this by having each syllable match the beat exactly, each line having the same assonant sound to it as the previous line, syllable by syllable. The consonants often get lost in the noise, so to speak (how many times have you misaken a cymbal crash to be a vocal "s"-sound?), so it's the vowel sounds that are important for your vocal listening pleasure (consonants give you more of a percussive listening pleasure).

Opera is ALL about the vocals. Therefore, there is ALWAYS tension. The release comes when they finally shut up. Furthermore, they attempt to tell a story, often in an unintelligible language, so you're stuck enjoying only the sound (which is good), except...the sound has no repetitive element, and often doesn't even rhyme. What are we supposed to be listening to? The melody is constantly changing. My mind doesn't know what to pick up on next. There is no pleasure in anticipating the next repetitive element (since there isn't one), and thus no pleasure gleaned from the melody.

Compare this to IDM (Intelligent Dance Music...a misnomer, in my opinion, but that's what the genre is called, nonetheless) music. IDM has crazy beats that have nothing in common from measure to measure, removing the enjoyable predictive power on a percussive level, but often has other tracks layered on top that do repeat, such as a chord progression, or a spliced up sample. However, this repetition is chaotic, and largely unpreditable. Furthermore, there is usually no release from the tension. The crazy beat could end, merely to arrive at a dissonant chord. A new listener to IDM will hate it as much as I hate opera, and for similar reasons.

However, while I hate opera, I love IDM. Why? Well, at one level, it's never boring, because even after a thousand listens, I might not be able to predict what's going to happen next in the piece. However, after a thousand listens, I still gain a sense of familiarity with the piece, so it becomes repetitive at the tune level itself. There is no self-familiar element until you loop the piece as a whole. Opera is the same way. So, again, why do I still hate opera?

Because it sucks.