Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Seeking the Truth (part 1)

Before I even start, I'll contextualize this as 'my opinion only' to avoid too much of a backlash. I'm claiming no 'authority' here and only sharing my view on a topic which I've found myself discussing over the last few weeks.

One fundamental factor which determines how we formulate our ideas and gain strength in our convictions and beliefs is our perception of the concept of 'perceived authority'. This can sometimes have a dark and questionable role to play in the formation of opinions, and consequently 'recorded and referenced music theory'. I'm mentioning this because across a wealth of well respected textbooks on the subject of music theory, there are multiple contradictions. Which one is right? Which publication can claim 'authority'? Guitar magazines do this all the time, but how much is this appropriate?

I contribute quite a bit to Paul Clark's forum where I set up a good natured and well intentioned "Theory Challenge" thread which turned into a healthy ground for discussion and good natured debate on certain concepts and ideas. The 'tetrachord concept' was one such idea where 'misconception central' caused a whole load of problems. Most of the following blog entry is taken directly from my contribution to this debate, although since it was pertained to some ideas I had been working on for this blog, I thought it appropriate to share it here.

There are multiple interpretations of "tetrachords" which all have a measure of value (within a permanently evolving system of music theory), although I'm not convinced by some of them, and I think the dissection and subsequent re-labeling of a lot of theoretical concepts sometimes serve the purpose of doing no more than justifying certain 'contemporary' pieces by certain composers who, incidentally, were also influential and instrumental in the editing and devising of some contemporary music theory textbooks. This has led to some very shallow and tentative ideas which have been recorded, studied by some, then held up to be 'the truth' and widely referenced a little too often, where in actual 'truth' they have often been artificially devised to attempt to explain a musical idea which is a long way removed from the comfortable and well established tonal system.

Where do we get our 'truth' from? It's always the case that 'trusted sources' are often the best place to look for such a truth but unfortunately there is a lot of misplaced self-importance, ego, and thoroughly deplorable arrogance amongst some academics (especially those who consider themselves to be in a position to write textbooks on music theory) which has offered a wealth of contradictory suggestions, advice, labeling, and concepts which I would consider all to be highly questionable. Whilst I might be (in a sense) an academic (and to this end, making my own claims with no more or less 'authority' than others) I always try to teach (especially at a high level) that the truth comes from the careful, intelligent, and multiple referencing of as many publications as the student may lay their hands on to as exhaustive a conclusion as possible. Speak to as many learned people as possible for the benefit of their experience and view, and you will formulate an opinion of much greater value than to blindly trust and one source.

1 comment:

  1. well put Nik - in the end we all make our own journey and find our own truths - the more open we are to what others may have to contribute and the fairness with which we may judge those is all part of being a grown up I reckon - your insights are always stimulating and welcome. David